Revolutionary images: Posters, clocks, serving trays ...

By Jason Rezaian
March 5, 2003
The Iranian

From the moment I stepped off the plane in Tehran, I couldn't escape the images of the Ayatollah Khomeini and his still living sidekick, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. I wasn't afraid or intimidated, because I was used to this kind of propaganda from my trips to Cuba.

What surprised me more than anything were some of the expressions that these ayatollahs displayed. Any American with a pulse has seen images of Che Guevera or Fidel Castro embracing a fellow revolutionary or black peasant, cigar inserted in broad smile.

The Cuban guerrillas always gave the sense that despite the "struggle" they were capable of having a good time, but our view of the Islamic revolutionaries has always been decidedly more somber. In fact, I could not recall ever seeing Khomeini with a smile on his face. One of his famous quotes is essentially, "fun has no place in Islam." Fortunately, I found out that wasn't 100% true.

On my mission to find Khomeini clocks, I ran into all sorts of trinkets and other goodies donning the leader's visage. In Mashhad I had a number of people on the case with me, which early on landed me at the government run store to promote the Revolution. There I found all things Khomeini (except the clock.) There were posters, books, artistic serving trays and stickers all bearing his likeness.

Besides Khomeini goods there were trinkets honoring Khamenei and a variety of the soldiers maimed and martyred in the Iran/Iraq War. Initially I wanted to buy the things that showed these guys in their most sullen states, to demonstrate what a sad place Iran is, but soon I realized that that wasn't the case at all, it was all just a publicity campaign.

Foraging through the stickers, I found some real gems. There was one with a severely aging Khomeini holding a boy of perhaps six-years old in his lap, the two giggling. But the best of them all showed a smiling Khomeini with one eyebrow raised, standing in front of a yellow, airbrushed background. Underneath the photo was written: "Grand Ayatollah (R.A.) IMAM KHOMEINI Founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran."

In his robe, with his stately, yet unfamiliar appearance, it could have easily been a trading card from the Star Wars films. Indeed Khomeini looked quite like one of George Lucas' Jedi Knights and furthermore, the promotional feeling of the sticker was also very reminiscent of Lucas' ingenious licensing and marketing campaigns. The only difference was -- at under a nickel a pop -- these didn't sell.

I bought a variety of them, perhaps thirty in all, for about a buck. Some bore catch phrases of the late Imam such as, "Prayer is the Key to Tranquility," or "Islam is Peace" not unlike the ones of Bob Marley sold in head shops across America and Europe, to be placed on a water pipe as a sort of badge of pot smoking honor. I wasn't sure what I'd put these stickers on, but I felt like they might become a hot commodity back in the States.

Finding other items was more difficult. Che Guevara's, and to a lesser extent, Castro's images could be found on a slew of goods in Cuba and people buy them, too. Postcards and t-shirts of Ho Chi Mihn are on sale throughout Vietnam, but a Khomeini t-shirt or clock, both of which I desperately wanted, were all but impossible to find.

Perhaps because his image is omnipresent in daily life, there is no need to further market Khomeini. Besides, tourism is a relatively slow industry in Iran and at this point in time Khomeini and his cronies are a tough sell to the Iranian populace and visitors alike.

In the back of a taxi in Mashhad, nearing the shrine of Imam Reza, I saw perhaps the most telling image of all in Iran. I looked up and noticed at the gates to of the Imam Reza Bazaar, two large portraits, one of Khomeni and the other Khamenei. Between the two was a digital clock that usually displayed the time in red Arabic numerals, but on that afternoon, amid the pilgrims and bustle of daily life, the clock simply read, "RESET".

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