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To Burn Or Not To Burn? Kerfuffle Flares In Iran Over Torching U.S. Flag

Demonstrators burn a U.S. flag during a protest near the Swiss Embassy in Tehran in 2012.
Demonstrators burn a U.S. flag during a protest near the Swiss Embassy in Tehran in 2012.

Burning U.S. flags has become a tradition in Iran at annual state-organized events commemorating the anniversary of the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover in Tehran and the hostage taking of U.S. diplomats that led to the severing of ties between the two countries.

But a kerfuffle over flag-burning has flared after the head of the Islamic Propagation Coordination Council in the northeastern city of Kashmar appeared to suggest that officials last year frowned upon torching the Stars and Stripes.

"Last year we had a letter from the Council of Islamic Propagation stating that the U.S. flag should not be burned because it's an official country, and that only the flag of Israel should be set on fire," the hard-line Fars news agency quoted the official, Hojatoleslam Ghassem Ali Majidi, as saying on October 18.

Iran does not recognize the state of Israel.

The report was published just weeks ahead of this year's November 4 anniversary, which follows the historic nuclear agreement reached between Iran and world powers in July after months of intense negotiations, including direct talks between top U.S. and Iranian diplomats, as well as an easing of tensions between Washington and Iran.

But Fars later removed Majidi's comments from its report without explanation (a cached copy is still accessible here), and the Islamic Propagation Coordination Council -- which organizing state rallies in the Islamic republic -- swiftly issued a statement saying it had "never" issued any order or statement advising against burning the U.S. flag.

"God willing, the ceremonies will be held with greater glory [than before] and the loud chants of 'Death to America,' 'Death to Israel,' and 'Death to Arrogance' will be heard all over Iran," the October 19 statement said.

The council added that the United States remains "The Great Satan" and that the Iranian nation will protest against the "Global arrogance led by America" during this year's commemoration in Tehran and another 770 cities.

Majidi clarified in a subsequent interview with the semiofficial ISNA news agency that the alleged directive against burning U.S. flags was from "previous years" and that during the upcoming anniversary, U.S. flags will be set on fire, along with Israeli flags.

"Based on the conversation I had today with the Islamic Propagation Coordination Council of [the northeastern Khorasan] province, the letter is from previous years, and on [November 4] there is no problem with setting America's flag on fire," Majidi was quoted by ISNA as saying on October 19.

Despite Majidi's claim about the purported flag-burning directive, U.S. flags were set ablaze last year outside the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran to mark the 35th anniversary of its takeover.

In recent weeks, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters, has warned of "infiltration" attempts by the United States and that further talks with Washington are banned.

Iranian President Hassan Rohani, who is seen as a moderate, has nonetheless signaled that Tehran is open to better ties with the world.

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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is managing editor of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, which breaks through government censorship to deliver accurate news and provide a platform for informed discussion and debate to audiences in Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.

About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.


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