Having failed in everything else, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is now trying to cast himself as the sole guarantor of security for Iranians, implicitly threatening them with a "Syria-like" tragedy. (Image source: khamenei.ir)
Like other totalitarian ideologies, from its murky beginnings in the 1960s, Khomeinism, has tried to encapsulate its raison d'être in a single word.
The first word, used against the Shah's reforms including equality for women and land for landless peasants, was "mashru'eh", supposed to symbolize the primacy of religious law over manmade legislation.
In the early 1970s, the ayatollah adopted another word: "Islam". He claimed he would not allow "one word more or one word less."
By the late 1970s, the magic word had been replaced with "enqleab" that, in Persian, means "revolution". Soon, however, the word lost all meaning as an emerging nomenclature replaced the ousted ruling elites and started behaving worse than the fallen regime.
The magic word for the 1980s was "jang" ("war") which Khomeini said was "a blessing from God" to guide his "10-million-man army" to conquering the Middle East, including "Holy Shrines" in Iraq, and wiping Israel off the map as a starter for "ending America."
As those dreams faded with the dawn of reality, like fog as the sun rises, another catchword was put into circulation: "muqawimah" ("resistance"). But that magic word also proved hollow when the "Imam" drank his chalice of poison and agreed to end the war with Iraq without having "liberated" either Karbala or Jerusalem.
Khomeini's successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tried to impose his ideological imprint by expanding the one-word shibboleth into a three-word one: "Tammadun novin Eslami" which means "the new Islamic civilization."
To promote his slogan, the ayatollah wrote, "open letters to the youth of the world", inviting them to adopt the Khomeinist version of Islam as a template for a new civilization.
He also created a special office headed by the US-trained gynecologist Dr. Ali-Akbar Velayati, complete with a generous budget, to promote the idea.
In that capacity, Velayati went to Cairo in 2012 to advise then-Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to disband the army, create a revolutionary guard, and sign an alliance with Tehran.
At home, the message was that the current "Islamic civilization", which, of course, had been a product of Iranian "thinkers", had become ossified, no longer able to raise "pure Muhammadans thirsting for martyrdom." It was necessary to teach the youth to forgo transient joys of life and strive after martyrdom "the highest peak of human achievement."
It is now clear that Khamenei's three-word slogan has failed to make as much as a ripple in the ocean of human reality.
Contrary to his expectations, the youths of the world are not forming queues to secure copies of his epistolary efforts from Islamic embassies, although these are given free.
Inside Iran, cultural production, from poetry to cinema, and architecture and music, are, increasingly, emptied of whatever Islamic content they once had. Rahim-Pour Azghadi, a member of the High Council of Islamic Culture in Tehran laments, "the virtual domination of Western culture" in people's lives in the Islamic Republic.
Thus, when Iranians rose in rebellion the week before last, using the tripling of the price of petrol as a pretext to vent their anger and frustration, it was clear that Khamenei's three-word slogan must now join Khomeini's one-word ones in the graveyard of shibboleths.
Shaken by the popular uprising that, according to the Ministry of Interior, affected more than 100 cities, Khamenei and his team started looking for a new slogan. On the third day of the week-long protests, that may or may not continue, albeit, with different rhythm and tempo, they came up with a new slogan: "amniyat" (security). "Security is our red-line, Khamenei declared in one of his sermons to a captive audience.
"There can be no government, no country without security," echoed the daily Kayhan, which reflects the views of the "Supreme Guide".
In an editorial, Kayhan spoke of "plundering people's homes and shops, and burning government offices and killing many innocent citizens."
For his part, President Hassan Rouhani invited the people to cherish the security they enjoy and not allow it to be undermined by "evil troublemakers."
To hammer in the claim that the uprising threatened national security, the regime fomented a sense of insecurity. The state-controlled media ran identical reports, concocted by a "star-chamber" of propagandists, about shopping malls and supermarkets being looted, bank branches robbed and set on fire. They also claimed that "foreign agents and killers" had organized and led the protests.
To thicken the broth, the government advised members of the military and security services not to appear in public alone. Members of the Shi'ite clergy were advised to keep a low profile and, whenever possible, avoid wearing traditional clothes in public.
The sense of insecurity the regime wished to foment was boosted when foreign "jihadists" invited to Tehran for the Islamic Unity Conference, were told they had to leave Iran earlier than scheduled, as "pilgrimages" to Mashhad and Khomeini's "Holy Shrine" were canceled.
However, like all other slogans used by the Khomeinist elite in the past 40 years, the "security" slogan is based on a pack of lies.
This is how the official news agency IRNA on Wednesday 20 November reported what it termed "serious damages to national security":
- Robbing chain stores in two cities in Tehran Province.
- Breaking the windows of [some] cars.
- Cutting off the internet throughout the country
- The deaths of a number of citizens involved in disturbances.
It is interesting that even the cutting of the internet, a government decision, is imputed to protesters.
Does IRNA's "detailed report" indicate a situation in which "national security is threatened"?
Having failed in everything else, Khamenei is now trying to cast himself as the sole guarantor of security for Iranians, implicitly threatening them with a "Syria-like" tragedy. His apologists abroad, including some remnants of the Obama administration, warn against any action that might provoke Khamenei into activating his "suicide belt", to blow himself up and with it the entire Middle East.
A Kayhan editorial Wednesday called for "revenge against those who organized the riots". It demanded to attack their "sensitive strategic and economic centers", adding, "We can easily bring them to their knees," presumably by activating Khamenei's suicide-belt.
In this opinion, however, Khamenei's "suicide-belt" is as fake as everything else in a regime that has lost the confidence of the people.
Amir Taheri was the executive editor-in-chief of the daily Kayhan in Iran from 1972 to 1979. He has worked at or written for innumerable publications, published eleven books, and has been a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat since 1987. He is the Chairman of Gatestone Europe.
This article was originally published by Asharq al-Awsat and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.