'Atlas' Shrugged

The Iranian Revolutionary Guards is getting in on the “smart power” bandwagon. It just announced the launch of a new news agency called Atlas to deliver the day’s news. The head of the basij euphemistically described the venture as “super media power.” Um, that is an understatement. Surely, like U.S. forays on public diplomacy such as Al-Hurrah, it will be fair and balanced. I can only imagine its op-ed page will be brimming with unconventional opinions from abroad, that photos of protests will show police bludgeoning demonstrators. If you haven’t already, download “Atlas” to your Twitter/Facebook feed.

This is significant. The Revolution Guards acts as almost a state within a state. It is answerable to the Supreme Leader but carries out its own foreign/economic policy that is separate from the state. Like Hezbollah in Lebanon and non-state actors elsewhere, it is now embracing sophisticated new media outlets to get its message out to the masses.

Probably here’s what’s going on. After the outcry that followed the June crackdown, someone within the Rev Guards thought: Hmm, we need an image makeover of sorts. A similar eureka moment hit Hezbollah strategists a few years back. The organization ran a slick marketing campaign called “divine victory,” the premise of which was that Hezbollah was destined to defeat Israel. It ramped up programming on its widely watched satellite TV and radio program (Radio Nur). It ran highway posters showing pictures of debris and bombed-out buildings with the inscription: “Made in the USA.” It discarded the unsophisticated, gruesome, and overly militaristic imagery of the past, including its ubiquitous symbol of a green arm clenching an automatic rifle against a yellow background, and instead played up its love of Lebanon by borrowing the national red, white, and green colors. Instead of pictures of martyrs, they ran photos of soldiers and civilians walking arm-and-arm under the slogan: “Sun, light, wind, and freedom.”

More important, the organization increasingly sought to re-brand itself as a progressive movement that stands for social justice and confronts imperialism in order to strike a chord with left-wing groups across the Third World. On the eighth anniversary of Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Hezbollah launched a Madison Avenue-style advertising blitz, replete with catchy slogans, slick television spots, and Western-influenced billboards. “The dominant style is American,” Zeina Maasri, a professor of graphic design at the American University of Beirut, told Bloomberg News. “It’s a kind of communication you can’t escape. They sell politics as a commodity.”

Hezbollah, like many non-state actors, has learned the importance of winning the information war. It controls the perceptions of not just disenfranchised Lebanese Shiite but also Arab Muslims across the Middle East. It runs a number of websites that are part educational, part ideological, and part propagandistic. “[T]he organization, with massive financing from Iran, built a media empire and learned how to exploit the possibilities presented by the communications and information revolution,” according to a May 2007 report by Israel’s Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. It cultivates and develops close ties with foreign correspondents in Lebanon. Neil MacFarquhar, former Beirut bureau chief of the New York Times, recounts in his new book how Hezbollah used to send him a personal greeting card every year on his birthday. When I was in Beirut recently, I was baffled that the media spokesperson for Hezbollah appeared to speak better English (and returned reporters’ phone calls faster) than the Lebanese press person.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards is getting slicker and more media-savvy. The Muslim world—and U.S.-Iranian relations—will be the worse off for it.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

10 books to check out from Jordan Peterson's 'Great Books' list

The Canadian professor has an extensive collection posted on his site.

Jordan Peterson with Carl Jung and the cover art of Jaak Panksepp's 'Affective Neuroscience' (Image: Chris Williamson/Getty Images/Big Think)
Personal Growth
  • Peterson's Great Books list features classics by Orwell, Jung, Huxley, and Dostoevsky.
  • Categories include literature, neuroscience, religion, and systems analysis.
  • Having recently left Patreon for "freedom of speech" reasons, Peterson is taking direct donations through Paypal (and Bitcoin).
Keep reading Show less

Radical theory says our universe sits on an inflating bubble in an extra dimension

Cosmologists propose a groundbreaking model of the universe using string theory.

Getty Images/Suvendu Giri
Surprising Science
  • A new paper uses string theory to propose a new model of the universe.
  • The researchers think our universe may be riding a bubble expanded by dark energy.
  • All matter in the universe may exist in strings that reach into another dimension.
Keep reading Show less

Should you invest in China's stock market? Know this one thing first.

Despite incredible economic growth, it is not necessarily an investor's paradise.

  • China's stock market is just 27 years old. It's economy has grown 30x over that time.
  • Imagine if you had invested early and gotten in on the ground floor.
  • Actually, you would have lost money. Here's how that's possible.