The Iranian Drug Discourse. A Case Study on the Impact of the Iranian Reformist Press.

First Name: 
Last Name: 
Institutional Affiliation : 
Oriental Institute, University of Zurich
Academic Bio: 
David Arn holds an General History, Arabic and Persian Language and Literature from the University of Zurich, and is working on a PhD in Islamic Studies at the same academic institution. Between 2006 and 2009 he worked there on a Graduate Fellowship. Currently, he is a Visiting Scholar at the University of Westminster, London UK, on a scholarship from the Swiss National Science Foundation. His research interests cover the teaching of Persian language, the history of drugs, history of the press, media analysis, and (pre-)modern Iran. Sample publication: 'From Crime to Illness. Shifts in the Iranian Press Discourse on Drugs and Drug Policy (1995-2000). In: Sreberny-Mohammadi, A. & al. (eds.): Thirty Years On. The Social and Cultural Impacts of the Iranian Revolution. (forthcoming).

The situation of the historically high addiction rate in Iran didn't change much since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Despite repressive measures against smugglers and addicts alike, addiction to opiates has remained worrying, especially among the youth. Hence, since the mid 1990s Iran in an astonishing change of mind has introduced new therapies and harm reduction practices such as needle exchange and methadone programmes.
The present paper aims at presenting the results of a PhD project on the Iranian public debate on drugs and drug policy based on the analysis of Persian newspaper articles from 1995-2000. Despite various restrictions on the freedom of expression, the Iranian press can be seen as the most representative vehicle for a wide range of political and ideological perspectives. The analysis was conducted by using the Discourse Analysis in the tradition of Foucault.
The necessity to reform the country's drug policy already started to be discussed in the Iranian press during Rafsanjani's term. Yet, it was especially the reformist newspapers appearing in the two years following the election of president Khatami that openly criticised the failed practices of the past und gradually advocated internationally approved drug demand and harm reduction practices. By consistently pointing the finger at the pressing social problem of drug dependency and its many side effects they not only augmented the press discourse on drugs but also affected its way of reporting. Thus, the emphasis of the coverage shifted from drug supply to drug demand reduction and new medical therapies were discussed. There is a remarkably critical recognition of domestic causes for drug smuggling and addiction and a growingly pragmatic approach to address these shortcomings. Even the associated problem of HIV started to be presented openly. Drug addicts were not considered criminals any more, but sick and needy persons. This at least is true for the level of topical argumentation. On the rhetorical and linguistic layer, however, ideologically driven perceptions and images still gleamed – especially in the conservative press. This becomes as well evident from continuing taboos like corruption or drug smuggling activities by minorities. The reformist press nonetheless has permanently changed the coverage on drugs. The discussion of progressive harm reduction methods, e.g. the distribution of clean syringes and methadone that today even takes place in prisons, started only after the forced closure of most reformist newspaper in the years 1999/2000. 


Academic Discipline : 
Islamic Studies
Time Period : 

Posted in