Trending Topics:

Obama in Tehran

on 11 Comments
Obama in Tehran
Obama in Tehran

A friend sent this picture along from Tehran. Obama wears a shiny grey suit straight out of an 80s movie, and is pictured with Shemr Yazid, a legendary villain in Shia lore, the general of a usurping caliph in the 7th century. The message on the billboard is: “Be with us, (ba ma bash), Be safe…(Dar aman bash)” The suggestion is that Obama is with the bad guys so people should side with the regime to be safe; because the caliph Yazid was famous for broken promises. My correspondent says the message requires considerable religious/historical knowledge on the part of passersby. I see that the Guardian picked it up last week, and pointed out that the billboard suggests that Obama is a Muslim.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

Other posts by .

Posted In:

11 Responses

  1. James Canning
    James Canning on January 28, 2013, 3:00 pm

    Fairly nice photo (?) of Obama, on that wall?

  2. subconscious
    subconscious on January 28, 2013, 4:04 pm

    Shemr & Yazid were not the same character. Yazid was the evil Caliph & Shemr was his henchman who beheaded Imam Hussein (IH):
    The billboard depicts Shemr. The annual Ashura mourning of IH’s martyrdom at the hands of his oppressors is probably the topmost religious event in Iran. The imagery of that battle is widespread in the Iranian political discourse. The gov’t claims that it represents IH & its enemies from the Shah to the US & Israel represent Yazid. In the 2009 pro-democracy protests, Mir Hussein Moussavi’s supporters would chant slogans claiming he’s on IH’s side. The MEK uses an analogous religious imagery. So both the religious imagery and its political invocation are well-known to the average Iranian. And the smaller caption on the billboard claims that the same statement, “Be w/ us, be safe,” was uttered by both Obama in 2013 & Shemr. I don’t see why it would imply that Obama is necessarily a Muslim. Too bad Obama is also a Hussein.

    • philweiss
      philweiss on January 28, 2013, 6:03 pm

      Thanks subconscious,
      My knowledge here is of course borrowed from my friend; and I should have said that my friend believes that Obama is being cast as Yazid and Shemr as Shemr..

    • Inanna
      Inanna on January 28, 2013, 7:30 pm

      I find Farsi so frustrating in that I can read the words but not understand the meaning (except that both Arabic and Farsi seem to have the same word – aman – for safe/secure).

      I think you’re right that it does little to imply that Obama is a Muslim. It’s using religious imagery to put forward a political message – that the US is an enemy to Iran. Anyone with knowledge of the Middle East and its rich history would understand the importance of Imam Hussein and his death to Shia Muslims. But I’m resigned to seeing the meaning of this mangled in western interpretation. The ‘birther’ issue is not the perspective that we should be seeing this through since that is really a domestic right-wing nutjob issue that’s not really relevant to the current relationship between Iran and the US.

  3. on January 28, 2013, 4:05 pm

    I think there is a better chance obama is in Tehran than Jerusalem


  4. W.Jones
    W.Jones on January 28, 2013, 10:05 pm

    ” The message on the billboard is: “Be with us, (ba ma bash), Be safe…(Dar aman bash)” The suggestion is that Obama is with the bad guys so people should side with the regime to be safe;”

    Perhaps those words are what the people depicted in the billboard are suggested to be saying?

  5. Accentitude
    Accentitude on January 29, 2013, 2:15 am

    Lol, I take offense to that remark, good sir. For I have a shiny grey suit just like that one, which I purchased from a fine gentleman’s shop in Palestine in 2012 for 700 NIS.

  6. subconscious
    subconscious on January 29, 2013, 6:58 am

    Apparently, there’s a whole different subtext to this billboard which even the Guardian article didn’t notice. After poking around some Iranian sites, I came across a pro-gov’t one that, while admiring the billboard, pointed out that the design of the captions is meant as a jab at the BBC. There’s the larger caption in red, followed by the smaller ones in white & gray. This is a rough imitation of the caption design in BBC news. Here’s a random example from BBC Arabic news, w/ the red, white & gray captions & news feed:
    BBC Persian follows a similar format.

    The Islamic Republic has been waging an intense PR campaign against foreign news media aimed at Iranians, such as BBC Persian & VOA Persian, w/ BBC Persian as the main target, since it’s quite popular inside Iran. Iranian media routinely run pieces about BBC Persian journalists being spies or engaged in corrupt practices. BBC satellite broadcasts have been jammed. Iranians granting interviews to the BBC risk prosecution and families of BBC journalists have been harassed & detained:

    This vilification campaign includes cyber warfare. The IRI has been setting up fake websites & Facebook pages to discredit the BBC. This is the actual BBC Persian site:
    And this is an imposter one set up from Iran, as indicated by its URL domain suffix, w/ an abundance of exclamation points (!!!):
    At the moment, at the fake site you can read headlines such as, “BBC’s disrespect on the sorrowful 40th of [Imam] Hussein (PBUH),” “BBC and alcoholic beverages,” “Colorful presence of BBC Persian’s female anchor after rape [referring to fabricated news of rape among BBC Persian journalists],” “Rescue project for BBC Persian’s spies; the Queen enters!,” “Death of Bin Laden and Saddam, Washington’s fabricated story,” “America responsible for Egypt’s recent events,” “Iraq the next prey to Turkey, Arabia and Qatar.” It’s meant to trick Iranian visitors of the site w/ IRI-style news items disguised as BBC pieces. They’ve also set up fake Facebook pages in which BBC Iranian staff “confess” to various corrupt, immoral or criminal practices:
    Pieces from these fake sites & profiles are routinely presented in Iranian media as real evidence.

    So beside the billboard’s overt message of defiance against the US, there’s a subtler anti-BBC message. If the designers expected the passersby to pick up on that message, it’d suggest their recognition that many Iranians view & are familiar w/ the BBC. This may be part of the gov’t’s propaganda efforts in the lead up to the upcoming presidential election. Not so ironically, the BBC is heavily blamed by Iranian Monarchists for fueling the 1979 revolution by its shortwave broadcasts of protest events, when the Iranian media were censoring such news at the time.

    • annie
      annie on January 29, 2013, 12:37 pm

      that’s very interesting subconscious. thanks.

  7. on January 29, 2013, 8:39 am

    I saw billboards in Washington DC one year ago from the Emergency Committee for Israel that were far worse in their depiction of Obama. Had anyone villified say Netanyahu in such a manner they would have been slammed by the pols and law suits

  8. Stephen Shenfield
    Stephen Shenfield on January 29, 2013, 2:35 pm

    Obama is wearing a blue tie. Against the background of his white shirt it may be intended to suggest the Israeli flag.

Leave a Reply