On the day after the Oscars, some thoughts on movies and Iran . . .
My wife and I recently watched the Iranian movie, “The Past.” It is the fifth Iranian movie we’ve watched, and like the others, it is excellent.
Will I be arrested for sedition for saying something positive about Iran?
It’s not paranoia to think that the doddering and molting hawk John McCain or the acid-reflux president Donald Trump would want to resurrect Woodrow Wilson’s Alien and Sedition Act to imprison anyone who says anything good about their archenemy Iran.
A reminder for the White House press: Wilson was a progressive Democrat and former professor, who, like progressive Democrat professors of today, banned speech he didn’t like and actually imprisoned reporters under the Alien and Sedition Act for daring to question his war policies. It seems to me that this was far worse than anything President Acid-Reflux has done to the press.
Allow me to continue my seditiousness.
Iran has a vibrant movie industry of top-notch writers, directors, cinematographers, and actors. Far from being propaganda pieces, movies are honest about problems in the country, as long as films don’t attack the regime or Islam directly. Of course this limitation is a serious abridgement of free speech that runs counter to Western values (except the values on college campuses) and shows that Iran is not an open society. Directors who cross the line face imprisonment, as was the case for director Jafar Panahi, who was sentenced to six years in prison.
One of Panahi’s movies, “Offside,” was about young Iranian women who dressed as men so they could enter a stadium to watch a soccer championship, thus violating the religious prohibition that forbids women from mingling with men at such events. A funny scene shows them having to use the men’s restroom.
Despite the regime’s limitations on free speech, Iranian movies are intelligent and humanistic. There is little of the disgusting bile and shoot-‘em-up crap that characterizes so much of what Hollywood produces. The movies show the trials and tribulations of average people trying to get by in modern society as they deal with marriage, divorce, child-rearing, caring for ageing parents, struggling to make a living, and dealing with government bureaucrats.
Hmm, could it be that Iranians are human like us?
Middle-class Iranians do indeed resemble middle-class Americans. Many are urbanites who live in modern cities like Tehran or in outlying suburbs. They are educated, cultured, hip, and Western in dress and outlook. Young urban women are fit, attractive, stylish, and creative in finding ways to get around dress codes so as to reveal their sexuality. The contrast is stunning between these Shiite Persians and the Sunni Arabs/Bedouins of such American allies as Saudi Arabia. Of course Saudi Arabia was the birthplace of Osama bin Laden and all but one of the 9/11 terrorists. It’s also the birthplace of the virulent strain of Islam known as Wahhabism—which, along with oil, is a chief export of the kingdom.
This is not to suggest that life is idyllic in a religious state under an extremist regime. But it is to suggest that it is dangerous, and misguided for McCain to chant “Bomb, bomb, Iran,” as he did a couple of years ago. This from a guy who says that Trump is over the top. It also is misguided to think that all Iranians are religious fanatics who harbor ill-will towards America and Israel. (One of the most popular series on Iranian TV was about the horrors of the Holocaust.)
Moreover, it is not unpatriotic to admit that Iranians have a lot of good reasons to hate the United States. For example, the USA . . .
- joined Great Britain in 1953 in overthrowing Mohammad Mosaddegh, the democratically-elected prime minister, because he had the audacity to claim that Iranian oil belonged to Iran and not to Britain;
- replaced Mosaddegh with the hated American puppet, the Shah;
- allowed the Shah to enter the U.S. for medical treatment after he was later deposed, thus setting off the hostage crisis and ensuring that Jimmy Carter would be a one-term president;
- sold arms to Saddam Hussein in his brutal war against Iran;
- sold nuclear technology to Iran and later demonized the country for having nuclear technology;
- gave arms to Iran in Ronald Reagan’s illegal Iran-Contra deal and later demonized the country for arming terrorists;
- put trade and banking restrictions on Iran that hurt common Iranians more than the ruling elite;
- shot an Iranian passenger jet out of the sky;
- sent an invading army into the neighboring country of Iraq, which in turn resulted in former Sunni Baathists joining ISIS in neighboring Syria and becoming a threat to Iran; and
- demonizes Iran for funding Hezbollah, overlooking the fact that the terrorist organization came into being after Israel had committed atrocities during its occupation of Southern Lebanon.
What if we had not done any of this? Would the Iranian regime be our friends? Probably not. The Islamic fundamentalists who run the country view us as immoral infidels deserving of death and destruction, just as they see Sunni Muslims as heretics deserving the wrath of Mohammed. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that the fundamentalists do not represent the thinking of all Iranians, especially not educated young people who want peace with America.
This sobering reality brings to mind some closing thoughts on the human condition.
Ever since humanoids stood on two legs and entered the African savannah, their fate was determined by what tribe they were born into and what decisions were made by their alpha male. With all of our supposed modern sophistication, it’s still the same today. We are still at the mercy of alpha males like John McCain and Donald Trump to decide who is friend and who is foe, just as Iranians are at the mercy of alpha males at the top of the Iranian regime. The humanity we share with Iranians is irrelevant once the leaders of both sides deem that the other side is the enemy. We’re not much different from tribes in the New Guinea jungle who were still attacking each other, carrying off each other’s womenfolk, and cooking and eating the remains of enemies killed in battle as recently as the mid-twentieth century. When anthropologists asked tribesmen what the bloodshed was over and who started the fighting long ago, they couldn’t remember.
Anyway, my apologies to McCain and Trump for watching Iranian movies and thinking that Iranians are human. I don’t know what got into me. We should bomb, bomb, bomb ‘em into submission and eat their remains. Mmm, free-range Iranians.