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Opinion: Khamenei and the 'final solution'

Kersten Knipp
Kersten Knipp
May 24, 2020

Iran is in trouble, so leader Ayatollah Khamenei is resorting to a well-tested method: He is distracting the people with demagogy, and he doesn't shy away from the most evil historical terms, says DW's Kersten Knipp.

Ali Khamenei
Image: Reuters/Official Khamenei Website

Ali Khamenei isn't having an easy time of it at the moment. The Islamic Republic of Iran, where he has been the supreme religious leader for 30 years, is not functioning very well. The country is almost completely isolated on the international front, and at home, the people are complaining ever more loudly.

And the aging ayatollah has little to offer in either direction. The fiercely aggressive course he and his government have taken has not met with much approval domestically or abroad.

That is why it is good for Khamenei that he has long been able to present the people with a reliable enemy. Iran's supreme leader has learned over the years that if nothing else works, he can throw a few flippant allusions at this enemy that everyone will understand. So for him, it is good that Israel exists.

Inspired by Hitler and Himmler

It is also good for his strategy that the Nazi regime in Germany existed. For to this day, it would seem that Ayatollah Khamenei sees something worth emulating in this regime of mass murderers and war criminals. At any rate, he drew inspiration from Hitler, Himmler and all the other Nazi criminals for this year's Quds Day, an annual event initiated by Iran to express support for the Palestinians and defy Israel: He used the term "final solution," the name given by the Nazis to the murder of around 6 million Jews in Europe.

 Kersten Knipp
DW's Kersten Knipp

The term appeared on Khamenei's website to accompany the dream "Palestine will be free," a goal that for the supreme leader obviously entails the conquest of the holy site in Jerusalem known to Jews as Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary.

Read more: What is Jerusalem's contentious holy site Temple Mount?

For the illustration upon which the Nazi term is found shows the entire site in the hand of Muslims — Palestinians and Iranians. A poster of the former commander of the Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, who was killed by the Americans in January, can also be seen in the drawing. Even the leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, features as part of the illustration.

The Iranian government has tried to cover its back a little in that the poster calls for a referendum on the status of the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary site, saying that as long as there isn't one, the Islamic world has to continue its resistance to Israel. This pseudo-democratic subterfuge does not conceal the real purport of the whole, which is made apparent by the term "final solution."

Iran poster for Quds Day
Iran's anti-Semitic Quds Day poster shows Temple Mount entirely in Muslim handsImage: DW/A. Ruci

'Fear of democracy'

In a tweet on May 21, the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, tried to backpedal a little, claiming that the term was used in connection with the referendum. "Why are US and West so afraid of democracy?" he asked.


Fear of democracy: At least it can't be denied that Javad Zarif has a sense of self-irony. The regime that he represents on the international stage holds the 173rd place (from 180) in the most recent World Press Freedom Index issued by Reporters Without Borders.

In the most recent annual report by the human rights organization Amnesty International, Iran is also not given very high marks as a bastion of democracy. "The authorities heavily suppressed the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly," the report for 2019 says. "Security forces used lethal force unlawfully to crush protests, killing hundreds, and arbitrarily detaining thousands of protesters." And there are yet other sources of similar information on the dire state of freedom in the country.

Economic hardship, rampant corruption

Economically, things aren't running that well either. The inflation rate for 2020 is likely to reach 31% and the unemployment rate — the official one — 17%. And the fight against corruption is also faltering: In the 2019 Corruption Perception Index put out by Transparency International, Iran ranks in 146th place, again from 180 places overall.

So the Iranian government has little to show for itself at the moment. That makes the threatened "final solution" a welcome diversionary tactic for it. 

Iran: Theocracy vs. democracy

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Kersten Knipp
Kersten Knipp Political editor with a focus on the Middle East