Iranian regime believes 'defeat' of US coincides with Ashura holiday

For many Shi’ites this period is one of intense mourning and emotion. The Iranian regime seeks to hijack the events every year to connect them to current events

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, March 4, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during the cabinet meeting in Tehran, Iran, March 4, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran is involved in a multiday series of speeches and events linked to the month of Muharram and the Ashura holiday, which commemorates the death of Imam Hussein at the battle of Karbala.
For many Shi’ites, this period is one of intense mourning and emotion. But the Iranian regime tries to hijack the events every year, using the symbolism of martyrdom, battle and “uprising against oppression” to link its regional role to the historic Islamic period.
In Karbala, Iraq, thousands have gathered to commemorate Hussein, who was killed in 680 fighting the forces of the Caliph Yazid.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave a long speech commemorating Ashura and the holy days, linking the current Iranian struggle with the US to the past.
The battle of Karbala is a reminder of the need to seek justice and to struggle against deviation in the path of religion, he said. The uprising of Hussein against oppression is a symbol for non-Muslims around the world, he added.
Iran has sought to push its version of Islam throughout the Middle East and the world, including more ceremonies in Syria and other places than in the past.
“We always need the culture of Ashura, especially today in the face of all conspiracies, especially from the United States,” Rouhani said.
In general, Iran’s use of imagery linked to Ashura shows Hussein fighting against mobs and armies of what are supposed to be “oppressors.” Despite his defeat, his legacy lives on, and for the most part, his killers are depicted as some kind of combination of Arabic tribes and modern-day Islamist extremists.
It is an odd juxtaposition that is meant to make Iran appear to be a heroic civilized nation fighting against savages. In this iconography, recent “martyrs” such as former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were both killed by the US, join the pantheon of Iranian “martyrs.” Their images dot highways and airports in areas where Iran has influence.
“The resistance of the US against our diplomats will fail... The US suffers defeat after defeat at the UN Security Council,” Rouhani said. Iran defeated a US attempt to end an arms embargo, he said.
Rouhani discussed Iran’s attempts to defeat US sanctions and the struggle against COVID-19. His speech had elements of messianic devotion to it, including the idea that Iran’s regime and its allies in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Gaza and Syria are on a historic mission and entering unique times.
Rouhani was largely seen as a “moderate” when elected. But his regime has suppressed protesters, rapidly built new ballistic missiles, attacked countries in the region and uses religion wrapped in nationalism and militarism just like its predecessors did.
This nation is subject to Imam Hussein, this nation is the follower of the same Imam, and all should now be afraid, Rouhani said.
“When the day of Ashura came and he [Hussein] saw in front of him the huge [enemy army] of 30,000 gathered, he was not afraid to say, ‘Allah, you are a trustworthy God, you are my refuge, I seek refuge in you in troubled times,’” he said.
If the US wants to understand the mentality it is contending with, it should listen to Rouhani’s speech, which indicates Iran’s regime is not entirely deterred and believes it is on a historic mission. Its belief is bolstered by its own media coverage of support it is getting from other countries.