Robin Wright, one of the best Western journalists out there when it comes to reporting from inside Iran, has a new piece in The New Yorker today on the common Iranian chant, “Death to America.” If you are unfamiliar with Iran and perhaps troubled by their use of this chant, or perhaps you’re a Republican politician and Sheldon Adelson is paying you to be troubled by their use of this chant, Wright demystifies its meaning for you by, and I know this is a shocking idea but stick with me here, actually asking actual Iranians about it. It’s really a great piece.
Wright gets a lot of explanations as to why Iranians still chant this phrase — it’s a demand for America to stay out of Iran’s affairs, it’s a ritual performance that has no real meaning, the people who still chant it are a small minority of Iranians — but the common thread is that it’s an expression of Iranian frustration at the way US policy has affected their country over the past 60 years:
Amir Zamaninia, who did graduate work at Chico State, in California, is now Iran’s deputy Oil Minister for International and Commercial Affairs. His son, he told me, is studying philosophy at Rutgers. A former diplomat, Zamaninia is now planning projects totalling two hundred billion dollars to develop Iran’s oil and gas industries over the next six years. He’s hoping for foreign investment if sanctions are limited. “What Iranians want next is to persuade the public in the United States not to think that we have nothing to do but be on the streets shouting ‘Death to America!’ every day,” he said. “We have our business, our own entertainment, and our own life to live. Saying ‘Death to America!’ has been a permanent fixture of the revolution that we don’t listen to anymore. It comes out as a matter of routine.”
Nasser Hadian got his doctorate at the University of Tennessee and taught at Columbia. He is now a Tehran University political scientist and influential voice in policy circles. His daughter is in graduate school at Tulane. “Saying ‘Death to America’ is meaningless,” he told me. “It’s actually not acceptable in our culture, because they’re saying death to a whole people. It’s said by only twenty per cent of the population. And only a teeny per cent of that twenty per cent believes in it. They think America crystallizes and stands for all bad things in the world—the same way some Americans think about Iran. America has killed more Iranians than Iranians have killed Americans. The U.S. supported Saddam Hussein during his war with Iran, when hundreds of thousands died.”
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