Political Storytelling

So, happy new year everyone! Actually, I googled etiquette sites to find if it’s still ok to wish someone a happy new year on the 8th of January. The jury seems to be out, but in case you are offended by it, remind yourself that many Orthodox Christians only celebrated Christmas yesterday. So what’s time anyway?

Mezrabians committed to the party theme

At Mezrab we celebrated the new year with an amazing party in which staff and friends became the ancient Greek gods of olden times. Not a day too soon it seemed. Immediately after we revelled in Bacchanalian excess the year brought us apocalyptic fires in Australia and the Iranian and American drums of war in Iraq. Now here’s something interesting we observed (apart from the many political, historical and social angles that people more knowledgeable than us will talk about at length), in this conflict there was a HUGE need to create a narrative for people to follow.

Portrait of “martyr” Qassem Soleimani // Fars News Agency

In Iran the clear story that was created was this: The slain general Suleimani was a war hero who single handedly rid the world of the ISIS threat. The death of whom should be avenged. We have never seen so many government supporters in the streets of Iran since the death of Ayatollah Khomeini as the amount that came to mourn the beloved general. The people deserved revenge for the slaying of their hero.

Demonstrations in Iran over the death of Qasem Soleimani // Fars News Agency

For America the narrative was the direct opposite. Suleimani was responsible for arming and training Shi’a militias, adding to the instability and violence of the region. A terrorist leader who’s death was warranted. Any retaliation would be seen as a continuation of terroristic violence which would be answered by swift retribution. So, here we had two narratives that were mutually exclusive, and each would require a violent act towards the other to bring its narrative to a dramatically satisfying end. From the outside it’s easy to see how the narratives could lock each other in a spiral of violence.

Anti-war demonstration at the White House // Susan Melkisethian, Flickr.com

But here’s where mastery in storytelling saved the day. Iran retaliated with a barrage of missiles on American targets in Iraq. Before it attacked it warned the Iraqis, who told the Americans. The early warning meant that damage was minimal, possibly resulting in zero deaths. In Iranian media they talked about 80 dead Americans. Iran’s story ended with a resulting victory. If you kill our general you will pay times eighty. Any report of zero deaths obviously is western propaganda. America had a satisfying ending to their narrative as well: Iran was too weak to do any actual damage. They huffed and they puffed and amounted to nothing. Both have the ending they desired.

“So far, so good”

Of course we hope that with this episode the stories are actually finished. Anyone who watches Netflix knows some writers can’t resist the temptation to add episodes and seasons where they are not needed. As storytelling teachers we are advising the writers of these war tales that dragging on this narrative will lead to bad reviews and a serious loss of life.

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