Iran's Anti-Americanism, or Americanitis, consists of a mixture of professed hatred of the United States, as reflected in the regime's uber-slogan "Death to America", on the one hand, and sadomasochistic fascination with all things American on the other. Poll after poll shows that the "Great Satan" remains more popular in Iran than in some Western democracies. American fast food, under Islamic names, is also competing with Persian cuisine. (Photo by Patrick Baz/AFP via Getty Images)
What Ails the Islamic Republic in Iran?
This is the topic of a symposium that, coronavirus permitting, is slated to bring a number of European Iran-watchers together next month.
Some answers could be anticipated, among them a democratic deficit, not to say a totalitarian culture of government. There is also rampant corruption, which some experts believe has become a way of life in Iran. Another ailment is economic dislocation caused by poor management and the greed of a narrowly based nomenclature. A surrealistic cult of personality and a never-ending factional feud may also be cited. No prize for guessing, but sanctions imposed by the United Nations, the United States and the European Union, too, are sure to be mentioned.
However, at the risk of veering away from academic method, one may suggest another, in my opinion more pertinent, ailment: Anti-Americanism or, to coin a word, Americanitis.
One may go so far as to suggest that many of the other ailments that have kept the Khomeinist regime in perpetual crisis are rooted in Americanitis.
What does Americanitis consist of?
It consists of a mixture of professed hatred of the United States, as reflected in the regime's uber-slogan "Death to America", on the one hand, and sadomasochistic fascination with all things American on the other.
The Iranian gets up every morning to a barrage of abuse on the United States from official media. When he goes to work he may have to trample on a star-spangled banner before entering buildings.
The walls of his city are covered with posters and tags calling for the destruction of America. Every year he is invited to a march against the "Great Satan" and, if he is somebody, is invited to an international "A World Without America" seminar. If he visits a bookshop he is offered cheap editions of anti-American literature mostly by American and European America-haters.
If he goes to a Friday prayer session at the local mosque, he hears mullahs' tirades against the "Great Satan."
A study by Soraya Nasiri shows that Friday sermons devote more time to fomenting hatred of the US than on bona fide religious issues. Another study, by a Ph.D. candidate who wishes not to be named, claims that anti-Americanism is the central theme of some 60 percent of speeches by "Supreme Guide" Ali Khamenei. Even when he talks of writing poetry, successful Islamic marriages, or a healthy Islamic diet, the ayatollah seasons his sermons with hate-America spices.
Despite all that, poll after poll shows that the "Great Satan" remains more popular in Iran than in some Western democracies.
Why is that?
The reason is that regime propaganda portrays the US as an omnipotent hegemon dominating the world.
President Hassan Rouhani has said that the US is the Headman (kadkhoda in Persian) of the global village.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described the deal he made with the Obama administration on Iran's nuclear project as "the greatest diplomatic victory for Islam." With eyes filled with tears of pride he announced that America had recognized the right of Iran to enrich uranium, a right that every nation has under international law.
Overestimating America's power while expressing hatred for it has created a situation in which almost every domestic and foreign policy option is predicated on its effect on relations with the US. Because Russia is supposed to be a rival to the US, it is cast as an ally, although it treats Iran with disdain. The same goes for China in its recent lovers' tiff with the US. Suddenly, the mullahs re-write themselves as Sinophiles, inviting Beijing to a banquet of Iranian resources.
Fascination with America started with Ayatollah Ruhallah Khomeini, the mullah who created the weird regime. In his first government, five ministers were US citizens or Green Card holders. Of the nine foreign ministers the Islamic Republic has had, six are American-educated. In contrast, of the 24 foreign ministers who served under the Shah, only one had studied in US. According to a report by Islamic Majlis, more than 1,500 senior Khomeinist officials have sent their children to US for education or business.
Until 1978, Iran never filled its US immigration quota, as Iranians were reluctant to emigrate. In 1974, the Iranian Embassy in Washington estimated the Iranian immigrant community at around 6,000, not counting some 40,000 students. Under the mullahs, however, over eight million Iranians have emigrated, nearly two million of them to the US.
Hope of immigrating to the US has created a bustling visa-hunting industry with over 80 "specialist offices". The US consulate in Istanbul claims it is processing more than 100,000 Iranian files each year.
There are other signs of the mullahs' fascination with America.
Every now and then, the mullahs organize a jihad against American DVDs, pop music albums and "sinful" clothes, with little success.
A year after seizing power, the mullahs changed the uniform of Iranian military, including the caps, copied from the German army in the 1930s, replacing them with US-style khakis and baseball caps. Revolutionary Guard chiefs wear uniforms copied from the one John Wayne wore in his film "Iwo Jima."
The mullahs also replaced goose-stepping in the Shah's army with American-style duck-march. In 2018, General Muhammad Baqeri, newly appointed Chief of Staff, adopted the reform project presented by General David Petraeus for the American military, to replace classical divisions with smaller more mobile brigades.
Under the mullahs, Iran has also replaced French with American English as official diplomatic language, ending a 200-year old tradition.
When the mullahs wish to claim credit for their views, they cite American figures sympathetic to their cause, among them Noam Chomsky, Barbara Slavin, Fareed Zakaria, Thomas Friedman, Robert Malley, Mark Gazirowski and Louis Farrakhan. Visits by little known American "scholars" hit headlines in official media, especially if the visitor adds a dose of anti-Semitism. The "Supreme Guide" is addicted to CNN while the New York Times is often quoted as gospel truth.
Under the mullahs, Iranian universities replaced the French system of examinations with the American system of credits.
For years, Khamenei has been calling for reforms to end the use of American textbooks in Islamic universities, to no avail. American fast food, under Islamic names, is also competing with Persian cuisine.
A British travel writer says he was surprised to have a delicious cheeseburger with General Lee onion rings and a milkshake in a remote town in Iranian Kurdistan.
The Islamic Republic has propelled itself into Americanitis which, like alcoholism, is known to be deadly but cannot be abandoned either.
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.