Iranians have been living under a lie for the last 40 years, says Fereshteh Molavi. Now that the events of the last two months have shattered any remnant of trust they had, could change finally be around the corner?
On 8 January 2020, Ukrainian flight 752 crashed shortly after take-off from Tehran airport. Among the victims there were many Iranian-Canadians. The tragedy was devastating for the survivors, and heartbreaking for Iranians, Canadians and Ukrainians. After three days of shock, grief, and rumors about the cause, eventually, the Islamic Republic stopped denying and admitted its military accidentally shot down the plane.
The missiles that shattered the bodies of 176 people were palpable and tangible. There has been another missile, invisible as it is, that targeted the hearts and minds of Iranians at the moment it was disclosed who was responsible for this catastrophe. They inevitably felt betrayed by a government that had told such an unforgivable lie, leaving no room for them to trust in it.
In the collective memory of Iranians, their country was once an ancient empire that had been ruled by King Darius the Great, who prayed to Ahura Mazda to “protect this country from a (hostile) army, from a bad year, and the Lie!” Before the Islamic conquest of Persia in the mid-7th century, Iranians were followers of the prophet Zoroaster, who believed in the duality of good and evil as well as between truth and lies. The two reflected one another and were part of the same value. During recent events, this was at the back of many Iranians’ minds.
On 19 August 1978, Cinema Rex in Abadan, Iran, was set on fire. This horrendous arson attack killed more than 400 people, caused huge hatred and indignation toward the Shah, triggered the 1979 Revolution, and helped Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini take absolute power and leadership. Years later, it was revealed that the attack had been carried out by a radical Islamic group as a show of allegiance to Khomeini and the Islamic Revolution.
In 1979, Khomeini, sitting under an apple tree in Neauphle-le-Chateau and surrounded by advisors and journalists, briefly and vaguely depicted an ideal future system for Iran. The majority of Iranians, although obviously united by their desire to get rid of the despotic Shah, hardly knew what would happen next. What they could see was Khomeini’s charisma, not his play-acting.
Soon, Khomeini came back to Iran, and “Then the Lie became great in the country…”
In the very beginning, when Khomeini was asked about his contradictory statements, he said publicly that he had deceived the Islamic Republic. Abolhassan Banisadr, the first president of Iran, explained it like this: “[Khomeini] told me he had said things in France that were convenient, but that he was not locked into everything he had said there and that if he felt it necessary to say the opposite he would.”
Gradually it turned out that in his theory for establishing a specific Islamic order encompassing the entire Muslim world, there was little room for “Iran” and concepts like “nation,” “democracy,” “freedom,” and “human rights.” Maintaining a Machiavellian perspective in an Islamic framework, and believing the end justifies any and every means, he introduced his interpretations of taqiyya – which allows a Muslim to lie – and kitman (concealment by silence).
Two Generations of Lies
Over the last 30 years, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has followed the “legacy of lie and deceit” of his predecessor and tried to fulfil his blind ambition of regional expansion. The dreams of the first Supreme Leader and the second one have proved to be a horrid nightmare for Iran – poor economy, international isolation, mismanagement, corruption, suppression of dissidents, severe restrictions on civil liberties, brain drain, just to name a few.
Distrust never happens overnight. Over the decades Iranians have experienced a growing distrust in a regime that has been rooted in duplicity and falsity. After a deadly crackdown on a series of civil protests that had killed 1500 people during less than two weeks, lying about striking down the Ukrainian plane triggered a new bout of unrest. Mourners and protesters poured into the streets to express their anger not only over the so-called “human error,” but also over the Lie that has been destroying the country for 40 years.
Considering different factors — including lack of a reliable alternative despite the presence of many anti-regime groups, the complicated situation of the Middle East, and the influence of superpowers on the region — there is little hope for a positive regime change in Iran. Nonetheless, the Islamic Republic is on the brink of collapse. In the tumultuous aftermath of the plane crash, it has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of those who still had cautious hope for reform.
The Islamic Republic was built on the Lie, which started with the tragic Cinema Rex fire, that dark chapter in the history of Iran. It remains to be seen if its latest lie will end this awful chapter and let Iranians begin a bright chapter.