Inflammatory Iranophobic comments by America’s political elite are part of a much broader institutionalized Iranophobia within America’s government. Iran (and Iranians) as the ‘great evil’ in the Middle East is a socio-political construct meant to benefit the politicians in the US and its allies in the region, primarily Israel and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).
Let’s be clear about this, the regime in Tehran is hated even more by ordinary Iranians than by U.S. elites. However, the Mullahs in Iran should NOT be conflated with Iran itself, or ordinary Iranians. In fact, it serves to reinforce the regime in Tehran rather than undermine it. Iranophobia is now conflating anti-Mullah rhetoric with the plight of ordinary Iranians. This cannot continue.
Much like the narcotics industry, the Iranophobia industry is simply bad for America. It’s a bad industry and adds no value to the U.S. or Americans. Iran is not Russia or China. It is Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and other US allies that have been major sponsor of global terrorism. Iran is not a U.S. rival. Iran sits at a very important geographic and economic node in central Asia. Aligning with Iran is a realistic goal for America that could provide significant strategic value. Iranophobia is simply bad for America.
American voters need to understand that there is a long history of experts and companies that gain from manufacturing phobia in the U.S. There is ‘money’ in hatred. I want to make clear that I do NOT support the regime in Tehran (i.e. the Mullahs), but at the same time, there is no basis for widespread phobia against Iranians (because of the regime in power). Also, I should add, that it is now well established that the Islamic Fanatics that took power in Iran, did so with direct support of the U.S. Much like the Taliban in Afghanistan, the U.S. had a major role in helping Iran’s Mullahs assume power (only to find later that it was a mistake) – hence the current polarization.
Villains Are Necessary
Any playwright or author will tell you – to sell a story, villains are necessary. Villains and conflict are crucial. Conflict can come in many forms: villain, challenges, relationship drama. I think boils down to the old tropes of man v. man! For the story to engage the ‘heroic hero’ must have something to overcome, discover, or manifest. Any seasoned politician will tell you that ‘voters buy stories’! An election campaign is a battle of stories … a battle of narratives. You need heroes and villains. Trump had to paint Hillary Clinton into a villain… “Crooked Hillary” … who broke the law with how she hosted her government email account, who was umbilically connected to Bill Clinton (another crook).
Trump is now spearheading Iranophobia in America. To defeat Trump, Iranophobia itself must be defeated or at least replaced with another phobia. There are many to pick from.
America (and the West in general) has been conditioned to manufacture a phobia that can be exploited for both domestic and international gain i.e. economic and geopolitical interests.
There has been over 28 years of demonization of the Russian Federation (since America’s post world war II rival, the Soviet Union splintered). However, Russophobia is centuries old. Of late, it has focused on separating Russia from its former republics (now, the CIS region of Eurasia). Blatant lies, historical distortion, linguistic differences, religious issues and economic disadvantages, has led to a mania against Russia.
“Russia is a used as a tool and an instrument for seeking political gains in US polls by both Democrats and Republicans. Russophobia is created and maintained for securing political benefits, “ claimed Yumasheva, who also heads Russian Parliamentary Group for contact with the US Congress.
There is now a similar dynamic against China, now visible in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia. There is constant propaganda, lies and a slew of experts who mouth Sinophobic sentiments in public.
Russophobia and Sinophobia are industries now. There is financial gain, fame, publishing riches, TV appearances, YouTube videos produced by these experts.
Not to be overlooked in anyway, is the massive growth of America’s trillion-dollar military-industrial complex. After a large drop when the Soviet Union collapsed, there has been a steady rise in US defense spending.
The War on Terror
The attacks on 9/11, which coincided with the lowest budgeted level of US defense spending, led to a rise in defense spending to support US activities in Afghanistan and Iran. The war on terrorism was added to Russophobia and Sinophobia yet another ‘excuse’ to increase US defense spending.
Strangely, while the terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks were all Arabs from Saudi Arabia and other, US Arab allies; the current phobia generated by the war on terror, seems to be directed at Iran and Iranians. The current mantra espoused by a new ‘cadre’ of experts is that Iran is the ‘largest sponsor of Terrorism’ in the world.
To add insult to injury, in recent years, there has been a rise in well-funded, Arab, and fanatic Islamic terrorist groups (sponsored by Saudi Arabia and Qatar) – in the form of the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) that took over major parts of Iraq and Syria! And with the help of Iran, these groups have been largely defeated. Yet, again, we hear from experts that Iran is the ‘largest sponsor of Terrorism’ in the world.
All the evidence for sponsoring Terrorism points to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, and other US allies, yet, US media is focused on anti-Iran, and anti-Iranian messaging.
Much like Russophobia and Sinophobia, Iranophobia has become a significant industry.
As a result, regardless of policies, intent or capabilities, it is somehow predestined for Iran to remain a ‘threat’ for the US in the foreseeable future. This industry has significant franchisees. They (the businesses that rely on Iranophobia) have cornered America into an economic and political corner.
Years of sanctions against Iran, have led Iran to focusing its trade relations to US rivals (Russia, China and Europe). Years of bad relations with Iran, have led to the US spending literally trillions of dollars in Iran’s neighborhood. As of September 2019, the U.S. is operating nearly 800 military bases, and U.S. Central Command says between 60,000 and 70,000 U.S. troops are in the Middle East.
It’s stupid. Iran does represent a serious or significant threat to the U.S. This level of expenditure is disproportional to any sort of threat represented by Iran.
To put things in perspective, Iran’s military budget is less than the cost of one US aircraft carrier (i.e. $13 Billion), compared to a US defense budget exceeding $600 Billion. US allies like Saudi Arabia have defense budgets nearly 5 times Iran’s budget, with state-of-the-Art military equipment. Saudi Arabia has the third largest military budget in the world. Yet, somehow, Iran has been built up into a pariah state – that can justify Trillion-dollar military defense budgets by the U.S. and its allies.
It simply doesn’t make sense. However, despite the lack of logical grounding for Iranophobia arguments, Iran continues to be a central pariah in US media and US politicians. The reason is simple. Many companies, and political groups stand to benefit by Iranophobia and seem to control US media and US politicians. There is an ‘Iranophobia Industry’! It’s an industry, like the narcotics industry – that serves no public purpose, but makes its participants very rich.
Who are the beneficiaries of Iranophobia? Here is a list.
The Israeli (Netanyahu) Franchise
Despite Israel’s long history of close relations with Iran, and its secret supply of arms to the Mullahs in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war in the 80’s, by 2007, Bibi Netanyahu discovered that Iranophobia meant votes. For the past 20 years or so, Netanyahu has sustained a steady anti-Iranian narrative, that has served him politically – even though this has led to a major chasm between Iranians and Israeli (who have historically been allies and friends).
In an 8 March 2007 interview with CNN, opposition leader Netanyahu asserted that there is only one difference between Nazi Germany and the Islamic Republic of Iran, namely that the first entered a worldwide conflict and then sought atomic weapons, while the latter is first seeking atomic weapons and, once it has them, will then start a world war. Netanyahu repeated these remarks at a news conference in April 2008. This was like earlier remarks that “it’s 1938, and Iran is Germany, and Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs”. (This was 11 years ago). And, on 20 February 2009, after being asked to be the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu described Iran as the greatest threat that Israel has ever faced: “Iran is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon and constitutes the gravest threat to our existence since the war of independence.”
This type of Iranophobia has not only delivered votes, but also created a smokescreen for Israel to continue many nefarious acts. Because of his attacks on what would seem Iran’s illegal nuclear activities, no one even dares ask whether for example Israel is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treat (the NPT), or exactly how many illegal nuclear warheads Israel has (we are told its over 400), or when the last time Israel had its nuclear establishments inspected by anyone?
Netanyahu has also systematically undermined the US-Iran-P+5 nuclear deal (the so called JCPOA) which provides a safe framework for Iran’s nuclear program. And by doing so, has maintained a state of heightened tensions between the US and Iran (i.e. more Iranophobia)! He continues to make claims about Iran’s Nuclear program and has maintained his anti-Iranian posture despite Israel’s own intelligence service (Mossad’s) assessment was that Iran did not appear ready to enrich uranium to levels required for a nuclear bomb (according to cables leaked in 2015).
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has pushed back against Netanyahu and said that The Tel Aviv regime is looking for ways to fuel Iranophobia. “Netanyahu is desperately seeking to find a pretext to create a hype about Iran’s nuclear program. He (Netanyahu is just trying to find a smokescreen … Nonsense,” the Iranian foreign minister said while referring to Netanyahu’s accusations. The top Iranian diplomat recalled that Netanyahu had repeatedly been proven wrong in his claims about Iran’s nuclear program as shown by recurrent probes of the International Atomic Energy Agency. “He’s been wrong about the previous allegations and he’s wrong about this one,” said Zarif, adding, “The previous allegations that Netanyahu made have been investigated by the IAEA and have been rejected.”
One important derivative of Netanyahu’s Iranophobia has been that the Israeli American population in the US have followed his lead. Many Israeli Americans are rabid anti-Iranians. Also, Israel has been a tacit supporter of ‘silly’ Iranian Opposition groups like the MEK (who have worked as mercenaries for Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, and Saudi Arabia) who also feed into the Anti-Iranian narrative. He is also reported to be very close to the Trump administration in the U.S. that has not only withdrawn from the JCPOA but banned the travel of ordinary Iranians to the U.S. and kept Iranian students out of US universities.
For Netanyahu and his allies there is no difference between the Mullah regime in Iran and ordinary Iranians. Netanyahu has conflated all Iranians into one batch to be undermined and abused. General anti-Iranian fervor has served Netanyahu well. In effect, Netanyahu has amplified global Iranophobia.
The Saudi Franchise
The Saudis always want to “fight the Iranians to the last American” and it is “time for them to get in the game,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates once told the French foreign minister in a cable from February 2010.
Arab anti-Iranian fervor is nothing new. It was after all Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and UAE that provided most of the financing for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran. But why?
This is a complex historical issue, but there are many important current reasons for Arab paranoia when it comes to Iran. Specifically, in Saudi Arabia, there are several large pockets of Shia Muslims in regions that also have a great deal of oil. In fact, all Saudi Arabia’s Shia population reside on its Persian Gulf shoreland. Saudi Arabia has a repressive, and often oppressive dictatorial regime. The ruling regime in Riyadh is not only religiously different i.e. Sunni Muslim, but also purveyors of Wahabism (i.e. deeply fanatical brand of Sunni Islam). So then, add to a religious component to the general repression in Saudi Arabia, and what you find is a massive schism within Saudi Arabia. Saudi rulers fear their Shia Muslim minority; and see Iran’s Mullahs as sources of inspiration to this population. Quite simply, Shia Islam provides a national security risk to Saudi Arabia.
The question of Arabs and Iran was never an information problem — it’s an analysis problem. The antipathy which many of these leaders feel for Iran has long been well known. Internal divisions within Arab governments and Persian Gulf ruling families, and their deep fears of either Iranian retaliation or popular upheaval, and their bottomless hunger for U.S. weapons systems, and their hopes that the U.S. would magically solve their problems for them, and the disconnect between the palaces and the public.
Thus, to ensure U.S. support for their anti-Iranianism they have been supporting widescale Iranophobia in the U.S. and the West … and even inside Iran and the region.
One region in Iran has a majority ‘Arab-speaking’ population (around the city of Ahwaz). Saudi Arabia (and its regional allies) have been funding Arab separatism in this part of Iran. Last year a group of Arab-Separatist attacked a public procession in the City. Separately, Saudi Arabia (and its regional allies) funded ISIS/ISIL (billion-dollar terrorists) in Iraq and Syria to undermine Iranian and Shiite influence in those countries. And at the same time, Saudi Arabia has been mercilessly bombing Yemen’s Houthi population (which also follow a brand of Islam inspired by Shiism). Thus Saudi (and its allies) fear of Shiism has conflated itself into broad Iranophobia.
Saudi’s have big check books. Their Iranophobia has translated into big opportunities for arm sales, and the rental of mercenaries to fight their battles. Saudi Arabia has brought in a coalition of 9 countries to fight its war in Yemen and brought in mercenary fighters from Darfur and Latin American to fight alongside professional soldiers from their coalition of Arab nations.
Ironically, Iran has been accused of being the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism, when blatantly, Saudi Arabia has not only inspired, but financed the most violent and dangerous terrorist groups around the world. Osama Bin Laden was a Saudi national and most terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks. Iranophobia provides a defense shield to Saudi Arabia – by accusing Iran of terror, and thus changing the subject on their own active involvement in terrorism. Iranophobia thus serves multiple interests for Saudi Arabia; and it funds a big defense establishment (and personnel) who depend on Iranophobia for their jobs.
The MEK Franchise
For over 40 years, there has been tiny cult of “Marxist-Leninists” dissidents in Iran (and now abroad). Known invariably as the MEK, or MKO, or NCRI or Rajavists … they have sequentially opposed both the Shah’s and Mullah’s regime in Iran. No system will ever satisfy this group of dissidents, except their own mixed brand of fanatic Islam and Marxism. They wave flags which have both the hammer and sickle and Arab language (Islamic) insignia. During the Shah’s regime, they killed Americans. During the Mullah’s regime they escaped to Iraq and then fought Iranians on behalf of Saddam Hussein. They have betrayed everyone and sold themselves as mercenaries to any entity that is willing to pay for their services. The MEK are political and military prostitute – whores.
Most recently, they have been financed by Saudi Arabia (and others); and in turn have taken on their Iranophobic messaging for cash. The MEK in turn has spent its money to support US politicians who will also purvey their messaging. These politicians have included John Bolton (US National Security Advisor), Rudy Giuliani (Personal Attorney to Trump) and Newt Gingrich (former Congressional House Leader). This in turn has resulted in even more Iranophobic messaging in the U.S.; and a stream of anti-Iranian policies including banning Iranians from traveling to the U.S., and from attending College in the U.S.; and the resumption of sanctions against Iran.
The MEK is retailing money they receive wholesale from Saudi Arabia – to undermine not only the regime in Tehran but ordinary Iranians with the policies they (and their supporters) have sponsored.
Iran Hawks in US Political Theater
Iran and the US cooperated in military campaigns in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks, with Iran rounding up Arabs accused by the Bush administration as being complicit in the attack (CBS, 2008). However, just one year later, Bush formally institutionalized Iranophobia in American foreign policy with his infamous ‘axis of evil’ speech in 2002 in which axed his Iranian counterpart’s ‘dialogue among civilizations’. Bush reset US-Iran relations back by decades and placed it among a group of rogue states like North Korea and Iraq. The US presented its rationale with examples of human rights abuses, nuclear ambitions, sponsoring terrorism and opposing Israel despite not having any legible proof. At a time when the US was favourably placed to revitalize US-Iran relations, Bush’s hostile rhetoric not only institutionalized Iranophobia in America but created a lasting distrust of America within domestic Iranian politics. Indeed, one observer has said, “Bush’s administration contributed to the rise of Iran’s neoconservatives as a mirror image”. It is clear from the hostile rhetoric that the Bush administration’s Iran policy was ‘contain or defeat’.
What made matters worse was how America’s blatant Iranophobia led to fears of regime change within Iran which had, just in the previous year, assisted the US in administering regime change in Afghanistan. Moreover, the discovery of previously undeclared nuclear facilities in Natanz and Arak in Iran was capitalized upon by the US to justify their opposition to Iran. Despite top American officials like John Bolton and Richard Armitage admitting that the US had prior knowledge of these facilities, the ‘outrage’ displayed by the Americans was seen by many within Iran – most notably then chief nuclear negotiator and current President Hassan Rouhani- as an attempt to “‘manufacture’ an international crisis”
America requires a fantastical evil to justify its actions in the Middle East, without which its actions would be provocative and contrary to America’s identity as the propagator of democracy and freedom. In the past, this ‘great evil’ was the Soviet Union and the threat of Communism which launched President Truman’s Containment doctrine. Today, Iran as the ‘great evil’ needing containment is an idea sold to the American people (and the global community) to justify America’s interests in the region. These interests range from Israeli influence, geopolitical concerns, political and economic profiteering. This implies that regardless of capabilities or intent, assuming a lack of radical change in the Iranian or American elite, Iran is likely to remain a ‘great evil’ in American foreign policy for the near future
This rhetoric instrumentalizes fear to generate mass approval for the idea of Iranophobia among the Israeli and American people. This argument would suggest that Iranophobia is constructed because there needs to be an ‘enemy’ in the region for America to justify its alliance with autocratic monarchies and to defend Israel’s aggressions. It highlights the discourse surrounding the concept of fear and the production of a ‘culture of fear’ which posits that the insecurities of Americans have been instrumentalized and exploited for profit by the political, economic and media elites. This generally manifests as economic gain for corporations, high ratings for media companies or a political/power gain for the politicians. The fact that, “People react to fear, not love” (Nixon) was seen most starkly in the 2016 elections when a populist campaign exploiting fear of immigrants, war, job-losses and economic collapse defeated the campaign espousing unity, diversity and togetherness.
Iran hawks have been gloating that the quotes from a few Arab leaders in the initial cable release vindicate their analysis and discredit skeptics of military action against Iran. It doesn’t. Gates’ comment about the Saudis needing to “get into the game” came almost two years after King Abdullah’s now famous “cut off the head of the snake” comment. And another cable from January 2008 shows Abdullah telling Sarkozy that Saudi Arabia “does not want to inflame the situation,” recommends “continued international engagement” with Iran and “is not yet ready to take any action besides diplomacy.” Maybe, just maybe, those private remarks weren’t actually a very reliable guide to what the Saudis will really do in public?
US Hawks in the Iranian Political Theater
Iranophobia reinforces the regime in Tehran. It does not undermine it. Every time a ‘politico’ in the West spouts something negative about Iran, or takes direct action against ordinary Iranians (like denying visas, or implementing sanctions), the hawks inside the regime in Tehran say “I told you so, you can not trust the U.S.” Or “You cannot trust the West”. Then they simply blame all economic issues inside Iran on sanctions. They hide their own mismanagement and corruption behind sanctions and Iranophobia.
When people demonstrate in the streets, they are mercilessly killed and the blame for demonstrations is placed squarely on the West.
In any event, Iranophobia is hurting ordinary Iranians – not the regime. They are still in power, have access to everything they need.
In fact, Iranophobia has been largely ineffective in undermining the regime. During the past [Iranian calendar] year, despite all the [sanctions-related] issues and [some foreign] attempts to tarnish Iran’s international image, we have had a 52.5 percent increase in foreign arrivals compared to a year earlier,” Vali Teymouri said, according to reports in Iran’s media. Go figure! There is a massive rise in Chinese tourists, and tourists from Europe.
The rest of the world sort of feels sorry for Iran and Iranians, and now sees rampant Iranophobia as veiled racism by America’s bully (white) president. Iranophobia is seen as similar to Sinophobia and Russophobia … which in turn makes many ordinary people around the world somewhat sympathetic to Iran and Iranians. The data from tourism proves it.
The regime in Iran has not been cornered, in fact, the regime has expanded its tentacles into neighboring countries and expanded its trade relations with other nations (notably China). Iranophobia has provided a pretext for the regime to survive.
The Hollywood Franchise
Iranophobia can help you finance your movie or television project.
Since the 1980s and especially since the 1990s, Hollywood’s depiction of Iranians has vilified Iranians as in television programs such as 24, John Doe, On Wings of Eagles (1986), and Escape from Iran: The Canadian Caper (1981), which was based on a true story. Critics maintain that Hollywood’s “tall walls of exclusion and discrimination have yet to crumble when it comes to the movie industry’s persistent misrepresentation of Iranians and their collective identity”.
Not Without My Daughter: The 1991 film Not Without My Daughter was criticized for its portrayal of Iranian society. Filmed in Israel, it was based on the autobiography by Betty Mahmoody. In the book and film, an American woman (Mahmoody) traveled to Tehran with her young daughter to visit her Iranian-born family of her husband. Mahmoody’s husband then undergoes a strange transformation in Iran, ranging from an educated and sophisticated citizen to an abusive, backwards peasant, eventually deciding that they will not return to the United States. Betty is told that she can divorce him and leave, but their daughter must stay in Tehran under Islamic law. Ultimately, after 18 months in Iran, Betty and her daughter escape to the American embassy in Turkey.
Several Western critics, including Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times and Caryn James of The New York Times, criticized the film for stereotyping Iranians as misogynistic and fanatical. According to Ebert, the film depicts Islamic society “in shrill terms”, where women are “willing or unwilling captives of their men”, deprived of “what in the West would be considered basic human rights”. Furthermore, Ebert says, “No attempt is made—deliberately, I assume—to explain the Muslim point of view, except in rigid sets of commands and rote statements”. Ebert then contends, “If a movie of such a vitriolic and spiteful nature were to be made in America about any other ethnic group, it would be denounced as racist and prejudiced.”
According to Jane Campbell, the film “only serves to reinforce the media stereotype of Iranians as terrorists who, if not actively bombing public buildings or holding airline passenger’s hostage, are untrustworthy, irrational, cruel, and barbaric.”
The film was also criticized in Iran. A 2002 Islamic Republic News Agency article claimed that the film “[made] smears…against Iran” and “stereotyped Iranians as cruel characters and wife-beaters”. In a Finnish documentary, Without My Daughter, film maker Alexis Kouros tells Mahmoody’s husband’s side of the story, showing Iranian eyewitnesses accusing the Hollywood film of spreading lies and “treasons”. Alice Sharif, an American woman living with her Iranian husband in Tehran, accuses Mahmoody and the filmmakers of deliberately attempting to foment anti-Iranian sentiment in the United States.
Alexander: The 2004 film Alexander by American director Oliver Stone has been accused of negative and inaccurate portrayal of Persians.
300: The 2007 film 300, an adaptation of Frank Miller’s 1998 graphic novel, was criticized for its racist portrayal of combatants in the Persian army at the Battle of Thermopylae. Reviewers in the United States and elsewhere “noted the political overtones of the West-against-Iran story line and the way Persians are depicted as decadent, sexually flamboyant and evil in contrast to the noble Greeks”. With bootleg versions of the film already available in Tehran with the film’s international release and news of the film’s surprising success at the U.S. box office, it prompted widespread anger in Iran. Azadeh Moaveni of Time reported, “All of Tehran was outraged. Everywhere I went yesterday, the talk vibrated with indignation over the film”. Newspapers in Iran featured headlines such as “Hollywood declares war on Iranians” and “300 AGAINST 70 MILLION” (Iran’s population). Ayende-No, an independent Iranian newspaper, said that “[t]he film depicts Iranians as demons, without culture, feeling or humanity, who think of nothing except attacking other nations and killing people”. Four Iranian Members of Parliament have called for Muslim countries to ban the film, and a group of Iranian film makers submitted a letter of protest to UNESCO regarding the film’s alleged misrepresentation of Iranian history and culture. Iran’s cultural advisor to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called the film an “American attempt for psychological warfare against Iran”.
Moaveni identified two factors which may have contributed to the intensity of Iranian indignation over the film. First, she describes the timing of the film’s release, on the eve of Norouz, the Persian New Year, as “inauspicious.” Second, Iranians tend to view the era depicted in the film as “a particularly noble page in their history”. Moaveni also suggests that “the box office success of 300, compared with the relative flop of Alexander (another spurious period epic dealing with Persians), is cause for considerable alarm, signaling ominous U.S. intentions”.
According to The Guardian, Iranian critics of 300, ranging from bloggers to government officials, have described the movie “as a calculated attempt to demonize Iran at a time of intensifying U.S. pressure over the country’s nuclear program”. An Iranian government spokesman described the film as “hostile behavior which is the result of cultural and psychological warfare”. Moaveni reported that the Iranians she interacted with were “adamant that the movie was secretly funded by the U.S. government to prepare Americans for going to war against Iran”.
Dana Stevens of Slate states, “If 300, the new battle epic based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s, it would be studied today alongside The Eternal Jew as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war. Since it is a product of the post-ideological, post-Xbox 21st century, 300 will instead be talked about as a technical achievement, the next blip on the increasingly blurry line between movies and video games.
The Wrestling Franchise
Iranophobia can help you sell tickets to wrestling matches and gain TV ratings.
It is an age-old question as to the extent culture reflects the world, we live in. Bertolt Brecht allegedly said to the contrary that art or culture was “not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.” And not so surprisingly, professional wrestling in the US has been a significant beneficiary of Iranophobia.
Long before Trump stepped into the Oval Office, he was helping to shape the future of the squared circle. In fact, he had been making a consistent impact on WWE since the days when Andre the Giant was still king. Donald’s Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, N.J. hosted both WrestleMania IV and WrestleMania V — the only venue to present The Show of Shows two years in a row. Since those unforgettable nights, (while he was married to Marla Maples who apparently used to strike the wrestling bells), Trump has remained a familiar face in the front row of WWE events, but it wasn’t until 2007 that the billionaire got in on the action. In 2007, “The Donald” interrupted Mr. McMahon’s “Fan Appreciation Night” on Raw and dropped tens of thousands of dollars from the rafters of the arena onto the WWE fans below. Red-faced that a rival would steal the spotlight from him, Mr. McMahon challenged Trump to a “Battle of the Billionaires” at WrestleMania 23 with the stipulation that the loser of the bout would have his head shaved bald. A record number of viewers tuned in to watch The Donald back Bobby Lashley to victory over Mr. McMahon’s Umaga and subsequently shave the WWE Chairman’s signature mane in the center of the ring. And, on Jan. 20, 2017 Donald Trump became the 45th President of the United States, becoming the first time in history a WWE Hall of Famer would ever hold the distinguished title of U.S. Commander-in-Chief.
When Donald Trump vilified Iran and Iranians, he was feeding from keen observations he made while he was so involved with professional wrestling.
Professional wrestling found financial value in creating caricatures of American enemies. And for the longest time created not one, but 8 Russian ‘bad guys’: Boris Malenko, Nikolay Volkoff, Ivan Koloff, Nikita Koloff, Boris Zhukov, Vladimir Kozlov, Rusev, Viktor Romanoff and more yet to come!
And the Iron Sheik, became an Iranian caricature in America’s wrestling entertainment industry. Strangely, while the Iron Sheik espoused his Iranian heritage, he wore an Arab (not Iranian) head wear and called himself a sheik (which by the way don’t exist in Iran, Sheikh’s are a purely Arab term). The Iron sheik and the WWE found profits in calling himself Iranian while wearing Arab costume with an Arab name. (For those readers that are not aware, let me clarify, Iranians are NOT Arabs).
When Trump vilifies Iran and Iranians, he is keenly aware of the animosity Wrestling audiences demonstrated against the Iron Sheik, while he defeated many popular Wrestling Champions, and while he reined as the world champion until in 1984, Hulk Hogan became the first wrestler to escape the “camel clutch”–the signature move of reigning World Wrestling Federation (WWF) champion Iron Sheik–as he defeated Sheik to win his first WWF title, at Madison Square Garden in New York City
The Defense Industry
I remember when ‘peace’ broke out (after the fall of the Soviet Union), and major defense contractors in the US began to downsize and consolidate operations. Thankfully, the internet boom hit at around the same time, and many of those engineers found work in the tech industry. But overall defense expenditure dropped dramatically.
Right when the internet bubble burst, miraculously in came 9/11, and the ‘war on terror’ which once again provided a pretext for significant growth of the military-industrial complex. But the US soon found (largely through Saudi generosity) that it was basically impractical to go after the Saudi regime if congressmen wanted to keep their swiss accounts filled – so they had to invent another enemy. Because of simple ignorance on the part of the American electorate, they have been able to confuse Americans with rhetoric about Iran – putting Iranians in the same bracket at Arabs. I suggest a simple experiment: just walk around town squares in small town America, and ask ordinary Americans who was behind the 9/11 attacks? You will be surprised to hear people say Iran! They don’t know. Ask ordinary Americans what is the difference between Iran and Iraq? They don’t know.
There are countless US politicians – including Donald Trump – that accuse Iranians as being the world’s ‘top state sponsor’ of terrorism! (Not Saudi Arabia?). No one even bothers to ask who put billions of dollars (and arms) in the hands of all these terror groups in Arabia or Afghanistan (it certainly wasn’t Iran)! The propaganda has been ghastly.
But the net result of all this has been dramatic growth in defense budgets. If the U.S. did not have an enemy, it would have to create one. The military-industrial complex needs Iran.
Not only has Iranophobia given the government a big excuse to expand defense budgets. But pointing to Iran has also spurred major arms sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar etc. Iranophobia is simply good for business. There is nothing like it! And nothing will undermine these sales. Saudi Arabia is America’s number one arms buyer.
When Saudi Arabia was publicly held responsible for killing and chopping up a Washington Post reporter in Turkey, Mr. Trump has dismissed the idea of suspending weapons sales to Saudi Arabia to punish its crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, “I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States,” Mr. Trump said.
And why does Saudi Arabia buy these arms? Iranophobia.
Literally a Trillion (yes with a T) dollars of defense expenditures globally, can be linked directly to Iranophobia. This is a bonanza, it’s a racket. One must wonder what if this money was spent on other things – like for example Healthcare or combatting climate change in the U.S. or around the world, or even economic development in the Africa or Arabia? Iranophobia has become a distraction from more pressing issues afflicting our planet.
But how serious is the Iranian ‘threat’ to the US and its allies in the region? While Iran is a powerful state and has accumulated a degree of wealth from oil revenue, by no means is its aggregate power disproportionately higher than other major actors in the Middle East and certainly not the US. In terms of offensive capability, in 2017 Iran spent 3.1% of its GDP on the military, compared to the 10.3% of KSA which is the third-largest military spender in the world. In military expenditure, Iran lags countries like KSA, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Oman and Kuwait among others. Further, Iran maintains a primitive air force of aircrafts acquired from the US before the 1979 revolution. In terms of offensive intent, Iran has been accused of being a threat to its neighbors. While the aggressive rhetoric from Ahmadinejad has not helped abate this perception, it is fallacious to assume that Iran offers more offensive intent than KSA which makes no secret of its hostility towards neighbors like Yemen, Bahrain, Qatar and Syria and has made good to act upon them through bombings and embargos.
Very simply, Iran is no threat at all. It has not invaded a country longer than the U.S. has been a nation. Its military doctrine by all accounts in the West is postured for defense. It is using largely asymmetric tactics to push back against what it sees as ‘aggression’ in its region – including the use of militia forces. It simply can not push back against the use of high technology, modern weapons the US and its allies have. Much like Iraq, invading Iran would be a push over for the West, but ‘winning the peace’ would be a separate matter.
The US Presidential (Trump) Franchise
On the 2nd of November 2018, President Trump’s twitter account carried a picture of himself with the caption ‘Sanctions Are Coming’, referring to the United States’ (U.S.) decision to reinforce a second- round economic sanctions against Iran after an initial round in August. His tweet parodied the phrase ‘Winter is Coming’, popularized by the HBO series Game of Thrones and was the latest in an extensive list of tweets, speeches and press statements that reflected his administration’s blatant antipathy towards Iran.
Donald Trump wasn’t the first American President to assert his antipathy towards Iran. Several preceding Presidents have displayed anti-Iran sentiment in their foreign policy – most prominently Bush Jr. in 2002 when he placed Iran on an ‘axis of evil’. However, paradoxically, during the time of both Bush Jr. and now Trump, Iran had been pursuing peaceful reforms or maintaining a desire for multilateral engagement on contentious issues like nuclear energy.
A quick overview of Iranophobia in American foreign policy confirms a well-established fact, that every single US president since Iran’s so called “revolution” in 1979 has used Iranophobia to great effect.
Starting with Jimmy Carter (who ironically precipitated the downfall of the Shah), every US president has seized the opportunity to demonize and paint Iran’s Supreme Leader (whether its Khomeini or Khamenei) as a tyrant who made Iran an ‘enemy’ of the US. Much like hard liners today, Khomeini’s decision to discard the Shah’s pro-Americanism to adopt a ‘neither East nor West’ strategy and ‘export the revolution’ that took place in Iran disturbed the US, especially in the context of the Cold War.
Even today, according to US Secretary of State (Pompeo) “the [Iranian] regime is committed to spreading the revolution to other countries…The total fulfilment of the revolution at home and abroad is the regime’s ultimate goal…the regime has spent four decades mobilizing all elements of the Iranian economy, foreign policy, and political life in service of that objective.”
And again, ironically this rhetoric flies in the fact of Khomeini’s regime acting decisively against the Soviets. Throughout the 1980s, Iran featured multiple times in President Reagan’s speeches yet at the same time Iran was cooperating with arming the Taliban for the U.S. (against Russia). Despite American foreign policy being anti-Iranian after the 1979 revolution, Iranophobia remained a more subtle element in the Reagan era, possibly owing to the US’s clandestine sale of arms to Iran through Israel despite an arms embargo and the humiliation of the discovery of the Contra Affair.
Under Bill Clinton, several figures in Washington sought US-Iran rapprochement, especially at a time when Europe was actively engaging with Iran. However, Clinton’s foreign policy sought to isolate and contain Iran. Despite a post-Khomeini, moderate leadership giving the US an opportunity for rapprochement, the Clinton Administration acted against Iran, banning American companies from investing in the Iranian energy industry, preventing Azerbaijan from engaging in energy partnership with Iran and passing the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act which sanctioned foreign firms investing in Iranian oil. The election of the moderate-reformist Khatami to the Presidency of Iran in 1997, his ‘good neighbor’ policy and espousal of a ‘dialogue among civilizations’ eased tensions and repaired strained ties with the US to some extent. This led to a brief détente between the US and Iran manifested in diplomatic exchanges in sports, monetary aid to Iran and a call for the end of ‘dual containment’ in the region among other policies. However, this détente did not last long.
Further efforts to administer a P5+1 dialogue on the Iran nuclear issue by Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yielded little result due to the election of the right-wing Ahmadinejad as the President of Iran. Distrust of America caused by the rhetoric of Bush and his Neoconservatives and fear of regime change caused Iran to adopt a hostile policy against the US. This in turn led Neoconservatives to feel vindicated in their stance. Neither side was able to see the development of “competitive systems of interaction” (Wendt, 1992, p. 407) which facilitated a security dilemma wherein both sides attempted to ramp up their security and in turn became more threatening to the other. As a result, Iranophobia remained constant in Bush’s foreign policy throughout his presidency.
According to popular perception, Iranophobia declined under Barack Obama’s liberal reformism. Many have enthusiastically pointed to the Iran Nuclear Deal as a triumph of multilateral diplomacy and rapprochement in US-Iran relations. However, to claim that Iranophobia was absent in the Obama era is a highly fallacious assumption that presents a false picture of American foreign policy towards Iran at the time. Not all of Obama’s policies towards Iran were in the spirit of diplomacy and cooperation. Though he adopted a relatively more reconciliatory policy towards Iran than Bush, he made use of the same tactics as his predecessor – economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure, covert sabotage and threat of military intervention – to bring Iran to the negotiating table.
Though the Obama era lacked the overt Iranophobia of the era that preceded -and succeeded- it, Iranophobia was latently and prominently present in the underlying policies. The most blatant expression of this was the US-Israeli co-sponsored digital virus ‘Stuxnet’ unleashed on Iran in 2009. The malicious program promulgated a virus onto Iran’s digital network and was meant to create an obstacle to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
New York Times Journalist David Sanger’s revelations about the virus was corroborated by James Cartwright, a former vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff informally labelled ‘Obama’s General’. As Sanger’s investigation reveals, though the virus was conceptualized under the Bush government, it was studied and personally authorized for use by Obama. In the face of a defiant Ahmadinejad and slow burn of the economic sanctions, the Obama-administration, in collaboration with Israel, launched, what can only be described as a cyberattack on Iran’s uranium-enrichment process – a legal process under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Thus, it can be seen that Iranophobia has, in some form and to varying levels of intensity, persisted within multiple American administrations since the birth of the Islamic Republic. However, in its present state, US-Iran relations under Donald Trump has sunk to the lowest it has ever been. Trump has made no secret of his intense antipathy towards Iran and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) during his presidential campaign. He has made good, through rhetoric and policy, on institutionalizing and entrenching Iranophobia in its starkest expression into America’s foreign policy under his administration. Iranian students have been banned from entering the U.S.; ordinary Iranians are not granted visas; Iran is once again sanctioned (affecting the lives of ordinary Iranians); Iranian-Americans are embarrassed to use their real names – and often hide under the banner of other ethnicities and names to hide their true identity. Iranians are simply ashamed of being Iranian in the West.
What Can Be done about Iranophobia?
From my perspective, defeating Iranophobia is crucial to defeating the Mullahs in Iran. While the West pushes for Anti-Iranian policies, hard liners in Iran become empowered; and nefarious regimes in the region like Saudi Arabia i.e. Iran’s enemies become emboldened. Iranophobia is an attack on ordinary Iranians and Iranian heritage.
We find for example that US Secretary of Education (Devos) recently told a University in North Carolina that it could not offer a course on Iranian literature. Or that for example, Paypal flags and suspends any account with reference to Iran or Persian – even if you are buying a book on Persian Cooking! Many US universities do not even allow Iranian students to apply for graduate level programs (like for example RPI).
And even more concretely, Iranophobia has become institutionalized. Iranian students have been banned from entering the U.S.; ordinary Iranians are not granted visas; Iran is once again sanctioned (affecting the lives of ordinary Iranians); Iranian-Americans are embarrassed to use their real names – and often hide under the banner of other ethnicities and names to hide their true identity. Iranians are simply ashamed of being Iranian in the West.
The Trump administration risks seriously alienating strategic partners like Turkey and India if it follows its unilateral trajectory. Iran also has significant strategic value to many states. Particularly, Russia and Turkey seek Iranian cooperation in rebuilding Syria. Both Russia and China have a stake in keeping the US involvement in the region in check. The Chabahar port in Iran which is being jointly developed with India has been a major foreign has been a major strategic initiative to connect India to Afghanistan and the Middle East without Pakistan. Thus, the discourse surrounding Iran’s ‘strategic loneliness’ is not as pervasive as is often made out to be.
Already, European states have been working to set up mechanisms to allow continued trade with Iran while dodging US sanctions. There has also been talk of Iran trading with South Korea and Iraq in local currencies instead of the American dollar, something it already does with India, Russia and Turkey, to avoid the pressure of sanctions. While such efforts have been slow, the concerted attempt has important symbolic value that highlights a global commitment against isolating Iran.
Aside from the global obstacles, US domestic opinions on Iran within the US is not unanimous. There is considerable disagreement even among the Conservative/Republican camp in Washington. On one side is Trump who was one of the only Republican presidential candidates in 2016 to criticize the Iraq war and vow to not repeat a military invasion. Very interestingly, both Trump and his most vocal Iranophobic allies – i.e. Netenyahu and Saudi Crown Prince MBS, face very uncertain outcomes going forward.
Iranophobia has now conflated anti-Mullah rhetoric with the plight of ordinary Iranians. This cannot continue. So, where does this leave ordinary Iranians? How should Iranian Americans respond to Iranophobia?
Fight back. It’s very simple, get active politically! Vote. Ensure Trump or any Iranophobic politician in the West is NOT re-elected. Tell your Jewish (Israeli) American friends NOT to vote for Netanyahu. He too must go! Keep harping on US hypocrisy with Saudi Arabia! One common theme, I use, which has been very effective for me, is to say that if they can do this to Iranians going forward, then they will do this to Jews, or Israelis. Much like Hitler’s campaign against Homosexuals, Romans, the handicapped etc. they will come after another group next. This is a slippery slope. It must stop.
No amount of money and gain from arms sales, from winning votes, from ratings … is worth systematic oppression. Iranians are not the first of last ethnic group to be under attack. Trillions of dollars of revenue will be meaningless, when the same forces attacking Iranians start chasing other groups in the U.S.! This is a big mistake.
Its one thing to despise the regime in Tehran (that by the way the U.S. installed by toppling the Shah), its totally another to undermine and hate Iranians as a whole.
This rhetoric and these policies are very dangerous and could easily lead to war – which could eventually spread well beyond Iran’s borders. Its time to tone it down, and find another villain. Iran offers huge economic opportunities to the U.S. and the West. All of Central Asia is untouched – and is ripe for massive new investments in infrastructure, and industry.
Its time for a completely new policy in the West. Hopefully the days of Iranophobic politicians like Trump, Netanyahu and MBS are over. No amount of venom towards Iran will save their jobs. Iranians have outlived their purpose as useful idiots in their Iranophobic political games. The world needs completely new leadership.