Demonizing the Enemy
Another driving force during the revolutionary period was the demonization of both real and perceived enemies. The Pahlavi monarch was the main target of antagonistic protest chants, graffiti slogans, and leaflets distributed during the revolution. After the U.S. Embassy was stormed by a group of young Islamist radicals on November 4, 1979, however, attention also turned towards the United States (nicknamed “the Great Satan” in Iran). Together with the United Kingdom, the U.S. was seen as the real power behind the Pahlavi monarchy and was still resented by Iranians for the 1953 CIA-led coup d’état that overthrew the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq.
Demonization is a means of differentiating oneself from a perceived enemy, thereby creating an oppositional axis of “good” vs. “evil” symbolically titled in one’s favor. Through the process of rhetorical and visual defamation, the Islamic Republic’s rivals were publicly mocked in order to neutralize their ideological threat as well as to create a semblance of consensus among Iranians of divergent political opinions during and after the 1979 Revolution.
During the Revolution, leaders and protesters of the revolutionary movement demonized Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, accusing him of corruption and theft. The Iranian monarch was the main target of antagonistic protest chants, graffiti slogans, and political posters, in which he was depicted as a slithering worm and a demonic spirit.
The U.S. was characterized in Khomeini’s speeches and the Islamic Republic’s propaganda as a decadent and corrupt imperialist nation. By depicting the U.S. as the moral antithesis of the Islamic Republic, Khomeini and his supporters aimed to capitalize on the Iranians’ approval of the U.S. hostage crisis, while simultaneously galvanizing the populace to identify with the Islamic Republic and its mission.
Images produced at the height of anti-U.S. sentiment include, for example, postcards of a corrupt and grotesque President Carter, with ears locked shut and money shoved into his head and mouth. Such images served to vilify the American government and to underscore the moral decadence of capitalism.
After the Islamic Republic was formed, a number of other opponents (both real and imagined) to the new nation were similarly vilified and denounced. For example, the United States was decried as a morally corrupt and imperialist power, whose influence within Iran had to be countered in one fashion or another. During the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq’s secular leader, Saddam Hussein, also was demonized by means of satire, caricature, and animal allegory.
The other recipient of post-revolutionary animosity was Saddam Hussein. Khomeini hoped to inspire other Islamic revolutions across the Middle East, including in Iraq, where Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime ruled over the largely Shi’a population of Iraq with an iron fist. One poster of Saddam Hussein produced in Iran around 1980 shows him as a growling bulldog leashed in by the Soviet Union, the U.S., and Israel, to be defeated by the collective punch of the Iranian people’s striking fist. By depicting Saddam as merely an attack dog of foreign world powers, the poster insults him and diminishes the danger posed by the Iraqi leadership, while predicting its eventual destruction by the Islamic Republic.
In September 1980, Saddam Hussein, feeling threatened by the Islamic Republic’s attempts to incite the Iraqi Shi‘a majority to overthrow his leadership and seeking to take advantage of the revolutionary chaos in Iran, ordered the invasion of Iran. Thus began the eight-year Iran-Iraq War.