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The Allah-o Akbar that Targeted the Heart of the Dictator

الله اکبری که قلب دیکتاتور را نشانه گرفت

17 June 2010 Jalal Hosseini
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The Allah-o Akbar that Targeted the Heart of the Dictator

With the passage of time, chants of Allah-o Akbar reverberated less and less frequently. This was mainly due to the fact that many people lost hope as a result of the regime’s severe crackdown, such that citizens lost any hope for the possibility of a major change in the regime, which had proved it was not committed to safeguarding the lives and property of its citizens.

In a religious state, where religion is present in every aspect of life, Iran’s protestors have managed to turn religion against their government.  Allah-o Akbar (God is Great) was a staple slogan for the demonstrators who contested the results of the tenth presidential election--the election that exhausted the patience of the regime’s security forces and served as an excuse for the government’s ensuing crackdown. Allah-o Akbar is perhaps the single most symbolic phrase in the Muslim world, yet Iran’s current rulers, who themselves employed this slogan in their struggle against the Pahlavi regime in the 1979 Revolution, did not tolerate the protesters’ cries of Allah-o-Akbar after the 2009 presidential election. Allah-o Akbar has essentially become a forbidden phrase.
 
Invoking the “Great God” leads to murder
 
Backed by the police, Iran’s plainclothes militiamen played a key role in suppressing protesters who chanted Allah-o Akbar. Violent encounters started from attacks on parked vehicles in the streets and continued with attacks on residential buildings. For the first time in the recorded history of the Islamic Republic, the armed forces of the Islamic regime attacked the homes of people from which cries of Allah-o Akbar were heard in order to prevent them from chanting this phrase. Not even the Pahlavi regime, which did not invoke faith or claim religiosity, had such violent encounters with its opponents, many of whom chanted Allah-o Akbar from their rooftops at night.
 
The voice of solidarity
 
The Iranian nation’s voice of solidarity was heard in Tehran until about the second week of November but it was heard less in other cities after about the third week of October 2009. Maryam, a young woman who holds a degree in management science and resides in one of the older and more religious neighborhoods in South Tehran believes the idea of chanting Allah-o Akbar originated with those who had participated in the protests against the Shah’s regime as well and who, by chanting it again, wished to reignite the spirit of that period. She explained that, “a large section of society, which is religious and has no issue with this slogan, wished to let the leaders of this regime know that it is, after all, not above God. If this regime claims to be Islamic, then why does it exhibit such brutal behavior towards its people? At the same time, people felt that chanting this slogan did not carry any danger with it and that, by chanting this slogan, they could register their protest at little cost.”
 
Behrouz, a graphic artist who resides in Jennatabad, one of the more recent developments in East Tehran, says in a nutshell that “chanting Allah-o Akbar was effective then and still is, very much so.”  He believes that it would not be difficult for the people to use this civilian tool if they wished to do so. “All that is necessary is that this wave resumes and that people feel they are like-minded and in agreement regarding this mass movement. Behrouz believes that chanting this slogan has been important in renewing the sense of agreement among the people in that it gives people the sense that they are not alone in their quest. “Most importantly, it reassures every individual that he/she can take part in his/her own way in this struggle and that he/she can, at least, do so in a way that is not only less dangerous but also affords him/her a certain sense of fulfillment.”
 
Sahar, a young engineer, believes that the brevity of this slogan is one of the reasons for its widespread use: “This slogan had the power to bring together people from a wide range of cultural and political backgrounds and its effectiveness in the days of the 1979 Revolution was still alive in the people’s collective memory.” According to Sahar, “due to their fear, people might not have felt safe to talk about their views with strangers in the course of the day. But chanting Allah-o Akbar at night brought across the message that a large number of people are in this together and it was therefore effective in creating a feeling of solidarity.”
 
Government officials announce their own interpretations of this phenomenon
 
As the people chanted Allah-o Akbar together at night, those in the government began to pronounce their own views on the matter. In a televised interview, Mohammad Javad Larijani, Chief of the Human Rights Commission of the Judicial Branch, said that Mousavi supporters chanting Allah-o Akbar at night is analogous to putting Qurans on spears. He further held that, “this is akin to a Friday Prayer that is held on a Wednesday.”
 
It is important to note that chanting Allah-o Akbar as a slogan proved effective not only as a symbol for Iran’s protest movement but it also proved instrumental in making the Iranian people’s quest for justice heard by the broader Muslim world. While street demonstrations were quelled, by initiating creative methods, the people made an effort to put forth their demands before a much larger audience.
 
Bijan Nobaveh, a representative from Tehran and a member of the fundamentalist faction in the Islamic Consultative Assembly, adopted the following defensive stance: “Today, the enemy has come to fight the nation with the slogan of Allah-o Akbar.”
 
The nightly chants of Allah-o Akbar had a therapeutic and fortifying effect on the families of those killed during the protests. A conversation with the family of Behzad Mohajer, who was killed by a bullet in the course of a street protest, revealed that the families of those murdered gained new strength by hearing the chants of Allah-o Akbar.
 
How the slogan of Allah-o Akbar came to be perceived as a threat to national security
 
The fact that the chants of Allah-o Akbar were effective was driven home even further by the attacks of government forces and militias on people’s homes and particularly by the written descriptions of these attacks on many weblogs. News from Evin prison revealed further that interrogators in its infamous Section 209 had explained to the prisoners that chanting Allah-o Akbar was now considered a crime. One such prisoner, Mohammad Jalayipour, was questioned by his interrogators specifically on this matter.  His interrogators made it clear that they considered such chants a threat to national security.
 
With the passage of time, chants of Allah-o Akbar reverberated less and less frequently. This was mainly due to the fact that many people lost hope as a result of the regime’s severe crackdown, such that citizens lost any hope for the possibility of a major change in the regime, which had proved it was not committed to safeguarding the lives and property of its citizens.
 
Of course, chanting Allah-o Akbar can still be an appropriate instrument in the Iranian people’s movement for regaining their lost civil rights because invoking the name of God under the cover of the night sky is the least freedom a person can enjoy. Therefore, it was proposed that Allah-o Akbar be chanted at 10:00pm on Saturday, June 12, the anniversary of the fraudulent 2009 presidential election, and on the evening of Sunday, June 20, the anniversary of the martyrdom of various protesters, including Neda Agha Soltan.

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About author

Jalal Hosseini

Jalal Hosseini is a journalist based in Iran. He received his degree in journalism from Azad University and has published both inside and outside of Iran. Full bio