Iran shifts; who benefits?

By October 22, 2013

Iran (MNN) — "Death to America" is the three-word chant that encapsulated all the fury Iran held for the United States.

The chant is connected to the revolution of the late 70s, the capture of the American embassy, and numerous other events where television viewers got to hear and see the rage of Iran. It is Iran's most important revolutionary slogan.

Todd Nettleton with the Voice of the Martyrs explains, "America is held up as sort of the ‘Great Satan' and the cause of all that's wrong and evil in the world. The Iranian government wants to present themselves as the true people who are pursuing Islamic perfection in the world." Here's where the clash between the Muslim mindset and the Western mindset begins. "America is a Christian nation; every single person there is a Christian. So there is that sort of equivalency of ‘when I attack a Christian, I'm attacking American interests, and when I attack American interests, I'm attacking Christians.'"

Why is that connection so prevalent? "I think part of it comes out of the Islamic mindset where the fact that a person is a Muslim affects not only their religious practice, but it affects the that they see politics, it affects the way that they see their identity, it affects the way that they see their nation."

Essentially, the three-word chant reinforces the supremacy of an ideology, national identity, and religious fervor all in one. But do people really believe it? Nettleton notes, "The different things that really affect the man on the street probably affect him negatively, but if they can get him riled up with nationalistic ‘Death to America!' chants, maybe he doesn't notice that the government isn't doing as good a job as it could be."

Meanwhile, Iran's new president, Hassan Rouhani is trying to steer the country away from its confrontational posture toward the West. As a sign of being politically progressive, the government of newly-appointed President Hassan Rouhani pardoned and then released 11 prisoners of conscience on September 20.

Rouhani is questioning the anti-American ideology of the Islamic republic. His suggestion that the phrase be banned has rocked Iran's religious leaders. Nettleton explains, "The new president is presented as a reformer in all of the media reports you see. There have been some significant steps forward because that was the first time the leaders of the two countries have talked since 1979."

The Twitter Revolution took rebellion to a new level in Iran. Young people bypassed media blackouts as they protested election results in 2009. Despite efforts to silence the news, the next generation utilized social media to tell the real story of defiance and oppression. There was a growing consciousness that the word of the religious leaders couldn't be taken blindly. People were taking notice of the fallibility of the Iranian government.

Despite the seemingly hopeful undertones of moderation and change over the last few years, it's likely all movement on the political front. Nettleton thinks it will take more than a suggestion to flip ingrained thinking.

Iran sits in 8th place of the top 50 nations known for the persecution of Christians, as noted by the Open Doors World Watch List.

Fearful of the increasing numbers of Christians–particularly in house churches, authorities closely monitor Christian activities, particularly churches that reach out to Muslims. Evangelism, Bible training, and publishing Scriptures in Farsi are illegal. Detentions of Christians are common.

One thing to note from that description: the Gospel is still going forward. Nettleton says, "One of the ways that we're able to help is by providing Bibles in print, providing Bibles in digital formats that can be easily distributed, easily passed along."

VOM-USA also comes alongside the families of Christians who are in prison as well as keeping the prisoners encouraged through letter-writing campaigns. Hope makes a huge difference for the prisoners. "One of the things that we can pray about is that they will know the Lord's presence and that they'll know that they're not forgotten," Nettleton explains, urging, "Pray for their protection."

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