He gave an interview to BBC Persian, in which he claimed to show compassion for Iran’s people, talking about the murder of the Iranian martyr Neda [Agha-Soltan] during the Green Revolution.
Yet Netanyahu’s words about the Iranian government “regime’s control of Iran, it’s aggressive designs, it’s brutalization of it’s own people” rang hollow. Everything that Netanyahu attributed to the Iranian regime—in particular “aggressive designs” against the people of Iran—could just as easily be used to characterize Netanyahu’s own bellicose relationship with Iran.
Yet the most telling part of the interview was Netanyahu’s laughable statement:
“If the people of Iran were free they could wear jeans and listen to Western music.”
The statement is telling on a number of levels. The most obvious part is Netanyahu’s utter ignorance of what real Iranians actually wear, the range of social practices inside Iran. And these real Iranians, who are among the most heavily wired and internet-savvy populations in the world, have been taking to social media to mock Netanyahu’s ignorance.
Many of them are saying making the simple point: it doesn’t take much to find out what Iranians are wearing these days. A simple survey of social media would do. There are a number of interesting campaigns, such as the “Tehran Street Style” page on Imgur.
In which Iranians are posting their own fashion. (As it might be expected, these are disproportionally upper-class “stylish” Iranians who are eager to present their own sense of cosmopolitan fashion.) Nevertheless, the utter absurdity of Netanyahu’s statement could have been demonstrated with a simple google search.
And more importantly, if Netanyahu can’t accurately portray what Iranians wear or do not wear, how can he be trusted to accurately describe what hidden nuclear ambitions the Iranian regimes does or does not harbor?
Here are some of the responses from Iranian youth on social media. They have organized an #Iranjeans campaign to mock Netanyahu’s characterization of Iranians. Here is a brief sampling of these responses. I have attempted to post some of the ones with more PG13 language:
One of the most amusing pictures depicts the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, with an Iranian youth who’s wearing….(gasp!) a pair of jeans.
other Iranians have posted pictures of their closet, featuring neatly folded pairs of jeans, mockingly adding: “you yourself as messy!”
Other social media users have used the #Iranjeans campaign to bring attention to other realities that Netanyahu does not wish to acknowledge, such as the widely reported Israeli assassination of Iranian scientists.
Other Iranian youth have responded with a sarcasm and wit that would be at home in any American or Israeli home:
The larger issue is elsewhere. Iran, like many other countries (including our own United States) does have very serious challenges in terms of democracy, economics, and elsewhere. There is a real serious deficit of freedom of speech, political participation, and freedom to protest. However, a real concern for these rights has to come from the Iranian people themselves, or from those who stand in solidarity with them. When it comes from those who time and again stand in the United Nations and ask for the noose of sanctions to be tightened around the neck of Iranians, from those who point their own already existing 250 (and possibly more) nuclear warheads towards Iran, and from those who talk about the only choice being whether Israel will attack Iran alone or whether Israel and America will attack Iran, that “concern” for Iranians is exposed as what it is: hollow, a lie, and a deceit.
The last fascinating issue is this: Netanyahu is unprepared for this rapidly changing world. He is accustomed to the world of using AIPAC to put pressure on the United States to enter into war against Iran, to receive billions of dollars in US aid to occupy and oppress Palestinians, and to perpetuate the myth of Israel as an island of democracy in a turbulent region. What he is not prepared for is a world in which Iranians, and Israelis, and Americans, and Palestinians, and others can begin counter-discourses of their own, immediately, effectively, and powerfully.
Natanyahu sees two types of Iranians: wolves in wolves clothing (ala Ahmadinejad) and wolves in sheep’s clothing (ala Rouhani). The sanctions, enforced and implemented by the United States, restrict the flow of information across people who are actually quite eager to get to know one another more. Twitter and social media can not by themselves remove the incredible suffering of the Iranian people under the sanctions. But they can go a long way towards conveying the full humanity of a people who are currently obscured. And campaigns like the #Iranjeans campaign point us to the power of people here to connect to people there, people there to connect to people over here, bypassing the attempts of Netanyahu (and his ilk in the United States, and his ilk in Iran) to cut out the channels of communication and monopolize the conversation.
In that way, the #Iranjeans campaign, and those like it, are profoundly anti-tyrannical, anti-tyranny, and disruptive. These campaigns, grassroots, spontaneous, sarcastic, humanistic, humorous, and intimate, abhor tyranny, both of the type manifested by Netanyahu and the American Empire and of the variety manifested by the conservative factions of the Iranian regime.
Power to the people.