The coronavirus has spread to Iran. The Iranian health ministry says that at least eight people have died in that country. Along with Italy, Iran appears to be the non-East Asian country most severely hit by the virus so far.
How did the coronvirus reach Iran? In the usual way, it seems — via a merchant who regularly shuttled between Iran and China. The merchant lives in Qom, the city where the eight deaths have occurred.
But some Iranian hardliners have a different explanation. Qom’s Friday Prayer Imam claims that the U.S. infected his city with the virus. Why did President Trump do such a thing? To “make Qom look like an unsafe city and to take revenge for all of [America’s] defeats.”
Why target Qom, in particular? Because it is a “shelter for the Shi’ites of the world, the center of religious seminaries and the city where Shi’ite sources of emulation live.”
I doubt that the Qom cleric speaks directly for the Iranian government. At the same time, I question whether he would speak on this issue without at least the tacit approval of “higher-ups.”
Meanwhile, the Iranian government is using the coronavirus for a different propaganda purpose. It blames the very low turnout in its recent election on panic induced by lies about the scope of the virus.
The 42 percent turnout this weekend was the lowest since the 1979 revolution. The results strongly favored Iranian “hardliners,” but the low turnout detracts from the regime’s victory. Thus, the regime needs an explanation and a villain.
Its explanation is fear of the coronavirus. Its villains are “the enemies of Iran” who spread propaganda exaggerating the scope and danger of the virus.
Ayatollah Khamenei stated:
This negative propaganda about the virus began a couple of months ago and grew larger ahead of the election. Their media did not miss the tiniest opportunity for dissuading Iranian voters and resorting to the excuse of disease and the virus.
Like the Obama administration, Iran’s mullahs, whether in Qom or Tehran, seem intent on never letting a crisis go to waste.