Tears for a terrorist: How Iran is stage-managing public grief over Soleimani's death

Ayatollah Khamenei made news today when he broke into tears during a speech at the public funeral for Gen. Qassem Soleimani. You can see a bit of it in this AP news clip:



Of course it makes sense that the Ayatollah would cry. He’s a dictator and Soleimani was his number one enforcer. But CNN reported today that the size and demeanor of the crowd demonstrated that Iranians had been unified against the US by Soleimani’s death, just weeks after anti-government protests:

The mourners clutched photographs of Soleimani, a revered and powerful figure who headed the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps elite Quds Force and led Iran’s overseas operations. Posters with his image, and a black backdrop, were plastered across the capital.

Many of those on the streets of the Iranian capital were visibly upset and angry; others shouted “down with the USA” and “death to the USA.” Iranian state television said millions of people attended, although this figure has yet to be verified…

Just weeks before, thousands of anti-government protesters had filled the streets to voice their frustration with Iran’s leaders, as well as the crippling economic sanctions imposed on the country by the Trump administration.

But widespread reverence for Soleimani, who commands a cult-like status in the country, has seemingly united Iranians of all political stripes in anger at the US.

Over at the Washington Post, Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad frames the story somewhat differently. She points out that the mourning in Iran is being heavily orchestrated by the regime, right down to school children being encouraged to cry over Soleimani’s death:


What to make of the crowds of flag-waving mourners streaming across TV screens? Without doubt, Soleimani had support among hard-liners and regime loyalists. The regime is not taking any chances, though. In the city of Ahvaz, where large numbers of people turned out to mourn Soleimani, the government has forced students and officials to attend. It provided free transport and ordered shops to shut down. According to videos sent to me by people inside the country, the authorities are making little kids write essays praising the fallen commander. First-graders who didn’t know how to write were encouraged to cry for Soleimani…

The media in the Islamic Republic is heavily controlled. Public gatherings are allowed only if they are pro-regime. Critics are jailed or shot. (Even I, living outside the country, have received a death threat on Iranian national TV for my coverage of Soleimani’s killing.) So it’s not hard to use all the tools and resources of the state to stage a funeral procession…

Ironically, the Western media is more skeptical of such state-organized events in other countries, such as Russia or North Korea, but seems to leave its critical sense at the border when it comes to the Islamic Republic…

Remember all the articles that predicted how Iranians were going to unite in resistance to President Trump’s sanctions? The same analysts who missed November’s protests are now predicting Iranians will rally around the flag.


Western media outlets which fail to look critically at the orchestrated response to Soleimani’s death are acting as amplifiers for Iranian propaganda. In reality, a lot of Iranians are clearly fed up with the regime. That’s why so many protesters took to the streets in November. As I wrote at the time, the regime’s response was to shut down the internet and begin murdering protesters. Reuters reported last month that leaked information from Iranian sources indicated 1500 people had been killed over the course of 2 weeks.

About 1,500 people were killed during less than two weeks of unrest that started on Nov. 15. The toll, provided to Reuters by three Iranian interior ministry officials, included at least 17 teenagers and about 400 women as well as some members of the security forces and police…

At the meeting, described to Reuters by the three sources close to his inner circle, the 80-year-old leader, who has final say over all state matters in the country, raised his voice and expressed criticism of the handling of the unrest. He was also angered by the burning of his image and the destruction of a statue of the republic’s late founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

“The Islamic Republic is in danger. Do whatever it takes to end it. You have my order,” the supreme leader told the group, one of the sources said.

The Ayatollah may issued the order but it was Soleimani who helped carry it out. Would that recent action be likely to make him more or less popular with Iranians? Mass murder may make people more compliant for a while, but it certainly won’t make them love the person responsible. You can bet there are a lot of Iranians who aren’t crying over Soleimani’s death no matter what spectacle the regime whips up for the cameras.


Last word from the author of the Washington Post piece critical of the media’s coverage:

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