The New York Times reports: The busiest square in Tehran is dominated by an enormous billboard with a drawing of a young man in the uniform of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, extending his hand to invite Iranians to follow his path. Underneath the image, teenagers line up, flashing victory signs, as they take selfies with the placard in the background.
In life, the man on the billboard, 26-year-old Mohsen Hojaji, was just as anonymous as the thousands of other Iranians who have rotated in and out of war zones in Iraq and Syria in recent years. But after having been taken prisoner, videotaped and later beheaded by the Islamic State in August, Mr. Hojaji has been transformed by Iran’s government into a war hero, the face of a new surge in Iranian nationalism.
After years of cynicism, sneering or simply tuning out all things political, Iran’s urban middle classes have been swept up in a wave of nationalist fervor.
The changing attitude, while some years in the making, can be attributed to two related factors: the election of President Trump and the growing competition with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s sectarian rival, for regional dominance.
Iranians listened during the 2016 campaign as Mr. Trump denounced the Iran nuclear treaty as “the worst deal ever negotiated” and promised to tear it up. They watched in horror when, as president, he sold more than $100 billion worth of weapons to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and participated in a traditional war dance in Riyadh. And they are alarmed at the foreign policy moves of the young Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, whom they see as hotheaded and inexperienced. [Continue reading…]