Waving the flaming photo in Iran

by Andrew Sprung

The latest political football in Iran is the alleged burning of the image of Ayatollah Khomeini during the student protests on December 7. From the AP today:

TEHRAN, Iran – Hundreds of students at Tehran University renewed anti-government protests for a second week on Sunday, accusing authorities of fabricating images of demonstrators burning photos of the Islamic Republic's revered founder.

Students moved to the forefront of opposition on the streets with massive protests last week. They say authorities are using the images of burning photos as a pretext to crack down on their protests, which have helped revitalize the pro-reform movement.

State television has repeatedly shown images, ostensibly taken during student-led protests on Dec. 7, of unidentified hands burning and tearing up pictures of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It was a grave and illegal insult against the former leader, still widely respected in the country. The elite Revolutionary Guard, the country's most powerful military force, called for the trial and punishment of those responsible.

The regime is using these images to turn the screws on opposition leaders. In a speech earlier today, Supreme Leader Khamenei portrayed the act as a kind of blasphemy, an attack on the foundation of a "divine" state. While he did not accuse opposition leaders of direct responsibility for the alleged desecration, he accused them of fomenting conditions enabling it. From PressTV, the Iranian government's English language news organ:

Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei condemned the desecration, saying it was the result of the violation of law and clinging on to the encouragement of foreign media. Now to cover up this travesty, the Leader said, they have turned to "philosophization and false reasoning."

Ayatollah Khamenei said the group which violated the law was responsible for encouraging riots, laying the grounds for insults to the late Imam Khomeini, and helping the "frustrated, hopeless" enemy gain momentum.

"The geometry of this establishment is divine, its basis was established by a divine man and its survival relies on a divine nation," the Leader said. "Its enemy will not achieve its goals."

The Leader reiterated that the defeated presidential candidates, who have failed to prove their claims of vote fraud, should return to the right path as the election file has come to a close.

Ayatollah Khamenei, who called for calm to return to the country, said those who call for protests should stop such moves as the riots are backed by the enemies of Iran.

The Daily Telegraph quotes excerpts of Khamenei's speech that constitute a more a direct warning to opposition leaders:

"Those who shout slogans in the name of these people (opposition leaders), hoist their pictures and speak of them with respect are in a point which is the exact opposite of the Imam (Khomeini), revolution and Islam," the Supreme Leader said on state television.

"When you see this, step aside," he said in remarks addressed to the two opposition leaders, who he referred to as his "former brothers".

"I don't believe in purging, I believe in maximum attraction, but it looks as if some people insist on distancing themselves from the system and they have turned a family dispute into a battle against the system," the Ayatollah said.

Khamenei's speech comes in the wake of reports suggesting that the regime is finally on the point of arresting Mousavi, Karroubi and Khatami. Scott Lucas relays the following from the Iranian expatriate scholar/journalist Alireza Nourizadeh, who, Lucas says, "lives outside Iran but claims good sources inside the country":

"Dear iranians! According to confirmed and very reliable news source, this evening, there was a 3 hour meeting in the house of the Leadership of Iran between all coup leaders including Commander Vahid, Commander Jafari, Commander Firoozabadi, Sheikh Hossein Taeb, Asghar Hejazi, Mojtaba Khamenei, Gholamali Haddad Adel, Ahmadi Moghadam, Heidar Moslehi, Commander Mohamad Reza Naghdi and the leadership Seyed Ali Khamenei himself and his chief officer Mohamad ali Golpayegani.

During the meeting the majority of participants requested the arrest of Mirhossein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, Seyed Mohamad Khatami and putting Rafsanjani under survellience. Khamenei however postponed his final decision to tomorrow.

Nevertheless according to a very reliable source it is very probable that the coup leaders take series of important measures including arrest of a number of opposition figures tonight.

Lucas adds an update:

Based on the Supreme Leader’s speech this morning, we think the Green movement(s) are on a “final warning”. That would mean no immediate arrests of opposition leaders, but if there is protest during Moharram….

I would add as a postscript that Khamenei is acting very much in Khomeini's own spirit in waving the flaming photo, the desecrated icon, blaming that alleged desecration on outside enemies, and suggesting that the perpetrators are in league with Israel.  More of Khamenei's speech from PressTV:

A sign that the enemy supports these riots, the Leader said, was when in the rallies on Quds Day, which were supposed to defend the rights of the Palestinians, some chanted slogans against the people of Palestine and backed Israel.

"How are they not awakened when leaders of oppression and arrogance which can be characterized by the United States, France and Britain show their support for them?," the Leader asked. "Why don't they realize [they have taken the wrong path] when fugitive, corrupt monarchist and communist figures lend their support to them?

Compare a crux from one of Khomeini's most influential speeches, the denunciation of the Shah's regime delivered in Qom on June 3, 1963, which led to his exile. The occasion was the 40-day anniversary of a raid on the prominent Faiziyeh madreseh, in which many students were beaten, some arrested, and two killed. Khomenei cast that assault as an attack on Islam itself, ultimately directed by a certain ally of the Shah:

We come to the conclusion that this regime also has a more basic aim; they are fundamentally opposed to Islam itself and to the existence of the religious class. They do not wish this institution to exist; they do not wish any of us [mullahs and talebs] to exist, the great and the small alike.

Israel does not wish the Koran to exist in this country. Israel does not wish the mullahs to exist in this country...It was Israel that assaulted the Faiziyeh madreseh by means of its sinister agent. It is still assaulting us, and assaulting you, the nation; it wishes to seize your economy...to appropriate your wealth...The religious scholars are blocking [Israel's] path; they must be eliminated  (quoted in Roy Mottadedeh, The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran - elisions in the original).

The continuities are worth keeping in mind as the regime and the established opposition continue to compete for the "mantle of the prophet."