The tragic death of George Floyd created a beautiful moment of international solidarity. From Idlib, Syria to Berlin, Germany, protesters have expressed empathy and support for Black Americans fighting racial injustice. But while it is important to recognize this solidarity, we also cannot overlook the hypocritical attempts by authoritarian regimes to hijack the movement for their own gain.
The opportunistic mullahs in Iran have quickly jumped on growing social animosity in the United States to shape their own political narratives back in Iran. As Americans grieve over Floyd’s death, the Iranian regime has—in brazen, disgusting fashion—taken advantage of racial tensions to paint itself as a beacon of civil rights.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is usually busy tweeting about the destruction of Israel, took a break from casual threats of genocide to share a video about the history of civil rights within America, tweeting “If you’re dark-skinned walking in the US, you can’t be sure you’ll be alive in the next few minutes,” along with the hashtags #ICantBreathe and #BlackLivesMatter.
A similar sentiment was echoed by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who condemned “silence” over “brutality against protesters” and “military crackdown.”
This faux humanitarianism is an insult to the Iranian people, in particular, the 1,500 men and women who were mercilessly murdered by security forces during the anti-government protests in November 2019.
Where was the regime’s compassion towards the oppressed when innocent and peaceful Iranians—among them, children—were shot at point-blank range for demanding basic, essential human rights?
Any regime that tortures dissidents, represses ethnic and religious minorities and treats women as second-class citizens has no business claiming any solidarity for civil rights or for protest movements—Iran least of all.
When nationwide protests broke out in Iran last November, the regime and its network in the West slandered and delegitimized the Iranian people.
Sina Toosi of the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC), the regime’s political lobby in America, said “some powerful force seemingly has an interest in escalating the situation,” sharing a video of rocks being thrown on a bridge that implied foreign influence was guiding the protests. This type of rhetoric dismisses the ever-present struggle of the Iranian people as a sort of “foreign interference” in Iranian affairs.
Contrast this with Toosi’s commentary on the George Floyd protests, which has based its line of argumentation around the claim that President Trump has “declared war” on protesters. It is quite maddening to see NIAC remain quiet when the Iranian regime shoots and bombs protesters in Iran, Syria, and Iraq, only to turn around and label U.S. law enforcement attempts to stop rioting as akin to fascist militarism.
Speaking out against police brutality is important, but it is unprincipled and hypocritical to criticize it in America while whitewashing and ignoring it in Iran or any other country.
Iran’s rhetoric surrounding Floyd’s murder isn’t coming from a place of sympathy. It stems from a systematic attempt to draw a false equivalency between the American and Iranian governments with the purpose of delegitimizing American criticisms of past, present, and future Iranian crimes. This effort became quite evident when Foreign Minister Javad Zarif posted a picture of a statement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo regarding Iranian suppression of protesters with “Iran” replaced with “America.”
It is similarly concerning and disheartening when the comments of some leftist activists in America provide fodder for those who would love to make comparisons between America and Iran. When the Trump administration’s comments and responses regarding riots are labeled as “authoritarian”; when it is claimed that he is trying to kill protesters, it is an insult to people who actually have the misfortune to live under regimes that are truly authoritarian.
Attempting to place the United States on the same moral level as authoritarian states like Iran dilutes the meaning and reality of authoritarian brutality.
It is possible to be critical of police in the United States or to engage in a peaceful protest for change without undermining the struggles faced every day by the people of Iran and those live in genuinely oppressive nations.