Religion crowded out in “cloud” of Ayatollah Khamenei’s sermon

June 19, 2009

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivered a major address today on the election there. It was in the form of a khutbah, an Islamic Friday sermon that is often the platform for the most important public pronouncements in the Islamic Republic. So one might assume it would be couched in Islamic terminology and religious themes.

But a rough-and-ready indicator, a web “cloud” that indicates the frequency of certain words, tells us otherwise. Aziz Poonawalla over at the City of Brass blog generated a Khamenei khutbah cloud on Wordle on the basis of a quick translation of the ayatollah’s speech. I had some trouble reading all the terms, so I went to that site and generated one myself. Here is the result:


To be absolutely clear — this cloud is only a rough computer analysis. I generated it in Paris hours after the speech, without consulting any other Reuters bureau, so it played no part in our Tehran reporting of Khamenei’s comments or other coverage on our wire from Beirut and from London. Nothing can replace on-the-spot reporting by Persian-speaking correspondents who understand all the nuances in a political sermon like this.

That said, my techie side still thinks this cloud does highlight some interesting aspects of the sermon. The most frequently used words — people, election, state, president, revolution, country, leaders, legal — are political terms. Islamic makes a good showing, but it is only one of the top dozen or so terms — including God , which came up nine times — after the clear front-runner people (56 times).

Koran doesn’t appear at all.


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This is a misleading analysis – Khamenei’s khutbah follows standard practice of Friday sermons in Iran: the first half is devoted to religious/spiritual matters and the second half is devoted to political/practical matters.

One would need to compare this khutbah with “word clouds” of other khutbahs in order to conclude that this khutbah significantly avoided religious terms.

Furthermore, the fact that certain words, such as “Koran”, are not used at all does not immediately lead to the conclusion that the sermon does not rely on religious terminology; one could give a khutbah, for example, that says “God states such-and-such”, referring to a verse in the Koran, but never using the word “Koran” per se.

Posted by M Shau | Report as abusive

I said this was a rough computer analysis based on a translation in to English and couldn’t replace on-the-spot reporting by journalists who listened to it in Persian. But the frequency of terms was interesting so I put the cloud up here for discussion. Thanks for starting it off with your interesting comment.

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

I thought it was interesting as well – I just wanted to point out that aside from the topic of discussion (i.e. the elections), Khamenei’s khutbah was not that unusual in focusing on politics.

Posted by M Shau | Report as abusive

Many in the USA were upset when George Bush defeated John Kerry in 2004. One fellow even killed himself. In both 2000 and 2004 a huge portion of Americans thought the election was fixed. The violence from the Left is beginning to break-down the democratic process. Everytime their candidate loses they cry foul and resort to violence. The Left believes it has a divine right to hold office. I don’t believe the election was rigged any more than any election is rigged. The USA knew Obama was president elect within a few hours of polls closing. America uses paper ballots too. America is so much bigger than Iran geographically and in population. This argument that “they knew too early” is irrational. I believe the Left is trying to stage a coup.

Posted by mordezlet | Report as abusive

Wow! If God is love, as the Holy Bible says He is, I wonder what His Supreme Ruler’s reaction to social unrest would be?? Just a thought…

Posted by justin | Report as abusive

yes, i agree this is gratuitous reporting. you can’t use a headline like “Religion crowded out in “cloud” of Ayatollah Khamenei’s sermon” and then put a massive disclaimer, even as you attract hits on web searches.

let’s leave one shot wordle clouds to ordinary surfers. we expect real journalism from real journalists. and if you are not qualified to report on the subject, please do like the rest of us and seek out reports from those who are qualified.

let’s not try and profit at all turns from the suffering of ordinary people.

Posted by sami fancy | Report as abusive

Sami Fancy, this is the blogs section, not the news section. This post was never presented as reporting and I said in the text it was not. Furthermore, the title clearly indicates it is talking about the cloud.

On another point, I don’t know where you get the idea that this is any attempt to “profit at all turns from the suffering of ordinary people.”

Posted by Tom Heneghan | Report as abusive

I guess that only minority of Iranian wanted to change while the majority did not that why there was not enough cloud or mandate for the rest of the country to follow.

Posted by keith | Report as abusive

today a bombing on a mosque in iraq kills 70 muslims,and looking at what is going on in iran, also how many places in the world are we seeing muslims killing muslims?because of disagreement about their own interpretation of their faith.this to me seems to validate the prophetic message that the angel gave hager when the came to the aid of her and her son ishmael in genesis,that the sons of ishmael would always kill each other.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

An Iranian just explained to me inIran the poltical parties can have extreme views unlike in America we have two political parties and both tend to follow the middle way.
Surprising to me is the West is so much focused on the minority group in Iran who actually LOST the elections and now are causing trouble in the streets.
Just as what happened to Hamas it is not the majority of people who elected the party but the party who the West has interests in which win the support of the West.

Posted by Maurice | Report as abusive

mordezlet, you forget about all the people on the “right” still trying to dispute Obama’s presidency, either on the grounds that he did not correctly take the oath of office or that he is not a natural born citizen. The defeated will always look for some kind of victory, regardless of political views. This isn’t some kind of plot by the left, this is countless Iranians demanding to be heard. As far as “violence from the Left is beginning to break-down the democratic process” goes, I think your full of it, I don’t remember any “violent” protest from the left after 00 or 04, or violence from the right after 08. As far as Iran goes there is no “democratic process”, it’s a theocracy. The government is run by a supreme leader that is not elected, and any time a population goes up against an unelectable ruler, there is violence (even in our own history).

Posted by I and I | Report as abusive

Maurice, I would like to quote Henry Thoreau “…a government in which the majority rule in all cases cannot be based on justice, even as far as men understand it”. If the majority was never forced to yield to a minority, there would be no woman’s suffrage or civil rights movement. And do you really think this election was ligament? Mousavi lost his home province by a landslide, that would be like Obama beating McCain in Arizona. The polls had Mousavi in such a strong lead before the election that the results certainly look suspicious.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

I would like to add my analysis that why the other countries think that their definition of democracy is correct. The USA, Uk and other west countries, why not reflect their claimed wide vision of viewing the other countries especially muslim countries through their ( from Islamic view ) angle. If they view these countries through view angle of Islamic religion and culture then nothing will seem wrong. No doubt Islam is the most democratic religion and is the only religion which presents strong accoutability from leaders than any other system. West wants that these countries should implement the democracy with out Islamic religion like them they have enclosed the religion in churches only. Where as Islam present democracy according to rules set by Islam/Quran/Hadith. Therefore Islam cannot be seperated from democracy but also total western style democracy is not appplicable in Muslim countries.

Posted by Nain | Report as abusive

Loved the cloud with the emphasis on people. Reminds me of a speech I read by Hazrat Abu Bakr Sjddiq, the first Caliph. “Now that I have been elected your Caliph, although I am no better than you. Co-0perate with me if I am right: set me right if I go astray. Truth is a trust, falsehood is a treason….” He goes on putting the emphasis on people and their ‘Trust,’ which I noticed barely made the grade in the cloud. It begs the question: Would rigging an election, even one held between pre selected candidates, be considered a falsehood? If so then, who would the falsehood be against? The state, or the people?

Posted by TJ | Report as abusive

I guess that only minority of Iranian wanted to change

Posted by homequran | Report as abusive

typical pretentious response mr. Heneghan

‘ I don’t know where you get the idea that this is any attempt to “profit at all turns from the suffering of ordinary people.” ‘

let me spell it out for you. you post an article with a bold headline through the well linked Reuters network that suggests that you have uncovered something highly insightful or unique, at a time when people, many with relatives in the middle of the fray, are desperately searching for anything that might help them gauge the way the next hours and days will unfold, and others, who are deeply sympathetic with the brave young iranian women and men, interested to learn more about a culture we know little about.

so the reality is that you generated a bold headline to draw unsuspecting users to your ostensibly insightful wordle ‘cloud’ analysis of Khamenei’s speech, while not even investigating or placing in context the nature of those sermons in general or consulting someone with a grounding in the regional context.

just silly and shallow, thus my use of the word gratuitous. perhaps i should add self-serving.

yes it is a blog, but that doesn’t mean pedestrian analyses will go unrecognized.

Posted by sami fancy | Report as abusive

Sami Fancy, what’s your problem, seriously? Heneghan made a short and interesting analysis and he nuanced it accordingly, so as not to make any claims he cannot substantiate.

Besides, this is a blog, and honestly speaking, I thought that the short analysis was worth my time.

Just as mr. Heneghan can express himself how he chooses, you can choose which ‘expression’ to spend your time on. You ‘don’t have time’ to click on a link and read something, but you do apparently have time to write two inconsistent tirades.

And as for the admittedly brave Iranian men and women fighting for their rights on the streets; I think they would welcome ANY type of attention right now.

So get over yourself.

As for the comments about the ‘majority’ not wanting change. Which part of the phrase ‘rigged vote’ do you people NOT understand? We have no idea what the ‘majority’ wanted. Besides, even if the majority wants something, it doesn’t mean it can just TAKE it. The word democracy comes from the Greek words demos (people) and cratia (rule), or rule of the people, not rule of the majority.

This is why in democracies we have both a constitution (and Iran’s ruling class is CLEARLY violating the country’s own constitution right now), and respect for the minority. In ANY healthy Western democracy, if over 30% doubt the government to such a degree as those Iranians doubt their own right now, the government would AT LEAST have to address their concerns. The government is supposed to represent all of its people, not just the ones that voted for them.

If such protests took place in my own country (The Netherlands), the government would FALL.

Besides, what is their problem in organizing a second presidential run-off? If 65% support Ahemadajan, wouldn’t he win again?

And finally, Naim above posted “If they view these countries through view angle of Islamic religion and culture then nothing will seem wrong.”. Now I’m not an expert on the Holy Qur’an, but I’m pretty sure that the following acts are considered SINS from an Islamic point of view:

– Killing muslims (especially if they do you no actual harm)
– Assuming power under the pretense of doing God’s bidding (i.e. positioning yourself as ‘God’)
– Lying
– Stealing
– …

Islam might be a democratic religion, but Islamic regimes are generally as criminal and autocratic as Soviet ones were. Both have philosophies that are rooted in absolutism. Just in the same way as Christianity is a democratic religion, but we wouldn’t want a bunch of priests who pretend to have a direct ‘hot line’ to God, running our lives.

Posted by Vid | Report as abusive

I guess that only minority of Iranian wanted to change the majority is there on the other side

Posted by learningquran | Report as abusive