What do you call a belligerent world leader who uses social media to bully enemies and feed his narcissistic delusions of grandeur? In Iran they call him "Rahbar," which means "Supreme Leader." That's right, when it comes to crude, threatening, grammatically-challenged Twitterspeak, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei beats President Donald Trump any day.
Long before he became president, his critics began recounting Trump's crass tweets. After he became president, neither he nor the criticism stopped. Not surprisingly, the world is obsessed with Trump the Tweeter. Media outlets rank his "most offensive" tweets, and comedians spend hours getting laughs from them. But any comedian looking for someone to parody should pay attention to Khamenei, known on Twitter (since March 2009) as @khamenei_ir.
The most glaring hypocrisy about Khamenei's use of Twitter is that most Iranians are barred from using the social media platform. Beyond that, as a leader who has forcibly terminated too many protests to count, Khamenei is unabashedly eager to criticize others for "human rights violations," such as his tweet during the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Missouri, chastising the United States for racial discrimination.
But Khamenei saves his best material for his frequent ruminations on women and women's rights. For International Women's Day on March 8, Khamenei unleashed a series of 12 tweets. Together, they constitute a mini-lecture on the acceptable social roles allowed to women in Islamic Iran versus the dangerous and decadent roles imposed on women by the secular West.
Khamenei's lecture begins: "In Islamic logic, there's a framework to define women's roles." It is superior to the non-Islamic "deviant framework" where "the most sought after characteristics of a #woman involve her ability to physically attract men and appease them." Instead, he writes, "The features of today's Iranian woman include modesty, chastity, eminence, protecting herself from abuse by men, refraining from humiliating herself into appeasing men."
In order to prevent Iranian women from "humiliating" themselves, Khamenei has thousands of thugs working for the country's Morality Police.
In asserting the superiority of his ways, Khamenei even invoked the #MeToo movement: "A significant number of prominent women in the West declared one after the other over the past few months that while on their job, they have been violently and forcefully abused." This, he explains, couldn't happen in Iran: "By promoting modest dress (#hijab), #Islam has blocked the path which would lead women to such a deviant lifestyle. Hijab is a means of immunity not restriction." That's double points for hypocrisy and blaming the victim. Well played, Rahbar.
Khamenei also is big on Holocaust denial, which should surprise no one. A tweet on March 21, 2014, announced that, "#Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and if it has happened, it's uncertain how it has happened." For Holocaust Remembrance Day 2016, Khamenei tweeted a three-minute denial video titled, "Holocaust: Are the Dark Ages Over?"
Regular threats against both Israel and the United States are part of Khamenei's repertoire. A 2010 tweet proclaimed: "Israel is a hideous entity in the Middle East which will undoubtedly be annihilated."
Sometimes words are not enough for the supreme leader, so he tweets an image instead. A tweet from July 26, 2014 (repeated on Nov. 9, 2014) is a graphic with nine questions and answers about the elimination of Israel.In matter-of-fact tone, Khamenei presents a "fair and logical plan" to eliminate the "infanticidal regime" of Israel through a referendum vote. But only "the original people of Palestine" can vote. Until that day comes, "armed resistance" is the answer: "The West Bank should be armed like Gaza."
Yet, perhaps Khamenei's most offensive tweet came just days after President Barack Obama rammed through his much-vaunted, legacy-ensuring, Iranian nuclear deal. This tweet was an image of Obama, in silhouette, holding a gun to his own head. The symbolism was hard to miss. Obama's deal conferred upon Iran a newfound "right to enrich" and put its nuclear program on a 10-year clock. This was Khamenei's way of rubbing it in.
So, make fun of President Trump's Twitter follies and look for the secret meaning of "covfefe." Better yet, watch as popular celebrities dramatize Trump's tweets as The Joker (Mark Hamill), Gollum (Andy Serkis) and Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller). But remember who the real enemy is. The enemy of women, of the West and of all Americans is Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. He shows it on Twitter almost every day.
A.J. Caschetta is a Ginsburg-Ingerman Fellow at the Philadelphia-based think tank Middle East Forum and a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where his focus has been the rhetoric of radical Islamists and Western academic narratives explaining Islamist terrorism.