To better understand Iran, look to Gilead, the dystopian world that Canadian author Margaret Atwood created in The Handmaid’s Tale.
Whereas Gilead is a totalitarian state resembling a Christian theonomy that overthrows the United States government, Iran is a run by an authoritarian regime that previously overthrew the monarchy of The Shah and that theocratically rules by “divine Islamic law.”
In Gilead, as in Iran, the state and its apparatus of control, fear and repression rules supreme and with an iron fist. Women are treated like chattel, its judiciary lacks independence, journalists are imprisoned, and gays or in Gilead parlance “gender traitors,” are jailed, abused, and persecuted, along with dissidents and minorities who are executed or “salvaged,” per Gilead lexicon. Iranian elections are rigged as the powerful Iranian Guardian Council (the equivalent of the “Sons of Jacob” in Gilead) disqualified over 9,000 candidates from upcoming elections.
In Gilead, the Eyes are a special force of spies and secret police who intimidate and persecute innocents. In Iran, the paramilitary Basij, an armed force of Iran’s police and plain-clothed agents, enforces a strict medieval version of Sharia law with impunity. In Iran, it’s compulsory for women to wear the hijab as part of its dress code. In Gilead, handmaids, wives, “marthas” and “aunts” wear conservative, loose-fitting clothing with colours that identify the woman’s role in the household. Handmaids wear white bonnets with wings to cover their heads and faces, thereby separating them from the world, and separating the world from them.
The parallels are striking: both regimes are mendacious, corrupt and villainous. Each has malign intentions, both are belligerents, and are known for serial human rights abuses. The only marked difference between the two is that Iran has an earned reputation as the foremost state sponsor of terror, is a Mideast destabilizer and hegemon, and has an aspirational goal of acquiring nuclear weapons.
In the backdrop of Iran’s recent volte-face where it begrudgingly acknowledged shooting down a Ukrainian jetliner killing 176 people, including 57 Canadians, this context must frame every decision Canada and the international community makes in how we deal with Iran going forward.
As part of the Islamic Republic’s campaign of information warfare and in strict alignment with the police state that it runs, Iranian forces mobilized millions of Iranians, many through coercive measures and threats, to gather in vigils to “lament” and not “laud” the assassination of IRGC general Qassem Soleimani. While there certainly are Iranians who venerated Soleimani as a national hero and who saw his death as a tragedy, most Iranians saw him as their chief oppressor. Indeed, in the past two months, an estimated 1,500 unarmed Iranian protestors were killed by Iranian authorities and more than 7,000 were jailed solely because they cried out for basic liberties and freedoms under the jackboot of 40 years of Iranian tyranny.
Western journalists are usually more skeptical of state-organized events in countries like North Korea and Russia, but when it comes to the Islamic Republic, for some reason, the mullahs were given the benefit of the doubt by the mainstream media. Three days of public mourning for Soleimani, no days of mourning for the 176 innocents killed on Flight 752.
Videos circulated over social media show Iranian students tearing down posters of Soleimani, a powerful demonstration of what they truly think of the regime and perhaps, a revolution in the making. Leaked footage showed people of Sanandaj refusing to walk over the American and Israeli flags, declining to accept the regime’s force-fed propaganda that the United States and the Jewish state are their enemies.
Prominent Iranian actress Taraneh Alidoosti told her six million followers on Twitter that: “We are not citizens, we never were. We are captives, millions of captives.”
Iran’s own state-run propaganda “news” outlet, IRIB, had their hosts resign saying “It was very hard for me to believe that our people have been killed. Forgive me that I got to know this late. And forgive me for the 13 years I told you lies.”
Major news outlets accepted the regime’s propaganda hook, line and sinker when it claimed that Iran was “unified” in grief over Soleimani’s death. Iran claimed this represented an affirmation of the Khamenei regime’s legitimacy and popularity. The New York Times described Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as a “moderate” and Toronto Star commentators bent over backwards claiming that Iran acted with restraint by firing missiles at a U.S. base in Iraq in retaliation for America’s targeted strike of a terrorist leader with more blood on his hands than Osama bin Laden and ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi combined. Soleimani was responsible for death and destruction worldwide and had been designated by the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations as a terrorist. All three presidents authorized his death, but only Trump followed through proving that he wasn’t all bark, but had bite.
Iran’s track-record of duplicity and sophistry is well known, but make no mistake, Iran was deceptive when it first claimed that Flight 752 had a “mechanical failure” when they knew from the get-go that two Iranian surface-to-air missiles were fired at the plane by the IRGC. Iran’s top diplomat, Javad Zarif, later acknowledged that Iranians were “lied to” by the regime. Iran even bulldozed the plane’s wreckage to hide the evidence. Iran also denied its role in staging an attack by rioters on the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, despite evidence to the contrary. Iran even claimed it killed 80 Americans in air strikes on U.S. bases in Iraq. This is the same Iran that denied possessing an archive of nuclear weapons related materials that Israel uncovered and that strenuously denies it wants atomic weapons, though it openly acknowledges its bellicose desire to see Israel wiped from the map. Iran recently abandoned the nuclear limits protocol per the JCPOA saying it’s enriching more uranium than ever before, all while threatening European troops in the Middle East with violence.
We know of the regime’s lies, we know that it’s a malevolent actor, and now we know of its sheer incompetence in failing to close its own airspace in a conflict zone and for taking down a civilian airliner. Now imagine Iran with a nuclear weapons arsenal and intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Gilead was fiction, Iran is real life. Iranians are being held hostage in their own native country and Canada should support brave Iranian voices calling for reform and moderation. Canada should also support our American allies who are working to restore a policy of deterrence against Iranian aggression, terrorism, and to thwart its atomic ambitions. Accordingly, Canada should support U.S.-led efforts to apply economic pressure by way of a piercing sanctions regime, through diplomatic isolation, and supporting military deterrence. Canada should also follow through on its commitment to list the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist entity in its entirety.