Death to America

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"Death to America" mural in Tehran, Iran. Similar to most official Iranian translations, the phrase is translated into English as a less offensive "Down with the U.S.A".

Death to America (Persian: مرگ بر آمریکا‎‎ Marg bar Āmrikā, Arabic: الموت لأمريكا‎‎ al-Mawt li-Amrīkā) is an anti-American political slogan and chant which has been in use in Iran since the inception of the Iranian Revolution in 1979.[1] Ayatollah Khomeini, the first leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, popularized the term.[2] He opposed the chant for radio and television, but not for protests and other occasions.[3]

The literal meaning of the phrase is "Death to America". In most official Iranian translations, the phrase is translated into English as the less offensive "Down with America".[4][5] The chant "Death to America" has come to be employed by various anti-American groups and protesters worldwide.[6] Another similar slogan formerly used in Iran was "Death to the Soviet Union".[3] In a speech to university students, Khamenei interpreted the slogan as "death to the U.S.'s policies, death to arrogance".[7]


The Conference "Long Live Death to America" about the reason of "Death to America" which was held on November 3, 2015 at Tehran University

Following the fall of the pro-American Pahlavi dynasty in early 1979, Iranian protesters regularly shouted "Death to America" and "Death to the Shah" outside the U.S. embassy in Tehran, including the day the embassy was seized on November 4, 1979, which commenced the Iran hostage crisis.[8] Throughout the crisis, Iranians surrounding the embassy chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Carter."[9] When Iran released the remaining 52 American hostages on January 20, 1981, they were led through a gauntlet of students forming parallel lines that shouted "Death to America" as they boarded the airplane that would fly them out of Tehran.[10]

Throughout the existence of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the slogan has formed a pillar of its revolutionary values.[4] It is regularly chanted at Friday prayers and other public events, which is often accompanied by a burning of the flag of the United States.[5] These events include the November 4 anniversary of the U.S. embassy seizure, which Iranian leaders declared in 1987 as a national holiday, called "Death to America Day."[11] State-sponsored murals that feature the slogan "Death to America" are common in Iranian cities, particularly Tehran.[12]

According to Politico magazine, following the September 11 attacks, Sayyed Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, "suspended the usual “Death to America” chants at Friday prayers" temporarily. [13]

On March 21, 2015, Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei backed and shouted the phrase 'Death to America' while addressing a public gathering in Iran, during the holiday of Nowruz.[14][15][16] In a statement published on his website on November 3, 2015, Khamenei said: "It goes without saying that the slogan does not mean death to the American nation; this slogan means death to the US's policies, death to arrogance."[17][18]

Use outside of Iran[edit]

The slogan on the flag of the Houthis in Yemen reads, "Allah is great. Death to America. Death to Israel. A curse upon the Jews. Victory to Islam."

Supporters of Hezbollah, the Shi'a Islamic militant group based in Lebanon that is closely aligned to Iran, regularly chant "Death to America" in street demonstrations.[19] A week before the March 20, 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah declared, "In the past, when the Marines were in Beirut, we screamed, 'Death to America!' Today, when the region is being filled with hundreds of thousands of American soldiers, 'Death to America!' was, is and will stay our slogan."[20]

The slogan of the Houthis, a Shiite rebel group in Yemen also supported by Iran,[21] is "God is Great, Death to America, Death to Israel, A curse upon the Jews, Victory to Islam."[22]

Interpretation and meaning[edit]

Mohammad Nahavandian, chief of staff for Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said that:

If you go and ask anyone who uses that slogan [...] what he is against, it is interference in Iran's policies by overthrowing a nationally elected prime minister at the time of Mossadegh. For them, what they are against is the kind of government who shoots an airplane full of innocent passengers" (referring to Iran Air flight 655, an Iranian airliner shot down by an American naval vessel). "For them, it's not the people of America, per se. For them, they are opposed to that sort of policy, that sort of attitude, that sort of arrogance. It's not a nation. It's a system of behavior."[23]

"Regarding the words 'Death to America', we mean American politics, not the American people", says Hussein al Hamran, head of Foreign Relations for Ansar Allah (Houthis).[24] Ali al-Bukhayti, a former spokesperson and official media face of the Houthis, has said: "We do not really want death to anyone. The slogan is simply against the interference of those governments [i.e. US, and Israel]".[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Vanessa Martin (2003). Creating An Islamic State: Khomeini and the Making of a New Iran. p. 152. 
  2. ^ Philip Herbst (2003). Talking Terrorism: A Dictionary of the Loaded Language of Political Violence. p. 6. 
  3. ^ a b Arash Karami: Khomeini Orders Media to End ‘Death to America’ Chant, Iran Pulse, October 13, 2013
  4. ^ a b "The politics of 'Death to America'". The Washington Post. 8 October 2013. 
  5. ^ a b "Iran's hardliners planning 'Death to America' rally on anniversary of US Embassy attack". The National. 22 October 2013. 
  6. ^ Herbst, p. 6-7
  7. ^ Melvin, Don (5 November 2015). "Iranian leader: 'Death to America' refers to policies, not the nation". CNN. Retrieved 9 December 2015. 
  8. ^ David Patrick Houghton (2001). US Foreign Policy and the Iran Hostage Crisis. p. 51. 
  9. ^ Mark Bowden (2006). Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam. p. 221, 245. 
  10. ^ Bowden, p. 584
  11. ^ "Millions Of Iranians Demonstrate Against U.S.". Associated Press. 3 November 1987. 
  12. ^ Lina Khatib (2012). Image Politics in the Middle East: The Role of the Visual in Political Struggle. p. 81-83. 
  13. ^ 34 Years of Getting to No with Iran - POLITICO Magazine. Politico Magazine. Barbara Slavin. November 19, 2013. Permanent Archived Link. Permanent Archived Link at WebCite. Retrieved and archived on July 4th, 2016.
  14. ^ "'Death to America': Iran's Supreme Leader accuses the US of 'bullying'". Euronews. Retrieved 21 March 2015. 
  15. ^ "Iran's supreme leader screams 'Death to America' amid ongoing nuclear talks". New York Post. Retrieved 23 March 2015. 
  16. ^ "Obama downplays Iran 'death to America' remarks, toes hard line on Benjamin Netanyahu". The Washington Times. Retrieved 23 March 2015. 
  17. ^ Dehghan, Saeed (November 3, 2015). "Iran's Ayatollah clarifies that 'death to America' slogan refers to policies". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 November 2015. 
  18. ^ Vinograd, Cassandra (3 November 2015). "Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Explains 'Death to America' Slogan". NBC News. Retrieved 6 November 2015. 
  19. ^ Wistrich, Robert. A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad. p. 974. 
  20. ^ "Hezbollah Vows Anew to Target Americans". Los Angeles Times. 17 April 2003. 
  21. ^ "With Arms for Yemen Rebels, Iran Seeks Wider Mideast Role". The New York Times. 15 March 2012. 
  22. ^ "Yemen's 'Death to America' rebels bring calm to northern Yemen". The Christian Science Monitor. 28 October 2012. 
  23. ^ ""Death to America" and the Iran Deal". New Yorker. 30 July 2015. 
  24. ^ "Yemen in crisis". Esquire. 4 Jun 2015. Retrieved 5 September 2015. 
  25. ^ "Photo Essay: Rise of the Houthis". Newsweek. 9 February 2015. Retrieved 27 March 2015.