By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
"Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the head of the powerful Guardians Council, is Iran’s oldest man. No one knows when he was born. He is said to have been on planet Earth before all of us, even before Adam and Eve..." That's the gist of numerous jokes that are making the rounds about the senior cleric who is in his mid- eighties.
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati
“Jannati has a copy of the Torah signed by Moses,” is how one joke goes.
Another one has Jannati speaking to scientists: "For you the Big Bang is just a theory," he says. "For me it's a memory.”
In a similar vein, another joke has Ayatollah Jannati talking to the Fars news agency about his memories of the extinction of the dinosaurs.
The jokes seem to be a reaction to Jannati’s three decades on Iran’s political scene and his status as one of the country’s key players.
As the chairman of the Guardians Council since 1988, Jannati has played an active role in banning any attempt at political reform and disqualifying reformist and liberal election candidates.
Sociologist Saeed Peivandi believes the continuation of Jannati's “negative role” and his disconnectedness with the realities of Iran and its young population are among the main reasons for the many jokes making fun of his age.
“There are other figures who have been involved in Iranian politics for as long as [Jannati], even if they might not be as old as him" he says. "Nonetheless, they have changed their positions and have also altered their views, which have been evolving over time. But the only one who seems to be repeating the same old views like a tape recorder is Jannati. This can be hard for the public to take and they see jokes as the only way to confront it.”
Conservative Media Hit Back
The number of jokes about the uncharismatic cleric and their quick dissemination through word of mouth, text messages, and social media, has elicited a response from some conservative media.
Last week, the “Panjere” weekly, which is associated with a conservative lawmaker, said that the jokes are an “election plot” aimed at damaging the Guardians Council.
“Why has Ayatollah Jannati been targeted by so many jokes in the past few months?" it asked. "Do they want to slowly erode his scientific and political record?”
Mohammad Mousavi Khoeniha, a former Iranian official and the head of the reformist Association of Combatant Clerics, recently poked fun at Jannati on his website when he was asked about the upcoming March Parliamentary elections.
“There are two permanent things in this world,” he wrote. “One is a good reputation; the other is Ayatollah Jannati.”
Jokes About Leaders Are Nothing New
Iranians have always made fun of their leaders. In the early years after the 1979 revolution, many jokes targeted Ayatollah Montazeri the designated successor of the founder of the Islamic republic who later became a top dissident and was put under house arrest.
In the jokes, Iranians poked fun at Montazeri who was perceived as naive. The grand ayatollah who later became known as the Godfather of the Green Opposition movement, acknowledged the jokes in an interview that was aired after his death by the Persian Service of the BBC.
In recent years, Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad has been the butt of many jokes, which are often related to his appearance or to some of his controversial and unusual statements.
It appears now, however, that Jannati has replaced him on the joke scene.
As the “Baztab” weekly reported, the jokes about the cleric started last year, after the Guardians Council dismissed a rumor that Jannati had passed away following some serious health issues.
The incident probably gave some Iranians the impression that the hard-line cleric, who sometimes leads Tehran’s Friday Prayers, would stay with them forever.
The impression is reflected in a number of jokes about how the angel of death, Azrael, has been unsuccessfully making elaborate plans to send Jannati to the afterworld.
One joke fresh from Tehran has Azrael asking other archangels for help in catching Jannati.
"Gabriel, you stand at the top of the street," he says. "Michael, please stand in the middle of the street, Israfel and I will stand at the other end.”
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