Why Iran’s Khamenei pushes for higher birthrate?
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has again called on compatriots to have more children while calling on authorities to help families increase the population amid crippling economic sanctions, high unemployment and staggering inflation rates. Inspired by the size of the population in China and India, Khamenei urged for advancing Iran’s national power by doubling its current population of 83 million to 150 million. Khamenei urged Iranian couples to make more babies while giving three odd examples as role models: Prophet Mohammad, American family, and India and China.
THREE EXAMPLES, THREE FALLACIES
It is interesting that the supreme leader made the above comments in a meeting with a group of newly married couples last March, however, his remarks were published four months later, on Monday, August 5. Another peculiarity is that Khamenei gave three examples as role models for Iranian youth, all of which are either inaccurate or irrelevant to today’s Iran.
- A prophetic tradition
Describing marriage as a “prophetic tradition” advised by the Prophet of Islam, Khamenei urged the youth to get married and start a prolific family. However, the Prophet was not particularly prolific to be imitated by Iranian youth as an exemplar prolific person. Prophet Mohammad officially married thirteen times but had only one child, at least according to Shia sources. This doesn’t qualify him as a prolific person to be imitated by other Muslims.
- American way
In another inaccurate comment, claiming that every US family has 15 to 20 children, Khamenei said: “They (Americans) encourage this (making more babies), and nobody censures them. But when it comes to us, it gets reversed and having less babies (is encouraged).”
Citing these hyperbolic numbers well indicates how far Khamenei is from the reality. Whoever is advising Iranian leader, seems to have obtained his facts from an American reality TV show called “19 Kids and Counting”, featuring politician and TV personality, “Jim Bob Duggar” and his wife “Michelle” who have 20 children together.
Khamenei ignores the fact that the US constitutes world’s largest economy and Iran is economically on the verge of collapse, partly due to US-imposed sanctions and partly because of rampant corruption and about 80 percent of the population is below poverty line. This is why young Iranian couples are struggling to even raise two kids. strangely enough, Khamenei, who almost always depicts the US as a “Great Satan” in his speeches, is now advocating this supposedly American way of life. He again ignores the fact that highly prolific couples like Jim Bob Duggar are rare and limited to some extreme Christian sects, who oppose all forms of birth control and avoid using contraceptives.
- China and India model
The supreme leader presented China and India as examples of how countries with larger populations achieve more. Praising the two most populous nations and setting them as examples for Iranians, Khamenei argues that: “When a population is large, it necessarily features more competent people, and this ultimately contributes to a growth in available competencies.”
Khamenei boasted about achievements in China and India but eluded the fact that both countries have had population growth control policies in place for decades, despite some cases of recent ease. Khamenei ignores the fact that China’s economic miracle has lifted 500 million people from extreme poverty line over the last three decades, partly thanks to its one-child policy not unleashed population growth as he claims. Khamenei totally neglects to mention that China, and particularly India, are still poor and nearly half of India’s 1.2 billion people have no toilet at home.
WHY KHAMENEI WANTS MORE PEOPLE
There is no doubt that compared to the Islamic Republic’s first and second decade of existence, the sharp population growth has slowed down. However, compared to what is happening in industrialized countries, Iran is not experiencing a serious population decline. Population decline is a real problem in industrialized nations but not in Iran with 83 million population that is grappling with all kinds of economic, social and environmental problems including water shortage. Increasing the population to 150 million can only further complicate things as Iranian government has fallen short of providing its citizens with basic services such as employment, poverty, education and healthcare, especially since the recent years.
Regardless of the above so-called role models, Khamenei seems to desire to see a more populous Iran for three reasons: Ideological motives, Geopolitical considerations and conscription purposes.
- Ideological motives
The Islamic system in Iran has an apocalyptic worldview where at some point, an Armageddon is inevitable, and Shiites need to be well prepared for that. According to this Shiite supremacist worldview, the Shiite forces of Imam Mahdi are going to literally fight the entire world as other religions and creeds, including Sunni Muslims, are wrong and sinful and the only truth and righteous path is Shiite Islam and more Shiites population means having stronger position in the decisive final battle of Armageddon.
- Geopolitical considerations
Iran is located in a region where it still is at the center of attention for traditional major powers as well as energy-thirsty emerging powers that want an uninterrupted and cheap access to and a durable flow of oil from the Middle East. As geopolitical games for influence are being played in the Middle East and Persian Gulf region, Khamenei thinks he can exploit the larger population for geopolitical considerations both against major powers and also against its regional Sunni rivals such as Saudi Arabia.
The leader sees the population growth as one of the elements of national power. However, he ignores other more important ingredients of national power including economy, technology, human resources, education, good governance and legitimate political power structure. Khamenei neglects the fact that, most cases of population growth do not necessarily lead to political power increase. A good example is two continents of Africa and Europe. While the former is experiencing a fast population growth, it is at the same time, suffering from extreme poverty and economic underdevelopment. Situation in the latter (Europe) is totally opposite: it is an economic and political powerhouse but for decades, is suffering from low birthrate.
- Conscription purposes
Iran is a revisionist country that wants to project its power to the region and even the world. For Khamenei, a fresh young generation can be used for mandatory military service (conscription) purposes. He seeks to cultivate a new Jihadi generation of young zealots who are brainwashed to fight asymmetrical warfare and conduct suicide (istishhadi) operations against enemy targets and get ready for all possibilities, including a limited or a full-fledged war and a possibility of US military invasion.
In conclusion, rapid population increase policies are not unknown in Iran. The same policies have been tested in 1980s, when Iran and Iraq engaged in an eight-year-long war and, having conscription in their mind, Iranian authorities banned all forms of sterilization and contraceptives only to realize in 1990s that population explosion has created unbearable problems for the country and forced the Islamic Republic to reverse its population policy. This time is no exception. And increasing Iran’s population to 150 million or more, would only add to the pervasive corruption, poverty, environmental and other problems in Iran, forcing more millions to bear the brunt or flee the country and seek asylum in Europe and elsewhere.
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Ahmad HashemiAhmad Hashemi is an Iranian freelance journalist and a senior expert in the Middle East region and global geopolitical trends. He has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in politics from the University of Tehran. He is currently pursuing another Master’s degree in the Missouri State University’s Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, located in Washington D.C. metropolitan area. On Twitter: @MrAhmadHashemi