TEHRAN — Iran is a country brimming with irony and its people never seem to run out of contradictory terms. Many of those who chant “Death to America” are also the ones who sign up for Diversity Visa Lottery, aka Green Card, every year, dreaming of finding their way into the United States. Many showing disdain for Western values and traditions happen to be parents who go out of their way to send their kids to schools in Europe and the United States. Those who once pulled no punches against the shah and ruthlessly dethroned him in 1979 are also the ones who ruefully reminisce about his tenure today. And these days, many of those fiercely opposing the Iranian government over the last ten years— willing to see the downfall of the Islamic Republic — have thronged the streets all over the country mourning the US-operated killing of Major General Qasem Soleimani who, at the end of the day, while a military mastermind in the region, was still serving the government of Iran.
Patriotism is deeply ingrained in the fabric of Iranian society. It can be found among those who disagree, principally, with everything the government stands for. Modern-day Iran has never been bereft of patriotism. This was also true during Iran’s eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, where countless Iranians who loathed the Islamic government closed ranks with their comrades-in-arms nonetheless to defend the sovereignty of Iran. Even today, the sections of Tehran’s cemetery specially designed for martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war, with their white marble stones and verdant vibe, indicate the patriotic pulse of a nation.
Earlier this morning, as Soleimani’s flag-draped coffin was carried on the streets of Tehran, hundreds of thousands of people showed up to pay their last respects to a man they now have embraced as a hero. Part of this probably has to do with the manner in which Soleimani was killed — while on foreign soil, in his car, and via American drone strikes. His killing, perhaps only in terms of operation, was redolent of the July 1988 incident where an American surface-to-air missile shot down Iran Air Flight 655, killing all the 290 people on board, something the United States never expressed contrition for. Soleimani was also extremely revered inside Iran for his role in fighting ISIS forces during the last four years, which raised important and unanswered questions, both in Iran and in the United States, with respect to the timing of his assassination as many wondered if he had been considered a “lost cause”. Meanwhile, Donald Trump has threatened he would target Iranian cultural sites if Iran retaliated for the killing of Soleimani, even though such attacks are tantamount to war crime under international laws. Still, Trump adopted a devil-may-care approach toward further potential escalation between Iran and the United States, saying that “there will be major retaliation if they [Iran] do anything”.
- A Shared Trait
In 2008, the English comedian Russell Brand, best known for his wide comic palette and his come-to-Jesus moment with the 2017 book, Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions, hosted MTV Music Video Awards. While showing his support for the then presidential candidate Barrack Obama, Brand expressed bemusement at George W. Bush’s presidency of eight years, calling him a retarded cowboy. “We were very impressed. We thought it was nice of you to let him have a go because, in England, he wouldn’t be trusted with a pair of scissors,” said Brand before a rather unamused audience. In the days that followed, his deadpan humor was met with blistering backlash all over the web. Although most Americans present at the ceremony and around the United States might have agreed with the wry comment, their disgust was still much in evidence. Now, similar to Brand’s crude joke, Trump’s off-the-cuff decision to order the killing of Maj. Gen. Soleimani has incidentally unified the people of Iran around the goal of exacting revenge on the United States. Somewhere along the way, it might have also given the Islamic Republic a new lease on life. Trump’s question to Iran seems simple: How far are you willing to go? Iran’s response, in the interim, is likely to be vehement and venomous.