Counterfeiting Iran’s Green Movement

Iranian banknotes
Here’s an interesting twist on currency counterfeiting: the forged defacement of Iranian banknotes. Sure it’s a real bill, with real doodles, but did it circulate beyond anyone’s kitchen table? Hmm.

At this moment, Iranian students are protesting a video aired by the government purporting to depict demonstrators defiling a poster of the Ayatollah. They assert the footage was fabricated to accuse them of being counter-revolutionaries. In such a climate, how likely is it students are defacing his image on currency and then passing it on?

It appears to me, this “Banknote Uprising” meme is a shameless and unimaginative contrivance, devised in some expat’s Parisian apartment, to pretend Tehran is being flooded with green-marked bills, hoping to prompt real Iranians to take real risks for such a scheme.

A French account quotes a “Alireza, an artist and journalist in Tehran.”

“Mirhossein Mousavi asked young people to use their imagination. And that’s what they’ve done. These banknotes, marked with images and slogans, are everywhere. I have some myself. The central bank tried to take them out of circulation, but there are so many, they had to give up on the idea. For the young people it’s a way of saying ‘We’re here. The green movement is still going on.'”

You can trace the “Banknote Uprising” story from here to here. A closer source being perhaps here. None offer a hint about from where the bills emerged, or even why we should conclude they have been penned by students.

Customizing currency is an easy thing to do in the privacy of your own home, you can even mount and frame your work, or immortalize it on the internet. But is it fair to pretend it passed through the hands of accomplices and ordinary citizens, merchants and bankers, and back again?

Even in America, imagine writing something unpopular on a bill, and trying to convince a local business owner to accept it, knowing he has to exchange it with others, make the same pitch, and ultimately someone has to cough it up to a bank teller. In America the only penalty you face is the proverbial admonishment that it’s a federal crime to deface US currency, yada yada. But what if the person on the other side of the transaction is really offended? Can you do it anonymously? Money passing hands is the very definition of paper trail.

The gist of this meme is to suggest that disenfranchisement with the government is so prevalent that dissenting slogans are circulating freely as citizens pass money from one to another. Is that true? It supports the theory that the last elections in Iran were stolen. But no evidence of fraud has emerged except as made by the US-backed reform parties. The usual international election watchdogs do not report the wrongdoings they observed in abundance in Afghanistan for example.

Writing slogans on currency is not uncommon. Before the last election, I know people who wrote pro-Obama on every bill that passed their hands. Before that there was always something cute to pass along on dollar bills. Kilroy was here, maybe? But I don’t recall any examples of those marked bills or others, coming back.

The Green Movement protesters of Tehran deserve our admiration for their heroism. Not because they represent a democratic uprising, but for being caught between a repressive system, and Western agitators bent on contriving dissent to serve their own goals of regime change.

I think the forgers give themselves away with their choice of slogans. Have a gander at: Khamenei the non-believer is servant of Putin. OR They stole oil money and give it to Chavez. Best of all are the photos of half-dozen bills marked with a rubber stamp, arrayed before the stamp and ink pad. That’s a how-to illustration, not evidence of currency floating through the market.

Shah of Iran on banknoteThe reporting references Iran’s cultural heritage of marking banknotes with dissenting messages. An example is provided of a banknote with the image of the Shah of Iran, defaced by a rubber stamp on the occasion of the Islamic Revolution. But that’s quite another case, where Iran’s currency couldn’t be pulled immediately upon the Shah’s downfall. The existing bills had to be laundered with an official stamp until new bills could be printed to replace them.

Banknote Uprising we can wish. Do it yourself, but don’t con others into acts you’re not foolhardy enough to try yourself.

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Eric Verlo

About Eric Verlo

On sabbatical
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