Ayatollah Khamenei’s ego took a hit this week after Charlie Hebdo – the French weekly satirical magazine published a series of cartoons featuring the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic in what can only be described as unfavourable light. Likening the ‘offence’ as a direct attack against the sanctity of Islam, Tehran is once again playing the God card to silence its critics, and challenge free speech.
Rallying around the Leadership, Iranian officials were quick to respond to what they perceive as a direct attack against the Republic’s most sacred institution – the Leadership.
Nasser Kanani, a spokesperson for the foreign ministry told the press at a conference that “France has no right to insult the sanctities of other Muslim countries and nations under the pretext of freedom of expression,” adding that “Iran is waiting for the French government’s explanation and compensatory action in condemning the unacceptable behaviour of the French publication.”
The foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, took his ire to Twitter noting,: “The insulting and indecent act of a French publication in publishing cartoons against the religious and political authority will not go without an effective and decisive response … We will not allow the French government to go beyond its bounds. They have definitely chosen the wrong path.”
While there is a certain irony in Iran’s request that France intervene in what can, should, or might be published in the press, Tehran’s knee-jerk reaction to Charlie Hebdo’s jibe and more to the point its line of defence – that an attack on the Leadership equates to an insult on the Muslim faith as a whole, highlights just how far down the ideological rabbit hole the regime has gone in the conceptualisation of its legitimacy.
For all the threats Iran may wish to level at France, it is unlikely Paris will respond – for the simple reason that it can’t and certainly will not step the mark by censoring its journalists.
As Nathalie Loiseau, a French MEP and former minister close to France’s president, Emmanuel Macron rightly puts it, “let it be perfectly clear, the repressive and theocratic regime in Tehran has nothing to teach France.”
The biggest takeaway here is that the Islamic Republic feels clearly under threat -proof, if we needed any, that calls for regime change have greatly eroded Tehran’s hold on power, forcing the regime to retreat behind further threats of retaliations and violence against its detractors.