Disgust, outrage and anger over Newsweek’s Iran cover

“A once great magazine is reduced to spreading propaganda for the Islamic Republic,” wrote Mike Doran of the Hudson Institute.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, May 14, 2019 (photo credit: KHAMENEI.IR)
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, May 14, 2019
(photo credit: KHAMENEI.IR)
Newsweek ran a cover that most people initially felt was photoshopped. “If Iran falls, ISIS rises again,” was printed across a photo of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It wasn’t photoshopped, however, but is the cover of the magazine's upcoming December 27 issue.
“Shame,” “abhorrent,” “disgusting,” “ignorant,” were some of the kinder ways the cover was greeted. Writer and academic Idrees Ahmad tweeted that he spent all day thinking the cover was a joke. “The graphic design is so crude. But turns out the cover is real and the story behind it is even worse.”
Alireza Nader, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote that it was unfortunate Newsweek did not realize how the cover spread propaganda. “It’s basically arguing for the preservation of the Islamic Republic.”
Ghanem Nuseibeh, chairman of Muslims Against Antisemitism, slammed it because of its simplistic view that the Islamic world is either with Iran’s theocratic regime or ISIS. “Most Muslims are victims of those two groups.”
“A once great magazine is reduced to spreading propaganda for the Islamic Republic,” wrote Mike Doran of the Hudson Institute. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, was succinct in his response: “Go to hell.”
Journalist Shane Bauer argued the cover is an example of how Twitter conspiracy trolls press their way into the mainstream. “They’ve now found a home in the shell of a magazine that has brand recognition.”
Jason Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran said he had to read the cover twice. “There’s no guarantee that if Iran falls, ISIS will rise again,” he said, and noted that the online version is titled “if Iran falls, ISIS may rise again.” Others mocked the cover's graphic design.
The article, itself by Tom O’Connor, quotes several experts and commentators who suggest that Iran played a key role in the defeat of ISIS and viewed ISIS as a major threat. Abas Aslani, a visiting scholar at the Istanbul-based Center for Middle East Strategic Studies, claimed that ISIS or “separatists” could take advantage of recent unrest and protests in Iran. “Any collapse or weakening of a state in the region is likely to fuel into more instability in the region.”
The word “separatists” in this context seems to be a stand-in for the numerous minorities in Iran, such as Arabs and Kurds. For instance, the article slams Arabs in Iran’s Khuzestan province as “Arab separatist groups” who engaged in “violent clashes between residents, occupation forces and militias.”
According to the article, Iran is besieged by various minorities such as the Baluch, Arabs and Kurds. “Watchers worry that any escalation of insurgencies in these parts could propel Iran toward sectarian strife.”
The terminology is a bit odd – it would be like arguing that African-Americans protesting for their rights in the 1960s were actually creating “sectarian strife” by challenging the status quo, as if minorities who protest are always “separatists” and “insurgencies” as opposed to merely people who would like to have rights in their regions and not a theocratic regime in Tehran. Under this logic, the article quotes commentators who argue that ISIS thrives off discontent among minority communities. But the article then claims that “the group’s reach within Iran remains fairly insignificant.”
The aim of the Newsweek article is to portray demonstrations as part of instability. One person quoted claims the instability is even “caused by ISIS or separatist groups.” It appears the word “separatist” is now the Iranian regime’s main narrative for the protests. The article says Newsweek interviewed seven people in Iran. Its conclusion is that the “fall of Iran… would likely have even more devastating side effects and give ISIS and other underground forces new room to operate.”
It’s unclear why the article uses the term “fall” for any democratization that would remove the theocratic dictatorship in Iran. Under this logic, the changeover in power from Franco’s dictatorship to democracy in Spain was the “fall of Spain,” whereas usually change in power doesn’t represent the “fall” of a country. There is no evidence the Ayatollah regime in power since 1979 has represented the “rise” of Iran, nor that their leaving and letting others have a say would represent the “fall.”
The cover has sparked outrage around social media. Many argued that Newsweek was disastrously wrong. Omar Hossino noted that “Newsweek got it exactly backwards. If Iran falls, ISIS falls too. Iran’s intervention in Syria and Iraq is a central factor in the sectarian polarization and vacuum which led to ISIS.”
Mona al-Sheddi was surprised by it. “For God’s sake, what a bizarre and nonsense headline.”