Puzzling Over a Red, White and Blue Iran
By ROBERT MACKEY
Recent images of Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, standing before backdrops prepared for official ceremonies — in which the colors of Iran’s flag appear to have been changed from red, white and green to red, white and blue — have observers asking: Are Iranian graphic designers trying to tell us something? And if so, what, exactly?
Since last year’s disputed presidential election led to a crackdown on both dissent and independent reporting in Iran, analysts trying to understand the hidden inner workings of the Islamic Republic have thrown themselves into the kind of close reading of state media reports that used to be known as Kremlinology when the inscrutable power structure under the microscope was the one that ran the old Soviet Union.
Last week, two of those close readers, Scott Lucas, who runs the blog “Enduring America,” and Golnaz Esfandiari, a journalist for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, pointed out that Iran’s president had appeared before two backdrops that featured images in which Iran’s national colors seem to have been reimagined to remove any trace of the color green, which is the country’s opposition has adopted as its symbol.
On Thursday Mr. Lucas posted a photograph of Mr. Ahmadinejad taken by a state news agency in which he was seen speaking to the organizers of an Iranian film festival before a backdrop that omitted the color green from an image of Iran’s flag. Mr. Lucas commented:
I don’t want to say the Government is in any way threatened by the Green movement, but somebody has apparently decided that, when President Ahmadinejad is speaking, the Iranian flag no longer has to be red, white, and green.The next day Ms. Esfandiari provided a link to a close-up of the image Mr. Lucas had come across, in a blog post headlined, “Where Is The Color Green?” She also pointed to another example of the same thing, a photograph of Mr. Ahmadinejad at a ceremony last week for the head of Iran’s state news agency, IRNA, in which the graphic behind him (also pictured at the top of this post) showed a red, white and blue Iran.
When Andrew Sullivan raised the subject last week, one of his readers sent him a cartoon that had apparently circulated among Iranians last year and explained: “When the below cartoon came out days after the June 12th election, no one would have predicted that it would happen for real… it has literally!”
The same reader added:
This is almost unbelievable. There were rumors that the Government agencies and state TV were ordered to avoid Green colors as much as possible, but to change the green stripe of the national flag to blue??? That is beyond shocking.After looking at a slide show with more photographs of the second event published on the Web site of Iran’s Fars News Agency, a media outlet close to the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps, my colleague Nazila Fathi explained that this curious backdrop was located in “a big hall at the president’s office where they hold press conferences and ceremonies.” Given that Mr. Ahmadinejad, or people close to him, could be expected to exert creative control over the backdrops in his own office, it seems possible that the color green was intentionally removed from the image.
But then again, at both ceremonies, an unaltered Iranian flag, topped with green, also appeared on stage behind Mr. Ahmadinejad, so fevered speculation that the opposition’s color will be removed from the flag seems unwarranted.
That said, we are still left with a puzzle. Why bother to use blue instead of green for those backdrops at all? Aren’t red, white and blue the colors of not one but several of Iran’s official enemies? And isn’t the color green associated not just with Iran’s opposition, but with Islam and the leadership of the Islamic Republic?
The New York Times