Outing Iran: Marg Bar

by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

I wanted to make a few comments on the slogan of "death to Russia" from the Friday prayers:

1. "Death to ..." is not a correct translation for "Marg bar ..." although it is a literal translation, the real meaning is closer to "down with ..."; it is an expression of extreme dissatisfaction rather than the wishing of death. Remember "death to potatoes" from the campaign (as a sign of dissatisfaction with Ahmadinejad's distribution of potatoes among likely voters)? My guess is that it originated with "Marg bar shah", which at the time probably was literally meant; it was a particularly powerful and defiant slogan at the time and that memory has perpetuated this line of sloganeering.

2. It is worthwhile to understand the importance of meter and rhyming in the Persian language. Put anything in metered poetry and its chances of affecting the Iranian soul triples. So not every slogan would work, and in this uprising people have been amazingly creative in coming up with poetic slogans that fit the occasion and are powerful and witty. "Marg bar ..." is a simple formula which can be put to music depending on the number of syllables in what follows it. I can't think of a simple way to replace it with another word which conveys the same meaning and provides such a resourceful musicality.

3. Although you have already reported on it, I want to emphasize the significance of the incident Friday, in which people changed the official slogans to their own benefit. In Friday prayers, there is a person who is mockingly called "the minister of slogans" and shouts all the official slogans of "death to America, Israel, etc" and the people who attend the Friday prayers (usually staunch supporters of the regime) follow him and repeat the same slogans. Yesterday, a sizable portion of the crowd chanted "death to Russia" in response to "death to America", or "death to Israel", or "death to England" . More significantly, when he yelled "the blood in our veins is a gift to our leader" the crowd spontaneously and apparently without much coordination responded "the blood in our veins is a gift to our nation." Every Iranian I have talked to or corresponded with since yesterday has been deeply touched by this act of defiance. You have to realize that we Iranians are numb to the official slogans; they have been repeated so often that they have lost all meaning and content to us. To take these most secure weapons of the regime and to turn them against the regime in such a potent way is a sweet victory. It is hard not to love these people for their creativity and braveness.