Yesterday on her April 11th show, Rachel Maddow produced a segment in which she draws shaky correlations between holidays and dictatorships. By presenting the US as the baseline with 10 federal holidays, she goes on to critique Iran and North Korea for having “too many days off.”
The introduction of her segment comes off as bitter, annoyed that she didn’t have more vacation days. As she begins to analyze the Iranian calendar, however, her cattiness is overpowered by her sloppy research. She blasts Iran for having 28 national holidays, too many of which, according to Maddow, are related to the anniversaries and leaders of the Islamic Republic.
Had she asked an Iranian, however, she probably would have learned that most of the holidays in Iran reflect its cultural and religious landscape, not just the government’s whims. The longest holiday, the Iranian New Year, or Nowruz, is culturally thirteen days long, but only federally recognized for four days. Nowruz is so entrenched in Iranian society that each religious tradition in Iran has a special relationship with the holiday. This, of course, doesn’t stop non-religious Iranians from celebrating it either. It’s that important.
Most holidays in Iran are meant to celebrate and commemorate the lives of notable members of Prophet Muhammad’s family, as well as general Muslim holidays. Instead of acknowledging Iran as an overwhelmingly Shia Muslim-majority country, Maddow refers to these holidays as “more days the dictatorship wants you to celebrate.” Never mind that these anniversaries were celebrated well before the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and continue to be celebrated in Shia Muslim communities around the world.
Maddow assumes that these holidays lack meaning without the Islamic Republic, and goes on to compare them to the birthday celebrations held in North Korea for its generations of leaders. Quite the opposite, these holidays are important pivots for the general population, observed on a variety of levels. Even non-Muslim communities engage in them, not because of the government, but because of centuries of coexistence. Ashura, for example, is the day of the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson Husayn, and holds great significance in Shia and Sunni Muslim calendars. Many Armenian communities, despite being Christian, still come out and participate in the food culture of the holiday.
Her lack of respect is deeply offensive, and her lack of logic even more ridiculous. By Maddow’s standards, Soviet Russia was a shining example of democracy, with only six (yes, six) national holidays. And Canada must be a tad more authoritarian than the US with 13 national holidays.
Imagine if an Iranian television station were to create a similar segment on American holidays. What would they say? Would Iranians mock Independence Day, Presidents Day, George Washington’s birthday, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day as blatant displays of political propaganda?
“The American government still observes Columbus Day to remember Christopher Columbus, an ‘explorer’ who ravaged North America and enslaved native women and children for sex and labor.”
“Americans have a feast called Thanksgiving, a holiday with good food but such a joke that many Americans refer to it as ‘thanks-taking.’”
“In the US, it is customary to assign months to different issues. The most famous of these is Black History Month, a lousy attempt at rectifying inequalities in the US by relegating the stories of all notable African-Americans to February: the shortest month of the year. Of course, this is not a federal holiday, just a racist one.”
Maddow’s attack on Iranian holidays as hallmarks of a dictatorship is war-mongering, no matter how silly its premise may seem. And yet, her use of Iranian holidays to discuss politics is part of a greater recent trend to attack Iran on a cultural scale. Recently, Congressmen Henry Waxman (D-33rd/CA) and Peter Roskam (R-6th/IL) introduced bipartisan legislation recognizing Nowruz, the Iranian New Year. Their legislation is by no means new, the Iranian New Year has been recognized in Congress for a few years now, but their political agendas are rife with the vilification of the current government.
The legislation recognized the New Year and called the Cyrus Cylinder as representative of the chasm between Iran and the human rights embodied by the ancient Persian Empire. The congressmen who introduced this bill are the same individuals who have continually advocated for harsher and wider sanctions on Iran, crippling the Iranian peoples and preventing them from celebrating even the most basic of holidays fully.
While the congressmen used a different approach to holidays than Maddow, their point remains the same: Americans can use holidays to push hostile perceptions of Iran, as long as they manipulate them enough to fit into their narrative nicely. By linking Iranian holidays to increased North Korea rockets in the same clip, Maddow’s show succeeds in fear-mongering. 28 more days to worry about war year-round!
Maddow et al.: please stop abusing Iranian holidays for your ratings.
I wish people who did not know anything about Iran would just stop talking about it.
Just stop mentioning it at all.