Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe: Britain still can’t stand a brown woman speaking truth to power


Alia Waheed

28 Mar, 2022

Not even six years of being imprisoned and tortured in Iran has saved Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from racist and misogynistic attacks upon her return. She should have been applauded for calling out the UK government’s failures, writes Alia Waheed.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe - Twitter

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe rightly called out the UK government’s failures during her imprisonment. [GETTY]

Just as how black women have to contend with the angry black woman trope, brown women from the Middle East and Asian sub-continent face the meek, submissive victim stereotype.

When Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe criticised the UK government upon her return from six years of imprisonment in Iran, she strayed from the script.

At a time when Nazanin should have been home, finally tucking her daughter into bed, she had to face the media, hungry for a soundbite.

Boy, did they get one.

When her husband thanked the current foreign secretary, Liz Truss, Nazanin did not. “I have seen five foreign secretaries change over the course of six years. How many foreign secretaries does it take for someone to come home?” she rightly asked. All the while, admirably remaining composed and dignified- something you wouldn’t expect from anyone who has experienced the intolerable conditions she has lived through.

”Many bigots commented that if she had been in Iran, she wouldn’t have been able to say what she did. Except she isn’t in Iran anymore, she’s back home in a country that proclaims to be a defender of freedom of speech and civil liberties.”

Within hours the hashtags #sendherback and #ungratefulcow were trending on Twitter with right-wing keyboard warriors accusing her of effectively biting the hand that freed her. Nazanin was on trial again, but this time it was a trial by social media because she dared to criticise the government’s long delay in securing her freedom.

Let’s not beat around the bush, the real reason she faced such vitriol is because she is a brown woman of Middle Eastern decent. She is considered part of the population normally left to drown on boats in the channel, not a strong and outspoken voice against human rights abuses and the UK government’s failures.

Nazanin was caught in the crosshairs of racism and misogyny. Women’s rights, it seems are selective, especially when it comes to women of colour. What a message to send during women’s history month in particular.

Brown girls are not supposed to be the angry ones, we are conditioned to believe that we are victims who silently endure the oppression dealt to us by our so-called backward communities. We are supposed to be seen and not heard, apart from in gratitude to our white saviours for saving us from our own brown, misogynist menfolk.


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Many bigots commented that if she had been in Iran, she wouldn’t have been able to say what she did. Except she isn’t in Iran anymore, she’s back home in a country that proclaims to be a defender of freedom of speech and civil liberties. She had every right to say what she did. She should be celebrated for refusing to be a hypocrite and daring to acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Anybody who is familiar with the details of her case will know her comments were completely justified. Nazanin, a dual British-Iranian citizen who worked for the Thomas Reuters Foundation charity was wrongly arrested on spying charges, something which she has always denied.

She missed out on the first six years of her daughter’s life because of a catalogue of blunders by a string of foreign secretaries including Boris Johnson who blurted out that she was “simply teaching people journalism.” Except she wasn’t.

His ill-thought out remarks were an “inverted pyramid of piffle,”  but were nevertheless weaponised in the Iranian state media and cited by the Iranian judiciary as evidence that she was engaged in “propaganda against the regime.” as usual, he got away with his faux pas while Nazanin didn’t.

His off the cuff remarks also handily obscured the real reason why she was languishing in prison for years – a dispute over the repayment of an acknowledged historic debt over a cancelled arms deal. Nazanin was paying the price for a 40-year-old dispute which started when she was three.

Nazanin was an inconvenient truth for the government, who was supposed to be brushed under the carpet. It was left to another brown Muslim woman, her local MP Tulip Siddiqui who tirelessly campaigned by her husband’s side for Nazanin’s release.

Her agonising years in captivity came to an end because the Tories decided they may need Iranian oil.  

Yes she was wronged by the Iranian government, but she was wronged by the British government too. Accountability does not need to be rationed after all, and her case is one of so many failures by political leaders who should have acted better.

It is not her job to make Boris Johnson and Liz Truss feel good about themselves, and she is right not to let them off the hook. Nazanin addressing those facts is important to the preservation and defence of all our rights and freedoms.

Alia Waheed is a freelance journalist specialising in issues affecting Asian women in the UK and the Indian subcontinent.

Follow her on Twitter: @AliaWaheed

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Opinions expressed here are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those of their employer, or of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff


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