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Army Of Jinn, America And Coronavirus In Khamenei's Imagination

Imam Ali conquering the jinn. Illustration from Ahsan ol-Kobar, 16th Century Persian manuscript.

Iran's Supreme Leader made a claim in his latest speech that left many Iranians baffled, or rather terrorized, that the superstitious man ruling the country with unlimited powers may have lost his faculties. They justly fear that this may inflict even graver calamities on a nation suffering from many hardships, the latest of which is the coronavirus epidemic the country is finding very difficult to manage.

When speaking about his favorite topic, the "enemy", Khamenei referred to two groups of enemies, humans and the jinn (also djinn or genies). The jinn, in his belief, are invisible supernatural creatures with extraordinary powers of destruction now working hand in hand with a host of other enemies.

"We have jinn and human enemies that help each other. The intelligence services of many countries work together against us," he said in his very long speech on the occasion of the Iranian New Year (Nowrouz). Then recounting an incident from the early Islamic history when "all the enemies of the prophet gathered together and conspired together" to defeat the Muslims, the 80-year-old Iranian Supreme Leader went on to speak of the "most evil enemy of the Islamic Republic", that is, the Great Satan aka America.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei
Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei

Not too surprisingly, when Khamenei came to address the issue of the coronavirus epidemic in the country, he pointed the finger at the United States. He rejected the U.S. offer to help Iran control the ongoing epidemic once again, called America "the most vicious enemy of the Islamic Republic", said they are "lying, brazen, avaricious charlatans, and cruel, merciless terrorists" and went as far as claiming American medicine for the treatment of coronavirus may even entrench the disease in Iran instead of getting rid of it.

The jinn which Khamenei referred to are supernatural creatures mentioned in the Quran but the concept of their existence is rooted in pagan pre-Islamic Arabian and later Islamic mythology. According to the Quran, God created the jinn from a mixture of fire, unlike humans that were created from soil. The jinn are ambivalent beings and their attitude depends on whether or not they accept God's guidance. The jinn are much faster and stronger than humans and can manifest themselves to humans in any form, human or animal, that they wish. To be protected from them one needs to know the right prayers and carry talismans.

Belief in jinn is not central to the Islamic faith. Many Islamic scholars interpret the Quranic verses in which they are mentioned symbolically. Iran's Supreme Leader, however, appears to be interpreting those verses quite literally and is even suggesting that the enemies led by the United States are using these supernatural creatures in their fight against the Islamic Republic.

It is hard not to notice the parallels that Khamenei draws in his "jinn speech" between himself and the Prophet. Khamenei seems to be comparing his followers to those early believers who accepted Muhammad and his religion, In the same way, he equates the prophet's enemies to those whom he sees as his and the Islamic Republic's enemies.

It is also hard not to notice the parallel and similarities between Khamenei's vision of himself and "Dear Uncle Napoleon", the main character of what is probably the most read contemporary literary Persian work. "Dear Uncle Napoleon" in the hilarious novel of the same name by Iraj Pezeshkzad and a series inspired by it, is familiar to every Iranian. The character is a retired low-level officer from the Persian Cossack Brigade at the time of Iran's occupation by the Allied Forces during WWII. The name "Dear Uncle Napoleon" is given to him by playful youngsters of his extended family because of his obsession with his hero Napoleon.

As the former Cossack of the story grows older, he comes to believe in his paranoid fantasies of being the leader of the Iranian army in the war against the British Empire and at the same time identifying himself with Napoleon. His former orderly, who after his retirement has been serving him as a domestic servant, at first somehow challenges his master's stories. Eventually the servant relents and corroborates the stories of Uncle Napoleon's feats in battles against the British, which are modeled on the history of the wars Napoleon fought with the British Empire.

Khamenei, however, is not a retired Cossack, he is the all-powerful leader of a country of 80 million fighting battles at many fronts, including a hard battle with an invisible virus that is taking lives at a nerve-wrecking speed not only in Iran but around the globe.

As such, Khamenei's beliefs, in jinn or in a paranoia-filled world of enemies constantly conspiring against him and his realm and in the theory that the United States has created a strain of the virus that only affects Iranians, have much more impact than personal beliefs. His subjects are required to find evidence and proof for what he believes in.

The paranoid Uncle Napoleon blames the British for every ill that befalls him. "The Brits are behind it", Uncle Napoleon's catchphrase, inspired former British Foreign Minister Jack Straw's book, The English Job: Understanding Iran and Why It Distrusts Britain. In the list of Khamenei's enemies, America has the pride of the place but is closely followed by Britain which he often refers to as "wicked Britain".

In a speech in July 2009 during protests against a disputed election which put his favorite candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad back in office, Khamenei alleged that Britain had been behind the unrest in the country. It did not take long before several Iranians working for the British embassy in Tehran were arrested and made to "confess" to prove Khamenei's allegations.

It is not too far-fetched to fear that in the current circumstances Iran's scientists and health workers will be required to exhaust the country's much-needed resources to find proof for coronavirus specifically created to affect Iranians or to find people in the service of jinn who collaborate with the enemy. The "Wise Leader of the Revolution" who is fighting the Prophet's wars can never be wrong.

The opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily the views of Radio Farda
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    Maryam Sinaiee

    Maryam Sinaiee is a British-Iranian journalist, political analyst and former correspondent of The National, who contributes to Radio Farda.