Something incredible has been happening in Iran. Thousands of furious Islamist protestors in Qom have been parading in blood-soaked shrouds and carrying black flags, a newspaper has been closed down indefinitely by government order, and three journalists are under arrest, and all because of a 1937 cartoon depicting President Franklin D. Roosevelt's struggle with Supreme Court justices who had been declaring his New Deal programs unconstitutional.
The reformist newspaper Hayat-e-Nou published the 65-year-old, pro-FDR drawing last week. It depicts a bearded justice being squashed by a giant thumb; Americans of the period would have understood that the thumb was Roosevelt's, because the president had instigated a major campaign against the Court's "Nine Old Men," and was attempting to expand and pack it with friendlier appointees.
Hayat-e-Nou ran the drawing without explaining what it was, and may have intended the now-ambiguous image as a comment on pending reform proposals that would loosen conservative control of the Iranian judiciary. But that isn't clear. What is clear is that Iran's religious conservatives perceived the squashed man in the drawing—he's wearing a black robe and has a white beard—to be none other than the late Ayatollah Khomeini. The closed paper, the jailed journalists, and the blood-soaked protestors in the streets of Qom are all responses to this imagined affront.