Iran's leaders can't hide their failings behind empty analogies
The most radical elements of the Iranian establishment and their pundits in the media have long discredited their more progressive, moderate detractors by accusing them of allegiance to the US and smearing them as being intoxicated with a Western mentality.
Building on a discourse that is steeped in a warped nationalism, they inculcate the general public with the idea that political streams with pro-West leanings are infidel to the national interest and always susceptible of betraying them, so they don’t merit being trusted.
For years, former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Hassan Rouhani, their executives and supporters have been treated as the fall guys that sold out the nation to the “spiteful” West because they were infatuated with the “imperial” powers, and their legacy has been one of treason and subservience.
"Despite their professed aversion to the West and its culture, [hardliners] have consistently resorted to rationalisations used by Western leaders and media to market their own performance and justify their rule"
From the notion of dialogue among civilizations ushered in by former President Khatami and his reference to Abraham Lincoln as a “martyr,” to the signing of the 2015 nuclear deal on the watch of Hassan Rouhani, any instance of outreach to the outside world by the reform movement has been brushed aside in the official discourse as bowing to a Western agenda.
While the most militant factions of the Iranian opposition lambast the reformists in Iran as culprits in the perpetuation of the reign of the Islamic Republic, they have been mercilessly bad-mouthed at home as being the fifth column of the West doing the bidding of the US and Britain.
But one of the oxymorons of the hardline narrative is that despite their professed aversion to the West and its culture, they have consistently resorted to rationalisations used by Western leaders and media to market their own performance and justify their rule.
While villainizing their reformist rivals as being Western lieutenants chipping away at the Islamic Republic, the hardliners have unfailingly weaponised the words of Western sources to project themselves as the heroes delivering for the people of Iran.
At a time when the economy is falling into an irreversible slump, inflation is spiralling, civil liberties are being butchered, and the nation’s international isolation is metastasizing, it is ironic that the hardliners wielding power do not draw analogies between Iran and nations with similar circumstances or comparable demographics.
Instead, they constantly invoke comparisons with what is happening in the West, and in particular the United States, to insinuate that their failures are normal and their achievements extraordinary.
During the protests over the death of the 22-year-old woman Mahsa Amini in police custody, Iran’s government spokesperson Ali Bahadori Jahromi took to Twitter to paint a picture of what he implied is the bleak situation of women in the United States.
On 14 December 2022, he tweeted, “one third of women inmates in the world are imprisoned in the United States. Since 2015, at least 250 women have been murdered on the streets and without trial due to the savagery of the US police.”
The punchline, according to the administration official, was clear: if one woman is killed by the police forces in Iran, tens of others fall victim to police brutality in the United States.
To be sure, that was a poor analogy for several reasons. But still, he found it expedient to contrast the life of women in Iran, where they are by definition in thrall to a rigid theocracy, and the status of women in a democracy where their rights have clear scopes with legal safeguards.
"Notwithstanding its historical imperative, contemporary Iran has been beset by sanctions that haven’t been short of a devastating military campaign strangling its 85 million people"
On 26 December 2022, the Iran Newspaper, the official daily of the government, reported on the “explosion” of the price of food items in Europe and the US, announcing with schadenfreude that the average price of chicken meat in the US market is twice as much per kilogram than in Iran.
The report didn’t compare the purchasing power parity of the American and Iranian citizens, or their respective average incomes, but capitalised on a flawed comparison to drive home the deficient understanding that life in the West has become unaffordable while the Iranian people are doing well financially.
Such a parallel has expectedly been greeted with ridicule by the Iranian people, especially on social media, but signals the entrenched dependence of the hardliners on the West as a tenor to explain away the Islamic Republic’s governance credentials.
Over the past months, news agencies and outlets affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have been celebrating the World Bank’s recent report that put Iran’s economic growth in 2022 at 2.9% while showing the US’s GDP growth equaled 1.9%, concluding that Iran’s economic progress has outpaced that of the United States.
It is impossible to juxtapose the leading global economy sized at $20.2 trillion with an economy shackled by grinding sanctions, alienated from the world’s banking sector and incapable of meeting its basic requirements.
But even if for the sake of domestic consumption, a skewed interpretation of the figures indicating the countries’ annual economic growth can serve as food for thought, and there might be those who are misled by it.
The truth is that, like it or not, the economic, social, cultural and security indicators of Iran should be compared to countries with corresponding standing, challenges and opportunities.
Notwithstanding its historical imperative, contemporary Iran has been beset by sanctions that haven’t been short of a devastating military campaign strangling its 85 million people, and its relations with much of the world have been stained for decades.
The same kleptocrats that have customarily slandered their more liberal-minded opponents for their guarded overtures to the West continue to advertise their own results by appealing to an otherwise detested West wherever figures can be cited in their favour to vindicate themselves and demonstrate that life under the Islamic Republic is not all gloomy skies.
This doesn’t merely betoken ignorance, but most importantly spells hypocrisy. The analogies remain inane and fail to impress the average Iranian fed up with corruption and authoritarianism.
Kourosh Ziabari is an award-winning Iranian journalist and reporter. He is the Iran correspondent of Fair Observer and Asia Times. He is the recipient of a Chevening Award from the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office and an American Middle Eastern Network for Dialogue at Stanford Fellowship.
Follow him on Twitter: @KZiabari
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