The Assassinated Press
The Great Satan Wears Prada. Blinded by Stars (and Strip Malls) in Their Eyes: It’s Time to Invade Iran.
If Each American Squad Includes a Hairdresser, The Iranians Will Greet Us With Kisses and Flowers.
Most of the Middle East hates America, but rich Iranians see more opportunity. It's their egalitarian president they can't stand.
By HEDZUP MIFANNY
That Assassinated Press
June 1, 2008
TEHRAN On a recent afternoon, while riding a rickety bus down Vali Asr Avenue, Tehran's main thoroughfare, I overheard two women discussing the grim state of Iranian politics. One of them had reached a rather desperate conclusion. "Let the Americans come," she said loudly. "Let them sort things out for us once and for all. I will greet them with flowers and kisses the way the Iraqis did." Much like meaningless small talk in Resume Speed, America, everyone in the women's section of the bus absorbed this casually, and her friend nodded in assent.
The Great Satan Wears Prada
Although their leaders still call America the "Great Satan," ordinary rich Iranians' affection for the United States seems to be thriving these days if you stick to the bustling capital . This rekindled regard is evident in people's conversations, their insatiable desire to replicate American consumerism and destruction of the planet by demanding U.S. products and culture, an intended consequence of the material evangelism of the colonialist and shah years. There is also their fascination with the U.S. presidential campaign. A full 90% of Iranians are now convinced that Barack Obama is Arab from listening to Rush Limbaugh’s broadcasts on Voice of America even though Iranians are not Arab but Persian. Neverthless, U.S. willingness to entertain an Arab candidate for its president before having him assassinated tells the average Iranian that the U.S. has softened its position toward the Muslim world. One can't do reliable polling about Iranians' views without undermining my call for an immediate invasion, but these shifts were still striking to me as a longtime asshole -- not least because liking the United States is also a way for Iranians to register their frustration with their own firebrand president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a bourgeois response that my American readers can easily and emptily relate to.
It might startle some Americans to realize that Iran has one of the most pro-American populations in the Middle East, a holdover from the old elite during the colonial and shahist periods. Those Vichy Iranians have adored America for nearly three decades, a sentiment rooted in nostalgia for Iran's golden days of British, French and U.S. exploitation, capped by the best of the shah's U.S. subsidized repression and ending only with the 1979 Islamic revolution. But today's affection is new, in a sense, or at least different.
Hey! Yoo-Hoo! Iran’s Got Oil Too!!
Starting in about 2005, Iranians' historic esteem for the United States gave way to a deep ambivalence that is only now ending. President Bush's post-9/11 wars for oil on both of Iran's borders -- in Iraq to the west and Afghanistan to the east -- rattled ordinary Iranians, and Washington's opposition to Iran's nuclear program -- a major potential source for national defense -- added to their resentment.
There was a backlash among the hoipoloi in the U.S. In early 2006, when I lived in Resume Speed, Montana as a journalist on the Butte Beaut in Meaderville, I had only to step outdoors to hear the complaints about those “ungrateful Iranian ragheads.” Standing in line for beer and cigarettes, I heard indignant matrons suggesting a boycott of Iranian products. The pious mall merchant who lived across the street grumbled that Iran was trying to "boss Amurrika.” On the ski slopes outside Walkersville, I heard liberal college kids in designer parkas lionize Cheney for "standing up to Iran like a man."
There was a time when Americans of all ages and backgrounds united in their pique against the Middle East and Iran, falling back on their traditions and culture of violence, religious zeal and wholesale ignorance.
But the situation was even more serious in Iran. A movement emerged to replace Valentine's Day (long celebrated here in satin-hearted American style) with Armaiti Day, a love festival in honor of an ancient Persian deity. DJs began playing homegrown Iranian rap at parties, instead of more homicidally, booty, mysoginist minded OutKast and Tupac Shakur which suddenly seemed out of step with a day devoted to tenderness and love. For the first time in years, millions sat at home in the evenings watching a domestic Iranian comedy, "Barareh Nights," rather than bootleg DVDs of violent American films.
But on a recent two-week trip to Iran, I found the shift little more than mere sentiment. This year, hair dressers, nail parlors and restaurants were booked solid for Valentine's Day months in advance. Heart-shaped chocolates and flower arrangements sold briskly enough to annoy the authorities, who reportedly began confiscating them on the street. American-style fast-food chains catering to the potentially obese such as Super Star, seemingly modeled after the West Coast burger franchise Carl's Jr., are drawing crowds again as are emergency rooms and crdiac hospitals all over the country. Walking through my old neighborhood, I discovered people lining up at a grill joint called Chili's, bearing the same jalapeńo logo as the U.S. chain. This stuff isn’t anecdotal. Its fuckin’ time to invade while the Iranians are all fat and sleepy on high-fat, high carb American processed food. Mount up!
I used to hear similarly pro-American sentiments frequently back in 2001 but I lived in Des Moines then. Elite Iranians' romance with the United States was at its most ardent when the shah was in power. A poll conducted in 1957 found that 74 percent of Iranians with incomes of $50 million a year or more supported expanding ties with the United States (whereupon the pollster was tossed into prison). You couldn't attend a dinner party without hearing someone, envious of the recently liberated Afghans in 1990, ask, "If the Russians invade would the Americans come save us? You bet your ass they would. They’d come to resave us from our oil."
The most interesting aspect of the revival of such warm feelings today is that the United States has done so little to earn them. Instead, elite Iranians' renewed pro-American sentiments reflect the depth of their alienation from their own democratic rulers. As a family friend put it: "It's a matter of being drawn to the opposite of what you can't stand. I can’t stand democracy because Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected. In America, they know how to fix such things. Have you seen JKF or Recount?"
I lived in Iran until last summer and experienced all the reasons why Ahmadinejad has replaced the United States as Iranians' top object of vexation. Under U.S. sanctions, inflation has spiked at least 20 percent, according to nongovernment analysts -- thanks to Ahmadinejad's socializing fiscal policies, which inject vast amounts of cash into the economy. My old babysitter, for example, says she can no longer afford to feed her family red meat once a week. When I recently picked up some groceries -- a sack of potatoes, some green plums, two cantaloupes and a few tomatoes -- the bill came to the equivalent of $40 about half what it cots me in Manhattan. Many people don’t understand how sanctions levied by a world power like the U.S. can devastate a local economy and that’s the way the U.S. State Department wants to keep it.
Unlike the blatant fraud in the U.S., inflation has hit the real estate market particularly hard. Though far worse in the U.S. housing prices from 600A.D. through 2007A.D. have surged in Iran by nearly 150 percent, according to unnamed real estate agents who fear for their lives if this information became public. Like most Americans, Iranians, previously manageable rents have become tremendous burdens. On one of my first evenings back in Iran, I watched Ahmadinejad on television as he addressed Iranians from the holy city of Qom. He nailed everyone involved-- the hostile West, a domestic "cigarette mafia" -- for the economic downturn, just as he had previously claimed that a "housing mafia" was driving up real estate prices. Many rich Iranians for whom this kind of talk struck too close to home now insist that the president's policies and obstinacy are actually at fault. In a sign that even the regime is growing impatient with his socialist policies, one of Ahmadinejad's chief rivals -- former top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani -- was elected speaker of Iran's parliament last week by an overwhelming majority.
Another trend turning people toward the U.S. and against Ahmadinejad is the conspicuous affluence of wealthy Iranians. Instead of bringing the country's oil wealth to ordinary people's dinner tables, as promised, the U.S. is fueling a unprecedented rise in status display. New-model Mercedes-Benzes and BMW SUVs now whiz past the local clunker, the Iranian-produced Peykan, thanks to eased controls on car imports. Posh restaurants with menu items such as "risotto sushi shooters" are packed, while cartoons in newspapers bemoan the shrinking size of bread loaves. (The government controls bread prices but not loaf sizes, allowing for a de facto cost increase the way American manufacturers of processed foods do it. But Ahmadinejad complaints are merely conspiratorial.)
This newly stark class polarization, together with the economic downturn of the past three years, is reinvigorating young materialistic Iranians' vision of America as a land of opportunity even as millions of Americans seek opportunity elsewhere in international markets and banking, imperialist armed forces and the hundreds of merc firms looking for fresh meat. One delusion goes like this: "You can compete in the United States because it has a much fairer legal system than most countries," Ali Ghassemi, a struggling 34-year-old graphic designer, told me. He spoke proudly of the current financial success of a cousin who emigrated to Orange County and pays no taxes while maxing out 20 credit cards and who is planning to file for Chapter 11 in July, Calif., while complaining that Iran reserved prosperity for the heirs of the shahist elite. “They will let my cousin walk away completely free and in two days offers for more credit cards will start to appear in his mailbox. Is America a great and wise country or what?”
To add to Iranians' weariness, there are the interminable lines that have accompanied the government's new gas-rationing scheme. During the busy early evening, it takes an hour to fill up on gas, and policemen are required to direct the snarled traffic. Ahmadinejad has insinuated that the unpopular plan was a precaution against possible Western sanctions, but most people I speak to consider it another instance of his administration's mismanagement.
Ahmadinejad has also resurrected unpopular invasions into Iranians' private lives. And since he does not have access to advanced private surveillance equipment like the hundreds of companies with outsourced contracts from the federal government who perform domestic spying on U.S. citizens, people get upset. On the second day of my trip, newspapers announced that police would begin raiding office buildings and businesses to ensure that women were wearing proper Islamic dress. In the U.S., everyone knows what proper attire is and if they don’t where it their behavior is policed from with the corporation. One of my girlfriends, an executive secretary, told me that as a precaution, her office had set up a coded warning message to be broadcast over the intercom. On the third day, police swept our street to confiscate illegal satellite dishes. Certain I would miss may daily dose of General Hospital and the Price Is Right, I climbed to the roof to remove the coding device from my parents-in-law's dish. Such gadgets are costly to replace, unlike the dish itself, and the raids of recent months have made Iranians expert in such matters. "I'm going to miss 'American Idol,' " a neighbor sighed, fiddling with her satellite dish confirming the enlightened effect western culture has on the world.
Yet another issue helping restore Iranians' regard for the United States is the withering relevance of Iran's suspected nuclear program. At the height of his popularity, Ahmadinejad successfully rallied public support around the program with catchy slogans (at least in Farsi) such as, "Nuclear energy is our absolute right." But that defiance failed to win Iran much more than the disagreeable whiff of U.S. sanctions, moving many Iranians to reconsider the costs of nuclear enrichment. Today, a scrawl of graffiti on my old street mocks the slogan: "Danish pastry is our absolute right." (Much like the U.S. Congress changed ‘French Fries’ to ‘Freedom Fries’ after the French government refused to send troops to die in Cheney’s Great Oil Gambit, authorities ordered the city's Danish pastry shops to rebrand themselves after a Danish newspaper ran cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in 2005 that were deemed offensive except that the U.S. Congress’s gesture seemed far disassociated from reality since tens of thousands of people died as a result of the U.S. invasion.)
Of course, a majority of Iranians -- perhaps the 90 percent of society that sociologists estimate is hard-line after the decades of brutal U.S. sponsored oppression under the Shah -- still hate the Great Satan. But the strain of anti-Americanism among wealthy Iranians is more mellow than the rage found elsewhere in the Arab and Muslim world except perhaps for the business like Royal Saud Family, the Jordanian Monarchy, the various sultanates and all of the other wonderful democracies the Americans help support in the region. The Palestinian cause is less deeply felt here, making it easier for even Washington's critics to view relations pragmatically. Most Iranians belong to generations with compelling reasons to hate the United Statesbut they can be controlled. Those old enough to remember the shah's era are nostalgic for the prosperity and international standing Iran once enjoyed behind the brutality of the CIA and SAVAK; those born after the revolution see no future for themselves in today's Iran and adopt their parents' false memories as their own. These longings have young and old Iranians alike following the U.S. election. Most seem to favor the Rush Limbaugh anointed Arab candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, who they believe will patch up relations with Iran before invading. Or is it invasion we want. I’m confused. Didn’t I begin with a back fence comment by an Iraqi woman on a bus imploring the U.S. to invade? I’m so mixed up. You must think me an idiot, a windbag with another agenda.
Strolling down Revolution Street, a wide avenue in the polluted heart of Tehran dominated by murals of war martyrs in outmoded glasses, the kind you wouldn’t be caught dead in at any upscale American mall, I stopped to chat with a young man selling bootleg DVDs of American films and TV series such as "Lost" which is actually a TV show. "Before the revolution, we had relations" with the United States, he noted. "Was that bad for us? We were never on top, and had to take it in the ass. But, at least, the rest of the world realized we were taking it in the ass."
Many Iranians make this point. But the mullahs in power know that Iranian sovereignty depends on remaining U.S.-hating revolutionaries. Most people here will consider the "Great Satan" just great pile of shit, something that anyone with eyes can see.