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Haggai Carmon Headshot

Can Iran Decide: Death to America or Smiles for America?

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The Iranian leadership's smile offensive and their willingness to negotiate instilled hope in the West that a new dawn is breaking in Tehran: the realization that they cannot have military nukes as well as a functional relationship with the rest of the world. It's either, or. While the Geneva negotiations between Javad Tarif, the Iranian foreign minister and the 5+1 (the permanent five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) continue, the naysayers in Tehran held the biggest hate demonstration against the United States in years. Tens of thousands of Iranians were marching in the streets of Tehran outside the old U.S. embassy chanting "Marg bar Amrika!" ("Death to America") burning American flags and effigies of President Obama. It was a strong show of support for hardline opponents of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's outreach to Washington.

Has the government of Iran lost the support of the populace? If and when an agreement with the West is reached, will the Iranian government be able to maintain it without risking a coup-d'état?
Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and transitions, was depicted as having two faces, one that looks to the future and one that looks to the past. One can imagine Janus presiding over the beginning and ending of a conflict -- both the war and the peace. In which direction are the Iranians looking? There were demonstrations against the United States. Were there also counter-demonstrations in support of the smile attacks in which the Iranian government is engaging?
It appears the winds of opposition and the "Death to America" chant was not limited to the marching crowds. The Majlis, the Iranian parliament, followed suit.

During a public meeting of the Iranian Majlis on November 4, and at the end of the speech given by First Deputy of the Majlis Chairman Hassan Abu Torabi Fard on the need to fight global imperialism, Majlis members cried out "Death to the U.S." Abu Torabi Fard thanked Majlis members "for their acts as public representatives in loudly calling out the slogan of the Iranian people and who are working to fight the imperialist regime headed by the U.S."

Also, during an interview to mark the 13th of Bahban (the Iranian calendar date for November 4, 1979, the day militant Islamic students stormed the U.S. embassy, holding 52 Americans hostage for 444 days) Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee member Fathollah Husseini said that "no one in the Iranian regime can ignore the importance of this day and no one can withdraw from it. Withdrawal of this day means a retreat from the pillars of the Iranian regime, which is a principle of the fight against imperialism. Anyone who speaks about canceling the Death to the U.S. chant must account for themselves before the public. This year, an unprecedented number of citizens will participate in the ceremonies marking this day."

Iranian scholars went even farther to explain that "Down with America" is deeply rooted in Islamic Holy Scriptures. Hojjat al-Eslam Hamid Rouhani, head of the Foundation for the Encyclopedia of the Islamic Revolution, has criticized government silence on those who cast doubt over the Death to America slogan. "Are we in a leaderless state where some can dream and say that the Imam (Khomeini) was against Death to America? The Supreme Leader does not allow such recall... Down with America is deeply rooted in the Qur'an. This slogan means hatred of Yazid" (the caliph who killed Imam Hussein, on which the Shiite martyrdom and self-sacrifice is based).

In Shakespeare's Othello, Iago invokes the name of the Roman God Janus after he has failed in his original plot to undo the titular character. The other characters believe Iago to have only the best of intentions, and call him "honest Iago." However, Iago was in fact a power-hungry, amoral person, without regard for the well-being of others. Which face of Iran should the world believe: the smiling one or the hateful one? The honest or the power hungry?