Why Iran keeps making anti-American propaganda videos

Screen grab from the propaganda video below.
Screen grab from the propaganda video below.

More than a year after the nuclear deal between Iran and the 5+1 countries, Iran’s state television has aired a new music video full of anti-American propaganda, in which US warships are defeated by a tsunami born out of patriotic sentiment (yes, you read that correctly – it’s best to watch the video to fully understand). This 8-minute video, chock- full of special effects, cost 350,000 euros of public funds. This has garnered a certain degree of criticism, even among conservatives.

The music video was produced by Soureh Film, a company that belongs to the Islamic Propagation Organisation. This organisation’s chief is named directly by Iran’s Supreme Leader.

The video begins on the shores of south Iran. At first, there are scenes of Iranians living in peace, but this ends when an American vessel shoots down an Iranian civilian airplane. (This actually did happen in 1985, when Iran Air flight 655 was shot down by the USS Vincennes, killing 290 people on board). Then, American warplanes and warships attack the coast with missiles.

But suddenly, a few Iranian men grab some national flags, and run towards the ocean. Their patriotic determination makes the waves move, and a reverse tsunami takes out the entire enemy fleet; it even sinks the USS Vincennes, which is clearly labelled. Then, the people go back to living peacefully, with a nuclear power plant in the background.

The lyrics are also quite telling: “If I’m patient, it doesn’t mean I’m apathetic / the world has seen I’m always a fighter / … Oh warship, your loud roar does not scare me … / If you dare come near me, I will break your legs”.

Several news outlets, including some conservative newspapers and websites, criticised the music video – first for its high price tag, secondly for the special effects they judged shoddy, and third for the choice of singer, who is a newcomer that nobody had heard of.

So why, more than a year after the nuclear deal that thawed US-Iran relations, are videos like this still being produced? FRANCE 24 spoke to Morteza Kazemian, an Iranian political analyst based in Paris.

In Iran, there is an internal clash between the ultra-conservative wing – which includes Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard – and reformist-centrists, like Iran’s president Hasan Rohani. The president wants to develop Iran’s relationship with the West, especially with the United States. But the ultra-conservatives don’t see things quite the same way.

"The ultra-conservatives don't want to fully normalize relations with the United States"

The ultra-conservatives didn’t fight the nuclear deal for a variety of reasons, but mainly because they wanted Iran to emerge from the financial crisis brought on by international sanctions. Still, they don’t want Iran to fully normalise its diplomatic relations with the United States.

Why? Because anti-American discourse is a key element in defining the Islamic Republic of Iran, and it is used to justify everything from financial crises to divorce rates. It also helps consolidate the ultra-conservative camp’s base of supporters. In domestic matters, the United States is a useful enemy.

The ultra-conservatives control the state media; they have endless money to spend on propaganda. Videos like this are their way of showing their supporters that yes, Iran agreed to the nuclear deal, but their position on the United States has never changed.

So not only have these videos never stopped, but we can expect to see more. Most Iranians, however, don’t take this propaganda seriously, and many criticise it.

Another propaganda video. In this one, Iran’s General Qasem Soleimani shoots missiles at an American fleet, and says: “When you reach Hell, tell them Qasem sent you!”

Several weeks ago, another anti-American campaign, this time with slogans on billboards in Tehran, received a huge amount of backlash which prompted local officials to take the banners down.