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The mind of a mullah

What's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei really thinking? Here's some quick psychoanalysis.

Is the Iranian regime surviving because it has a legitimate power base or because it spins a potent delusion of grandeur?

It’s not a delusion of grandeur in the sense that it is a political system that was instituted as a power and is recognized as legitimate. And it's recognized by the majority of Iranians as legitimate. That doesn’t mean they don’t have delusions of grandeur. They think they’re a great power and world civilization, and that’s why they should have nukes.

Does Ahmadinejad have a Napoleon complex?

I think calling it a Napoleon complex is good. One thing is he’s very short. I’m sure he’s so competitive for having been the butt of jokes, having to be tougher than everybody else. I’m sure that plays a role. But he’s also tremendously popular with his base: The unsophisticated elements of the Iranian population. The other thing that’s attractive: He’s a real ascetic, he lives humbly, and that makes him popular.

What’s behind his hostility towards Israel?

I think he’s probably trying to delegitimize it. What he wants to do is enhance Iran’s standing with the people in the Arab world. He’s not going to appeal to middle-class Egyptians or educated Jordanians. But he will appeal to uneducated all over the Arab world. The point is to build Shiite greatness and enhance the role of Iran in the Middle East. The best way to do that is to pick on Israel.

How is it that Mousavi, a former prime minister and an elder statesman, became the vessel for Iranian resistance?

For one thing, he was always looked upon as a very sober guy. When he was the prime minister from 1980 to 1988, it was during the Iran-Iraq war, and he was seen as managing the economy brilliantly. He’s looked at as not crazy, but as very competent. And Ahmadinejad has done so much to screw up the economy. Plus, he’s been very up front with his wife. He campaigns with her. She’s often at his side. That’s endeared him a lot to women and to young people.

Iran is still a religious society, isn’t it? So what’s driving the tumult we’re seeing?

It’s been said a million times: 70 percent of the population was born since the revolution. They all don’t understand why they can’t wear blue jeans and play rock and roll. The Chinese are doing it, why can’t we? They don’t get it. The regime has done a terrible job explaining. The regime is stupid. They’re so ascetic. Islam in general is a very joyless religion: Life is miserable, prepare to die and go to heaven. The kids aren’t into that. Culturally it’s a complete disjunction.

[Editor's note: This article was updated after a reader pointed out an error and the author confirmed it: A quote from Marvin Zonis that read, "This guy who he appointed to succeed him [Khamenei] had no religious credentials" should have read, "The guy who was appointed to succeed him [Khamenei] had no religious credentials." The error occurred during the transcription of a recording of the interview.] 

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