(TMU) — For the average person watching events in the Middle East over the past week, it’s difficult to glean any humor from the looming threat of a major regional war between the United States and Iran.
However, one Iranian cleric has made comments which can either be viewed as a cutting and acidic bit of sarcasm, or an unintentionally hilarious comment reflecting how Iran’s religious authorities view popular U.S. culture.
Iranian cleric Shahab Moradi commented in a television interview carried on Iranian state television, that Iran would never be able to avenge the loss of Maj. Gen Qassem Soleimani because the U.S. only has such fictional “heroes” and SpongeBob SquarePants and Marvel Comics’ legendary web-slinger, Spider-Man.
In a clip from a live interview aired on the IRIB Ofogh channel that was posted Saturday night on Twitter, Moradi explained:
“If anyone around the world wants to take their revenge on the assassination of Soleimani and intends to do it proportionately … who should we consider to take out in the context of America?
Think about it. Are we supposed to take out Spider-Man and SpongeBob?
They don’t have any heroes. We have a country in front of us with a large population and a large landmass, but it doesn’t have any heroes. All of their heroes are cartoon characters—they’re all fictional.”
Last Thursday, a U.S. drone attacked a convoy near Baghdad’s airport, claiming the lives of 10 people including Soleimani and the leader of Iraq’s Kataeb Hezbollah, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. The drone strike has sent shockwaves across the Middle East and the globe, stoking fears of a major conflict.
حرفهای قابل تأمل حجتالاسلام شهاب مرادی، روی آنتن زنده شبکه افق: آمریکا قهرمان ندارد. در برابر حاج قاسم سلیمانی، ما کدام قهرمان آمریکایی را بزنیم؟ باب اسفنجی یا اسپایدرمن؟! pic.twitter.com/lgyqAaU5gD
— مجله خبری عصرانه (@Asranetv) January 4, 2020
Soleimani, who commanded the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ extra-territorial operations arm, or Quds Force, had long been viewed as a national hero by most Iranians. The major-general, who has been praised by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a “living martyr of the revolution,” has been widely credited within the country and across the region as the man responsible for halting the rise of ISIS and preventing it from making major incursions into Iran.
However, the top general has been depicted as a major bogeyman in the U.S. press and as the man responsible for forming the myriad Shia Muslim militia across the Middle East, and especially Iraq, that have clashed with the U.S. troops occupying the region.
Western sources have compared Soleimani with various characters drawn from literature, comic books, and film—including The Dark Knight or Batman, fictional Soviet spymaster Karla from the Cold War-era spy novels of John le Carré, the villainous Keyser Söze from 1995 crime film The Usual Suspects, and British literary swashbuckler the Scarlet Pimpernel.
British tabloid newspaper the Sun even ran an obituary Friday on the top Iranian security official under the sub-header “BRUTE’S BLOODSHED!” titled “Assassinated Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was James Bond, Nazi Erwin Rommel and Lady Gaga in one evil man.” The title has been lambasted by social media users as a particularly grotesque example of the West demonizing its rivals.
Assassinated Iranian general Qasem Soleimani was James Bond, Nazi Erwin Rommel and Lady Gaga in one evil man https://t.co/3AGXyzboow
— The Sun (@TheSun) January 4, 2020
Since Soleimani’s assassination, Iran’s authorities have vowed to exact “severe revenge” on U.S. military forces in the region. In an interview with CNN on Sunday, Maj. Gen. Hossein Dehghan—a top military adviser to Ayatollah Khamenei—reiterated Tehran’s desire to avenge Soleimani’s death.
However, the official was clear that they don’t desire a major war. Dehghan explained:
“It was America that has started the war. Therefore, they should accept appropriate reactions to their actions.
The only thing that can end this period of war is for the Americans to receive a blow that is equal to the blow they have inflicted. Afterward they should not seek a new cycle.”
Referring to Trump’s threat to bomb 52 Iranian targets, including sites important to the Iranian culture—a move that would constitute a war crime—Dehghan reiterated that the attacks would focus on military targets. He said:
“If he says 52 we say 300—and they are accessible to us.
No American military staff, no American political center, no American military base, no American vessel will be safe.
[Trump] doesn’t know international law. He doesn’t recognize UN resolutions either. Basically he is a veritable gangster and a gambler.”