Demonizing and Dehumanizing Iran

Flooding in Iran (PressTV)

by Shireen Hunter

Commenting on the devastating and widespread floods that have engulfed 26 of Iran’s 31 provinces, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo essentially blamed this huge natural disaster on the Iranian government’s mismanagement. He has a valid point. By undoing all earlier reforms, Iran’s revolutionary government allowed predatory forces to take over national and private lands and to build whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted, including in dry river beds. In a hurry to get rich, the new clerical and revolutionary elites and their offspring ignored all environmental safety measures.

Thus, throughout the last four decades there was no adequate maintenance of riverbeds, including regular cleaning and proper management of water resources. Then came a dam-building mania without sufficient study of environmental consequences. Refusal to use foreign experts on the pretext of self-sufficiency contributed to serious engineering shortcomings. The IRGC construction arm built most of these dams, which was a highly lucrative endeavor. The best example is the Gatwand dam in Khuzestan Province, which is now devastated by floods. Other mistakes have included building railroads in flood plains and paving over dry riverbeds.

Meanwhile, foreign military adventures took funds away from needed domestic water-management projects. The leadership’s foreign policy mistakes—especially fighting against so-called imperialism, or as the Supreme Leader recently said, battling evil—dried up international commerce and investment and stopped the flow of technology, even before the harshest of American sanctions were imposed.

Iran’s mistakes, however, do not excuse the heartlessness of the Trump administration’s policy of doing all it can to prevent aid to Iran’s flood victims. The American sanctions policy regarding Iran is like a medieval siege aimed at starving the enemy by exhausting its food resources until it surrenders.

Iran’s Islamic government began the process of mutual alienation that has produced the lack of U.S. compassion. Those who staged the 1979-81 hostage crisis bear a great responsibility in generating current American hostility. They are also responsible for the revolution’s radical turn that has caused tremendous damage to Iran and the Iranian people. Also, without the hostage crisis, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein could not have gotten away with invading Iran. Another factor was Ayatollah Khomeini’s decision to make the fight against America the cornerstone of the revolutionary regime in revenge for what he saw as American support for the shah.

Since the late 1980s, however, it has largely been the United States that has refused the path of reconciliation unless Iran completely surrenders. In the process, it has undermined moderate forces in Iran. Its withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, which undercut those Iranians who argued that a different relationship with the United States could be possible, is only the latest example of this approach.

After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, America and some of its regional allies have found in Iran a convenient enemy figure and scapegoat for their own policy mistakes. Thus, using the Iran scarecrow, they sold billions of dollars’ worth of arms to Arabs. They’ve tried to bring about Arab-Israeli reconciliation, not as a genuine effort to resolve the Palestinian problem but rather to reinforce common enmity toward Iran. Lately, the apocalyptic outlook of some key U.S. political figures has further consolidated Iran’s enemy image.

As part of this strategy, there has been a systematic efforts in the United States for the past 30 years to demonize not only the Islamic regime but Iran and its people. Even Iran’s pre-Islamic history has not been immune to this demonization. Some years ago, a well-known Iran analyst said that Iran was responsible for the very creation of evil, not just its recognition or identification. Hollywood movies have mined the history of Greco-Persian relations, portraying Iranians as savages, conveniently forgetting how Alexander burned Persepolis and killed or exiled its inhabitants.

For centuries, much of the West has defined itself against Iran, beginning with ancient Greece.  Yet Greek thought and aesthetics were influenced by Iran; Persepolis was the inspiration for the Pantheon. Iran was one of the few places in the known ancient world that Rome did not conquer. Thus, Iran has always represented an intellectual rival and not merely a military challenge to the West. Europe’s post-Christian secular identity, built on this Greco-Roman heritage, consolidated this old view of Iran in modern European minds and thus also in America’s.

Over the centuries, Iran and its indigenous culture have been much diminished. But there is still a spark underneath the ashes of a once glorious civilization, which periodically seeks a renaissance. But often it has succumbed to its own and its leaders’ weaknesses as well as the policies of other powers. In the last 250 years, this has meant colonial or neo-imperialist powers.

Given this history, current U.S. attitudes toward victims of the recent flooding is no surprise.  What is important is whether Iran, as a fundamentalist Islamic state or something else, is doomed to eternal enmity with the United States or whether the two countries can find common ground. As long as the current team is in Washington and hardliners continue to sacrifice Iran’s national interest in pursuit of some unattainable Islamist utopia, there is no room for optimism.

Shireen Hunter

Shireen Hunter is an affiliate fellow at the Center For Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service. From 2005 to 2007 she was a senior visiting fellow at the center. From 2007 to 2014, she was a visiting Professor and from 2014 to July 2019 a research professor. Before joining she was director of the Islam program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a program she had been associated since 1983. She is the author and editor of 27 books and monographs. Her latest book is Arab-Iranian Relations: Dynamics of Conflict and Accommodation, Rowman & Littlefield International, 2019.



  1. The problem we have with United States policy, is that it refuses to single out the Ayatollah regime, as distinct from Iranian culture. The author has actually done exactly the same.

    The people of Iran are Iranian. The Ayatollahs are not Iranian. They are an Islamic theocracy, that does not recognise any country in the world.

    We need the world, to designate the Ayatollah regime, as an alien occupying force, no different than the Soviets were in Afghanistan.

    But we can simply start right here and that has not happened, as this article and many before have shown.

  2. Blaming the revolutionary government for environmental decline is not fair enough. In fact the decline in environmental situation started from the so-called ”white revolution” in Iran promoted by US as a way to increase Shah’s popularity after the US supported coup against Democratic government of Mosaddegh. This was done with pretext of saving Iran from communism’s influence while the Iranian relrgous culture was never going to be a fertile environment for communism. In fact the dam making mania and uncontrolled use of underground waters were started long before the 1979 revolution. The mistake of the revolutionists was that they didn’t take care of these highly US affected changes in commercial backbones of society being overwhelmed by the political aspects of US influence and destruction. Even they continued implementation of Shah’s anti environmental revolution while ironically it was the pretext of first public speaking of Khomeini against Shah calling it tthe ‘black revolution.
    This is a common mistake in many revolutions which concentrate mainly on political and military aspects of capitalism and forgetting the economical destructions it have made.

  3. Americans destroyed the breadbasket of Iran in Hamun region when they build their failed damn in Afghanistan.

  4. I didn’t realize that Pimpeo is a resource management expert also! He must have done a great deal of researching in resource management since he apparently has a clear notion about who is responsible for the mismanagement of resources in Iran(lmao)! He must have earned his expertise from his boss since his boss constantly says that “he knows everything better than everybody”!

  5. Another sickening thinly veiled anti iran crap Iran s dams have held despite the malicious weather warfare similar to Vietnam!

Comments are closed.