The World

A Deep Dive Into the Ayatollah’s Twitter Hate for America

Raise your hand if you hate America.

Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke at the U.N. General Assembly today as his country negotiates with the United States over their nuclear program and works to normalize relations with the international community. At a press conference during last year’s assembly, Rouhani attempted to offer the Iranian regime a softer image, hailing the United States as a “great nation” and asking that the two countries “stop the escalation of tensions.”

The country’s actual decision-maker, though, is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and he has continued to take a hard line, at least publically, even as Rouhani has appeared more conciliatory. Khamenei (or maybe his social media sherpa) has been broadcasting his views over Twitter for the past few years, and a deep dive into his past six months’ worth of tweets shows, unsurprisingly, that he continues to have two obsessions: hatred of the U.S. and hatred of Israel. Tweets devoted to those two nations made up nearly 40 percent of the Ayatollah’s tweets since March. But which does he hate more—and how many new reasons can you come up with to hate a place? Let’s look at the tweets.

The Ayatollah’s abhorrence for the United States permeates his feed, regardless of the topic. When the Ayatollah tweets about a seemingly unrelated topic, such as press freedom, he remembers how much he dislikes America:

In 2013 the international watchdog Freedom House rated Iran’s press as “Not Free,” giving it a grade of 92 on a scale of zero to 100 on which 100 meant “the worst.” (The United States got an 18.) The organization deplored the fact that in Iran, journalists are “threatened, beaten, arrested, subjected to unfair trials, and imprisoned.” Ironically, for such a Twitter-obsessed tyrant, social media is officially banned in Iran, although ingenious citizens have found ways to access sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. But the real question for Khamenei is, do present-day Iranians have it as bad as the fictional Tom Joad did in 1930s America?

When Khamenei tweeted about his recent stint in the hospital to undergo prostate surgery, he was again reminded of how much he hates the United States:

The Ayatollah is not the only one in the Middle East to suspect a CIA conspiracy behind the rise of the Islamic State, but even Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has mocked the idea. Still, it’s the Ayatollah who will have the ultimate say in how Iran reacts to the rise of ISIS.

Last April, when the Supreme Leader tweeted about the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, again he saw America’s fingerprints:

Even #HappyFriendshipDay reminded him of his hatred for America!

So how many of the Ayatollah’s tweets are about hating Uncle Sam? In the past six months, 20 percent. That number includes only tweets explicitly about the United States and doesn’t include tweets ostensibly about other topics that allude to the America, such as any of the aforementioned tweets about Friendship Day, press freedom, Rwanda, and the Ayatollah’s medical health.

If you include the tweets that tangentially mention the United States, that number is much higher. Khamenei’s hatred for America is only rivaled by his disdain for Israel. Still, the United States beats out Israel by a smidgen. Just 19 percent of the Ayatollah’s tweets were about how much he loathes the Jewish state, making it his second-favorite topic of conversation. And his hatred for Israel only reinforces his hatred for America:

He even managed to connect Israel’s war in Gaza to this summer’s protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager.

If the Ayatollah comes off as an angry man, there are still a few things that he loves. For example, he loves #women. Women are the best. They are better than the best; to the Ayatollah, each woman is “a flower.” Six percent of the Supreme Leader’s tweets are dedicated to his love for women and how to provide them with peace in the home, which is where all flowers belong:  

And as it turns out, America is not nearly as good as Iran at loving its women:

Unsurprisingly, the Ayatollah loves religion. Seventeen percent of his tweets are about faith, including Christianity and Judaism, which makes this his third-favorite topic of discussion:

Khamenei also loves books. He loves to read them, he loves to talk about them, and he would love for other people to love them as much as he does:

As long as people read the right kind books, of course. The previous Supreme Leader, Ruhollah Khomeini, famously issued a fatwa against British author Salman Rushdie for his 1988 novel about the life of Prophet Mohammad, The Satanic Verses, and his successor has also made sure that Iranians don’t “poison” their minds with “harmful books” such as Céline’s Journey to the End of the Night.

But for the Ayatollah, the best thing about books is that they give him more reasons to hate America.

Soon after taking office in 2009, President Obama reached out a hand to Iran in an effort to negotiate over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, including in recent years by exchanging letters with President Rouhani and eventually talking to him over the phone. But after years of negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program, the Ayatollah has yet to offer the slightest public hint of conciliation, certainly not on Twitter. While publically accepting that the foreign minister’s team pursues its nuclear talks with the six world powers, the Ayatollah wants to make it known that he still does not trust his sworn enemy and doubts that the negotiations will have a positive outcome for Iran.  

And if U.S. officials think they can count on Iran to cooperate in the fight against ISIS, they should check out the Ayatollah’s Twitter feed:

President Rouhani has been open about his goal to improve relations with America and the West, particularly in order to ease international sanctions and improve Iran’s economy. If the Ayatollah’s Twitter feed tells us anything, it’s just how hard Rouhani’s job must be.

The Ayatollah’s Tweets

March 26 – September 17,  2014