The Ayatollah’s Listicles and Infographics: Iran’s Khamenei Launches a Twitter Offensive

The Supreme Leader sets out to prove that not only ISIS and Israel can harness social networks in a burst of online activity.

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Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.Credit: AP

He may dress like he belongs in a previous century, but the Supreme Leader of Iran has been working overtime lately to prove that he’s that he’s no slouch when it comes to navigating the brave new digital world.

In a burst of online activity Sunday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s English-language Twitter account launched an information effort designed to lay out the Iranian positions in a visual way, that presumably makes some rather controversial stances more comprehensible and palatable to Western audiences.

Iranian hasbara, if you will.

One can only theorize that the praise for the ability of ISIS to spread its message on the Internet is getting under Iran’s skin, and they would like to show the world that Shi’ite Muslims can use social media just as well as Sunnis.

Twitter appears to be the Supreme Leader’s preferred digital platform, probably because it’s not owned by a guy named Zuckerberg - though he does maintain a Facebook account as well (104,940 likes).

The Twitter account is five years old, and to date, has mainly been dominated by text declarations, usually religious, and photos and video of Khamenei, with only occasional forays into Photoshop and messages castigating the West and Israel.

For whatever reasons - presumably the current unrest in Jerusalem and the West Bank, the nuclear talks in Oman, or determination not to surrender the digital realm to either Israel or ISIS - this weekend, efforts seem to have been taken up a notch. The first offering was tweeted out at dawn on Sunday, a handy FAQ titled: 9 key questions about elimination of Israel (clearly the Ayatollah’s team has done the research that shows that odd-numbered listicles draw stronger traffic than even numbers.)

The tweet to which it was attached read:

Why should & how can #Israel be eliminated? Ayatollah Khamenei's answer to 9 key questions. #HandsOffAlAqsa pic.twitter.com/IVPOuNfMQH

But on to the FAQ itself. The first item on the list offered the reason Israel must be eliminated. This one wasn’t a big surprise, just the usual charges of the “fake Zionist regime’” crimes of “infanticide and homicide and violence.”

In the answer to the second FAQ question, it was rather refreshing to hear from a regime that doesn’t shy away from public executions that by eliminating Israel it “doesn’t mean the massacre of the Jewish people.”

Phew. Instead, we learn encouragingly that “The Islamic Republic has proposed a practical and logical mechanism for this to international communities.”

Breathless with anticipation, I headed to item number 3 to find out that Iran has an interesting interpretation of “practical and logical”

The proposal: “All the original people of Palestine including Muslims, Christians and Jews wherever they are, in Palestine or in refugee camps in other countries or just anywhere else take part in a public and organized referendum. Naturally the Jewish immigrants who have been persuaded into emigration to Palestine do not have the right to take part in the referendum.”

Eminently practical - as long as there is a time machine available to transport us back to 1948. I’m sure the Ayatollah has one of those handy, because, after all, identifying precisely who qualifies as “the original people of Palestine” in 2014 might be a tiny bit problematic.

But assuming such a time machine exists and the referendum takes place, the idea is that “the ensuing government will decide whether the non-Palestinian emigrants can continue living in Palestine or should return to their home countries.”

It’s not hard to figure out which way Iran hopes that government will decide. In the meantime, the bottom line is that until this “practical and logical” plan is implemented, Iran supports “powerful confrontation” and “armed resistance” by Palestinians, aided by their friends abroad.

What solutions are not acceptable? Iran is glad you asked, and responds with its red lines - with what looks like a little help from Google Translate. “We recommend neither a classical war by the army of Muslim countries nor to throw migrated Jews at the sea and certainly not an arbitration by the UN or other international organizations.”

And speaking of red lines, only an hour after this infographic tweet, a second one appeared with an infographic laying out “Iran’s red lines during the nuclear talks” - the tripartite talks that opened in Oman on the same day

#Iran’s red lines in the nuclear talks #IranTalks #IranTalksOman pic.twitter.com/tMQ8gzxvJu

The “red lines” are cleverly twisted - into a nuclear emblem. It’s the second time the infographic has been tweeted - it was previously published last month.

Both messages have been reinforced by punchy Tweeted photoshopped images. One, tweeted on Saturday, was designed to fan the Temple Mount flames, with a picture of what appears to be the floor of a desecrated mosque declaring that the “West Bank should be armed just like Gaza.”

The only means to confront a barbaric regime like #Israel is arming West Bank http://t.co/uHnFHT6rK6 #HandsOffAlAqsa pic.twitter.com/P9zmDTcSc6

Another, tweeted shortly after the “red lines” infographic, showed a military man, construction worker, and security guy boosting up a man in white who looks like he works in a nuclear facility, all propping up a diplomat’s desk stating that “Successful diplomacy relies on the country’s innate power.”

Successful diplomacy relies on the country’s innate power http://t.co/vyzmfPx5I9 #IranTalks #Iran pic.twitter.com/FkKEOL5L9c

The quote, of course, is from the newly minted master of Twitter himself, who seems to be demonstrating that going viral is almost as important to him and his country as becoming nuclear.

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