By Behrouz Turani
September 6, 2019
The standoff between Iran and the United States has been playing out in full in the media during this week.
The United States has offered monetary rewards for “actionable” information on what Washington calls Tehran’s “oil-for-terror” network.
The State Department has also confirmed that Washington had offered an award to the captain of the Iranian oil tanker wandering in the Mediterranean encouraging him to sail the vessel in a direction that would facilitate its seizure.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump has ruled out the French President’s mediation between Tehran and Washington, suggesting that the two countries can hold direct talks if there is a will in Tehran to do so, and if there is a will, there will be a way too.
At the same time, Iranian officials have been in a state of denial, where they appear to reside most of the time. Tehran has announced that it will begin to further reduce its commitment to the nuclear deal President Donald Trump abandoned in May 2018.
Subsequently, Iran has vowed to go ahead with unrestricted research and development activity it has so far been refraining from under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) or the 2015 nuclear accord.
Tehran has been using the suspension of its commitments presumably as a winning chip in its gamble with Europe, which is still a party to the nuclear deal. Tehran threatens that if the EU fails to provide a financial mechanism to help Iran, it will continue to reduce its commitments under the JCPOA.
While the Rouhani administration continues its threats, part of Iranian hardliners believe that the tactic will not be effective. “Does it really matter whether Iran’s stockpile of enriched Uranium is 300 kilograms or 295 kilograms?” Asked hardliner daily Kayhan close to Supreme Leader Khamenei’s office on Thursday September 5.
Kayhan has seriously questioned the effectiveness of the Iranian administration’s measure in reducing its nuclear commitments.
Meanwhile, as Iran announced the start of “the third step” in reducing its nuclear commitments under the JCPOA, the French government which has been trying to broker a new deal between Iran and America or at least facilitate a meeting between Rouhani and Trump, has called on Iran to stay committed to the terms of the JCPOA to save the agreement.
However, regardless of what is taking place in Washington and Paris, officials in Tehran appear to be preoccupied with an event that took place at another era, in another place: The martyrdom of the Shiites’ third Imam, Hussain, the Son of Imam Ali, and the grandson of Prophet Mohammad, on 10th of Muharram in the year 61 AH (October 10, 680 AD).
In a video aired on Iran’s state TV and widely shared on social media, President Hassan Rouhani sings the eulogy of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom in great detail, even pointing out on which side of his horse he fell when the last arrow hit him. While Rouhani is telling the story, his cabinet members conceal their faces behind their hands and sob apparently in a deeply emotional scene.
Iranian Shiites mourn the first ten days of Muharram in emotional and dramatic ceremonies that culminate on the 10th of Muharram.
The ceremonies are so important for the Islamic Republic that Rouhani brought forward the announcement of his “third step” not to miss the opportunity of attending a special mourning for Abbas, a brother of Hussain Friday night, the actual date when Iran’s ultimatum to Europe was originally set.
The government also uses the opportunity of Muharram to further demonize its enemies by creating an association with Hussain’s enemies. This explains why the West should particularly avoid verbal attacks on the Islamic Republic during these days as it increases the chance of further demonization of the United States in the emotional dialogue between the Iranian government and its staunch supporters who happen to be the main audience of the ceremonies.
As one can see in the video dated September 3, the Rouhani administration and its audience are re-living the life and agony and drama of those who lived in the Imam Hussain’s camp in Karbala, southern Iraq, more than 1,300 years ago.
The emotional mood will end after September 10, when extremely loud drums and brass bands stop their annual performance and believers stop beating their chests. After Ashura, the Iranian administration will also end the drama and begin to act as reasonably as they behaved before Muharram. That is when the West can make sure someone will be listening in Tehran.