On this day in history 34 years ago, remember, remember the 4th of November; when militant Islamic students stormed the U.S. embassy, holding 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
To commemorate that takeover, and to demonstrate opposition to the new president’s call to “tone down” the common, daily-expressed slogan, “Death to America” chants, “tens of thousands” of protesters gathered in Tehran outside the old U.S. embassy in their own “million Islamist march” (or, as they call it, “National Day to Fight Global Arrogance”):
Tens of thousands of demonstrators packed the streets outside the former US embassy in Tehran in the biggest anti-US rally in years, a show of support for hard-line opponents of President Hassan Rouhani’s outreach to Washington.
Crowds of Iranians shouted “death to America” as they marked the 34th anniversary of the takeover of the city’s US embassy, which led to 52 Americans being held hostage for months.
Protesters waved anti-US banners, chanting “death to America” and “death to Israel”, while burning US and Israeli flags. Effigies of the US president, Barack Obama, his secretary of state John Kerry and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, could be seen held aloft by protesters.
The protests were reported to be the biggest in years, with tens of thousands in attendance, and despite attempts by the US and Iran to thaw diplomatic relations after years of hostility.
Al Jazeera’s Soraya Lennie, reporting from Tehran, said that the the opinion that the US was the “Great Satan” was hard to shift in some.
“A poll recently in Iran showed that most Iranians do favour renewed relations with the United States and a normalisation of ties, she said.
“But for the people here, and this small minority in Iran, their minds will not be changed. They still see the United States as the “Great Satan” and it appears as not much happening, diplomatically-speaking, that can change their minds.”
Similar gatherings were reported in other cities across the Islamic republic, according to footage broadcast on state television, in what appeared to be some of the largest November 4 rallies in years.
Besides the anti-American chants being voiced in the streets, Iranian parliament members joined in a chorus of “death to America” during a parliamentary session on Sunday.
Quoting Iran’s Tasnim news agency, the Times of Israel reported that Vice Parliamentary Speaker Mohammad Hossein Aboutorabifard called the 1979 embassy takeover a symbol of “resistance of righteousness against falsehood.” After his speech, members of parliament joined together in a “Death to America” chant.
According to Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency, Iran’s defense ministry issued a statement Sunday that in part emphasized that the Iranian people will always chant the “death to U.S.” phrase as “a symbol of their resistance against the world arrogance.”
Can you imagine our Congressional leaders calling for “Death to Iran” chants or “Death to Islam”, let alone as a national slogan for the people? Apparently this weekend’s event in Iran was accompanied by the debut of two new “Death to America” songs.
A few years ago, Iranians demanded an apology from Hollywood:
The film “300,” portrays the battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., in which a force of 300 Spartans held off a massive Persian army at a mountain pass in Greece for three days. It angered many Iranians for the way Persians are depicted as decadent, sexually flamboyant and evil in contrast to the noble Greeks.
Iranians also criticised “The Wrestler” starring Mickey Rourke as a rundown professional wrestler who is preparing for a rematch with his old nemesis ‘The Ayatollah’.
During a fight scene, “The Ayatollah” tries to choke Rourke with an Iranian flag before Rourke pulls the flagpole away, breaks it and throws it into the cheering crowd
This is rich of course, coming from a country whose apparent form of greeting and well-wishing of one another is to say, “Death to America”. And that’s in the really real world. Not in arts & entertainment.
I remember back in 2004 when Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 was cleared by Iranian authorities for screening (to coincide with the 3rd anniversary of 9/11)- but did not get quite the reaction they were expecting from all segments of their society:
I have also been asked to express the judgment of a number of Iranians who saw the film in Iran. They sent e-mails, faxes and even phoned me to ask me to report their reviews.
First, other than David Lynch’s film, ‘The Straight Story’, Iranians have not really been exposed to any western films in their cinemas. The Mullahs’ film board forbids the display of women’s uncovered hair and all the other “corruption” Western filmmakers spread. For Iranians, therefore, viewing Michael Moore’s film was a tremendously novel experience.
After 25 years of living in a virtual concentration camp, Iranians have become exceedingly socio-politically savvy. Moore’s anti-American propaganda did not attract anywhere near as many viewers as the Mullahs had hoped for. Tehran’s despots had hoped the film would challenge the Iranian people’s favourable notion of President Bush and promote John Kerry.
But Iranians are too smart.
A group of 12 university students, for example, composed of both men and women who had seen the film, collectively wrote me and signed an e-mail which said: “Wow, this guy complains that Bush lied once. What would this windbag do if he lived here where our president lies to us once an hour?”
Another comment was: “This guy gets to publicly accuse Bush of lying and becomes famous and adored worldwide. We, here, complain about some decrepit and inconsequential government lackey and we not only go to prison but some of us get death sentences. He ought to thank his lucky stars he lives in a country where he’s allowed and even encouraged to be this obnoxious…”
Someone else quipped: “If he thinks that the U.S. is so bad, he’s welcome to trade places with us…since he’s so forgiving of brutal Middle Eastern dictators!”
Another young man said: “They are showing this film to erase from our minds the idea of America being the great liberator; maybe Americans themselves don’t appreciate what they have but we sure do!”
Another comment was: “Outside such pathetic ideological schemes, Moore’s fixation to reprimand and castigate his own society is so great that he is BLIND to the fact that our ancient land and society cannot be regarded and dealt with in the same fashion; therefore he has fallen pray to the Mullahs for whom he is nothing more than a tool to discard when his mission for them is completed.”
March 7, 2014 will see 300: Rise of an Empire out in theaters.
Hollywood regularly insults and offends our sensibilities and values. But Hollywood isn’t America. It does not represent the American government, let alone the nation’s values and people. It does exercise and demonstrate the freedom of expression and speech that we enjoy in this country, though.
What does it say about a nation whose national slogan for the last 34 years is death to another country? A slogan that’s been broadcast for 3 decades on national television, chanted in mosques after Friday prayers?