This post contains strong language, sexual themes and suggestive images. New facts about Iran180 have emerged, and the group has responded to some of the issues raised in this post. See the update below.
On Friday, Maya Mikdashi posted on Jadaliyya a photo from Flickr from the 2011 San Francisco Pride parade. “Crowds cheer as a blow-up doll of Iranian President Ahmadinejad gets raped/sodomized with a nuke by a dungeon master.” The original photo on Flickr carried the title “Ahmadinejad Getting Fucked in the Ass with a Nuclear Weapon.”
The group that sponsored the 2011 float is Iran180, which claims to be “a movement of people and organizations who have come together as a unified voice to demand a 180 [degree turn] by the Iranian government on their pursuit of nuclear weapons and the treatment of their citizens.” Among their expressed concerns are nuclear weapons, ethnic and religious minorities, women, labor unions, censorship, capital punishment of juveniles, and discrimination based on sexual orientation.
But, the sexual depictions of Ahmadinejad are designed to humiliate and ridicule the Iranian president by associating him with gay identity and homosexuality and even — in some instances — Judaism. This tactic contradicts the purported pro-gay values of some of the participating groups.
Although this took place last year, it escaped widespread notice. Will the pro-Israel groups responsible for the float stage similar propaganda at this year’s San Francisco Pride later this month?
An artificial “movement” set up by pro-Israel groups and PR firms
According to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the New York Jewish Community Relations Council was frustrated that street protests against Ahmadinejad’s visits to the United Nations weren’t getting enough attention from the public and the media, so they “decided to act and formed a new coalition called Iran 180.”
Their “movement” launched in August 2010 with the assistance of Thunder 11 and Proof Integrated Communications — a division of Burston Marsteller, the notorious PR of choice for human rights abusers, polluters and tobacco companies — among other public relations consultants.
Within weeks, they were hosting a press conference at the United Nations with the governor of New York, congressional representatives and Iranian human rights activists. This appears to be a textbook case of “astroturfing”
The list of participating organizations currently includes a collection of pro-Israel groups, with a smattering of smaller groups, at least one of which is defunct, and other groups which have no history whatsoever of advocacy regarding Iran:
- 30 Years After
- 100 Hispanic Women
- Alliance of Iranian Women
- American Jewish Committee
- Anti-Defamation League – NY Region
- Chinese Community Relations Council
- Iran Press News
- Jewish Community Relations Council of New York
- Jewish Labor Committee
- Korean American Community Empowerment Council
- NAACP New York
- New York Coalition of 100 Black Women
- Planet Iran (defunct since November 2010)
- Progressive American-Iranian Committee
- Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union/UFCW
- STOP THE BOMB – European Coalition for Nuclear-Free and Democratic Iran
- Turkish American Community of New York
- United Haitian American Society
- UJA – Federation of New York
There is no list of staff or even a solicitation for donations or volunteers for Iran180.
Burson-Marsteller is the world’s largest public relations company which has previously worked with governments and corporations to manage their image after human rights and environmental disasters. According to The Guardian in 2002:
The world’s biggest PR company was employed by the Nigerian government to discredit reports of genocide during the Biafran war, the Argentinian junta after the disappearance of 35,000 civilians, and the Indonesian government after the massacres in East Timor. It also worked to improve the image of the late Romanian president Nicolae Ceausescu and the Saudi royal family.
Its corporate clients have included the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, which suffered a partial meltdown in 1979, Union Carbide after the Bhopal gas leak killed up to 15,000 people in India, BP after the sinking of the Torrey Canyon oil tanker in 1967 and the British government after BSE emerged.
In 1993, they founded the National Smokers Alliance using money from Phillip Morris. The National Smokers Alliance were a group that “organizes tobacco’s victims to protect tobacco’s profits” at a time when state governments were increasing tobacco taxes and federal agencies were imposing restrictions on smoking and advertising.
Some of the “participating organizations” in Iran180 are also behind the Israel Action Network, a group whose mission is to “counter the assault on Israel’s legitimacy” such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
On 29 March 2011, Iran180 and United Against a Nuclear Iran launched IranWatchList.com. IranWatchList.com targets the auto industry doing business with Iran and encourages boycott. Notably only European and Asian companies are listed, as U.S. companies are already banned by U.S. sanctions. Before it launched, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was already on board with IranWatchList.com, so it is presented as an initiative of his office.
Notably, one of the firms that IranWatchList.com targets is French-Japanese automaker Renault Nissan, which, The Electronic Intifada revealed in 2010, is helping build transportation infrastructure linking Israel’s illegal colonies in the occupied West Bank.
San Francisco Pride float
In June 2011, Iran 180 announced their participation in the San Francisco pride parade.
What: Iran180, a coalition of people and organizations who have come together to demand that the Iranian government change course in its pursuit of nuclear weapons and brutal treatment of its citizens, is sponsoring a float at the Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco. The float will feature a ten-foot high effigy of Iranian President Ahmadinejad (like the mascots in Major League Baseball) being whipped by a dominatrix dressed in S&M attire and calling for “Gay Rights, Not Nuclear Rights.”
Why: Among the many groups being persecuted by the Iranian regime is the LGBT population. Homosexuals in Iran face severe discrimination and are often imprisoned, tortured, and-in a number of cases-executed. In 2007 President Ahmadinejad infamously stated: “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.”
“We look forward to the day when all Iranians-gay, straight, bi, or otherwise-will be able to enjoy the freedoms that are on display here today,” said Negin Hadaghian, Director of Outreach for Iran180. “In the meantime, we stand with all Iranians who are persecuted simply because of their sexual orientation.”
Who: Iran180 is a broad based coalition demanding “human rights, not nuclear rights” in Iran. Our events have drawn the support of elected officials and top community activists, and featured prominently in major media outlets.
It’s not unusual for human rights organizations to be concerned about persecution of LGBT people in Iran, but what actually happened was much more than just “being whipped by a dominatrix” (n.b. a dominatrix is a woman and the person on the float is not a woman). The performance on the float depicted Ahmadinejad submissively bending over, being anally penetrated and suggestively stroking the fake bomb.
The depictions of Ahmedinejad, rather than affirming sexual liberation or same-sex desire, rely on producing laughter and derision from public sexual humiliation. Scott Long, who likens the float to a rape scene, explains the problem:
Freud argued (in Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious) that humor is a safety-valve for thoughts society inhibits; jokes play much the same role for the collective imagination that dreams do for the individual’s. But they release the repressed temporarily only to restore the social order in the end. Comedy is conservative. It puts the bounder, the miscreant, the climber or the rebel in his (or her) place, by saying, finally: this is who you are.
Rape is funny, then, when it reminds the raped (and the onlookers) of what’s inescapable, the self he can’t get away from. Inferiority is always a matter of interiority, the inner — penetrable — person placed, defined, exposed. … Of course, what’s more satisfying than insulting Ahmadinejad by alleging he’s not really a proper male, just one of those squirmy little degenerates? It’s a feel-good thing for two reasons: it disses the the odious Mahmoud, while it affirms Manhood in general, including yours and mine.
Long also notes the depictions of Ahmedinejad is a frightening, hook-nosed monster, and compares this kind of imagery to classic anti-Semitic depictions of Jews:
This is a fascinating instance of how grossly anti-Semitic imagery is so ingrained in Western modernity — the Jew as synonym for weakness, effeminacy, corruption — that it’s a floating, limpetlike defilement. It doesn’t even require actual Semites to glom onto.
I searched further and found a whole collection of media from Iran180’s San Francisco pride float.
But that’s not all!
The San Francisco Pride float is not the only time Iran180 has represented Ahmadinejad as gay or queer.
Person wears Ahmadinejad mask and red stiletto pumps for Human Rights Day, 10 December 2010.
Is throwing a stiletto considered offensive in New York culture?
2 November 2010. http://www.flickr.com/photos/iran180/5140732168/in/photostream/
The same-sex marriage of Ahmadinejad and Assad
After the San Francisco Pride parade, Iran180 staged a mock wedding between Ahmadinejad and Syrian president Bashar Assad. The JTA reported on 22 September 2011:
Also near the United Nations, thousands of Iranian-American pro-democracy campaigners protested the Iranian government. Along with prominent speakers, the Jewish-backed group Iran180 held a mock wedding between effigies of Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar Assad; they were married under a chuppah.
A chuppah is the canopy under which a Jewish couple traditionally stands during a wedding ceremony thus bizarrely identifying — and mocking — Ahmedinejad and Assad as Jews. This more explicitly anti-Semitic display echoes anti-Semitic rumors that Ahmedinejad is of Jewish ancestry.
Iran180 produced a video of the “ceremony.”
As part of its work, Iran180 produces images like this one. Yet, looking at the image, one has to ask, isn’t Iran180’s propaganda also offensive to Jewish people and queers?
Richard Silverstein has written more about Iran180 and the people behind it.
Iran180 has posted this notice on their Facebook page:
While we disagree with many of the claims in this article, there is one aspect of the piece that deserves a response from Iran180. In June 2011, Iran180 participated in the San Francisco Pride Parade with a float featuring street theater performers retained by our organization. The performance mocked the Iranian regime’s homophobia and was intended to raise awareness of the continued persecution of the LGBTQ community in Iran. As our followers know, drawing attention to the plight of Iran’s LGBTQ community is a priority for us. While the float was largely well received by onlookers, there were elements of the performance that unfortunately crossed the line and were clearly inappropriate. For that we sincerely apologize and have taken steps to ensure that this will not happen again.