#WeSeeYou -The Islamic Republic’s Methods of Coercion and Control

AI generated - courtesy of Catherine Perez-Shakdam
AI generated - courtesy of Catherine Perez-Shakdam

The Islamic Republic of Iran has refined a sophisticated and insidious approach to silencing dissent, both within its borders and beyond. This regime employs a variety of coercive methods designed to inflame paranoia and manipulate reality, forcing individuals and communities to exist under a suffocating cloud of fear and mistrust. These tactics aim to divide society, sow confusion, and ultimately control dissent through fear and misinformation.

At the foundation of this strategy lies a web of coercion and threats. The regime’s tactics extend beyond mere physical violence to include psychological manipulation, exploiting social and familial ties to exert pressure. The omnipresent threat of imprisonment, torture, or harm to loved ones stifles any potential opposition before it can even take root.

Among the most vile tactics employed by the Islamic regime is the use of sexual violence and its looming threat. This method serves multiple, perverse purposes: punishing, intimidating, and discrediting dissenters. It is essential to recognise that, in this arena of terror, men and women are equal victims. Our gravest error thus far has been to assume that only women and girls have been targeted. The grim reality is that men have also suffered these atrocities.

The regime’s aim goes beyond instilling fear; it seeks to traumatise communities to an irreparable extent. By inflicting such profound harm, the regime brands individuals’ psyches, submerging them in societal shame. Victims of sexual violence, irrespective of gender, are often silenced by the associated stigma, further isolating them and deterring others from speaking out. This deliberate approach ensures that the psychological scars are deep and enduring, effectively breaking the spirit of both the individual and the broader community. The regime’s use of sexual violence is not just a weapon against the body but an assault on the very soul of its victims, leaving them forever sullied and shamed.

Character assassination is another critical tool in the regime’s arsenal. By attacking the personal integrity and reputation of dissenters, the regime seeks to erode their credibility and influence. This is often achieved through the dissemination of false or misleading information, undermining the moral and ethical standing of individuals to diminish their public support.

Slander and defamation are routinely employed by the Iranian regime to vilify opponents and create a hostile environment for dissent. State-controlled media are the primary vehicles for spreading malicious rumours and false accusations, branding critics as traitors, foreign agents, or morally corrupt individuals. This relentless campaign not only discredits dissenters but also isolates them from potential allies, making it exponentially harder for them to mobilise support.

The regime’s machinations are most pronounced on social media, where it deploys an army of bots to amplify its narrative. These bots flood social media platforms, creating the illusion of widespread consensus against targeted individuals. In reality, this perceived consensus is nothing more than a carefully constructed fabrication. The sheer volume of these bot-generated messages can overwhelm genuine discourse, drowning out the voices of dissent and further isolating the targets of this digital assault.

The regime’s bot army works tirelessly to construct an alternate reality, one where opposition is not only marginalised but demonised. This digital deception is designed to create an echo chamber, where lies are repeated so often that they begin to sound like truth. In this manipulated environment, real critics are made to appear as isolated and fringe elements, while the regime’s narrative dominates the public sphere.

Such tactics have a chilling effect on genuine dissent, as the illusion of consensus emboldens supporters of the regime and intimidates would-be critics. The psychological impact on those targeted can be devastating, as they face not just the wrath of the regime, but the seemingly unanimous condemnation of their peers. This sophisticated blend of slander, defamation, and digital manipulation represents one of the most insidious aspects of the Iranian regime’s strategy to maintain its authoritarian grip.

By understanding and exposing these tactics, we can help to dismantle Tehran’s false narratives and support those who bravely stand against this digital tyranny. 

Ad hominem attacks are a favoured tactic used to delegitimize critics by focusing on personal attributes rather than addressing substantive arguments. These attacks divert attention from real issues and undermine the opposition’s credibility, reducing complex political debates to petty personal vendettas.

The regime has also harnessed the power of social media to manipulate public perception. By deploying bots and fake accounts, the regime amplifies pro-regime messages and aggressively targets dissenting voices. This creates an artificial consensus, making dissenters feel isolated and outnumbered, thereby discouraging opposition.

Domestically, the regime’s methods are brutally effective. Political prisoners, journalists, and activists frequently face arbitrary detention, torture, and harassment. Consider the case of Narges Mohammadi, a prominent human rights activist. She has been repeatedly imprisoned, tortured, and subjected to degrading treatment to silence her advocacy for women’s rights and political freedom.

Internationally, the regime extends its reach to intimidate and eliminate critics abroad. The murder of dissident journalist Ruhollah Zam, who was abducted in Iraq and executed in Iran, is a stark example of the lengths the regime will go to silence dissent. Additionally, IRGC agents have been implicated in numerous plots to kidnap or assassinate dissidents living in exile, showcasing the global reach of their coercive tactics.

A particularly insidious tactic used by the regime is forcing individuals to collaborate with its agents. Through blackmail and threats of reprisals against family members, the regime forces individuals into compliance. This method sows doubt about the true allegiance of opposition figures, further muddying the waters. Although crude, these methods have proven devilishly effective in undermining the credibility of dissenters and controlling opposition narratives.

The Islamic Republic’s ultimate goal is to create a reality where truth is obscured by lies and dissent is equated with treason. It is crucial that we understand and expose these tactics, standing in solidarity with those who resist this authoritarian regime. By shining a light on these oppressive measures, we can help undermine the Islamic Republic’s efforts to silence dissent and pave the way for a more open and just society.

As the Talmud wisely teaches, “The seal of God is truth”. In our struggle against falsehood, it is imperative that we uphold the truth and defend those who courageously speak it.

About the Author
Catherine Perez-Shakdam - Director Forward Strategy and Executive Director Forum of Foreign Relations (FFR) Catherine is a former Research Fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and consultant for the UNSC on Yemen, as well an expert on Iran, Terror and Islamic radicalisation. A prominent political analyst and commentator, she has spoken at length on the Islamic Republic of Iran, calling on the UK to proscribe the IRGC as a terrorist organisation. Raised in a secular Jewish family in France, Catherine found herself at the very heart of the Islamic world following her marriage to a Muslim from Yemen. Her experience in the Middle East and subsequent work as a political analyst gave her a very particular, if not a rare viewpoint - especially in how one can lose one' sense of identity when confronted with systemic antisemitism. Determined to share her experience and perspective on those issues which unfortunately plague us -- Islamic radicalism, Terror and Antisemitism Catherine also will speak of a world, which often sits out of our reach for a lack of access.
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