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The Supreme Imbecile and the Widening Credibility Chasm

January 22, 2020
Firouz Farzani
4 min read
The Supreme Imbecile and the Widening Credibility Chasm

A few days after the crash of the Ukrainian passenger jet, I was deep in my own thoughts at a municipal market in Tehran buying fruit and vegetables. Suddenly I became aware of another customer picking over the fruit and murmuring something over and over to himself.

I edged closer and realized he was saying, “Our disgrace. Our disgrace." And "that imbecile, our good for nothing Leader.” 

I was stunned. Normally, people avoid saying anything that inflammatory out loud, unless they’re at a protest. 

I approached this middle-aged gentleman and asked, “Did you hear President Rouhani’s speech calling for those responsible for the shooting down of the plane to be tried? And for the details of this tragic mistake to be made public?”

He looked at me. “It’s too late for that,” he said. “And, anyway what good will it do?” 

Then two other shoppers chimed in, furious – not only about the government’s role in the crash and its cover-up – but with our leaders in general. Their fury was unbelievable. They pounced on me as soon as I even remotely sounded as if I was going to stick up for the leadership.  

In fact, they had the energy and intensity of people who have just had an epiphany and were desperate to share it. It was this: “The Islamic regime tells non-stop lies.”

The Americans coined a term for this back in the 1970s: the credibility gap*. That is, the distance between reality and what politicians and government agencies say about it. In the case of Iran currently, you might call it a “credibility chasm.”

Ever since the Islamic Revolution, pro-regime people have explained whatever was happening with their own narrative, and it was reinforced through official rhetoric and the media. Although the rest of us rolled our eyes, criticized their story, and barely tolerated it, we still gave the Islamic Republic a little benefit of the doubt. 

Well, not anymore.

I have never seen such a complete public rejection of anything uttered by our politicians – reformists and hardliners alike. In fact, there are people in my own neighborhood who don’t even believe the weather forecast if it’s on state TV. 

And those in charge know it. The Tehran Journalists’ Association, which is dominated by reformists, even issued a statement headed: “We are witnessing the death of public trust.”

Actually the core members of the leadership have long known that people didn’t believe in them. Javad Larijani, one of the longest-serving theoreticians of the regime, wrote a thick pamphlet justifying its claim to power. Back in the 1990s the document was shared around the ruling establishment, and I was able to borrow a copy. Larijani turned to the 17th Century English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes to justify the absolute power of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. He cited Hobbes’ assertion that a state or society cannot be secure unless it submits to an absolute and unlimited sovereign power. Never mind that Hobbes’ conclusion is today widely refuted. Larijani used it as his main argument to “prove” that the Islamic Republic headed by the Leader is the right way to rule post-revolutionary Iran.

For 40 years, elections have propped up the fiction that Iran is not a dictatorship run by a despotic cabal. It remains to be seen how many people buy into the next round of this charade currently planned for late February 2020.

In past elections, some proportion of the middle classes – and it has varied over time – did cast ballots. Many chose to see it as a way of expressing their desire for security, and their opposition to any intervention by America.

I believe those days are over. Defending the Islamic Republic is about as popular in Iran right now as defending Nazis would be in Europe. It’s no coincidence that over the last two weeks, both reformists and hardliners have shied away from public debates.  

As for the Supreme Leader, he has long been shielded from open criticism. Traditionally cast in official discourse as “the only pious politician” in a sea of corruption and sycophants, he’s now squarely in the firing line. Protesters openly chant “You’re good for nothing, imbecile” ( الدنگ)”; and “How dare you accuse the US of sedition? YOU are the seditionist!” 

The big question is whether this crisis and the death of public trust will lead to the regime’s collapse. I don’t think it will as long as the government is able to pay salaries and overtime to the security forces (which include riot police, the Revolutionary Guards and their various militias).

Iran’s government will carry on acting like a legitimate power, with parades and prayers and pageantry, knowing full well the population is watching with disbelief and utter contempt.


*The credibility gap is a term that came into wide use in journalism and political discourse in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. It was most frequently used then to describe public skepticism about statements made by Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration and its policies on the Vietnam War. It’s had a resurgence recently, and has been applied to the Trump administration. 


Firouz Farzani is in Shiraz, Iran




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