When I watched Ayatollah Khamenei's first Friday prayer service after the election, I was embarassed. Whereas here in America, it's annoying to watch a president's speech because of all the pauses for claps, in Iran there are pauses for the following chant:
Marg bar Engelise!
Marg bar Amrika!
Marg bar Sihoneest!
Last night on Bill Maher's TV program, author of "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ," Hooman Majd, tried to explain that "death to" is probably too harsh a translation, that contrary to what people think it's closer to "down with." Mr. Majd gave an example of a pre-election chant, Marg bar seeb zameeni! (death to potatoes!), after Ahmadinejad handed them out to get votes. Clearly they didn't want to kill potatoes, so it doesn't necessarily mean that they want to kill England, America, and Zionists.
After Ahmadinejad was elected, I listened to my most religious cousin tearfully joke that she and another cousin should go on an assassination mission. I was very uncomfortable (to put this in context, though, the killing in the movie "Pineapple Express" also made me very uncomfortable--I disapprove of murder in every instance), but mostly surprised that she would even jokingly suggest that as a solution because it clearly wouldn't shake the oppressive system. Later, talking with that same cousin, I explained how the killing in their favorite TV series, "Jumung" (about a Korean warrior trying to unite his country through battle) made me dislike watching it. She asked about Saddam Hussein, and was wide-eyed when I told her I didn't agree with his execution, despite the fact that it was justified by his countless murders. This innocent seventeen-year-old, who isn't even allowed to go out to buy milk from the neighborhood store by herself, condoned all of this killing, or at least took it for granted.
When people interrupt Allahou akbar! (God is great!) at night to shout chants of Marg bar diktator!, I think they mean it. After all, they live in a country where their government sees their lives as expendable, and their police officers shoot at them during protests instead of keeping them safe. So many times throughout my trip, I felt like I was standing at the top of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, looking down from 'self-actualization' and 'morality' to see my whole family struggling with the second step of 'security.' Even if the people chanting, whether death to America or death to their own dictator, don't literally wish death upon those people, isn't it saying something that the words for 'down with' and 'death to' are the same?