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Cursed Be Your Sacred Ignorance!

November 27, 2018
Firouz Farzani
4 min read
Cursed Be Your Sacred Ignorance!

Certain dates in the official Iranian calendar are drearily predictable for a journalist here.

There’s Quds Day for example, on the last Friday of Ramadan. Over the last four decades I have covered this event for various local news services.  It’s an invented ritual, supposedly to mobilize Muslims across the world to liberate Jerusalem (Al Quds in Arabic.)

And then there the 4th of November, known as the “National Day of the Fight against Global Arrogance.”  It’s to mark the takeover of the American Embassy in Tehran by revolutionary students in 1979.

As usual this year I and a group of domestic and foreign media went along to report on what was billed as a “massive demonstration against the Great Satan.”  The organizers hoped our coverage would prove to the world that the Iranian people remain solidly anti-American, regardless of who is in the White House.

In the crowd of a few hundred, high school and primary school teachers shepherded students. Basij revolutionary militia members and workers from state-run and semi-private companies milled around and waved placards. Many had traveled to the old US Embassy on buses provided by their employers or the government.

It was easy to spot those who were simply paying lip service to the anti-American rhetoric — and those, often poor, who truly believed that all of Iran’s shortcomings and failures were due to America’s dastardly plotting.

As I listened to the rote ranting of Revolutionary Guard Commander General Mohammad Ali Jafari, I found myself looking back over four decades of this anniversary.

Back in 1979, the rhetoric around the embassy takeover was not yet threadbare cant. Iran’s politics were complex and varied. Marxists, the People's Mojahedin Organization (MEK), members and even self-styled liberals who supported then-Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan encouraged people to march to the US Embassy to show solidarity with the students holding 52 Americans hostage.

A short time later the leftists, the MEK and even the pro-Bazargan activists had been purged from the political scene, but the November 4th protests continued. They had become important tools for the new religious establishment to reinforce the party line and consolidate power.  Crowds of the fervent, the brainwashed and the uneducated were marshaled every year to chant anti-American slogans in increasingly vituperative  – and rehearsed – language.

This year, November 4th was cool and sunny.  As I looked up from my trip down memory lane, I saw a toothless woman, holding the hand of a child and carrying a sign that said (what else?) ...“Death to America.”

“ I am a 35- year-old housewife,” she told me. “My husband is a taxi driver. We can’t afford to buy a place to live so are forced to live in rented accomodation.”

There was no question that this woman’s life was hard.  She looked worn out — closer to 55 than 35 and dressed in shabby clothes.

I asked, “Does your husband earn enough to support the family?”

“He does his best,” she said. “We scrape along, and just manage to make ends meet, thank God.”

Curious, I asked, “What role does American play in your misery and hardship?”

She reeled off a stream of anti-US rhetoric, picked up over the decades from state-run TV and radio. I won’t bother to reproduce it here, but she gave the impression she really believed it: that America is the Great Satan; that it — among other things — had caused soaring prices, shrunk Iran’s economy and promoted corruption and drug addiction.  

That was the quotation I needed for my article, but her tirade got me thinking about the medieval Italian astrologer and scientist Giordano Bruno, who was burned alive for heresy in 1600.

The story goes that as soon as the fire was well and truly alight an old woman approached dragging a piece of firewood.

Completely uninterested in the facts of Bruno’s alleged crimes, her allegiance to the Inquisitors and Italy’s religious tyranny was absolute.

In fact, she added her log to the smoldering pyre then crossed herself and thanked God for the opportunity to see a heretic burn, convinced she would see her reward in heaven.

Four hundred years later, I realized I had been talking to an Iranian version of this women: my toothless interviewee.  She had no interest in questioning religious tyrants either. For her, it was an article of faith that America is the Great Satan and I’m sure she believed that she’d get a reward in the afterlife for her blind allegiance.

To her, I echo the words of the dying Bruno Giordano to that Italian crone so long ago: “Cursed be your sacred ignorance!”



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