How to Write About Iran: A Guide for Journalists, Analysts, and Policymakers

16 February 2021 — McSweeney’s

Whether you are working from your DC office or your home in LA or New York, here’s all you need to know to become an expert on Iran.

1. Always refer to Iran as the “Islamic Republic” and its government as “the regime” or, better yet, “the Mullahs.”

2. Never refer to Iran’s foreign policy. The correct terminology is its “behavior.” When U.S. officials say Iran “must change its behavior” and “behave like a normal country,” write those quotes down word for word. Everyone knows that Iran is a delinquent kid that always instigates trouble and must be disciplined.

3. Omit that Iran has a population of 80 million with half a dozen ethnicities, languages, and religions. Why complicate when you can do simple? Just write “Iranians” or “the Iranians.” They are all the same and consequently think alike – when they get to think, that is.

4. To illustrate your article, pick a photo of brown, bearded men screaming with fists punching the air. An image of brown, bearded men setting a U.S. flag on fire with fists punching the air is also on point. A photo of brown, bearded men sitting crossed-legged on the floor of a mosque harboring their habitual anger just before they explode into raised fists punching the air is perfectly fine too.

5. If your article is about Iran-U.S. relations and even if it is not, include a photo of a woman in a head-to-toe black chador walking past the famous anti-U.S. mural in Tehran. (Note: that go-to mural in downtown Tehran of the Statue of Liberty with a skull face set against the American flag has been painted over, but it can easily be found in online image archives.) Always include a picture of a woman in a black chador walking down the street so it’s clear that this is Iran where women are oppressed, voiceless, and invisible.

6. For a business story, choose a photo of long queues at the gas station and a brown man filling his tank to show Iran is a dysfunctional country with a dysfunctional economy. Or one of Tehran’s busy Haft-e-Tir square to show Iran has roundabouts and shops while still being dysfunctional and chaotic. Remember the random woman walking by in a black chador? Make sure there is one somewhere in the photo.

7. Go off the beaten track for book titles. Hidden Iran or Uncovering Iran are great choices. For an exotic touch, opt for Behind the Veil or Lifting the Veil. Consider Furious Turbans if you are discussing Iran’s regime, meaning the Mullahs. If it’s about Iranians revolting against the regime Rage Against the Veil is most appropriate. Insert words like “Revolutionary,” “Danger,” “Allah,” “Jihad,” “Atomic,” and “Terrorist” in titles and headlines as they capture the essence of Iran.

8. If you travel to Iran, refer to yourself not as being “in” Iran but “inside” Iran. Be transparent about the risks you are taking to spend as many as five consecutive days in the Iranian capital. Start your dispatch with the queasy feeling that you — a white man — have upon landing in Tehran.

9. When inside Iran, write about meeting key sources to shed light on the realities in the Islamic Republic: the exclusive interview with your cab driver, the secret meeting with a female student in a café in northern Tehran, that overwhelming expedition to a mosque in southern Tehran. Wrap up your article with comments from an English-speaking political analyst with loose ties to the regime who can predict the next impulses of the Mullahs in one quote.

10. Never mention that there are theatres, cinemas, art galleries, museums, concert halls, bookshops, gyms, yoga studios, hair salons, or bakeries in Iran. It’s more informative to write about how you experience the Islamic Republic during your short stay rather than how Iranians live every day.

11. Always remind readers that Iran is a dangerous country, more dangerous than any other country in the Middle East. Underline at any chance you get that it poses an imminent threat to the future of the entire world and more particularly to the U.S. and Israel, both of which have nuclear weapons.

12. Unlike the U.S., which wants the best for all the people in the world, Iran wants the worst for the entire universe itself included. To explain this, always cite comments from the Mullahs, the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij militiamen, all known as the hardliners. Avoid using terms like moderate, centrist, or reformist since all politicians in Iran are wolves, even if some occasionally appear dressed as sheep.

13. Every time Iranians protest, underline that they are fighting to topple the regime and immediately predict that a revolution is underway. Remember to marvel at the fact that some of the protesters are female.

14. Always put Iranian women in the spotlight, but only if they are dropping their veil. Iran has no female lawyers or activists, and women can’t care less about inheritance, marriage, and divorce laws or discrimination in the job market. Regularly remind your audience that Iranian women only ever have one goal: uncovering their hair.

15. Remember Iranians don’t aspire to get a job, build a career, invest in a house, buy a car, raise kids or go on holidays. Make it clear that they are not affected one bit by the collapse of their national currency amid U.S. sanctions. Always mention that Iranians want democracy and freedom by any means possible, including having their nation bombed to salvation.

16. As an Iran commentator, write confidently and on behalf of all Iranians, even if you have never been to Iran nor speak Persian. You are a bona fide Iran expert if you are white, male, and have an assistant who can tweet in Persian on your behalf.

17. As an Iran expert, make sure to comment in black-and-white terms and stay on message when presented with contradictory facts. Always take straightforward, brazen stances because nuances only lead to questions and create unnecessary confusion for readers.

18. Underline at every occasion possible how much you care about the well-being of Iranians and that devising a strict sanctions program to pulverize all sectors of their economy is undeniably for their own good. You know better than them, after all.

19. Always cite verses of Persian poetry. Especially on Twitter. Especially for special occasions such as the Persian New Year. Especially for special occasions such as the latest round of U.S. sanctions. Poets Ferdowsi and Hafez are solid references, but Rumi is by far the optimal choice.

20. Always insist that Iranians are partial to anyone who strangles their economy and bombs their country while citing verses of Persian poetry. After all, this is the day they have been dreaming of for decades: to be brought under the mothering wing of America as they laugh and brandish red roses in the air to the chants of “Freedom! Democracy! Equality! Poetry!”

4 thoughts on “How to Write About Iran: A Guide for Journalists, Analysts, and Policymakers

  1. auntyuta says:

    Oh yes, sarcasm at its best! 🙂
    Think of it: 80 million with half a dozen ethnicities, languages, and religions!
    But they all think alike, “when they get to think, that is.”

    Like

  2. auntyuta says:

    What an expert on Iran you’ll be after reading all this!

    It is wise to ignore the knowledge you do find in Nr.3:

    “Omit that Iran has a population of 80 million with half a dozen ethnicities, languages, and religions. Why complicate when you can do simple? Just write “Iranians” or “the Iranians.” They are all the same and consequently think alike – when they get to think, that is.”

    Like

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