By Hazem Saghieh
February 25, 2020
The scene was like one from an Almodovar movie and another by Quentin Tarantino. The scene of a black American Chevrolet, a car that is both beautiful and intimidating, making its way between huge crowds chanting: death to America. The car was carrying the remains of Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by a drone, also American.
The major irony of Soleimani’s funeral in Tehran drew countless comments on social media. Most of them were derisive, but that did not stop Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nassrallah from calling for… a boycott of American products.
A world of absurdity is spectacularly unfolding before our eyes. Major General Hossein Salami, the new commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, told ‘Al-Mayadeen’ TV channel that current conditions are unsuitable for the eradication Israel. Tomorrow perhaps. This was said hours after new Israeli strikes targeted the suburbs of Damascus; apparently, they hit Iranian positions. Meanwhile, Ali Larijani, head of the Iranian Consultative Assembly (parliament), visits Beirut and tells the Lebanese people that his state is ready to provide them with economic assistance.
It is known that his state, which is being subjected to extremely harsh sanctions, is in need of any kind of assistance. It might be more credible for Lebanon, which is collapsing financially, to volunteer to help Iran. In any case, Nassrallah has already advised the Lebanese to ask China for financial assistance.
Also, official Iran bragged about the example for democracy that it sets for the rest of the world, in reference to the elections held last Friday. However, the Guardian Council banned 80 percent of the “reformist” candidates from running, and then pro-Iranian media reiterated that “the reformists’ defeat is inevitable”. An extremely objective conclusion.
On the other hand, the world says that the Syrian province of Idlib witnessed the displacement of up to a million people in the last few days, in one of the largest waves of displacement in history. Pro-Iranian media outlets, in contrast, speak of historical victories in Idlib. Of course, Iranian officials remind us, from time to time, that the earth shattering response to Soleimani’s assassination is on its way. Apparently, something wrong happened along the way!
Indeed, most of those who studied tight ideological regimes observed that lying, especially through propaganda, was an essential feature of how those regimes function. They lie as they breath. However, those critics focused chiefly on Nazism and Stalinism, and wrote about them in the 1950s and 1960s. Back then, rival parts of the world were isolated from one another, and this was brought to a head by the Second World War and then the Cold War. At the time, the lies were credible because of this particular isolation and the curtailment of the media’s reach that accompanied it, as well as the censors’ ability to disrupt radios and televisions and so on. Part of the world was living behind an ‘Iron Curtain’ as Churchill famously put it.
Thus it would have been possible for a lie about shooting down dozens of Israeli warplanes on the morning of June 5, 1967, to be believed for hours before the few among us who listened to the BBC and other western radio stations exposed it. Change started with the Helsinki Summit of 1975 and the expansion of the phenomenon of Soviet dissidents. Opponents were beginning to learn of what had been happening beyond the borders. Afterward, globalization and the revolution in communications pushed us much further in that direction. Today, believing lies, even for a few hours, as had happened to us in 1967, has become difficult: events are witnessed as they happen, as the famous cliché goes.
So what is Iran doing, and why is it lying?
During this age of media accessibility, it is doubtful that their discourse is propaganda in the Nazi or Stalinist sense of the word. Lies, precisely because of how quickly they are dispelled, now have the opposite effect to that which they are intended to have.
Iran, then, probably does not lie, but it does not tell the truth either. What motivates it is to establish an alternative reality and try to live in it. This desire was perhaps brought to life with its 1979 revolution: by holding the diplomats of the American embassy in Tehran hostage, it broke with the diplomacy we are familiar with. Its infallible leadership, both spiritual and temporal, which is tied to Wilayat al-Faqih, is not like other leadership. Its elections are not like other elections…
As for living on another world, it is not an assurance, and it is certainly not a good argument. Loyalty, even faith, is no longer enough of reason, not even for Iran’s supporters, to continue to believe the unbelievable.