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The Great Satan (Persian شيطان بزرگ Shaytan-e Bozorg) is a derogatory epithet for the United States of America in some Iranian foreign policy statements. Occasionally, these words have also been used toward the government of the United Kingdom.

The term was originally used by Iranian leader Ruhollah Khomeini in his speech on November 5, 1979 to describe the United States whom he accused of imperialism and the sponsoring of corruption throughout the world.

Ayatollah Khomeini also used occasionally the terms Iblis (the primary devil in Islam) to refer to the United States and other Western countries.


Background history

Iranians have considered the United States and the United Kingdom as Imperialist states, who have a long history of interfering in Iran's internal affairs. In 1907, the Anglo-Russian Agreement between Russia and Britain divided Iran into spheres of influence, challenging Iran's moves toward independence. At the height of the Cold War, the administration of the U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved a joint Anglo-American operation to overthrow elected prime minister, Mohammad Mossadeq, in the pretext that his nationalist aspirations would lead to an eventual communist takeover. The operation was code-named Operation Ajax. At first, the military coup seemed to fail, and the Shah fled the country. After widespread rioting—and with help from the CIA and British intelligence services—Mossadeq was defeated and the Shah returned to power, ensuring support for Western oil interests and snuffing the perceived threat of communist expansion. General Fazlollah Zahedi, who led the military coup, became prime minister.

Ayatollah Khomeini was exiled to Turkey for his outspoken denunciation of the Shah's Status of Forces bill, which granted U.S. military personnel diplomatic immunity for crimes committed on Iranian soil. From Turkey, Khomeini moved to Iraq in 1965 and remained there until 1978 before moving to Paris for four months. He then came back to Iran and led the 1979 revolution.

The United States supported the Shah starting from the 1950s, but this waned toward the end of the 1970s, particularly under the Carter administration.[1] Demonstrators commonly chanted slogans such as "Independence, Freedom, and Islamic Republic".

Satan in Islam and Christianity

It should be noted that the role of Satan is different in Christianity and Islam. While in Christianity, Satan is considered a primary adversary of God and Man, in Islam Satan is often depicted as a trickster, and is seen sometimes as foolish. Therefore, while a traditional Christian viewing of the term 'the Great Satan,' would suggest an evil implication, it could be argued that the term's implication is misinterpreted in Western society due to cultural differences.[2]

Definition of the term

Khomeini is quoted as saying on November 5, 1979, "(Americans) are the great Satan, the wounded snake." The term was used extensively during and after the Islamic Revolution[3], but it continues to be in use in some Iranian political circles. Use of the term at rallies is often accompanied by shouts of "Marg bar Amrika!" ("Down with America!"). The term has also found use in political statements of Muslim and anti-American activists throughout the world. Moreover it is used in academic journals and media.[4]


The term has been discussed extensively and addressed within the context of US-Iranian relations by some members of the United States foreign policy establishment. Former US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, argued: "Far from being the great Satan, I would say we are the great protector. The United States rebuilt Europe and Japan after World War II, defeated Communism and fascism and the only land we ever asked for was enough land to bury our dead."[5]

See also

References & notes

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The Great Satan (Persian شيطان بزرگ Shaytan Bozorg, Arabic الشيطان الأكبر Al-Shaytan Al-Akbar) is a common epithet for the United States of America in Iranian foreign policy statements, popularized by Imam Khomeini. Death to America is another closely linked propaganda phrase.


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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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In the sense of the USA, a calque of Persian شیطان بزرگ (šaytân-e bozorg), a name for the largest of the three jamarat at which stones are thrown during the Hajj.

Proper noun

Great Satan


Great Satan

  1. (Can we verify(+) this sense?) A source of great evil.
    • 1948: Mahatma Ghandi, Council Bluffs Nonpareil
      Imperialism is the great Satan of our day.
  2. (pejorative) The United States of America, usually from the point of view of Iran, the Middle East, or Muslims in general.
    • 2007: Alexander Cockburn, Will they nuke Iran?, The Free Press [1]
      Ahmadinejad, facing serious political problems, can posture about standing up to the Great Satan.
    • 2007: Swapan Dasgupta, Muslims aren't the only voters, The Pioneer [2]
      Or, have Muslims been alienated from the Congress because of the Prime Minister's warm embrace of the Great Satan?


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