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Killing the beauty: why the Instagram models of the Middle East are afraid for their lives 

Criticism, threats and death – what happens when local Internet stars look different from what Muslims want?

Instagram model Tara Fores near her car, in the cabin of which she was shot Photos from her instagram

In September 2018, a 22-year-old model was shot in Iraq , which in 2015 won the Miss Baghdad competition. She became one of the most famous Instagram models in the country and in the Middle East, and her shots have long caused controversy and condemnation among Muslims. Shortly before her death, unknown persons regularly threatened the girl, but she ignored the messages.

The case of Fares is not only shocking, but also confirms the trend – Instagram stars in Iraq and the Middle East are increasingly being criticized for their publicity and candid photos. They are forced to abandon their activity or hide it, so as not to be among those colleagues who have become victims of unjustified cruelty.

Life for fame

September 27 was supposed to be an ordinary day in the life of Tara Fares. A native of the United Arab Emirates, as a child she moved to Iraq, in 2015 she became “Miss Baghdad” and moved from the capital to Erbil, a more prosperous and safe city. Security played an important role for the girl, given her way of life, which she shared with subscribers on Instagram.

Taking the example of Western Internet models, she published photos with her head uncovered, in fashionable clothes, bright make-up from clubs or hotels. Anyone who visited her page could see expressive tattoos on her hands. The audience liked the girl — on September 27, she was ranked sixth in the number of subscribers on social networks in Iraq. The life of Miss Baghdad 2015 was followed by more than 2.7 million people.

“I am not afraid that there are those who reject the existence of God. What really scares me is that there are those who kill to prove the existence of God, ”Fares wrote in July on Instagram. She had not been shy about demonstrating her character, sometimes criticizing individual events in the country.

Although almost three months have passed since the murder of the girl, many details of the tragedy are still unknown. Shortly before the incident, she began to appear more frequently in Baghdad, while her family, including her three-year-old son, remained in Erbil. The girl noticed that the number of threats to the address had increased significantly, but, apparently, did not attach much importance to this.

On the afternoon of September 27, the girl sat in the cabin of her white Porsche in a residential area of ​​Baghdad. There, according to media reports, she was looking for a home for her family when an unknown person approached her. He shot three times at the girl sitting in the passenger seat, and disappeared in an unknown direction. Fares died before the ambulance arrived.

A series of unsolved murders

Fares were murdered by members of an extremist group (which is not specified), said Iraqi Interior Minister Kasim Mohammad Jalal al-Araji (Qassem al-Araji) in response to the tragedy. He assured that the police would thoroughly examine the case of the killing of the star and punish those responsible. The same promises were made by the official authorities two days before the murder of Fares, when in the afternoon in Basra unknown persons shot dead thewell-known human rights activist Suad al-Ali.

 

Human rights activist Souad al-Ali, shot dead in Basra two days before the murder of Tara Fares Photo by Human Rights
Human rights activist Souad al-Ali, shot dead in Basra two days before the murder of Tara Fares Photo by Human Rights

The Iraqi police spoke about the investigation in August, when the owner of two beauty salons died in mysterious circumstances in the center of Baghdad for a day under mysterious circumstances . Perhaps the death of four famous Iraqi women, whose actions were contrary to the conservative views of many citizens of the country, is just a coincidence. For Iraq, torn by war for many years, random killings are not considered to be something unique.

However, the Ministry of the Interior suspects that the series of murders is part of a coordinated plan of some groupings. In a conversation with The New York Times, a member of the Iraqi parliament, Mohammad Nasir al-Karbouli, suggested that killing such an Internet star as Fares is a way to destabilize the situation in the country. “The murders of women in broad daylight are messages that aim to confuse the security situation in Baghdad and weaken the confidence of citizens,” says Karbuli.

Given the political instability in various regions of Iraq, there is some ground under this version, but it does not explain why Fares was the victim of an exemplary execution. Journalist and founder of the fashionable edition of LYNX Magazine Darina Sarkhan (Daryna Sarhan), who has long followed the girl in Instagram, believes that the reason lies in the Western lifestyle of the deceased.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“In essence, she did everything that the conservatives oppose. She was an ordinary Instagram model, but in our society it is not considered something normal. It seems to me that the message was sent: “Do not be like Tara, or finish like it,” Sarkhan believes .[/perfectpullquote]

Critics of the girl did not stop even after her death – for example, the journalist of the country’s largest television network, Al Iraqiya, publicly called Fares a “whore”, finding support in social networks.

The atmosphere of hatred in the country is reflected in other models. Three days after the killings, Fares “Miss Iraq 2015” and the Instagram star (more than three million subscribers), Shimaa Qasim (Shimaa Qasim) recorded an emotional video for subscribers, where, crying, told about the threats she received. In early October, she left Iraq for Jordan, explaining that with fear for her life and relatives.

Kasim talks about threats to his address

Probably Kasim emigrated precisely because of the massacre of Fares. In the past, she received threats from the Islamic State terrorist group, whose members promised to kidnap a girl, but she did not leave the country. “They said they would kill me. At first I thought to go to Erbil, but it seemed to me a mistake, ”the model explained her motives to leave Iraq. In a conversation with The Verge, manager Kasim stated that if she had not left the country, “she would have been already dead.”

Alternative Middle East Approach

The atmosphere around Instagram models in Iraq is not less aggressive. In July, police arrested 18-year-old gymnast Maedeh Hojabri for publishing a video where she dances at home. In addition, for her “violation of moral standards,” several more people were detained, whose names were not disclosed, and the girl’s social network account (more than 600 thousand subscribers) was blocked.

Shortly thereafter, Khojabri and other detainees spoke on national television, apologizing for their behavior. Activists believe that the statements are made under pressure.

After the change of the political structure from the monarchy to the republic in 1979, the Iranian authorities carefully regulated the topic of sex in the country. This was expressed in a number of new prohibitions for women and censorship in the media, on television and on the Internet. On a par with Facebook and Twitter, Instagram remains one of the last unblocked social networks in Iran, but the case of Khodjabri shows that Instagram does not bypass the censorship of the sexual theme.

Meanwhile, the situation in the neighboring UAE is developing in a different way. As noted by The Verge, Dubai seems to have been created for Instagram celebrities with their skyscrapers, nightclubs, restaurants and luxury shops. Due to the developing economy and the dominance of fashion brands, local Instagram models, mostly women, play in a league separate from the rest of the world, earning up to $ 20 million a year.

In March 2018, the UAE authorities made the first proposals for regulating the advertising business in Instagram, obliging local models to get two licenses for “running a business” on the social network. The total cost of permits is slightly more than eight thousand dollars. Violation of the rules can result in a fine of up to 1.3 thousand dollars, official reprimand and / or account blocking.

Two models – two ways

“It’s hard for people to continue doing the same things that they could have done for free in the past,” says Dubai’s Instagram model Tala Samman. A little more than 120 thousand people signed up for her profile – a relatively small figure by local standards, but even she allowed the girl to enter into an advertising collaboration with Chevrolet and large stores.

Tala Samman

The Instagram model is not shy about being photographed in open clothes, demonstrating your body to subscribers. She does not worry that she will face condemnation – according to Samman, many do not know that in fact the UAE is open to the culture of different countries. Nevertheless, it follows local rules – for example, it does not take pictures with alcohol, since this is contrary to Muslim traditions.

Shimaa Qasim

After the murder of Feras “Miss Iraq 2015”, Shima Qasim fled to relatively safe Jordan, but the photos in her profile are not close to those published by Samman in Dubai. Although in the frames, Kasim appears bare-headed, in dresses and heels, in her account there are no photos from parties, in nightclubs or in expensive restaurants. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the girl is still not confident in their own safety and the safety of relatives who remained in Iraq.

It is not known when Kasim will return to his homeland. Her story, like the story of the murdered Fares, points to a growing and dangerous trend within Iraq and Iran. The essence of this trend is that if in social networks a girl does not look as demanded by conservatives and supporters of strict adherence to Muslim traditions, she risks attracting aggression from outside. To the extent that the price of her free views on Instagram will be her own life.

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