The Oxford University Iranian Society held a vigil for the victims of the Tehran plane crash, which occurred earlier this month.

On the 19th January, a week after the “shocking and beyond devastating” incident, students and habitants of Oxford alike gathered at Tirah Memorial, Bonn Square in commemoration of the 176 passengers who lost their lives.

Joining Toronto, London, Cam- bridge and many more, Oxford University lit a candle for those that lost their lives in a “misplaced war”, as SCR member of St Antony’s College, Yassamine Mather deemed it. Having attended a vigil in Cam- bridge, mirroring that of Oxford, Mrs Mather mentioned her own personal loss in the tragedy, “a school mate older than me.”

Shedding light on the geopolitical aspect, Mrs Mather, who conducts research in the Middle East Centre at Oxford University, said it was “the attempt to hide the truth” that sparked people’s anger, in the initial days after the crash. This follows from the Iranian government shutting down the internet in response to uprisings caused by increasing petrol prices in November. Though they are not the same situation, Mrs Mather did factor this shut-down as a contributor to “even more exaggerated news”, as individuals could not rely on technology to inform themselves, and were faced with a blank gap in their knowledge. A gap that could not reliably be filled by state media.

Pointing towards the many “bots” (robots) found in social media to push forward propaganda, Mrs Mather touched upon internet platforms encouraging one-dimensional impressions of a nuanced situation. The “islands of strongly opinionated people” living within their own “echo-chamber” of views becomes all the more dangerous in such circumstances. The deep emotional trauma of such loss, as Iranians have recently felt, along with the deliberate pushing of agendas, have created a highly charged atmosphere in an already very emotionally volatile situation.

Mrs Mather marked how “both sides (those against and for the Iranian government)…used natural human sorrow for their own interest”. The distance between those connected by the loss diminishes in her eyes, as she commented that “I couldn’t tell”, whether those tweeting and retweeting certain messages in the initial days after the crash were inside or outside Iran. The messages, no matter their location, came from the same motivations.

Looking forward, Mrs Mather conveys the instability of neutrality, flagging Trump’s impeachment as a key factor in the progress or decline of Iranian-American relations.

Mrs Mather noted that, from her impression, there was “nothing dramatic that was said” by most world leaders, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the fore. This shows a possible counter to the aspects of instability that may be at play. In a political tussle that changes “every hour”, Mrs Mather speaks of it with a wariness of individual motivators driving national action.

Image credit: Hamideh Rimaz

For Cherwell, maintaining editorial independence is vital. We are run entirely by and for students. To ensure independence, we receive no funding from the University and are reliant on obtaining other income, such as advertisements. Due to the current global situation, such sources are being limited significantly and we anticipate a tough time ahead – for us and fellow student journalists across the country.

So, if you can, please consider donating. We really appreciate any support you’re able to provide; it’ll all go towards helping with our running costs. Even if you can't support us monetarily, please consider sharing articles with friends, families, colleagues - it all helps!

Thank you!