Great Satan

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The Great Satan (Persian شيطان بزرگ Shaytân-e Bozorg) is a derogatory epithet for the United States of America in some Iranian foreign policy statements. Occasionally, these words have also been used toward the government of the United Kingdom.

The term was originally used by Iranian leader Ruhollah Khomeini in his speech on November 5, 1979 to describe the United States whom he accused of imperialism and the sponsoring of corruption throughout the world.

Ayatollah Khomeini also occasionally used the term "Iblis" (the primary devil in Islam) to refer to the United States and other Western countries.


The post-revolution government of Iran has considered the United States and the United Kingdom as Imperialist states, who have a long history of interfering in Iran's internal affairs. In 1907, the Anglo-Russian Agreement between Russia and Britain divided Iran into spheres of influence, questioning although not terminating Iranian sovereignty. At the height of the Cold War, the administration of the U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved a joint Anglo-American operation to overthrow the elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq, in the pretext that his nationalist aspirations would lead to an eventual communist takeover. The operation was code-named Operation Ajax. At first, the military coup seemed to fail, and Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi fled the country. After widespread rioting and with help from the CIA and British intelligence services, Mossadeq was defeated and the Shah returned to power, ensuring support for Western oil interests and snuffing the perceived threat of communist expansion. General Fazlollah Zahedi, who led the military coup, became prime minister.

Ayatollah Khomeini was exiled to Turkey for his outspoken denunciation of the Shah's Status of Forces bill, which granted US military personnel diplomatic immunity for crimes committed on Iranian soil. From Turkey, Khomeini moved to Iraq in 1965 and remained there until 1978 before moving to Paris for four months. He then returned to Iran and led the 1979 Iranian revolution.

The United States supported the Shah starting from the 1950s, but that changed toward the end of the 1970s, particularly under the Carter administration.[1] Many Iranians hated the Shah and felt that the US was against them. Demonstrators commonly chanted slogans such as "Independence, Freedom and Islamic Republic".


The Great Satan by Carlos Latuff

Khomeini is quoted as saying on November 5, 1979, "[America is] the great Satan, the wounded snake."[2] The term was used extensively during and after the Islamic Revolution,[3] but it continues to be used in some Iranian political circles. Use of the term at rallies is often accompanied by shouts of "Marg bar Amrika!" ("Death to America"). The term has also found in political statements of Muslim and anti-American activists throughout the world. It is used in academic journals and media.[4]

Lesser Satan[edit]

Khomeini called the Soviet Union, the principal antagonist of the US during the Cold War, the "Lesser Satan" because of its atheistic Communism, and he said that Iran should support neither side.[5]

The State of Israel was condemned as the "Little Satan" in 1979 by Khomeini when he was addressing Israel's backing of the Shah, its close ties to the US, and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi stated that "Israel is the little Satan" in a July 1980 interview.[6]


The term has been discussed extensively and addressed within the context of Iran–United States relations by some members of the United States foreign policy establishment.[7]

See also[edit]

References & notes[edit]

  1. ^
  2. ^ Christopher Buck, Religious myths and visions of America: how minority faiths redefined America's world role, page 136 [1]
  3. ^ Iran & the Great Satan
  4. ^ America's foreign policy: Manifest Destiny or Great Satan? - Contemporary Politics
  5. ^ Katz, Mark N. (2010). "Iran and Russia". In Wright, Robin B. The Iran Primer: Power, Politics, and U.S. Policy. United States Institute of Peace. p. 186. ISBN 978-1-60127-084-9. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Purdum, Todd S. (2002-02-15). "With Candor, Powell Charms Global MTV Audience". The New York Times. Archived from the original on November 9, 2013. Retrieved 2010-04-02. 

External links[edit]