With increasing frequency, Iranians are destroying or defacing the monuments of revolutionary and clerical leaders that they have come to loathe as symbols of oppression. It is a dangerous act of protest against the regime, which has called the vandalism "vile."
There has been a sustained — if furtive — trend among disgruntled Iranians to deface, vandalize or destroy monuments raised in honor of prominent figures of the Islamic Republic, in power since 1979. It is a residual form of protest under a regime that allows none. However, rest assured, no harm is done to the country's cultural heritage: It is safe to say the structures in question have no aesthetic value at all.
The latest piece of vandalism involved the burning of a statue of the former 1979 revolution leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in Qom in north-central Iran. Perpetrators shared pictures on social media of the March 30 burning of the statue, which was located in the Marja'iyat ('Religious Authority') square and caused an immediate scramble among authorities to replace it.
The Qom congregational prayer leader, Alireza E'rafi, called this a "vile act," and the mayor lamented the "extensive damage" done to the non-work of art, saying the city must now build a "new memorial."
Rage against the regime
It should be noted that effigies or large-scale depictions of individuals are not within the Islamic tradition the regime claims to uphold, as they are thought to encourage idolatry. Yet anyone traveling in Iran after the revolution will see a plethora of statues, posters and vast murals of dead or living clerics, soldiers and "martyrs."
Striking at Khomeini's likeness is a way of saying people are sick of the Islamic regime
Many were likely burned, trampled on or defaced through several waves of protests that have swept the country since 2009. Late in 2020, during protests over water shortages in Isfahan, central Iran, someone damaged another Khomeini statue in the district of Ardestan.
Striking at Khomeini's likeness is a way of saying people are sick of the Islamic regime; they're not necessarily dissatisfied with more secular parts of the government or the provincial administration. Local authorities said the culprit had been caught, but footage indicates other locals have returned to spoil the statue. In several cities now, night-time patrols have increased to prevent such acts or to locate rude graffiti.
Iran: people walk past a Portrait of the Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in Iraq in a U.S. drone attack.
The fall of a martyr
At least twice, people have vandalized statues honoring the late Revolutionary Guard captain Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in Iraq in early 2020 by a U.S. strike, and considered a martyr of the Revolution.
This happened once in Shahr-e Kord, on the anniversary of his death early in 2021, and again on August 31, 2021, in Yasuj. In the first case, the Shahr-e Kord congregational prayer leader deplored the act, saying it had taken a year to build the statue, which had cost the equivalent of over 32,000 euros (150 million tumans).
The regime insists Soleimani is a popular hero who fought Western presence in the Middle East and Salafist terrorism. Yet his popularity is debatable at best, especially in nearby countries currently under Tehran's meddling thumb. Judging by social media posts, residents of Beirut were dissatisfied with a Soleimani statue in their city.
In another incident in July or August 2020, videos of Iranians burning a statue of the current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, placed outside a seminary in Ahwaz, circulated around the internet. The posts reportedly showed local girls and women delighting at the sight of this destruction. While these fires may be causing "extensive damage" to certain politicians, they seem to be a flame of change and hope for many citizens.