THE PARADOX OF LIFE AND DEATH: A Literary Analysis of Juxtaposition Present in Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Death and the Fool

Death and the Fool – one of the most profound pieces of German literature that still sits vividly in my mind years after I first encountered it. It beautifully brings together all aspects of present, past, and future. To say I love this piece is an understatement. You can read the full play here:


The desire for existential meaning is a recurring theme in German literature during the eighteenth century. In Death and the Fool, Hugo von Hofmannsthal utilizes contrasting notions of life and death to further illustrate the universal human desire for meaning and fulfillment. Through subtle references to Nietzschean philosophy, the play addresses the paradox of pre-existence and the inevitable demise all humans face, while simultaneously serving as a critique of the aestheticism movement of the late eighteenth century. In this essay, I argue Hofmannsthal utilizes the dichotomy of life and death to conclude the necessity of forgetfulness in escaping simultaneous pre-existence in the realms of past and future.

My scope of analysis focuses primarily on Claudio’s internal dilemma, rather than that of other characters within the play. Firstly, I explore Hofmannsthal’s contrasting conceptions of “inside” and “outside” within the play, rendering further analysis of Claudio’s morbid self-detachment and inability to live authentically in the present. Secondly, I offer a reading of the play in reference to Nietzsche’s philosophy, and consequently deduce the inability to forget as a primary factor of Claudio’s deep sorrow. Lastly, I derive parallels between Hofmannsthal’s work and the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, thus revealing the underlying irony and paradox of Claudio’s life through death.

The beginning of Claudio’s monologue consists of his internal longing for what is out of reach. He vividly describes the “lustrous meadows” and “wild morning wind” while describing nature as “the spring of all desires” (Hofmannsthal, 46). As Claudio fantasizes about a lifestyle beyond his attainment, he exclaims that he is “filled with longing” by the “purpose and blessing” spread before him (46). His objectification of the nomadic mountain people allows him to romanticise what is beyond reach. This is evident as he exclaims how “near to [his] heart’s desire” these people have become (47).  Hofmannsthal’s emphasis on Claudio’s longing for the outside creates a dichotomous parallel with the concept of an inside and outside. Martens argues Claudio’s placement at his window is indicative of the profound emotional border between him and the outside, which further proves Claudio’s innate discontent with his enclosure (35). His name itself is derived from the Latin word “claudere” meaning ‘to close’, as synonymous to his spatial distance from what is beyond. This is evident as Claudio’s secluded home establishes a physical barrier between him and the outside world.

A deeper reading of the text uncovers the dichotomy Claudio faces between the inside and outside realms as analogous to the human condition of constantly living in the past or future. Similar to the outside Claudio longs for, the characterization and objectification of life itself acts as a barrier to living fully in the present moment. The conception of pre-existence “renders past and present mysteriously simultaneous” therefore overcoming time (Bennett, 71). Claudio experiences life solely through past and future as supported by his claim that as “a thousand resemblances rushed/ To the mind…all happiness [is] gone” (Hofmannsthal, 47). He claims he knows nothing of human life as he merely “stood in the midst of it” and at best has merely comprehended it (47). By experiencing life solely through past memory or mere anticipation of the future, Claudio is trapped in an existentialism that is only reflective of human experience. It is “only afterwards the mind seeks out the breath of life” which further illustrates the desire for raw experience only after it has been lived (49). By existing in an abyss of past and future, Claudio is denying himself authentic participation in life, thus resulting in his intellectual detachment (Bennett, 72). He describes this entrapment from unadulterated existence as analogous to standing paralyzed “before the trellised gates of life” overpowered by “a curse which does not end” (Hofmannsthal, 56).

While Claudio understands there exists a world and a way of life different from the one he experienced, the awareness is not sufficient. Claudio’s romantic longing for emotional participation in life is not fulfilled by sheer realization of his condition. He exclaims that he has comprehended life, and thus understands his position clearly (47). Therefore, he is not a fool in the conventional sense.  In fact, Siefken argues that it is his thorough reflection of existence that has left Claudio “an over aware outsider” where reality was “destroyed through this process of analysis” (80). Hence, this renders the thesis that Hofmannsthal is not asking the reader to simply become aware of their pre-existence, but to rather to embrace a central concept of forgetting, as derived from Nietzsche’s critique of the ‘historical man’.

Hofmannsthal’s play was released nearly ten years after Nietzsche’s The Madman, where he makes the famous claim that “God is dead” (16). The anti-Enlightenment movement of the eighteenth century, as championed by Frederich Nietzsche, began a wave of anti-foundational sentiment throughout Europe that exposed the hollow reality of human life. Hofmannsthal’s play showcases the universal desire for meaning and purpose in a fundamentally anti-foundational world. Claudio’s excessive self-awareness and analytical nature removes the spark from life as he enters a psychological dread where he only desires what he cannot have. According to Nietzsche, for a man to live authentically, he must possess the ability to copiously forget.  In On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life he exclaims:

“He who cannot sink down on the threshold of the moment and forget all the past, who cannot stand balanced like a goddess of victory without growing dizzy and afraid, will never know what happiness is…. Forgetting is essential to action of any kind, everything organic” (9).


Similar to Claudio, Nietzsche’s ‘historical man’ possesses no trace of the power to forget. Nietzsche asserts that “without forgetting it is quite impossible to live at all” (10). Throughout his monologue, Claudio frequently refers to his “ever restless reason, unable to forget” (Hofmannsthal, 47). Claudio questions “What should [he] know of human life?” if he has “never lost [himself] to it” or if he was “never wholly unaware” (49). Evidently, Claudio is unable to forget. He claims his spirit is “buried deep, so sealed from consciousness…. Bringing only the stale flurry of remembrance” (64). In order to live life usefully and vigorously, one must therefore possess the ability to copiously forget the past and exist in the present. Through the process of forgetting, one deliberately escapes living life in a blank present – in absence between memory and anticipation (Martens, 35). Hofmannsthal’s usage of juxtaposition reemerges as Claudio is condemned to “live without knowing or to know without living” (36). I conclude, therefore, that it is Claudio’s restless reason and inability to forget that primarily contributes to his deep unhappiness.

Lastly, I focus on the play’s emphasis on life and death. Death is not experienced or created instantly, but is rather created in every moment of self-conscious existence. Claudio perpetually exudes this reality as he exclaims he “saw the sun with lifeless eyes” and “heard no longer but with lifeless ears” (Hofmannsthal, 49). Specifically, the sun represents life, energy and rebirth. For Claudio to see the sun with lifeless eyes establishes the ever-present obstacle between life and death. His active characterization of life itself causes his senses to be paralyzed and for a “senseless nameless fear” to take control of him (54). Hence, it is demonstrated that Claudio’s morbid self-detachment robs him from genuine human experience and life.

As Death encompasses Claudio, he exclaims “Since my life was death, then Death, be my life!” (Hofmannsthal, 65) This speaks to a greater philosophical ideology, as championed by Heidegger, that reflection upon death is necessary in enabling humans to live fully. Similar to Nietzschean conceptions of death, Heidegger asserts that man becomes aware of his finitude only through comprehending the reality of death. Thus, in order to live as an authentic human being, it is critical to constantly project life onto the horizon of death, which Heidegger famously labels “being towards death.” Since human existence is finite, Claudio’s confrontation with death is what allows for authenticity as he attempts to create meaning out of it. Claudio goes as far as to claim that he finally experienced life in his one-hour encounter with death in comparison to his entire life. Subsequent to his death, he exclaims that “For only as I die I feel that I am” (65).

The idea of death overwhelms Claudio “with a sense of wonder at existence” as he is “suspended between the infinite and finite aspects” of human nature (Bennett, 84). He is confronted with the awareness of death; but death, along with “an astonishing and terrifying knowledge of the unfoundedness of existence in a gaping abyss of truth”, enables Claudio to commit to human life (85). Hofmannsthal’s satire lies within the irony that it is through the process of death that Claudio is able to finally feel “alive.” The excruciating fear Claudio experiences upon encountering death doesn’t allow ample time for him to fully analyze the situation, therefore causing him to experience it.

Thus, it is through Claudio’s final encounter with death that Hofmannsthal grasps at the paradoxical human condition. Death itself is deeply embedded into the concept of life, and with each moment of existence, a paralleled presence of death persists. Consequently, death as a reality cannot merely be “understood” as an idea, but eternally endures as a mystery – a country from “which no traveler, once he has truly entered it, ever returns” (Bennett, 73). The reader, therefore is confronted with the recognition that a shallow understanding of death is utterly useless (74). Hofmannsthal’s characterization of death offers a medium of understanding to the reader, however, it also insists that true understanding is impossible at a theoretical level. It is precisely this dilemma where the unsolvable mystery of death – along with the cyclical labyrinth of human existence – is revealed within Hofmannsthal’s work.

In conclusion, Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s dichotomous juxtaposition of life and death, inside and outside, and past and future furthers a deeper understanding of Claudio’s intellectual detachment from life. The play addresses the paradoxical reality of life towards death, whilst revealing the hollow reality of human existence.  I have presented an analysis of the primary irony between life and death, however, further literary discourse may reveal juxtaposition evident between simplicity and aestheticism, or between Claudio’s past ghosts (mother, former lover and friend) and Claudio himself (Hofmannsthal, 63). By blurring the lines between life and death, past and present, inside and outside, Hofmannsthal emphasizes the Nietzschean theory of possessing the ability to forget in order to fully experience the moment. It is presence of careless forgetfulness which allow one to live fully with no prior attachment to the past or future. Additionally, the dichotomy of an inside and outside realm, where Claudio is unable to attain what is ‘outside’ his reach, further highlights his enduring romanticization of genuine human experience. It is through the protagonist’s encounter with death where he realizes the value of the life he actively rejected. Claudio’s tragedy subsists as he grasps at life’s impermanence only when it has become far too late. Upon the climax of Claudio’s dying reflection, he exclaims “So now, in an excess of feeling, I seem to awake / From life’s dream in death’s wakefulness” (65).
















Bennett, Benjamin. Hugo Von Hofmannsthal: The Theaters of Consciousness. Cambridge University Press, 1988.



Heidegger, M., Macquarrie, J., & Robinson, E. Being and time. Malden, MA: Blackwell. 1962.



Hofmannsthal, Hugo Von. Der Tor Und Der Tod (Death and the Fool). 1893. Print.



Martens, Lorna. Shadow lines: Austrian literature from Freud to Kafka. U of Nebraska Press,       1996.



Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. The Gay Science; with a Prelude in Rhymes and an Appendix of       Songs. New York: Vintage Books, 1974.



Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm. “On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life.”  Cambridge    University Press, Cambridge, 1997.



Siefken, Hinrich. “Hugo Von Hofmannsthal’s ‘Der Tor Und Der Tod’the Paradox Of The ‘Nahe   Ferne’.” German Life and Letters 24.1 1970.



While the question of “life” after death is one that is greatly disputed, the premise that death is the definitive destiny for all humans is universally accepted. Due to the nature of human finitude, German philosopher Martin Heidegger views death as a fate that allows one to find meaning, and thus be our most authentic self. Heidegger depicts death as closely linked to personal authenticity, and therefore selfhood. To be authentic in Heideggerean terms is to live “true” to oneself. Since Heidegger asserts that truth can be lived, and one may subsequently fail to live their truth, he therefore asserts that there is a fundamental way of being, or existence. Thus, he claims “the ‘essence’ of human beings lies in its existence” (42). He uses the term ‘Dasein’ (directly translated as “being there”) to describe the experience of being that is peculiar to humans. It describes the agent that exists towards death as their own most possibility. (This also may be interpreted as Heidegger’s technical term referring to us – not as individual human beings – in reference to a way of being of all human beings). Heidegger indirectly splits the idea of being a self and being alive as varying human experiences. He asserts that there are certain qualities, traits, and activities that represent more than what we merely enjoy doing. Therefore, when we engage in activities that do not fit our “essence”, we are living an intrinsically unauthentic life. As Dasein, life possess a structure of an accomplishment, or “wholeness”, that exists because of death. Through this understanding, he differentiates between being alive, and being an authentic self.

In order to better comprehend Heidegger’s theory, one may imagine a scenario where they only have a few days to live. Upon this discovery, if one feels deep regret on the current projection of their life, then they are living an unauthentic life. In contrast, if one expresses pure contentment at the direction of their life, despite the possibility of death around the corner, then they are being true to themselves. For Heidegger, the imaginative projection of death is essential in determining who you are. Upon realization of death as the inevitable, “one is liberated in such a way that for the first time one can authentically understand and choose among the factical possibilities lying ahead” (308).  Humans enter a state of anxiety where the endless possibilities of life become apparent, therefore our choices are guided by making these possibilities factuality. In turn, the choices we make define us, give meaning to our lives, and ultimately foster authenticity.

Although Jean-Paul Sartre follows a similar line of reason, he has a slightly different perception on the meaning of death. Both Sartre and Heidegger assert that the choices we make define us. Sartre’s work echoes Heidegger’s when he claims “man is nothing else but what he makes of himself” (28). Therefore, his works represent the firm viewpoint that existence precedes essence. Our collective actions and decisions illustrate who we are as humans, and thus we are ultimately responsible for how we conduct ourselves in this world. To acknowledge the freedom of choice – and the consequent responsibility we face – is to live an authentic life. Sartre argues that Heidegger’s view gives too much power to death in shaping the direction of one’s life. Since death is the end of us, it is the end of our freedom to give meaning in our lives. Far from Heidegger’s premise that death allows for meaning, he concludes that death takes this very meaning away. Similar to Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir views death as a pall over the meaning of our lives, and goes as far to claim death as an “unjust violation” (106). After death, Sartre believes that the meaning of one’s life is merely what others make of it, and therefore we sacrifice control in affecting that meaning. Therefore, we cannot wait for death to occur “not because death does not limit my freedom, but because freedom never encounters this limit” (Sartre, 700). Death is not an event to dread and ponder because it deems insignificant while one is alive. Thus, upon further analysis of Sartre’s text, the dichotomy between Heidegger and Sartre becomes ever clear.

In finality, I will argue that Sartre overlooks the importance of death in realizing life’s meaning. Sartre illustrates death as an entirely independent event that has no existential repercussions on how one should lead life. In contrast, Heidegger claims that humans exist towards death as their ‘ownmost possibility.’ We exist as agents capable of recognizing and striving for meaning by recognizing our undeniable mortality. Hence, Dasein is confronted with death as a possibility of being, and it “stands before itself in its ownmost potentiality-of-being” (Heidegger, 232). By recognizing the potential of death, we illuminate the meaning of alternate possibilities because they exist within the constraints of our mortality. Similar to Heidegger, I assert that it is our mortality that allows for such meaning. The possibility of death, which lingers indefinitely throughout our lives, imposes a sense of urgency and anxiety on the choices we make. Sartre fails to address the significance of death because he views it as a contingent occurrence, while Heidegger uncovers the underlying reason why our freedom matters to us in the first place. The significance Heidegger places on death is valid because our time on Earth is limited, and the choices we make are solely our responsibility.  Through awareness on our mortality, Heidegger claims that ‘being-towards-death’ grounds the temporality of Dasein. Thus, this very temporality is foundational for the meaning we give our lives. We can imagine an immortal life where one possesses the possibility of infinitely repeatable choices and pleasures. The immortal may pursue infinite endeavors throughout their life, as their time on Earth is infinite. The contrasting mortal cannot afford to do so. Thus, it is through the recognition of our mortality where one is able to comprehend the temporality of their existence, and therefore the weight of their decisions.

Following my personal confrontation with death, I copiously comprehended the fragility of existence. Heidegger’s notion of ‘being-towards-death’ outlines the life I led subsequent to my final trip to the cosmos. While Sartre’s emphasis on personal responsibility and freedom deem fruitful at first, it is the finitude of death in itself the underlies the condition needed for meaning. The limited time I have on this planet dictates the choices I make, and thus the life I choose to manifest. As death is the final “ownmost possibility”, it becomes apparent that the most suitable way to lead my life is to make decisions based on my personal desire, rather that of others around me. While my young days exemplified a deeply complex desire for acceptance, I soon realized my contentment with life is manifested from within the Self, and not through acceptance of the Other. By becoming face to face with death, I grasped the finitude of my being and the fact that all of life’s possibilities will never be fully actualized. There exists something outstanding beyond my existence. The potential of death allows me to grasp my existence in its totality and thus focus my existence as it belongs to me (the individual) rather than the inauthentic “they” (the other). Though confrontation with my grandfather’s death was a deeply personal grievance that greatly altered my life, it was still the death of another human being. Experiencing his death, although an excruciating painful experience, was still ‘objective’ in the sense that I was still avoiding confrontation with my own mortality. Heidegger claims when death is faced as an individual, a possibility which is Dasein’s own is recognized.  The external world, which acquires meaning based in Others is eclipsed, and one may overcome absorption into others. Thus, facing mortality allows human existence to focus fully on itself as its own Self. Martin Heidegger’s work has become analogous to my personal confrontation with the fragile temporality of life. It has served as an existential awakening – surging a desire for meaning in a fundamentally hollow world.









Beauvoir, Simone de. 1965. A Very Easy Death. Trans. Patrick O’Brian. Pantheon 102 Books:      New York.


Heidegger, Martin. 1996. Being and Time. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. State University of New           York Press: Albany.


Sartre, Jean-Paul. 1956. Being and Nothingness. Trans. Hazel E. Barnes. Washington Square         Press: New York.


Sigrist, Michael J. Death and the meaning of life. Philosophical Papers 44.1 (2015): 83-102.

Persepolis: An Analysis of the Role of Identity During the Iranian Revolution

Although cinema is often seen as entertainment rather than a work of art, Marjane Satrapi’s film Persepolis beautifully captures the rhetoric of the Iranian revolution in an artistic demeanour. Her comic-inspired film follows the life of Marjan, a young girl struggling for truth during an era where the lines between human sincerity and strict government policy are blurred. The aim of the movie, however, can be argued to be the unification of the Western and Eastern public ideology regarding Iran – based on the fundamental issues of assimilation. Members of the Iranian diaspora can deeply resonate with Persepolis as a whole, but more specifically relate with Marjan’s personal endeavour for meaning in a binary world of culture. In addition to this, the movie drew a deep parallel with Marjan’s struggle with truth, and the journey for the entire nation of Iran in a society of deeply rooted political conflict. Although a wide variety of the film’s themes and ideas are solely rooted from Marjan’s personal identity, it should also be noted that a wide variety of the sub themes follow the socio-political conditions in Iran, such as women’s issues, social constructs and Western intervention. Therefore, this essay aims to explore Marjan’s emphasis on self identity, in addition to the storytelling of Iranian history and conflict. I will use Saparti’s choice of animation as aid for my thesis with an emphasis on imagery juxtaposition.

         Firstly, I will trace the origins of the root of the title and meaning behind Saparti’s choice to call the film Persepolis. Beginning with the analysis of the film title, the world Persepolis quite literally means the ancient land of the Persians. The Persian Empire was found by Cyrus the Great and was renown at the time for its strong reign.[1] Once Alexander the Great took over the capital, the people were left impoverished and their country in ruins.[2] I argue that Satrapi chose the title Persepolis as a parallel to the events that occurred during the era. The merciless overthrow of the government combined with the excruciating torture that many Iranians felt at the time are both parallels with the film.  Before the war in both circumstances, it can be argued that Iran was prosperous and free-spirited. Saparti aimed to show how dictatorship can dangerously harm a society that was once so well reputable. Throughout Persepolis it was evident that the political strain can affect nearly all interpersonal levels of Iranians throughout the revolution. This is evident in the way the Iranian revolution shaped the path of Marjane’s life; from her personal relationships to her drive for life. Furthermore, the powerful state before the war was a symbol for the utopia that the Iranians thought they were going to have. For many Iranians, the revolution was meant to be an event that altered their state for the better; to free them from the chains of totalitarian regime. However, this was clearly not the case.

         I will lay out the framework to further prove that using animation in Persepolis was a tool for Saparti in order to create an artistic portrayal. The use of animation meant an acceptance of the impossibility of perfect representation of such traumatic events. In other words, it became an accessible means of dealing with difficult content of Saparti’s life. The issues that Saparti aims to explore are often ‘grey’ and not black-and-white. This allows surplus room for the viewer to self-interpret the complex emotion that Saparti aims to express. Although it can be counter argued that animation lacks a particular element of realism, it immerses the viewer in narrative and aesthetic art. In this way, the use of animation offers a medium where memory, dream, and fantasy can be intertwined; without the burden of realist depiction. In a way, the lack of clarity and realism leaves furthermore to the imagination, which allows the viewer to grapple with meaning to the point of resolution.

Saparti monochromatic palette beautifully uses the juxtaposition of light and dark in her film. The contrast aims to represent the innate emotions and experience of each character within the film, whilst outlining their inner motivations. The gloomy silhouettes represented the lives of sorrow that the Iranian people felt, while the bright lights aimed to signify the sense of hope they felt as they clung onto the memory of freedom. A beautiful example is when Marjane learns that her Uncle Anoosh was re-arrested by the regime troops, and she is seen in front of a texture-less background with no sense of depth. The outline of her black hair and clothing contrast within frame as her figure is seen hovering through a vacant, black void. This image, although animated, depicts the sense of deep isolation and resentment Marjane faced towards the revolution. Furthermore, the use of dense black frames is used during the scene of the bombing occurring in Iran. The dark silhouette of the stairs combined with the black empty screen during the bombing ignite a sense of fear and mystery within the viewer. This is used many times throughout the film, most notably when depicting the false dream that the Iranian government sold to young men embarking off to the war. Saparti was able to, once again, draw a parallel between the young men of Iran fighting in the Iraqi war (often promised the “key to paradise”), causing the viewer to ask if these young men are any different than the youth of the American wars. In this way, Saparti uses universalization to appeal to both Iranian and Western viewers.

As the film commences, it is evident from the very opening scene that Marjane is dissatisfied with her contrasting cultures. This scene was one of the very few in colour; further punctuating the film. Marjane is seen in solitude waiting at the Paris airport in a familiar flashback. She shines a look of disapproval upon putting on a head scarf before her arrival in Tehran whilst smoking a cigarette. Immediately, we see that the complex and deeply rooted themes of identity, exile and return emerge in the introduction. Throughout the movie, the recurring theme of solitude and identity emerge as thousands of Iranians left Iran during the revolution. The relocation to another country left colossal gaps in the streams of identity amongst those individuals. Furthermore, Persepolis captures the sense of loss when Marjane’s family members dwell on the question of whether they too should leave or stay behind. In this way, the film depicts the struggles of those individuals that choose to stay, whilst placing emphasis on the severed ties with those that choose to stay behind. An example is Marjan’s Uncle Anoosh, where the theme of exile is embodied in his character’s decisions. His exile to Russia and attempt to sneak into his homeland signified his deeply rooted ties to his Iranian identity. Although he was a revolutionary that fought against the ordeals of the Shah, Uncle Anoosh served as a role model for Marjane; embodying hope, strength, and passion. He shares his stories of imprisonment with Marjan, which serve as a medium for inspiration. In addition, the toy swans carved out of the prison bread serve as a symbol for hope. Upon Anoosh’s execution, the white swans are surrounded by black water – once again the use of dark and light to represent Marjan’s deep feelings of loss and hopelessness. In this way, the perceptive genius used by Saparti illustrates the anguish Marjane faces as she is also ‘exiled’ to Vienna during her youth.

Upon moving to Vienna, we see a stark contrast with the quaint depiction of Tehran. Although in Western eyes, Iran is often seen as the foregin ‘other’; in this turn around of events, Vienna was depicted in the light of “otherness”, with Viennese tams and sidewalk cafes, along with ringing church bells. In this way, the viewer was placed directly in Marjane’s perspective; engulfed in a sense of wonder and foreignism. An overarching scene in which consumerism and Western industrialism is well depicted in one where Marjane is in the bounds of a modern-day grocery store – shining with branded product. This generates a stark contrast with the poverty that many Iranians faced during the revolution, and due to this a fundamental and underlying guilt is developed in Marjane. While her family is faced with the darkness of war, Marjane is blessed with the Western opportunities and frivolous life. Unable to live with the guilt and lack of external support from her friends in Vienna, Marjane is later diagnosed with depression. There is uneasiness with her friends’ ease of philosophy and the dark realities of war that Marjane faced. This internal struggle aims to show how the revolution creates deeply embedded memories in the Iranian diaspora, in which it is carried with them throughout all their experiences. The internal struggle within Marjan also runs parallel with the struggles of Iranian across the globe, which further attributes to the universality of the film. In addition to her struggle into assimilation, Marjan also experiences various romantic relationships that also contribute to her shaping of her adolescent identity.

As the attempts to find understanding and sympathy in her friendships, the same is apparent in her strive for love. As she strives to find meaning in these relationships, Marjane loses a piece of herself. In a scene where she lies about being French from fear of being seen as a “barbaric” Iranian, Marjane imagines her grandmother following her trail and catching her in her lie. Through the act of dishonesty, it is clear that Marjane still possesses an innate dissatisfaction with her identity. Upon her return to Tehran, she also sees the socio-political effects that the revolution had on the people. As her grandmother famously quoted that “fear lulls us to sleep,” Marjane sees fear manifesting in the actions of her fellow Iranians. In a way, the revolution had normalized people to be savage and this is evident in the distinct scenes of her mother at the grocery store or swearing at other drivers. Furthermore, her decision to turn in an innocent man also shows how fear had caused everyone in Iran to resort to a “survival” and “state of nature” instinct. The Iranians became stripped of their pride, nationalism and meaning, therefore the country had evolved into a cold society, where all individuals only possessed the will to survive.

It is evident that Saparti effectively used animation as a means of portraying the harsh realities of the Iranian revolution. Saparti was able to beautifully capture the binary world of Iranian and Western culture, and the deeply rooted conflict that many individuals like Marjan felt during this era. It is also evident, however, that the Iranian diaspora today also feel disconnect when approaching the fragile world of cultural clash. Furthermore, Saparti was able to go beyond the physical bounds of Iran and travel beyond into the universal world, where her film can be applied to individuals of nearly all cultures. That is the beauty of universality that lies in the fundamental roots of Persepolis. No matter what culture one may originate from, the internal conflict with the “traditional” and modern will always persist. The outcome, however, will not always be positive. Although Marjane was able to undergo multiple external identity alterations, in the end, she was still the carefree and curious soul. Her drive for justice is evident at a young age and is manifested later in her life. This is evident when she is seen standing up for her classmates in university regarding dress code.  Marjane’s early life and her exposure to her parents’ activism instilled determination for justice and a desire for freedom.

Through the use of animation and contrasting depictions of dark and light, Saparti is able to tell the story of Marjane’s coming of age during the violent birth of the Iranian revolution. Through this, Saparti also universalizes the ideology of binary culture and sheds light on the day-to-day victims of the Iranian revolution that are often ignored in Western portrayal. Persepolis acts as a beacon of hope where cross-cultured individuals can reconnect with meaning, and a desire to discover identity through Saparti’s rich, inky black and white illustrations. Marjan’s dissatisfaction with revolutionary promise for freedom, and with totalitarian rule is manifested in her acts of defiance throughout the film. In conclusion, Saparti’s story-telling monochrome palette reveal throughout Persepolis that the deep socio-political issues it highlights are anything but black and white.


This report has been prepared in order to assess the potential relationship between being an ethnic  minority and negative perceptions of the LGBT community. The “American National Election Study”  dataset was utilized in order to produce this statistical report using measures from 2016. The primary  independent variable, ethnic minority, is operationalized through a binary self-identification of ethnic  minority status (vismin). Additionally, the dependent variable is perceptions of the LGBT community –  quantified by an index comprising of feeling thermometers towards gay/lesbians and transgender people  (ftlgbt).  

Minority groups often hold stronger cultural values and beliefs in comparison to their native white counterparts. More often than not, established traditional values tend to be culturally embedded in  ethnic belief systems, and thus conflict with acceptance of the LGBT community. As a result, we can  theorize that traditional principles within ethnic communities negatively impacts their perception of the  LGBT community.  

In order to get an accurate estimate of this relationship, it is vital to control for other possible,  confounding variables that may alter the relationship between ethnic minority status and perceptions of  the LGBT community. For this study, one confounding variable I controlled for was education (educ) – 1 operationalized as the highest level of formal education the respondent received. Minorities often face  systematic racial barriers resulting in lower levels of education in comparison to their Caucasian  counterparts. Education levels are also linked to the dependent variable, LGBT perception, as education  exposes people to rational ways of thought. Since homophobia and transphobia are fundamentally  irrational ideologies, an increase in education may increase tolerance towards the LGBT. Thus, decreased  education levels among minorities, in addition to anti-LBT sentiment experienced by less educated people  may depict false causality, and therefore must be controlled for. I also controlled for ideology, as  measured by the respondent’s placement on a Liberal to Conservative scale between 1 to 7 (lcself). A  person’s political ideology often dictate whether they support the LGBT community, therefore affecting  our dependent variable of LGBT perceptions. In relation to the independent variable, visible minorities  are slightly more liberal, therefore controlling for party identification avoids any suppression of our true  results.  

After controlling for these two confounding variables, I can hypothesize that being an ethnic  minority is associated with negative perceptions of the LGBT community. Prior to conducting research, it  is useful to describe our key variables, their measures and scales. An index consisting of the feeling  thermometer towards gay/lesbians and feeling thermometer towards transgenders measures the concept of  my dependent variable, LGBT perceptions. By recoding and combining these variables, we create an  index on a scale of 0 to 100 (with 100 being maximum “warmness”). The primary independent variable,  ethnic minority, is operationalized through a measure of respondents’ self-identification as either White or of other ethnicities. It should be noted that this study follows the premise that the ethnic majority is white.  Education, the first controlled variable, is measured by the highest level of formal education respondents  attain where 1 is no high school completion and 6 is post-grad. A limitation exists within the measure as it  does not capture “life experience” but rather institutionalized education. The final measure, political  ideology, is measured by asking respondents to place themselves on a scale of 1 to 7 where 1 “Very  Liberal” and 7 is “Very Conservative”. The measure aims to capture where respondents lie in relation to  the political spectrum, with the assumption that the closer they lie towards Liberal ideology, the more  likely they will possess positive LGBT perception.  

After analyzing the initial data, it was found that ethnic minorities make up 27% of respondents,  whereas white respondents consist of the remaining 73%. It is noteworthy that a smaller sample size of  minority data may limit the accuracy of our study. Despite this, we found that on average, respondents  had a mean of 54 on the LGBT feeling thermometer, with a minimum of 0 and a maximum of 100 –  indicating slightly positive leaning LGBT feeling, although not significant considering our scale.  Additionally, the standard deviation of 31 tells us that LGBT perceptions are quite polarized, and a  histogram confirms that most respondents answered at a 0, 50 or 100 on the feeling thermometer. In  regards to education, it is noteworthy that 34% completed high school and 57% of respondents had formal  education past their high school diploma, thus indicating a slightly more educated sample size. Lastly, our  mean of political ideology sits at 4 (on a scale of 1 to 7) with the highest percentage of respondents  answer “Neither Liberal or Conservative” (27%). Moreover, the standard deviation of 2 indicates a fairly  spread range of answers on a normal distribution, therefore our sample of respondents are not  significantly leaning on either ends of the political spectrum.  

After running a difference of means test for the data, we can analyze the relationship between  ethnic minorities and LGBT perceptions. It was found that ethnic minorities, on a scale of 0 to 100, had  an LGBT feeling thermometer of 54.7. In comparison to their white counterpart’s mean of 53.2,  minorities had a warmer LGBT feeling thermometer by 1.5. With consideration of our scale, however,  these results deem statistically insignificant. A p-value of 0.490 tells us that we would observe a  relationship this big or bigger in nearly 49% of samples of this size due to random chance, if there was no  relationship between these two variables. Thus, we cannot be confident that these results are reflected in  our population.  

In order to control for the individual influences of each independent variable on LGBT  perceptions, a multiple regression test was run (Appendix A). Not surprisingly, political ideology appears  to have the largest effect on LGBT feeling thermometer. A one-point increase on the 7-point ideology  scale (with higher values meaning more conservative) is associated with a 7.9 decrease in the LGBT  feeling thermometer. That is to say, moving one point in the positive direction (remember: positive means  towards conservative) decreases the LGBT feeling thermometer by 7.9 – a sizeable decrease considering  our scale and therefore indicates a modest-strong relationship. The p-value of 0.0001 tells us that we would observe a relationship this big or bigger in only 0.0001% of samples due to random chance.  Education levels also appears to have a slightly positive effect in the predicted direction. A one-unit  increase in education levels on a scale of 1 to 6 (with 6 being higher education), is associated with a 1.3  increase on the LGBT feeling thermometer. The coefficient is not statistically significant in reference to  our scale, and even a jump from 1 (No high school completion) to 6 (Post-grad) would increase LGBT  perception in the positive direction by only 6.6. The p-value of 0.018 means that we would find a  regression coefficient this large in 1.8% of samples of this size due to randomness of sampling alone.  Consequently, we can infer that these results are statistically significant. Lastly, when we ran a  multivariate regression controlling for ideology and education, we see a dramatic change from our initial  difference of means test. Being an ethnic minority is associated with a 4.2 decrease in LGBT perceptions  on a scale of 0-100, with 100 being maximum LGBT “warm” feeling. The coefficient is moderately  generous on our scale, and indicates a modest relationship. The p-value of 0.030 also indicated we would  find a coefficient of this magnitude in less than 3% of samples, if there was no relationship. Hence we can  be confident in this result and reject the null hypothesis at the 0.05-level.  

In conclusion, the null hypothesis stating that there is no relationship between being an ethnic  minority and negative LGBT perceptions can be rejected. As the multiple regression data shows, there  exists statistically significant relationship when we controlled for education and political ideology. Our  data infers that ethnic minorities, in comparison to white respondents, possess overall lower LGBT  perceptions. 

Note: While I initially wanted to control for religiosity, no measures within the ANES 2016 small data set operationalized this 1 measure validly.

Appendix A:

United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA)

Since declaring independence from France in 1960, the Central African Republic (CAR) has immensely grappled with the maintenance of peace and national stability. In addition to complex economic constraints from sustainable development, the country has also witnessed a series of violent military coups that have critically severed their level of security.[1] The wavering foundation of political legitimacy, the myriad of armed actors, and the long withstanding ethnic divisions have collectively paved the way for the most recent phase of conflict in 2013, further ushering the involvement of United Nations Peacekeeping.[2] This paper follows the CAR’s progression of conflict, and ultimately concludes contemporary peacekeeping missions must address complex historical issues, rather than remedying spillover symptoms of the conflict.

On the surface, the current crisis can be largely attributed to religious antagonism between the Séléka rebel group (largely consisting of CAR’s Muslim minority) and the Christian anti-Balaka. In 2013, the Séléka’s violent quest for power established veritable fault lines between the two parties to the conflict, however, it was the persistence of poor governance which created conditions “ripe for rebellion” and continues to be an ongoing driver of the current crisis.[3]

The Séléka’s initial attacks resulted in violent human atrocities, killing more than 5000 people and displacing one fifth of the country’s population.[4] As they rapidly gained control of Northern and Eastern parts of the country, President Francois Bozizé came forward in an effort to establish a peace accord with the Séléka in late 2012. The Libreville Peace Agreement of 2013 aimed to redistribute power among the Séléka leaders and President Francois Bozizé.[5] Despite the peace accord, the Séléka took control of the capital Bangui in 2013, forcing President Bozizé to flee. Consequently, Séléka leader Michel Djotodia declared himself as president.[6]

Chaos rapidly followed as Djotodia had limited control over the various militias that made up the Séléka rebel group. Paradoxically, President Djotodia was unable to establish a functional government and the Séléka coalition deteriorated. Despite their short reign, the Séléka’s overthrow of the government marshalled a new wave of human rights atrocities including killing, arson and rape.[7] Djotodia failed to disband the Séléka in September 2013, and his resignation did little to contain the rebels’ violence.

The brutality of the Séléka produced fertile grounds for seeds of religious prejudice to flourish. Thus, the Christian Anti-Balaka group was formed. The revenge attacks of the Anti-Balaka introduced a new component of religious animosity, causing further destruction and an unprecedented humanitarian crisis across the country.[8] The excruciating cycle of violence between the Ex-Séléka and Anti-Balaka is characterized by retaliatory outbreaks, civilian attacks and ethnic cleansing. In September 2014, the African Union’s International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (‘MISCA’) was transformed into a United Nations Peacekeeping Operation, known as ‘MINSUCA’. The mission still operates today, deploying nearly 14,794 personnel and a budget of $976.38 million.[9]


The deteriorating security environment and fragmentation of rebel groups has made peacekeeping increasingly challenging, and reconciliation far from simple. Nonetheless, the failures of previous peace agreements exemplify the widening gap between elite decision-makers and the people they claim to represent. Due to the local nature of the CAR conflict, local peace committees must receive utmost support in creating dialogue between opposing parties. International organizations can therefore focus efforts on increasing accountability and justice among perpetrators of violence while serving as a deterrent for future attacks. Lastly, economic incentives can encourage members of rebels groups – who are often trapped in cyclical poverty – to disarm and reintegrate into their society.[10] Through collaboration between organizations rooted in communities of conflict and the resources of the United Nations, the CAR region can effectively work towards security, stability and peace.

[1] Institute for Peace And Security Studies (IPSS), Central African Republic (CAR) Conflict Insight, Ethiopia: Institute for Peace and Security Studies, 2018.

[2] International Peace Information Service (IPIS), Central African Republic: A Conflict Mapping, 2018.

[3] Conciliation Resources, Analysis of Conflict and Peacebuilding in the Central African Republic, November 1, 2015,

[4] United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), “Central African Republic Fact Sheet”, Geneva: UNHCR, 2017,

[5] Institute for Peace And Security Studies (IPSS), Central African Republic (CAR) Conflict Insight, Ethiopia: Institute for Peace and Security Studies, 2018.

[6] Ibid.

[7] United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). “Central African Republic Fact Sheet”. Geneva: UNHCR, 2017.

[8] Institute for Peace And Security Studies (IPSS), Central African Republic (CAR) Conflict Insight, Ethiopia: Institute for Peace and Security Studies, 2018.

[9] MINUSCA, “S/2018/922: Report of the Secretary-General on the Central African Republic,” MINUSCA, February 26, 2019,

[10] Kendrick Foster, “From War to Peace in the Central African Republic,” Harvard Political Review, September 5, 2019,


“Canada is open for Business Again” – Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (1984)

The economically turbulent era of the 1970s marked a shift in bilateral relations between Canada and its primary trading partner, the United States. By the early seventies, escalating concerns regarding Canadian economic dependence became the forefront theme of Canada’s foreign policy agenda. Attempts to bolster and diversify Canada’s domestic economy were actualized through the implementation of the Foreign Investment Review Agency (FIRA) and the National Energy Program (NEP) during the Trudeau era. Despite these regulative measures, the triumph of the conservative party of Canada – under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney – in the 1984 election altered the trajectory of Canadian economic policy. Mulroney’s political agenda was characterized by an inclination to mend relations with the U.S. through economic deregulation and the revision of preceding policies, which had posed as a consistent source of tension. Shortly after his election, Mulroney staunchly declared “Canada is open for business”. This momentous statement – although frivolous at the time – became a guiding maxim for consequent economic measures. Through analysis of Canada’s foreign policy during Mulroney’s reign, this paper uncovers the stark shift in Canadian approaches to foreign investment and trade. I begin by laying the economic and political climate of the 1970s, characterized by the establishment of regulatory measures. Comparison of Trudeau’s restrictive economic policy and Mulroney’s counter regulation illustrates Canada’s shift in foreign investment attitudes. Furthermore, I uncover how Mulroney’s strategies propelled Canada towards free trade and deregulation; leaving behind a lasting legacy on Canada’s economy.


In order to fully grasp the significance of Mulroney’s victory and subsequent policies, it is vital to understand the increasingly complex bilateral relationship between Canada and the United States during the 1970s. The stage is best set by Peter Dobell, who highlights the United States’ growing concentration on domestic issues combined with “a disenchantment with foreign involvement” during the 1970s. In Canada, Dobell emphasizes the growing issue of economic independence and the growing desire for distinction from the United States. The establishment of a new economic policy under Richard Nixon – also known as the “Nixon shocks” – proved to be a catalyst in exacerbating already severed ties (Dobell). The Nixon measures were designed to revive the national economy, and tackle their “balance of payment” issues. More importantly, Canada was not exempt from Nixon’s proposed import surcharge. This violated the Canadian perception that “a special relationship existed between the two countries” and after Ottawa’s failed attempts at renegotiation, the new American doctrine propelled Canada to re-assess its relations with the US. As part of this reassessment the minister of national revenue, Mr. Gray, tabled a task force report called Foreign Direct Investment in Canada. At the time, Gray’s report appealed to the radical factions of the Canadian government, namely the “Waffle faction” of the NDP. In short, the report outlined a significant and rapid growth in the degree of foreign ownership within Canadian industries, especially in the area of manufacturing and natural resources (Dobell, 252). More critically, it called for a cohesive industrial strategy for Canada to control foreign capital. Lastly, it proposed a review agency which could screen foreign takeovers and new foreign direct investment in Canada, in an effort to “obtain the maximum benefits possible for Canada from FDI” (Ibid., 253).


Gray’s latter proposition marked the birth of the Foreign Investment Review Act (or ‘FIRA’) in 1974. In sum, the act prohibited foreign takeover of Canadian companies without the direct approval of the Canadian government. FIRA screened each corporation by analyzing their product, the Canadian market, their source of income, and domestic job opportunities. The most important factor, however, was whether the foreign investment provided substantial contribution to Canada. As a result, a centralized investment screening mechanism was created; limiting the degree of foreign investment and ensuring Canadian economic protection. The coordination of a unified mechanism complemented the centralized aspirations of then-PM Pierre Trudeau. The fear, however, was the potential decline in inward foreign investment due to the restrictive nature of FIRA. In retrospect, FIRA did not mark a drastic reduction of FDI within Canada. Instead, it served as a symbolic display of Canadian nationalism and foreign investment strategy. Ironically, it also served as a source of tension with the United States.


Similar to FIRA, the National Energy Program (or ‘NEP’) became another major source of friction between Canada and the U.S. in the late seventies. According to Leyton-Brown, the NEP was designed to achieve domestic security of supply, increase Canadian participation in the petroleum sect, and alter revenue sharing among governments (19). Like FIRA, the NEP was also signed into power by the Liberal Trudeau government, in response to the fluctuating conditions of the global oil market. The goal for revenue sharing deeply angered the oil-producing province of Alberta, who was already in political deadlock due to provincial-federal clashes. The controversy surrounding the NEP triggered bitter protests from the U.S., involving their appeal to the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) shortly after NEP’s implementation. By 1981, global oil prices had fallen and the initial motives for the NEP slowly evaporated. However, it was not until the election Brian Mulroney where the final remnants of the NEP were symbolically shattered.


As demonstrated in the preceding paragraphs, the period prior to Mulroney leadership presented serious challenges in mending Canada-US ties. While components of government regulation, such as the NEP and FIRA, were motivated by mere Canadian domestic interest, they proved to further injure economic diplomacy with the United States. Mulroney’s famous statement, that Canada is “open again”, indirectly points to the barriers posed by previous regulative economic policies. In keeping to his campaign promises, Mulroney announced a series of new initiatives for economic reform grounded in market liberalization. His determination was reaffirmed, when FIRA was terminated and replaced with Investment Canada in 1984. This new agency aimed to encourage FDI within Canada, rather than regulate and restrict it.  Additionally, the National Energy Program was formally terminated by Mulroney during the same time. Thus, Mulroney’s statement that “Canada is open for business” was subsequently backed by these immediate actions.


In the following decade, Canada was surely “open for business”. The Mulroney government’s foreign policy focused on enhancing multilateral initiatives, especially with the United States. In 1989, Mulroney launched a “going global” initiative by increasing investments within Europe and Asia. The Pacific 2000 Plan targeted Japan as a main country to strengthen FDI relations with; resulting in a dramatic increase in Japanese investment. During this time, the growing integration between Japan and the US increased Canadian incentives to trade globally. Mulroney’s de-regulatory economic strategy manifested during free trade talks with the U.S. in 1989, which marked the birth of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement. It is critical to note that while Mulroney’s pro-US & pro-free trade attitudes accelerated market liberalization in Canada; the global super powers – Britain under Thatcher and US under Reagan – were also heading in this direction.  The global progression towards market liberalization and decentralization demonstrated that states were finally willing to “hold hands with the devil” (Churchill).  This age of ‘new pragmatism’ countered the confrontational period of the 1970s with a deeper recognition of the value of multinational corporations. The mentality of this new era is best captured by Susan Strange in the late 90s, who famously quotes: “the one thing worse than being exploited by multinational corporations is not getting exploited by multinational corporations.”



In the end, however, the global influences of market liberalization combined with Mulroney’s foreign policy altered Canadian economics for the decades to follow. Likewise, it shaped bilateral relations with Canada’s most critical trading partner: The United States. While Canada today does not possess a formal industrial policy on inward or outward FDI, a constant trend seen in every era is the increase in U.S. FDI.  The regressive economic policies of the Liberal government during the seventies immensely hindered Canada-US bilateral relations. Mulroney’s landslide victory and “open for business” attitude fostered the foundation for the Canadian market today. The overarching global direction towards market liberalization also played a critical role in altering Canada’s economic trajectory. This paper juxtaposed the restrictive era of the 1970s with Mulroney’s economic pragmatism. Quite literally, Mulroney “opened” Canada for business. He halted the National Energy Program, and encouraged FDI through the re-establishment of Investment Canada. His personal ties with U.S. president Ronald Reagan helped to secure Canada’s first comprehensive free trade agreement with the US.  More prominently, Mulroney’s famous statement ‘Canada is open for business again’ proved to be convincing and substantial by the end of his leadership.



Susan Strange (1991) “Big Business and the State,” Millennium, 20, 2 (1991)

David Leyton-Brown, “Canadianizing Oil and Gas: The National Energy Program, 1980-83,”

Peter Dobell, “Reducing Vulnerability: The ‘Third Option,’” from Don Munton & John Kirton.eds., Canadian Foreign Policy: Selected Cases.

Kenichi Miyashita and David Russell (1994) chapters 1 and 2, from Keiretsu: Inside the
Hidden Japanese Conglomerates, New York: McGraw Hill.

Greed and Influence: the Role of the Anglo-American Oil Company in Iran’s 1953 Coup D’etat Shakiba Fadaie

When analyzing contemporary relationships between the United States and Iran, the 1953 coup d’état emerges as a critical focal point in postwar history. In retrospect, the deep mistrust generated by the U.S.-British sponsored upheaval has rendered complex and hostile affairs over the past three decades. The 1953 coup was initially rooted in the 1951-53 oil crisis between Iran and Britain, eventually leading to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) overthrowing the popular Muhammad Mossadegh and thus laying the groundwork for the establishment of monarch Muhamad Reza Shah Pahlavi. While the United States utilized the language of the Cold War and the spread of communism as their primary concern for the coup, their interests were deeply rooted in the repercussions that oil nationalization could render throughout the world. Moreover, the 1953 coup induced American policy makers to continue strikingly similar coups as demonstrated in the cases of Chile, Indonesia and Guatemala.

Through analysis of the history of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) and the 1953 coup d’état, I examine the prominent role of the AIOC in facilitating the CIA-sponsored upheaval against Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. I begin by offering a historical account of the early establishment of the AIOC in Iran, followed by an analysis of motives present for Britain and the United States. I conclude by investigating the negative spillover effects of the coup, leading to the looming presence of anti-Western sentiment felt in Iran’s contemporary age.

This paper begins by outlining the history of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s presence in Iran. In 1901, William Knox D’arcy purchased the sixty-year rights to extract, refine and export oil products across the entire country, in return for 16% of net annual profits and $50,000 in cash (Abrahamian, 9). As oil was struck in 1908, D’arcy sold his rights to the Burmah Oil Company, later becoming the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (APOC). At the time, the British government secured 52.5% voting rights over the company and privately reserved the right to change the company’s board of directors. As a result of these changes, Britain successfully secured control over oil supplies for British ships during the world wars (Abdelrehim, Maltby, & Toms 833). By the end of World War II, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company had six new oil fields near Masjed-e-Suleiman producing more than 357,000 barrels per day. (Abrahamian, 11). Moreover, the AIOC continuously paid heavy sums to the British treasury, with more than 24 million a year in taxes and 92 million in foreign exchange (Abrahamian, 13). Its oil production in Iran was estimated to be the third largest in the world, and by far the largest industrial employer in Iran at the time.

Despite their impressive numbers, the AIOC was routinely criticized by the public due to their covert bookkeeping tactics and evident exploitation of Iranian resources.  By the late 1940s, Iranian critics revealed the AIOC’s generous 170 million payment in British taxes, 115 million in dividends to British shareholders, yet a trivial 105 million payment in Iranian royalties (Abrahamian, 17). Complaints against the AIOC peaked in 1950, when ARAMCO – an American oil company located in the Persian Gulf – agreed to split half its profits with both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Ensuing the rise of anti-Western sentiment, the Iranian majority began to view the AIOC as a controlling apparatus for British imperialism within Iran. Thus, the turbulent years of World War II allowed for the emergence of Mohammad Mossadegh as a national icon and hero.  In response to the growing power of Reza Shah Pahlavi and the strong influence of colonial powers in Iran, Mossadeq formed the National Front – a political coalition consisting of opponents to the Shah. By 1951, his party had won the majority of the seats in Iran’s Parliament (or “Majlis”), and he was soon appointed prime minister of Iran by the Shah. Mossadegh aimed to democratize Iran through the transfer of legislative power from the Shah to the Majlis. As a wealthy landowner and strong nationalist, Mossadegh viewed the AIOC as a test of Iranian sovereignty and feared the Shah would submit to the unfair demands of the West. Having had strong democratic beliefs, he allowed the growth of various political parties, notably Iran’s communist party: Hezb-e-Toudeh.

In an effort to appease Iranian criticism, the AIOC proposed another round of renegotiations with Iran in 1947. The new proposal, named the Supplemental Oil Agreement (SOA) failed ratification by the Majlis, explicitly due to criticism by the Iranian communist party and Mossadegh’s National Front. The unequal distribution of profits combined with the poor treatment of Iranian workers created an obvious foundation for opposition by the parties. Finally, during the Spring of 1951, the Iranian parliament approved Mossadegh’s oil nationalization act, thus ceasing AIOC assets. Great Britain, which quickly boycotted Iranian oil following the nationalization, expanded its attempt to control Iranian oil through the help of its trusted ally: the United States. The growing nationalist sentiment from the Majlis along with the emergent post-war unanimity on decolonisation further aggravated Britain, as they strategized for another surge of British imperialism. In response, Iran dismissed British workers at its Abadan refinery, halted oil exports to Britain, and banned the sailing of Britain-owned oil tankers (Onslow, 5).

The retaliation following Iranian nationalization was primarily conducted through the central British government, and not the AIOC solely. These efforts included but were not limited to: imposing financial blockades to the purchase of Iranian oil, spreading anti-Mossadegh propaganda, withdrawing British engineers from the Abadan refinery and freezing Iranian financial assets within British banks (Israeli, 253).  Additionally, the AIOC and British government refused to recognize the legitimacy of Iranian nationalization. The loss of the AIOC rendered an exponential financial and political loss for Britain, which was further exacerbated by their losses after World War II.


Britain, without a doubt, feared that Iranian control over its oil would influence the greater global market price for oil, and therefore concluded that pulling Mossadegh out of power would protect their domestic interest. More importantly, if Britain’s regional power appeared as though it was eroding, the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Nasser could quickly shadow (Onslow 13).  Therefore, The British government and the AIOC utilized three primary means to regain their control over Iran’s natural resource. Gasiorowski argues that this three-track strategy included legal manipulation, undermining Iran through economic sanctions and military power, and the removal of Mossadegh from power (263). The British also engaged with the International Court of Justice in an effort to undermine Mossadegh. The appeal was quickly rejected as the conflict involved Iran – a country – and the AIOC – a corporate entity. The British also went further and attempted to persuade other countries to refrain from purchasing Iranian oil.

However, by 1952, British efforts did not triumph. The pro-Western Shah feared publicly antagonizing his fragile image, hence he did little to outwardly oppose Mossadegh. While U.S. administration under Truman staunchly opposed military intervention, the later election of President Eisenhower in 1952 produced fertile grounds for a U.S.-backed coup to occur. Eisenhower’s campaign was rooted in the growing anti-communist sentiment throughout the West, and Iran’s geopolitical importance further aggravated the growing need for intervention. Additionally, the new administration was well acquainted with the Middle Eastern oil crisis, especially since Secretary of State, John Dulles, and his brother Allen Dulles – director of the CIA – were long-time partners in a “law firm representing AIOC in the United States” (Abrahamian, 197). It wasn’t long before Britain had convinced the U.S. that intervention in Iran would effectively control the expansion of the Soviet Union within the Middle East. The prominence of the Iranian communist party, Tudeh, and its support for Mossadegh further exacerbated Washington’s efforts to protect their Cold War objectives. It is critical to note that British efforts to fiscally weaken Iran at the time had taken a toll on living conditions in Tehran, therefore the Tudeh Party was able to flourish in this weakened economic climate.

In February of 1953, British delegates arrived in Washington for a series of “formal meetings” which included Allen Dulles, then head of the CIA (Heiss, 3). The Dulles Brothers were firm in their warnings of a communist “takeover” within the Middle East, and quickly warned of the “communist challenge in Iran” (248). At the time, the U.S. relied heavily on Britain to exert their influence within the Middle East as the U.S. could not single-handedly “police the globe” (Heiss, 3). The evident overlap of British and American interests quickly actualized, and plans to overthrow Mossadegh were finalized by Churchill and Eisenhower by July of 1953 (Abrahamian, 197). The documents outlining the CIA’s exhaustive plans did not surface until nearly sixty years after the coup. These documents revealed the recruitment of fake protesters in order to drive off Mossadegh and install an American-backed Shah to power (Israeli, 248). They also revealed the extravagant $20 million budget allocated for the covert operation, later named “Operation AJAX” which was finally carried out by the CIA (Kinzer, 210).

The CIA also targeted Ayatollah Kashani, a prominent political figure and ally of Mossadegh. His confidant, Ahmad Aramesh, was given $10,000 by President Esisenhower to turn Kashani against Mosssadegh. The rise of Mossadegh not only threatened the domestic power of the Shah, but also that of the Iranian mullahs and clerics. Hence, Kashani eventually split sides against Mossadegh, creating further political turmoil and signifying the loss of the Islamic clergy support. In fact, newly released documents show Kashani was in close communication with the U.S. before the coup occurred, further indicating the clash of motives among the domestic factions in Iran.

The coup attempt began on August 15 and eventually succeeded on August 19, 1953 (Abrahamian, 210). Through the aid of protestors paid by the CIA, and intense propaganda efforts by the SIS, the coup had succeeded. Mossadegh was shortly imprisoned; peacefully spending the remainder of his life in house arrest and his foreign minister, Hossein Fatemi, faced execution. More importantly, the pro-Western monarchy was restored and the Anglo-Iranian oil company had prevailed. Although latter nationalist opposition left AIOC sharing Iranian oil with other countries, the covert operation had already fanned the flames for a lingering future of anti-Western sentiment within Iran.


The spillover effects from the 1953 coup greatly altered Iran in the coming years. Notably, Iran lost a great deal of progress made prior to the coup – progress towards a representative government and away from foreign interference (Gasiorowski, 278). The coup also left the Shah even more determined to fight his opposition. Through the establishment of SAVAK, the Shah’s internal secret police aided by the CIA, and the incessant arrests of ex-Tudeh Party figures, the Shah deliberately limited the Iranian people’s freedom of expression, association and democracy. Britain and the U.S., who had placed the Shah into power, ensured that concessions were provided to the AIOC over the production, refinement and distribution of Iranian oil, and granted AIOC over 40% of shares (Abrahamian, 212). The early corporate ambitions of the AIOC had rendered the corporation as an instrument of British foreign policy. The distorted power dynamic between Iran and the West plus the push against Britain’s imperialistic tendencies intensified Iranian nationalism and Western resentment. This unintended consequence also damaged Western geopolitical interests within the Middle East, and sowed the seeds for the Iranian Islamic revolution in 1979. The period of Mossadegh’s reign is often recalled as the only period in Iranian political history where democratic ideologies and liberalization thrived. Thus, the Iranian people confided in the Islamic revolution’s promises to rid Iran of malign foreign interference and presence.

Historians, such as Abrahamian argue that Iranian oil was the primary cause for the coup, for Britain and the U.S. alike. Should Mossadegh have succeeded in nationalizing the British oil industry, it would set a harmful precedent for imperialistic countries during the post-war era. In juxtaposition to this perspective, other historians argue the political climate of the Cold War and Iran’s strategic geopolitical importance led the U.S. to believe “they had to take whatever steps necessary to prevent Iran from falling into Soviet hands” (Gasiorowski, 274).  Additionally, the prominence of U.S. involvement in the coup significantly shaped the trajectory of future Iran-U.S. relations; from the terrorist attacks on U.S. citizens to the U.S. hostage crisis following the revolution, the central anti-American theme within Iran prevailed for years to come (Gasiorowski, 280). More recently, the strain on Iran-U.S. relations rendered vast tension during the Obama-backed nuclear deal and the consequent economic sanctions by the Trump administration.


The legacy left behind by the 1953 coup in Iran had far-reaching consequences for the world of international politics. The United States, which had attempted to maintain an image of liberal democracy, became involved in strikingly similar upheavals for decades to follow. The coup also became a warning for neighboring states of the innumerable dangers and long term repercussions of foreign meddling in a state’s internal affairs. It challenged the very notion of state sovereignty and the right to rule. The presence of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, now named British Petroleum (BP) characterizes the overlapping interests of major corporations and governments alike.  While the AIOC played a colossal role in the upheaval, it was also a tool for British imperialistic ambitions and an apparatus for foreign intervention. Further, it stands to showcase how covert actions by the world governments can be a short term and cheap solution to alter the course of world politics in their political (and economic) favour. In the end, however, the overthrow of a democratically elected government cast the darkest shadow on Iran. The overthrow of Mossadegh and the forceful placement of the monarchy subjugated Iranians to dictatorship for several years to follow, and set the stage for the events of the 1979 revolution. I conclude that the 1953 coup should not be overlooked when assessing Iran-U.S. relations within the contemporary age. More importantly, the events of 1953 illustrate the immense power of corporations such as British Petroleum, and the effective utilization of a corporate entity as an apparatus for government’s exercise of power.















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Abdelrehim, Neveen, and Steven Toms. “The Obsolescing Bargain Model and Oil: the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company 1933–1951.” Business History, vol. 59, no. 4, 2016, pp. 554–571., doi:10.1080/00076791.2016.1232397.

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Nihilism and Self-Overcoming: Interpreting Nietzsche and Buddhism

Upon a deeper analysis of Buddhism and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, subtle similarities emerge in their understanding of self-overcoming. Both philosophies assert that human life is characterized by suffering and the notion of ‘self’ as a mere construction. Through deeper analysis of the notions of ‘self-overcoming’ present in Buddhism and Nietzschean philosophy, this paper uncovers realms of philosophic agreement between the two, while providing a critique of Nietzsche’s misinterpretation of Buddhism as passively nihilistic. I also provide clarification on the disparity between early Buddhist philosophy and Buddhism as interpreted by Nietzsche; the latter being deeply affected by colonial forces and the limited European exposure to Eastern philosophy. I explore Nietzsche’s misunderstanding – and consequent rejection – of Buddhism as a form of “passive nihilism” and nirvana as a practice of denying reality. In spite of their divergences, I conclude that Nietzsche’s existential philosophy is ironically close to the Buddha’s, as their prescription to a meaningful life requires overcoming of the self.

While Nietzsche’s early mentor, Schopenhauer, was a great admirer of early Buddhism, Nietzsche scarcely stands alone in his misunderstanding of Buddhism as a nihilistic religion. With Buddhism’s primary teachings surrounding concepts of no-self and nonexistence, it is understandable why nineteenth century Europe held a predominantly negative conception of Buddhism. More importantly, however, Nietzsche’s criticism of Buddhism reveals his own misinterpretations and shortcomings at the time; predominantly due to Europe’s limited – and colonial -understanding of Eastern philosophy. It is important to note that Eastern philosophy was beginning to appear in the West during the early nineteenth century. The true meaning of Eastern ideologies – like Buddhism – was often lost in translation, and as a result, Buddhism was often misinterpreted through second-hand sources.

Nonetheless, Nietzsche was one of the first Western pioneers to explore Buddhism.  His work On the Genealogy of Morals categorized early Buddhism as fundamentally life-denying, aimed at nothingness, and standing antithetical to human existence (Nietzsche, 1994, 61). In The Will to Power, Buddhism is described as passively nihilistic with the purpose of acting as a temporary salve for those suffering (1968, 18).  According to scholars, Nietzsche’s misconceptions were connected to the general view of Buddhism during his time, and such portrayals were more of a reflection of what was happening in Europe – the complete collapse of traditional values, the menace of atheism, and the ‘death of God’ –  than an accurate description of Buddhist philosophy (Van Der Braak, 2010, 6).

Nietzsche thus understood early Buddhism as a form of “passive nihilism”; indicative of a “decline of the power of the spirit” (1901, 22). He contrasts this to active nihilism – an ‘increased power of the spirit’– which pushes for the conscious destruction of all beliefs that previously held meaning. For Nietzsche, the passive nihilist succumbs to his despair and delves blindly into herd mentality, while the active nihilist faces the realities of existence and human suffering.

Still, Nietzsche’s appraisal of Buddhism is nothing short of utterly complex. In one of his notebooks he wrote: “I could become the Buddha of Europe though frankly I would be the antipode of the Indian Buddha (Panaïoti, 2013, 2). Nietzsche’s description of himself as a type of “Anti-Buddha” illustrates the distinction he makes earlier regarding passive and active nihilism. Throughout his writings and teachings, he recalls nihilism as a plague permeating European culture; a hatred for life and a rejection of action. When discussing the Buddha’s encounters with a sick man, an old man, and a dead man, Nietzsche writes in Thus Spake Zarathustra:

‘There are those with consumption of the soul: hardly are they born when they begin to die and to long for doctrines of weariness and renunciation. They would like to be dead, and we should welcome their wish. Let us beware of waking the dead and disturbing these living coffins! They encounter a sick man or an old man or a corpse and immediately they say, “Life is refuted”. But only they themselves are refuted, and their eyes, which see only this one face of existence.’


Nietzsche was quick to reject European Buddhism as a life-negating and innately pessimistic philosophy. One of his early mentors, Schopenhauer, had been greatly exposed to Eastern philosophy in comparison to his Western counterparts. Nietzsche’s fear, however, was that the rise of pessimistic philosophy would result in the triumph of passivity and decadence within Europe; steering men away from the world and leading them to nothingness. Also, it was during this era where Nietzsche renounced the ‘death of God’ and the collapse of Europe’s traditional value system.

In many regards, Nietzsche viewed the Buddha as a physician prescribing a cure for the fundamental human condition of suffering. Both Nietzschean and Buddhist philosophy and grapple with the idea of nihilism, while rejecting the notion of revealed truth. Nietzsche’s primary project was revealing the errors in Christianity, and rejecting the idea of ‘morality’ itself. For him, morality was the greatest plague; limiting people from transcending to the highest version of themselves, and thus inimical to self-actualization. In this regard, Nietzsche viewed Buddhism as superior to Christianity, and went further to directly compare the two in The Anarchist (1968). From his comparisons, he concludes that Buddhism is far more “realistic” than Christianity – accredited to Buddhism’s understanding of suffering and the Buddha’s ‘prescription’ to eradicate it. Moreover, Buddhism eliminated the concept of a monotheistic God, and continued as a positivistic religion. Nietzsche paints a far more positive picture of Buddhism in the Anarchist, however, many scholars believe this is merely due to the comparisons he was making with Christianity – a religion he despised and often described as “a degenerate religion” founded on “a rancor against everything well-constituted and dominant” (Elman, 1983, 689).

Paradoxically, Nietzsche utilizes the notion of “active nihilism” as a tool in his own project against Western nihilism. His philosophy contends that the self-overcoming of nihilism is essential to becoming a “true” version of yourself. Furthermore, in The Will to Power, Nietzsche describes himself as the “perfect nihilist of Europe”, who has lived through the “entirety of nihilism, to the end, leaving it behind, outside himself” (Nietzsche, 1968, 3). In this view, overcoming the “great nausea” of nothingness allows Nietzsche to emerge as a victor.

Nietzsche aimed to overcome nihilism by affirming the unconditional embrace of existence. For him, life was not to be denied but rather created by one’s own value system, and built on the foundation of understanding that there is no inherit meaning in the universe. Nishianti describes this process as “dying the great death in the abyss of nihility and coming back to life again” (1983, 233). In doing so, active nihilism becomes a transitional stage rather than an end in itself. It is the abyss into we must descend, “the darkest night before the dawn” (Nietzsche, 1968, 12). It is through the experiential stages of active nihilism that an individual strives for the heights of the ideal being, the übersmench. He asserted that living by one’s own ‘noble morality’ is characterized as a vigorous, free and joyful existence, ruled by an innate “will to overpower, and will to rule” (1968, 16). From his works, it is evident that Nietzsche detested the weak and humble man who sought to escape the realities of life.

Ironically, Buddhism aims to release from the wheel of samsara (cycle of life and death) instead of affirming its eternal revolution. For Nietzsche, he interpreted this as a mere negative release of the karmic world of samsara. However, liberation of nirvana, as understood by Buddhism, is the removal of the ego and attachment to worldly desires. The mere idea that one could escape the state of life, described by Nietzsche as eternal reoccurrence, was illusory to Nietzsche at the time; often described as “the fable song of madness” (1968, 12). An excerpt from his personal notes reveals that human existence, as it is, “without meaning or aim, yet inescapably recurring without any finale in nothingness” is the most extreme form of nihilism (55). For Nietzsche’s interpretation to sustain, the Buddha must preach an eternally recurring samsara. Not only this, the Buddha must also prescribe no possibility of freeing oneself of samsara, or achievement of Enlightenment. In juxtaposition, the middle path – madhyama pratipad – found by the Buddha is the death of the ego, and the end of cyclical birth; an exertion of nihilism’s will towards freedom from samsara. After further examination, it seems that the Buddhist advocates precisely for the opposite of an empty nihilism – one that Nietzsche feared and aimed to alleviate Europe from.

One may also turn to the four noble truths of Buddhism when analyzing Nietzsche’s initial critique of Buddhism. The first, dukkha, asserts that life is suffering. The eternal samsaric life is clouded with existential intolerability (Nishitani, 1983, 169). The second, samudaya, attributes this suffering to the craving or aversion as the cause of suffering. The third and fourth truth, nirodha and magga, reveal the way to end suffering and the truth of the path. Detaching oneself from these cravings leads to liberation from cyclical death, thus leading to nirvana. The final noble truth further asserts this idea by illustrating the Noble Eightfold Path. As part of the eightfold path, samma vayama, or “right effort” advocates for a powerful will, parallel to Nietzsche’s concept of the will to power. This energetic will aims to alleviate one of all craving, which leads to suffering. Evidently, Buddhism advocates for a positive sort of willful action, rather than a pursuit of passivity that Nietzsche initially believed.

Furthermore, an analysis of Theravada Buddhism reveals that Buddhism’s primary goal is a radical transformation of the self through action. The arahant, the highest form of a human, does not accumulate karma according to Theravada Buddhism, since he has already transcended cyclical rebirth. Free from the ego, and fabricated idea of the self, the arahant is free from samsara. Nietzsche’s critique targets the notion of passive nihilism and the complete negation of existence. Similar to passive nihilism, the metaphysical extreme of absolute discontinuity and nothingness, ucchedavad, is forbidden by the Buddha. The Buddha also rejects the notion of vibhava tanha, which is the human craving for non-existence. This may also mean the craving for non-becoming, and complete aversion towards the unpleasant suffering of current or future life. These teachings by the Buddha emphasize Buddhism’s negative viewpoint on the negation of life itself, and his emphasis on an energetic will.

Ironically, Nietzsche’s prescription for self-overcoming allures to many parallels with Buddhist philosophy. Buddhism advocates for transcendence beyond the condition of society, maya, and creating an individual path for oneself. This “path” reflects the famous eight-fold path; reflecting greater awareness and compassion. Nearly forty-five years following Buddha’s enlightenment, he spent his life spreading wisdom with compassion and love for others around him – indicative of the importance of this Buddhist precept.

Lastly, the notion of the perfect and most ideal being, as presented by Nietzsche and Buddhism strike subtle similarities. Both philosophies assert the importance of individual will, and reject the notion of a true morality. In Buddhism, the arahant is one that has transcended beyond samsara. A passage from Mulapariyaya Sutta the Buddha discusses the root cause of enlightenment from suffering. He tells his disciples what exactly an arahant, or ideal human constitutes:

A monk who is a Worthy One, devoid of mental fermentations—who has attained completion, finished the task, laid down the burden, attained the true goal, destroyed the fetters of becoming, and is released through right knowledge— directly knows earth as earth. Directly knowing earth as earth, he does not conceive things about earth, does not conceive things in earth, does not conceive things coming out of earth, does not conceive earth as ‘mine,’ does not delight in earth. Why is that? Because he has comprehended it, I tell you. (Thanissaro, 1998)


This passage illustrates that the monk is the worthy one, who has freed himself from the bonds of suffering which traps one in the cycle of birth. The arahant must achieve enlightenment by becoming ‘devoid of mental fermentations’ – not necessarily free from any thoughts – and viewing the world as it truly is, without the distortion of craving and suffering.

For Nietzsche, the übersmench, or ‘overman’, creates his own values out of his utter freedom. The term overman refers to the kind of people that are greater than an ordinary human being. However, for the übersmench the ultimate goal is not to merely overcome suffering, but rather overcome the passive and ordinary condition of a human. This contrasts with the arahant, who avoid mental fermentations as a way to overcome the bond of suffering. The arahant is also freed of the sense of self when attaining liberation. For Nietzsche, by transcending into the übersmench, the self is affirmed rather than denied. The notion of self is re-created in the overman, as the fundamental, defining quality of the overman is to create his own values. However, this seems to contradict what Nietzsche affirms in his later works. In a key passage from On the Genealogy of Morality Nietzsche exclaims:

There is no ‘being’ behind doing, effecting, becoming: the ‘doer’ is merely a fiction added to the deed [or doing: Thun]—the deed is everything … our entire science still lies under the misleading influence of language and has not disposed of that little changeling, the ‘subject’.


Through this reading of Nietzsche, it may strike many similarities with Buddhism. The self in Buddhist philosophy is merely an array of mental and physical components that create a person. These are known as the five ‘aggregates’ of form, feeling, mental formation, perception, and consciousness. The self is a function of these five aggregates working together. While Nietzsche affirms the self through self-overcoming, he also asserts that there is no ‘being’ but rather an action carried out from the subject. Through analysis between Buddhism and Nietzsche’s notion of self in the concept of self-overcoming, these subtle similarities emerge.

In conclusion, this paper demonstrated Nietzsche’s misinterpretation of the notion of passive nihilism present in Buddhist philosophy. Furthermore, I offered an account of self-overcoming present in both philosophies, and where areas of agreement emerge. Through engagement with one’s suffering, Buddhism aims to remove the causes and condition of suffering by detaching oneself from the cravings for fulfilled desires, and for the desire for permanence in an impermanent and transient world. Similarly, Nietzsche warns of the danger of primarily seeking happiness and worldly pleasures, while rejecting the other extreme: passive nihility. It is through this interpretation that subtle similarities emerge. This paper also opens up new avenues for increased research, such as the differences in Buddhism and Nietzsche’s metaphysical notion of rebirth. Given the discussion presented, Nietzsche may have found areas of agreement with Buddhism if he had correctly interpreted notions of active nihilism, rather than rejecting it as another verse in the ‘fable song of madness’.

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Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, Keith Ansell-Pearson, and Carol Diethe. 1994. On the Genealogy of Morality. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, Walter Kaufmann, and R. J. Hollingdale. 1968. The Will to Power. New York: Vintage Books.

Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, Walter Kaufmann. 1963. The Anarchist. New York: Vintage Books.

Nishitani, Keiji. 1983. Religion and nothingness. Univ of California Press.

Panaïoti, Antoine. 2013. Nietzsche and Buddhist philosophy. Cambridge University Press.

Thanissaro, Bhikkhu. 1998. Mulapariyya Sutta: The Root Sequence. New York: Vintage Books.

Thomas, Richard Hinton. 1983. Nietzsche in German politics and society, 1890-1918. Manchester University Press.

Van der Braak, André. 2011. Nietzsche and Zen: Self-overcoming without a self. Lexington Books.


Beyond the Law: The Covert Assassination of Iranian Nuclear Scientists


The development of Iran’s nuclear capability has resulted in profoundly complex political affairs for several decades. For Iranian nuclear scientists, these consequences have been fatal.  Since 2007, more than five prominent scientists have fallen victim to covert assassinations tactics, in an attempt to tarnish the very heart of the Iranian nuclear program. Despite the covert nature of the assassinations, sufficient evidence has surfaced tracing their origins back to the National Intelligence Agency of Israel (Mossad). For decades, the threat of a nuclear Iran has directly endangered Israel’s nuclear hegemony within the Middle East – compelling Israel to respond in a legally dubious and morally reprehensible manner.

Through the analysis of various international laws encompassing targeted killings, this paper evaluates the motives, efficacy and repercussions of targeting Iranian nuclear scientists. I offer an analysis of the assassinations through the lens of international humanitarian law, demonstrating salient violations of transnational norms and regulations. The second part of this paper evaluates covert assassination from a strategic policy standpoint, uncovering the unintended and grave consequences of targeting nuclear scientists. Furthermore, I explore the way in which covert assassination undermine global security and defy long-established conventions and pervading norms.


Background: The Assassinations

Targeting of atomic scientists in order to deter state weaponization predates the existence of nuclear weapons themselves. Concerned with the possibility of losing its nuclear monopoly in the region, Israel viewed Iran’s acceleration to nuclear weaponization as a colossal threat. Thus, Mossad created a plan in order to derail Iran’s nuclear pursuits. As part of the plan, five prominent nuclear scientists and physicists were murdered through covert operation. Those targeted included Ardeshir Hosseinpour, a nuclear physicist at the Isfahan uranium conversion plant; Massoud Ali Mohammadi, an expert in quantum physics at Tehran University; Majid Shahriari, an expert on nuclear chain reactions; Darioush Rezae Nejad, a nuclear physicist and researcher for the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO); and Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, a professor at a technical university in Tehran and a department supervisor at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant (Maher). Iran quickly attributed these killings to Israel and the U.S., and Iranian counterintelligence later revealed that Israel had recruited Iranian spies to carry out these covert assassinations. In addition to murdering valuable assets of Iran’s nuclear program, it also created what Mossad regards as “white defection”. The theory follows that fewer Iranian scientists would work on future Iranian projects out of safety concerns, thus denying Iran of valuable scientific expertise.



We start by clarifying the meaning of assassination under international law, and what constitutes an assassination under these terms. While no universally established definition of assassination has prevailed, the common variations contain a singular theme. As explored by Reisman, if an assassination is committed beyond the realm of armed conflict it is defined by having:(I) a specifically targeted victim; and (II) a political motivation. The latter requirement distinguishes an assassination from murder, since it implies an aggressor state rather than an individual. As previous scholars have noted, assassination is viewed as an unlawful covert action and should not be granted “any color of law” (Reisman, 689). They argue that a pattern is emergent: conditional tolerance for assassinations exists at the elite level, hence preventing it from becoming a matter of law.  Due to this, no explicit prohibition of assassination exists within the realm of international law.  For this reason, I adhere to the standard set by Reisman for an assassination for the remainder of this paper. In this case study, the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists presents highly politicized motives and repercussions, thus they may be evaluated under Reisman’s definition. Lastly, “assassination” and “targeted killing” will be used interchangeably, although the latter is often utilized in the case of targeted terrorist killings. Nonetheless, all interchangeable forms of the “assassination” remain illegal under the realm of international law.


Assassination Under International Law

As often attributed to their covert nature, political assassinations have not been explicitly banned within the framework of international law. Through the analysis of various treaties and conventions, one may properly assess the illegality of assassination within the rights and obligations of a state. The role of customary international law is also critical; as rules of customary law are equally as binding as treaties. In addition to applicable statutes in international law, universal human rights law – presented through the UN Declaration of Human Rights as a critical aspect of customary international law –also provides valuable guidance when assessing targeted killings.


Two prominent bodies of law arise in regards to political assassinations. Firstly, International Humanitarian Law (or “IHL”) or jus in bello, governs the conduct of war in times of armed conflict. Parallel to this, jus ad bellum establishes the requirements needed to enter armed conflict, as set out in the UN Charter and the customary international law of self-defence, such as legitimate authority, public declaration, just cause and war as the final resort. Published in 1944 as part of the famous Geneva Conventions – and before this, the Hague Conventions of 1907 – IHL sets rules for the treatment of combatants and non-combatants alike. The notion of jus in bello further includes the principles of proportionality and discrimination. The former establishes that any harm to civilians must be balanced against the military advantage anticipated from attack, while the latter ensures that legitimate targets, like soldiers, be treated differently from illegitimate targets, such as civilians.


In principle, however, Israel may attempt to justify the assassinations as valid acts of pre-emptive self-defence. The UN Charter recognizes a state’s right to self-defence in Article 51, stating:

“Nothing in this present Charter shall impair the right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures to maintain international peace and security. Actions taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.”


The procedural requirement to report to the Security Council reflects the legitimacy and transparency of the state exercising self-defence. Conversely, it presents a narrow window where Israel may operate. Justifying the assassination of nuclear scientists would then require settling a wide array of surrounding political issues; the true gravity of the Iranian threat, the projected expediency of removing such threat, and the precise motives for doing so. Even so, the threat to Israel must be imminent, and the prospect of impeding the threat through assassination must be realistic. As discussed above, these issues encompass provisions of IHL concerned with necessity and proportionality under jus ad bellum.  Still, Israel cannot claim the assassinations were required through Article 51, as they do not meet the requirement of necessity nor immediacy.


Nonetheless, the case of Iran and Israel escapes evaluation under IHL, predominantly because neither state was in a state of “armed conflict” as per the IHL definition. Looking beyond their antagonistic history – often consisting of public and daring threats – the state of Iran and Israel cannot be assessed under the provisions of IHL. From this perspective, no act has risen to the level of an “armed attack”.  The International Criminal Tribunal defines “armed conflict” when there is “a resort to armed forces between states” or “armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups” (International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, para 70). Under the Geneva Conventions, it is defined as a difference arising between two states, thus “leading to intervention of members of the armed forces.” (Geneva Convention para 1).  These definitions of “armed conflict” fail to encompass the political status quo between Iran and Israel. The public positions of both governments deny a state of armed conflict, and the limited focus on Iranian scientists evade the application of international humanitarian law.


In addition, the basic principles of sovereignty must be considered. Since the establishment of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the principle of state sovereignty has become a guiding principle of international law. Westphalian sovereignty protects a state’s exclusive autonomy in its territory while emphasizing the legal equality of states. Article 2(7) of the United Nations Charter emphasizes the domestic jurisdiction of the state; stating that the United Nations has no authority to intervene in matters within the scope of domestic affairs. As enshrined in the United Nations system, Westphalian sovereignty is  a core pillar of the international system of governance.  In accordance to this principle and in the absence of armed conflict, Israel evidently violated Iranian state sovereignty by engaging in a violent act within its territory.


Beyond considerations of international humanitarian law and state sovereignty, human rights law  may be used as a guiding apparatus for evaluation. Under human rights law, it is often believed that a targeted killing is only “legal” – as a last resort – if it is required to protect life. This is only once all other means are exhausted, such as capture, in preventing that threat to life. However, it is important to note that human rights law is embodied through multiple treaties and statutes. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) emphasizes the “inherent right to life” that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived” of (ICCPR, Article 6, para 1). More significantly, the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights contends the human “right to life, liberty and security”. Under the declaration, human rights must be protected by the rule of law, and they apply to all humans within and beyond state borders. Thus, states are bound by fundamental human rights when acting within another state. Under human rights law, a state’s actions are not assessed based on territory but rather conduct. With this maxim in mind, a state must conduct operations in accordance to human rights standards “with regard to all individuals who may be under their effective control or who may be directly affected by their actions.” (Mezler, 137).  Even in the absence of state recognition, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights has become widely accepted as reflecting customary international law, further impelling a state’s motive to comply.


As demonstrated above, there exists a rule of customary international law against violation of a person’s right to life; irrespective of territory, citizenship, and treaty ratification of the involved states. Undoubtedly, the explicit assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientists deprived them of this right to life. As a signatory of the aforementioned treaties, the state of Israel defied its obligations under international human rights law. For an assassination to be “legal” under human rights law, it must be “strictly necessary” and as a final resort to protect life. For Israel, great difficulty persists in establishing the necessity and urgency of the targeting of nuclear scientists.

Israel stands a slightly better chance utilizing the ICCPR in defence of their covert assassination. As aforementioned, the ICCPR forbids the “arbitrary taking of life”, with the components of “arbitrariness” as (I) requirement of a sufficient legal basis; (II) requirement of necessary; (III) requirement of proportionality; and (IV) requirement of precaution. (2006) Once again, Israel runs into the issue of necessity and sufficient legal basis. The UN’s Basic Principles of the Use of Force and Firearms also embody similar principles of the right to life. Parallel to the themes of human rights law, it states that lethal weapons may only be used in self-defence and only when less extreme means are insufficient to achieve these means (1979). It echoes the importance of “non-lethal” means of enforcement in an attempt to protect life.


Policy Considerations and Unintended Consequences

In the absence of international law and the legal implications, the covert campaign against Iran’s nuclear Programme offers valuable insight for the theory and practice of coercive diplomacy. In what remains, I analyze the strategic significance in Israel’s decision to target scientists, and the subsequent unintentional consequences of covert action.


Firstly, it is clear that attacking Iran with military force was an unappealing option for Israel and the U.S. alike. The spillover effects of a full blown war and the consequent risks associated with it prove to be too costly for both states. Similarly, hostility between the states would prevail, along with increasing domestic support for the Islamic regime. It would also create a greater justification to establish an Iranian nuclear program, in the possibility of additional strikes. Within the greater arena of international relations, other states may condemn aggressor states in the event of military action. While the United States and Israel have a far greater military advantage over Iran, brute power asymmetry does not always guarantee a beneficial outcome for the aggressor state. Todd Sechser refers to this phenomenon as ‘Goliath’s Curse’. His research on coercive diplomacy states that as coercers gain more power, their threats may often fail – often because a challenger’s military power “exacerbates information problems that make its threats less likely to succeed” (628). Thus, coercive diplomacy can minimize ‘Goliath’s curse’ by applying the correct amount of pressure on a state, while assuring the likeliness of a state’s willingness to cooperate. Jentleson et al. recognize successful coercive diplomacy as a balance between “credible fore and deft diplomacy” (53). Thus, covert assassinations of Iranian scientists demonstrated the power of Israel and its allies to Iran. It signalled their power to retard Iran’s nuclear efforts. Additionally, the strikes targeted the heart of the nuclear program, representing increasing animosity towards Iran, despite the lack of a full-scale military attack.


As aforementioned, no state has come forward and taken responsibility for the assassination of Iranian scientists. Contemporary literature argues that states have become increasingly concerned with the protection of their reputation, hence the growing prevalence of covert action. Often, the focus is weighted on the reputation of the aggressor state in the face of international shaming. However, the reputation of Iran is equally important in the equation. Beyond international considerations, if Iranian leaders had quickly submitted to the demands of the West, it may have signalled a weak Iranian regime to its domestic population. Sechser notes “when a target capitulates to a threat, it reveals information about the limits of its resolve” (628). In other words, complying with a threat entails reputation costs for Iran, while revealing the perceived strength of the Islamic regime. At the same time, ramping up Iran’s nuclear efforts could have brought even more pressure and coercive action from outside states. States, such as Israel, could utilize Iran’s surge in nuclear efforts as justification for more covert assassinations. Thus, many scholars emphasize Iran’s incremental developments in building a nuclear weapon – in an effort to demonstrate its willpower domestically, while avoiding costly international ramifications. Volpe further asserts that Iran made “incremental advances” in order to “leverage concessions from the international community” (521).


Unintended Consequences

Despite the potential appeal for covert action, an array of unintended – and undesirable – consequences may occur as a result of covert action. More fundamentally, the looming inability to predict the outcomes of one’s action and the prioritization of short term interests over long term diplomacy can further aggravate undesirable consequences. In the context of Iranian counter proliferation, covert assassination may thwart diplomacy, inspire retaliatory measures, spread domestic sympathy for the regime, and undermine the ethical legitimacy of the aggressor states.


For Iran, the covert assassinations proved to be a powerful catalyst in bolstering support for the Islamic regime. Islamic fundamentalists and hardliners utilized the event as justification to further demonize the West during a time of rising fear and anxiety. It may also act as a unifying common enemy among Iranians, further contributing to Western resentment and fulfilling justification for Iran’s nuclear ambitions. After the assassinations, Iran launched a series of media campaigns referring to the scientists as ‘nuclear martyrs’ while parading their images throughout the country. Reports from Iran claim the propaganda-heavy homage to the nuclear scientists was part of Tehran’s strategy to generate public support for its nuclear program (Esfandiari).


In addition to the domestic backlash, aggressor states may face international backlash due to their outward violation of international law. These covert assassinations, as mentioned above, are clear abuses against long withstanding international norms and laws.  Many critics believe that the target of Iranian scientists violated international norms and principles against assassination. As noted by Waldron, assassination cannot operate within a ‘neutral principle’ (5). When contemplating the incorporation of a norm allowing covert assassination within the realm of international law, Waldron urges states to consider whether they would be comfortable with this norm “in the hands of their adversaries”. For Israel, the mere potential for Iran to partake in similar covert assassinations would surely undermine state security.


For these reasons, Waldron also asserts that the norm against political assassinations should be upheld for both strategic and ethical reasons (130). Through this perspective, covert assassinations undermine the broader international norm against killing. Moreover, violating international legal norms may embolden other states to act similarly. From a state’s strategic perspective, the erosion of the norm against covert assassination can prove to be increasingly problematic on an international scale. Fundamentally, these actions undermine valuable international norms which foster accountability and transparency among states.  By granting certain actors the right to covert assassination – justified on the basis that their targets are likely to harm them, or have already done so –the likelihood that all international actors become willing to evade such norms undoubtedly increases. These actors are not limited to the scope of international states, but rather terrorist actors with morally reprehensible ambitions. Whibley states that the power of a state builds on the respect and enforcement aspect of norms, and the way in which states exercise power has direct and indirect effects on the emergence of new norms (121). That is, the emergence of such norms are established by the acknowledgement and enforcement of these norms by other states, through similar practice.



The development of Iran’s nuclear capability has resulted in a prolonged diplomatic standoff with the West, lasting for nearly two decades. In the long run, however, the assassination of nuclear scientists did little for Israel’s benefit. While it disrupted Iran’s nuclear ambitions for a brief moment in time, the assassinations did not completely halt Iran from pursuing nuclear capability. Less than a few months later, Iran ramped up their efforts, which were briefly halted following Obama’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal. Iran also paraded the ‘martyrs’ for years to follow, in an attempt to rally public support and prove the ‘need’ for nuclear capability.


Within the greater scope of international affairs, the assassinations – characterized as ethically and legally indefensible – reflect the long term recognition of the international community that erosion of these norms may end up harming their own security. As the Iranian case demonstrates, covert action is unlikely to completely unravel and derail a state’s nuclear ambition, thus a clear understanding of the consequences is significant for future policy implications. This also reveals areas where greater analysis may be beneficial – for example, whether covert assassinations may be an effective tool in deterring future generations and to what degree states will condemn aggressor states. Further, the covert assassination of Iranian scientists presents a myriad of legal, ethical, and policy considerations for future areas of scholarship.


This paper offered an analysis of the assassination of nuclear scientists through the lens of international laws, and long-held established norms. By closely assessing the motives, efficacy, and repercussions of the covert assassinations, I demonstrated the myriad of potential undesirable and unintended consequences for states who violate these international norms. As observed by George Orwell, actions are held to be good or bad, “not on their own merits but according to who does them”. The salient and fatal covert campaign against Iran represents the dangers of shrugging our shoulders and turning a blind eye, as we may unintentionally descend into an era of lawlessness and chaos.


















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