Why do Iranians chant “Death to America”?

d5XmtHz4thAtYhR25qPppmetHT6yGfXjq8X4Td34afOWcpLHNtpmKhwa3t4X2BMmpWhen Americans hear about Iran their thoughts are probably first directed to the “Death to America” chants. This makes sense considering the repressive government, but why do the Iranian people participate in these chants? Any American visiting Iran would find themselves greeted by altruistic, hospitable people willing to tend to their every need. Almost every American I know that has visited Iran has come back surprised at the geniality and generosity of Iranians, Rick Steves has even said that “it was here[Iran], out of all the countries he’s visited, that he felt most welcomed.” So again why do the Iranian people participate in “Death to America” chants? To answer this question I ask you, the reader, to put yourself in the Iranian people’s shoes.

Mohammad_Mosaddeq

Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh

Mosaddegh and the 1953 coup d’état

Let’s go back to 1951 when Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh was appointed as Prime Minister. During this time, the Shah was extremely Pro-West, Britain and the US were both actively allies with Iran and were thoroughly invested in Iran’s oil industry. This led to an extremely wealthy government, but a struggling and poverty-stricken people. However, under the leadership of Mosaddegh’s democratically elected nationalist movement, the Iranian parliament unanimously voted to nationalize the oil industry – thus shutting out the immensely profitable Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, which was a pillar of Britain’s economy and provided it political clout in the region. This gained the support of the now prosperous Iranian people and resulted in a now wary Shah. The confrontation between Iran and Britain escalated as Mosaddegh’s government refused to allow the British any involvement in Iran’s oil industry, and Britain made sure Iran could sell no oil. In 1952 the Shah forced Mosaddegh to resign, but after a massive uprising by the Iranian people, the Shah re-appointed Mosaddegh. Meanwhile, the British government had grown increasingly distressed over Mosaddegh’s policies and were especially bitter over the loss of their control of the Iranian oil industry. Engulfed in a variety of problems following World War II, Britain was unable to resolve the issue single-handedly and looked towards the US to settle the matter, preying on the US’s Cold War fears, Churchill convinced President Eisenhower that Iran was “increasingly turning to communism” and so Operation Ajax, a plot orchestrated by the US and Britain to overthrow Mosaddegh, was initiated. The Shah himself initially opposed the coup plans, and supported the oil nationalization, but he joined after being informed by the CIA that he too would be “deposed” if he didn’t play along, and so, under the West’s influence, the Shah exiled Mosaddegh. The British and USA regained the Iranian government as an ally, but left the Iranian people hating the West. Their elected leader that had brought prosperity and wealth to the people, had been exiled only so the West could continue stripping Iran of its oil and resources. The people had again fallen into poverty, and they had only the West to blame.

The White Revolution

downloadIn the 1960s the Shah started an attempt to modernize Iran. Initially this started out well, with suffrage being extended to women, raising the minimum wage, improving factory conditions, and improving the education system of Iran. However, slowly Iranians found that Persian culture was being stripped away from their country and was being replaced with Western culture. Persian architecture began taking Western influences, more and more Iranian companies got replaced by American companies, fashion looked more American than Persian, American films were more prominent that Iranian films etc. Then in the mid-1960s, the Shah banned hijab in Iran. This was just as insulting as current-day Iran’s mandatory hijab. At the time 98%  of Iran was Muslim with more than half of the women wearing hijab. Suddenly the Shah’s regime began becoming more oppressive, protesters and anyone against the Shah’s policies suddenly “disappeared” and the CIA-trained brutal police force, the Savak, cracked down hard on the Iranian people by order of the Shah. Iranians began seeing that the West was backing this repressive regime and built up their anger, calling the Shah “a puppet of the US” and fearing the disappearance of their millenia-old culture. Once again, the people could only see the US and Britain to blame.

The Islamic Revolution

In 1977 Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, an Islamic cleric, began seeing the people’s unrest and distrust in the Shah. He began supporting public demonstrations and began to preach Iranians, slowly becoming a leader. In 1979 the Shah exiled Khomeini from Iran, but that only caused more anger from the Iranian people. From France Khomeini recorded cassette tapes and sent them to Iran where the people illegally listened to them. The Shah was becoming more oppressive by the second and the Savak were kill hundreds of people each day. The Shah kept quiet about the uprisings to the West so when in 1979 the Shah was iran_revolution_1979forced into exile by his people, the USA and Britain were in complete shock. Iran was the only country they had under their control in the Middle East at the time and in a couple of months they had lost it all. Under the guidance of their new Supreme Leader, the now Islamic Republic began chanting “Death to America,” “Death to Carter,” “Death to Britain,” “Death to Imperialism!” The people had suffered for almost 30 years and they saw that the US and Britain were the only ones to blame.   A few months later, the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis had occurred. The Shah had been taken in by the Carter administration in New York and the people wanted him back in Iran so that he could be dealt with by his own people. They kept these 52 hostages in Iran for 444 days until Carter was elected out of office and Reagan was inaugurated so that they could have their revenge on Carter (by emphasizing his failure to save the hostages) who backed the oppressive Shah.

Iran-Iraq War

iran-iraq-warIn 1980 Iraq’s Saddam Hussein seized the opportunity of conquering a newly recovering Islamic Republic of Iran. They began to attack Iran viciously, massacring thousands of civilians, and the new government scrambled to get an army together to fight the Iraqis. Iran was struggling and causalities were increasing. The war became much harder to fight after the USA, France, Soviet Union, Kuwait, Qatar, and Jordan supported Iraq with weapons and troops. Particularly, the US supplied Iraq with chemical weapons, which they in turn used to murder innocent civilians on the border, this was backed by the US. Iran was outnumbered and child soldiers began to volunteer to fight in the war. Iranian pride surged and their hatred of the West grew even more as their friends and family died. The war grinded to a stalemate in 1988, and Iran-US relations were officially ruined.

Iran Today

So overall the Iranian people had been pushed into severe poverty, denied free speech, tortured and killed, they watched their iranwomen2culture disappear, they had been used for oil, innocents had been chemically gassed, children had to fight in a war, they had been they had been forced to betray their religion, and they faced the exile of the only government official that was helping them. All of this was caused by the US, Britain, and their allies, and of course they hated them for doing this and wanted their culture and government to be destroyed just like Iran’s had been. “Death to America” “means death to American foreign policy,” according to Foad Izadi (an assistant professor in the Faculty of World Studies at the University of Tehran) not death to the American people.

Now imagine Iran doing to the US something similar of what the US was doing to Iran at the time. Imagine President Kennedy being replaced by a dictator that supported Iran’s policies and allowed Iran to take all of the US’s resources. Imagine having your culture stripped away, no more football, no more fast-food burgers, no more TV binge-watching etc. Imagine not being permitted to go to Church for Sunday prayers. Imagine being invaded by a foreign country, imagine your children serving in the war, imagine your neighbors, friends, everyone you knew die due to massacres by the CIA, imagine losing your freedom of speech, imagine being gassed to death…all because of Iran. This should give you a bit of perspective to how the Iranian people felt at the time. You would probably shout “Death to Iran!” You would probably hate their government.

The Iranian people are angry and they probably will stay angry for many many more years. However, this anger has been pushed to the back of an overwhelmingly large majority of Iran’s population. Life moves on, you cannot change the past, Iranians understand that. That is why less than 5% of the population participates in “Death to America” chants today. Iranians have found a middle-ground, combining their culture with Western culture, and though they might be sad about what happened in the past, they don’t hold a grudge.

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One response to “Why do Iranians chant “Death to America”?

  1. Pingback: Mahsa lives in Iran. Here’s how sanctions have shaped her life. | Iran Unveiled·

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