Mariam Memarsadeghi defined Iranian propaganda as a way to isolate and “systematically disempower individuals,” discouraging their hopes of freedom. Iranian propaganda goes beyond the realm of politics—the state attempts to penetrate every aspect of Iranian social life, creating an atmosphere of distrust: “people”, according to Memarsadeghi, “ are forced by the regime to live a lie”. State disinformation has fuelled anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, and has significantly harmed civil liberties, threatening both women’s rights and minority rights, particularly the Baha’i.

Yet Memarsadeghi believes that online education provides a window of hope. The internet allows for dissent and “gives Iranians the possibility to exert their identity.” Tavanaa fills a gap by offering Iranians a new type of learning that encourages critical thinking and student involvement. It introduces them to open discussions on human rights and democracy, and also provides classes on taboo subjects such as LGBT and the Holocaust, and interviews with Iranian activists. While it is difficult to measure the impact on students, Mariam believes that civic education enables young iranians to be more open minded and confident.

In the discussion that followed, participants examined whether Tavanaa’s successful model can be replicated in other countries. While different authoritarian regimes implement different propaganda methods, what is constant is the need to encourage citizen knowledge and online civic education has a valuable role to play.

The discussion was moderated by Anne Applebaum, Director of the Legatum Institute's Transitions Forum.

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About the Speaker

Mariam Memarsadeghi founded Taavana in 2010 in order to support active citizenship and civic leadership in Iran, filling a much-needed gap in the current education system. By utilising the internet and new technologies, Tavaana works to counter the severe lack of academic freedom in Iran and the radical religious views pushed forward by the Islamic Republic. For further information on Taavana, please see Mariam’s paper written for a Legatum Institute conference on The Future of Iran here

The Transitions Forum is a series of projects dedicated to the challenges and possibilities of radical political and economic change.