In Iran almost nothing is what it seems to be. Iranian culture is formal; it places a premium on politeness and manners. By violating both principles, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been mesmerizing Iranians, to the delight of the masses and the embarrassment of the few. When Iranian reporters in New York, for instance, told him that the Iranian parliamentarians had criticized him, he shot back "Goh khordand." ["They can go eat sh*t."].
Referring to the US-Iranian relationship, Ahmadinejad refers to breast-feeding babies and uses profanity, and his audience loves him! The first reference comes from a Persian expression: Mamaro looloo bord ["The ogre has taken away the mother's breastfeeding"], meaning: From now on, the rules have been changed and you had better listen to me.
Ahmadinejad constantly belittles the regime's enemies -- and is the most successful leader to do so since the death of Khomeini. Khomeini prophetically proclaimed, "America cannot do a damn thing," and history seems to have proven him right -- both throughout the presidency of Jimmy Carter, the pullback of the Marines from Beirut by President Reagan, through the present failure of the U.S. to halt Iran's nuclear program.
Ahmadinejad keeps standing up to America, and America keeps doing nothing to stop him. It was America alone, by doing nothing, that enabled Khomeini to achieve greatness and maintain his grip on power.
Ahmadinejad follows in Khomeini's footsteps. He proclaims the holocaust is a myth; he constantly belittles America, and the U.S. still does nothing. When Ahmadinejad is interviewed by the American media, the interviewers are ill-prepared: they never ask follow-up questions, challenge his lies, or call his bluff.
Iranian society, like most of us, likes winners, and if winning comes through the principle of zerangi [winning at the expense of others], and you come out on top, all the better.
Ahmadinejad is, moreover, known as a big teller of tall tales and white lies: a chakhan. Telling tall tales and white lies is embedded within the Islamic culture of Iran: in the religious writings, telling white lies to your enemies is encouraged. As a devout Shi'ite Muslim, Ahmadinejad is practicing taqiya [dissimulation] -- completely acceptable if used to advance the goals of the Islamic Republic -- and also possibly your rule -- whenever and wherever necessary.
During Ahmadinejad's latest trip to Isfahan province, the Fars News Agency, which is friendly towards him, carried multiple pictures of him and his choice for the next president, Esfandyar Mashai; it went on to show single photographs of Mashai. It just so happens that Mashai is also related to Ahmadinejad by marriage: his son married Mashai's daughter. Blood alliances are a big factor in Iranian politics.
If we are to understand the fierce battles now raging among Iran's rulers, we need to find answers to the following questions:
- What has emboldened Ahmadinejad to use such foul language in public when addressing his adversaries?
- Who and what is emboldening him openly to support, as his successor, Mashai, a man singled out by other forces in the regime for criticism?
- Are these signs of a major power shift in the Islamic Republic?
As Iranians despise weakness; they take special pleasure in watching their enemies suffer, we can draw two conclusions from the above:
- Ahmadinejad dares not give the impression that he is weak;
- He is certain that his opponents -- three Larijani brothers and Khamene'i -- are weak. As an activist, however, within the ranks of the veterans of the Revolutionary Guards, he must feel that they cover his back. This is a game of high-stakes poker, following in the footsteps of large sums that have been transferred out of Iran by the cronies of the regime.
The stakes are so high, in fact, that Ahmadinejad is providing videos of another Larijani brother, Fazael Larijani, demanding bribes. This video was screened in parliament to the shame and amazement of the speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani.
For Ahmadinejad, this is a win-win gamble. He can either succeed by blackmailing his opposition within the ruling Islamic regime not to harm him, or, should he be harmed, he will be granted martyrdom -- a lofty and much sought-after status in the current messianic Shi'ite regime.