Trump’s belligerence towards Iran plays into the hands of Tehran’s hardliners

Saeed Kamali Dehghan writes: Distorting realities, ignoring nuances and hijacking people’s fears: that’s the recipe for a demagogue who lives not on his own wits but others’ miseries. It is particularly bad when the person or the country being targeted by that demagogue does little to straighten things out, which is exactly what is happening right now with Iran and Donald Trump.

Iranians know too well from their own experience with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, their hardline former president, how dangerous it is to have a politician telling you passionately half of the truth without caring that the other half is often a lie or a distortion of facts.

Trump’s increasingly bellicose approach towards Iran, first by imposing a blanket travel ban, then putting Tehran “on notice” after a ballistic missile test, as well as by reported plans of new sanctions, carries two subtle messages. The first message is that Iranophobia is going to be his adopted weapon to distract attentions at home, appeal strongly to the US’s wealthy Arab allies who are already welcoming him as a moderate president, and please Benjamin Netanyahu. Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, reacting on Twitter to the missile test, is right to point out that Iran only spends a fraction on defence compared to the US’s Arab allies in the region, which are big recipients of US, UK and French arms.

Trump’s second message, albeit one barely admitted by his officials, is that his administration’s problem is not just with the Iranian state, but with its people too. His executive order suspending all entries to the US from seven predominantly Muslim countries affects Iranians to a greater extent than it does nationals from the other six states.

There are more Iranians in the US, and far more Iranian students are likely to be affected by the new measures than those from Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen put together. Last year, there were 12,269 Iranian students studying in the US, according to data by the Institute of International Education, compared to 5,085 from the six other countries. Iranians are struggling to understand why they are being targeted in this way. [Continue reading…]

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