Despair, frustration, and disappointment, are the words any political observer would hear while listening to speeches of top officials in the Iranian state hierarchy. For some, it might be translated as the country’s leadership warning against a natural social disorder reflecting the economic hardship that has followed international sanctions but those who care enough to connect the dots would see the consistency in the chaos-driven milieu of Iran’s politics.
On a provincial trip to Qazvin province on April 28, the Iranian regime’s president Ebrahim Raisi said during his speech: “Today, we should not disappoint people by abandoning good actions and doing wrong things, because the greatest sin is to disappoint people.”
“My first advice to you students is to avoid hopelessness and despair. Be careful. It means to take care of yourself, take care of your heart, be careful not to be passive, do not be disappointed,” the Iranian regime’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei told a handpicked crowd of followers who had been gathered on April 26. “Beware of despair and anguish, beware of words like ‘we cannot’ and ‘trying is worthless.’ If you fail to heed this advice, not only will the role of students be diminished, but the engines of our movement will slow down. It will have a negative effect on the students as well.”
The audience that Khamenei was addressing was branded by the state media as “students and professors”, but in fact, they were elements of the paramilitary Basij whose task is to control and sway the students. Khamenei was giving them directions on how to hold a grip on the nation’s universities.
Even though the Supreme Leader’s office usually makes sure to put out a more polished version of the text on its English website, these remarks were strangely reprinted without being sugarcoated. The speech was also widely covered by the state media. Also unprecedented was the fact that the loyalist students refrained from the usual flatteries directed at Khamenei and listed a litany of complaints and problems.
In a lengthy challenging speech by one of the students and extensively reported by the state-run Tasnim news agency, Khamenei’s followers accused the tightly vetted parliament of being “irresponsible”, the Guardian Council of being an “undesirable element,” state officials being “ignorant of the people,” college professors being “exploitive of the students,” the religious seminaries of being “a place of lethargy and aloofness,” the constitution of being “shut down” and state institutions run by the Supreme Leader’s office of being “worth reviewing.”
Covering this meeting, the official news agency IRNA concluded its report with the following paragraph: “The meeting ends, but this meeting is a quite different one from previous years, marked by the absence of representatives of all student groups, coupled with the inaction of students present at the meeting as well as the formal atmosphere that replaced the jubilant applause and whistles of last year’s meetings. What was the reason for this change? Was it because of the absence of a representative of all the students? Was it the content of the speeches of the representatives of the student organizations? Or was it the same despair and lethargy that the leader was warning about?”
But this “mood” has not been an isolated case. On another occasion, while speaking to the regime’s highest officials on April 12, Khamenei had similar thoughts to share.
“Sluggishness is the opposite of arrogance, which is a disease as well as it is miserable,” the Supreme Leader said. “What does sluggishness mean? It is a weak spirit, to feel incapable, to feel helpless, that you can no longer hang on to. The feeling of impasse in everything. Sluggishness makes you feel like you are facing a deadlock and you just say, ‘nothing can be done anymore.’ This is a dangerous poison. For a manager, it is toxic to feel stuck. And the enemies try extremely hard to instill this feeling in all of us in various forms. By meeting, talking, chanting, doing interviews, via the news, by some operational activities… they try to create despair, passivity, impasse, and the like among their opponents. This is damaging.”
But even this impasse has a deeper root. On February 8, in a meeting with the staff and the chain of command of the regime’s Air Force, Khamenei came up with a new initiative called “ Jihad of Clarification”.
“Today, countering the enemy’s aggression who distort the facts, achievements, progress and epic actions of the Islamic system requires a combined defense and offensive approach, with the focus on the immediate and definite duty of jihad,” the Supreme Leader stated.
Initially quite confusing, it was later explained and elaborated upon by numerous seminaries and Friday prayer sermons what the “Jihad of Clarification” is all about. As state officials laid down the principles of this so-called Jihad (Arabic for holy struggle), it turns out that Khamenei is struggling with an enemy far out of reach but very much able to strike home.
Gholamhossein Mahdavinejad, the Supreme Leader’s representative and Friday prayer leader in Semnan said on March 11, “There were days when the hypocrites (regime’s acronym for the MEK) committed crimes, the foreigners offered them refuge, gave money, provided facilities for all these crimes, but now they (the MEK) have turned to soft war and in order to fight the soft war, our leader has called for ‘Jihad of Clarification’.”
Mahdavinejad added: “‘Jihad of Clarification’ means we must do something so that no one can talk about the execution of the MEK any longer. It means that the crimes of the MEK, the crimes of the United States, the crimes of Israel, these things need to be explained.”
“Jihad of Clarification is a tool to deal with cognitive warfare, the IRGC-run Fars news agency quoted Abdolhossein Khosropanah, a member of the Qom Seminary as saying on March 16. “We are faced with cognitive warfare, and it is a kind of soft warfare. A battalion in this cognitive warfare is the hypocrites (MEK) who are sitting behind their computers in Albania and constantly sow doubts to influence the minds of the youth about the values, the revolution, and Islam.”
Alireza Panaihan, head of Ali Khamenei’s “think tank for universities” also said on the same day: “We must have the required qualities for jihad. In military jihad, you must sacrifice your life. In Jihad of Clarification, you must sacrifice your reputation. It is not possible for you to maintain your reputation and at the same time expose the hypocrites’ crimes.”
Whether the world wants to believe Tehran’s mouthpieces in the West or its delegations in covert and overt negotiations, the Iranian regime has a fundamental problem at home. For years, the state-affiliated analysts and former officials have been warning their security apparatus that the real threats are inside their borders.
“This is why a large number of young people, from all walks of life, from workers to honorable elite students, are deceived by the group of hypocrites and are attracted to it,” the state-run website ‘Rahyafteha’ wrote on May 29, 2020. “These young men, stripped from their own will, attack the government centers with bombs and weapons, incite the society to riot and sedition, and sow the seeds of sinister armed struggle in the hearts of the youth.”
The ‘Daneshjoo News Agency” also run a piece on June 12, 2021, that said: “The disparate energies of millions of vibrant girls and boys cannot be extinguished; most importantly when the tyrannic enmity is always on the alert. The enemy, the hypocrites who are always lurking and investing in the dissatisfaction of the young generation, intense psychological warfare, and are pumping them deviant and extremely dangerous motives for rebellion, revolt, and destruction of governing places and destroying everything that symbolizes the values of the system and revolution.”
As no democratically elected leader fears domestic opposition, no true superpower feels the need to wage war to demonstrate strength. Tehran’s nuclear saber-rattling, unveiling underground missile cities, and parading hordes of militiamen across the streets of Iran and the Middle East cannot scare off millions of angry minds and empty stomachs that are becoming radical more than ever.
No matter when the mullahs in Iran will acquire nuclear weapons and no matter if and when the world powers drive to the conclusion that they have been the only ones fueling the terror machine all along. The most important thing is that Khamenei knows what he is talking about.