Wednesday, July 30, 2008

“Wild, Wild, West”: The Right Hemisphere of Islamic Republic.

Eye opening , if not shocking, Serge Barseghian’s interview with the producer of the controversial film The Execution of Pharaoh baffled me more than the even the news of Photoshopped photos of missile tests.

Barseghian introduced the producer as one of the so-called students who climbed the American Embassy’s wall and “fell on the right side of the Islamic Republic’s political arena.” Indeed it was a good analogy, this division of the Republic’s right and left side. But as to the nature of its “right side,” Barseghian, a highly professional journalist, skillfully gives the interviewee a chance to portray it better than any of us could imagine.

Thanks to Serge, the interview took me to the imaginary “Wild Wild West” (if anyone is old enough to recall that popular late sixties TV western serial) where I found myself in view of the Islamic Republic’s right hemisphere which, oddly enough, in spite of all its anti-American diatribes, is politically modeled America’s own neocons. The interview revived the memory of the early days of the Revolution when independent groups led by self-appointed sheriffs took the law in their own hands and, with their private armies, were about to rule the way they wanted. Many of those sheriffs survived and indeed have been promoted to high offices.

Foruz Raja’ifar, one of those promoted sheriffs, is the producer (compiler?) of the controversial series, The Execution of Pharaoh, a derogatory title for a film on assassination of Anwar Sadat, the late president of Egypt, who had given refuge to the Shah after the revolution, by an Islamicist named Eslamboli. Apparently a street in Tehran is named after “Shahid Eslamboli” either in simple appreciation of his religious bravery to kill Sadat or to get even with Egypt’s naming a street for Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi or purely as an act of provocation. The government of Egypt, after some deliberation, responded to the Iranian demand to change the name of the street and probably as a good will offering, changed it to something even worse in the eyes of Islamic Republic, Dr. Mosaddegh Street, and demanded the Islamic Republic reciprocate. The second city council, with an overwhelming fundamentalist majority, voted in favor of this, though it never took placed due to a strong protest from a staunch fundamentalist Islamic group, the Organization for Honoring the Martyr of the International Islamic Movement, headed by Foruz Raja’ifar, who generously offered, “One street named Eslamboli? All of Tehran is nothing but Eslamboli.”

As why a film with such an inflammatory title should be made in such sensitive times in Iran-Egypt relations, the country which apparently had been instrumental in Iran—American relations, without the permission of the government, was answered by Raja’ifar, “Making this film was publicly announced. As a civil organization we are not obliged to obtain permission from any governmental institutions. Indeed, the government agencies knew we were making the film and they should have pursued it, and if they needed some clarification, we would have answered if they would have asked.” And her reaction to the Iranian Foreign Ministry, which announced that the film does not represent the Iran’s official position? “Hearing this, I thought I was dreaming. Did not the Imam say that this Eid-e Ghorban is more holy and cheerful since Sadat has joined Pharaoh?”
Barseghian tries to argue that if the government, a fundamentalist, and not a reformist, tries to established relationship with Egypt, it must have had the support of the Supreme Leader, and the making of a film as such expresses the opposite of what she and her group advocate. It is more a display of conflict with the government they claim to support. To that, Raja’ifar is very blunt: “I need to hear it directly from the Supreme Leader. Then we would be the first to comply with his wishes” She continued, “We asked the government about the establishment of relations with Egypt and why it was happening. Has anything changed? Have we changed? Has Egypt changed? They have not responded yet, and we are still waiting.”

Raja’ifar seems to have a full autonomy in her own domain, with her own rules and laws. She questions the legitimacy not only of the institutions of the presidency or the foreign ministry, but those of the city council, Islam (Is opening a grave permissible in Islam?), the constitution, all the Iranian traditions, and human decency. She is still demanding the extradition of the Shah’s skeleton. (What does she want to do with few pounds of bones?) She had collected 60,000 signatures from the various protestors who were ready to get involved in “martyrdom operations” abroad. (The mission was never accomplished due to some considerations she prefers not to discuss!)

Perhaps this provocative film has been made with the knowledge of the government official. Otherwise, it is one of those secrets that we won’t discover any time soon, and probably not in my lifetime. But judging from the last thirty years of the Islamic Republic’s affairs, I’m not surprise at the emergence of these self-appointed guardians and spokesmen ever so conveniently exercising their right of freedom of expression. I’m not so sure as to the production of a film with such a scope in this stage of our history would be just a mere coincidence or the simple documentation of an historical event; but it certainly resembles many of the coordinated political events occurring in the Iran, as parts of an ongoing Islamic Republic political maneuver, and their way of sending a message and communicating their diplomacy with other nations.
If that is the way the Islamic Republic is managing its affairs, so be it. I can even desensitize myself to the emergence of these autonomous ringleaders, and their activity. But it is difficult to ignore their effect and its reflection on us all. A film as such portrays us, the Iranians, as Raja’ifar intents, as hateful, aggressive, wild, unbridled horsing around a lawless land. It is interesting that the government officials who are so sensitive towards “protecting the public order and social stability” turn a deaf ear to all this rowdiness.

Raja’ifar, in her interview not only takes us to that other side of the Islamic Republic, to the wilderness in which no one is accountable to any one else anymore, a primitive wilderness in which a chief rules by virtue of his power and nothing else. She asserts her chieftainship as well when she claims that it is the government that should respond to her regarding foreign policy! I wish we all had so many rights! Wow! Such a respect for democracy, for people, for law, for government! Such a distinguished model of citizenship!

Oddly enough, Raja’ifar is not alone. There are whole range of these wild ringleaders in the country who do whatever they want and say whatever comes to their mind, and all are under the umbrellas of the “revolutionary zeal” and “devotion to Imam Khomeini and the Supreme Leader,” while in reality they might very well provide a cover and shelter to the government to get away with many of his wrong doing by claiming, “Well, it is not our position and these are private citizens expressing their ideas!”

It is interesting that as the result of this film, which, even though it is not being distributed, has found its way to Sadat’s family, the relationship between the two countries has deteriorated; the soccer game they had been scheduled to play has been cancelled, the diplomats have been recalled, and still no one is questioning anybody regarding this film. In part of her interview she said that, “The Egyptians are not free in their country to say what they want and do not understand that in our country there is the freedom of speech and we can express ourselves freely.” Truly, I did not know that either. I bet lots of journalists and activists in jail do not know it either, but we all know it now. Yes, we have freedom of expression in our country, but just in the right the side, remember!

Still, there is something more to this interview. It legitimizes the use of pronouns “they, them, and you” not according to the rules of grammar, but as opposites to “us.” I confess that I have used the pronoun “you” and “they” here and there occasionally in my articles non-grammatically, and I should admit that drawing that line never came easy and it won’t be easy now either. However, the pain of being part of the wilderness and lawlessness is much too strong to stop me from continuing this practice.

Furthermore, a film as such, even if it is necessitated and sanctioned by the Islamic Republic’s diplomacy, still bears bitter results. A film, like a book, is an artifact which remains forever. For years to come, there will be “Iranians” making an insulting film about some other country’s leader, there will be “Iranians” who demand such a barbaric request as to extradite the skeleton of a man who died years ago and happened to be a dictator in his life time, oddly enough very much like the current regime but a little less murderous and a little more lawful.

But really, who are these people who dare to talk in our behalf? Who are these Raja’ifars who equate our cities to a terrorist? And who are these people who are so immersed in the pool of hatred and revenge as to demand the skeleton of a man who died thirty years ago? And who has given them that authority?

What sort of civilization do they represent? Is it that of Islamic civilization? Surely it is not Iranian. We all come to the world, live for a while, and go. Whatever our relationship with each other in this life and in this world, when we die our body is respected regardless of how sinful our souls and how malicious our relationships were. The body should be disposed of with respect, whether it be the Shah’s or anyone else’s. Raja’ifar and all her 60,000 signatories could portray themselves as evil as they want, but they should leave our nation out of it. We do not demand anybody’s body for better or worse. Not us, we do not wish to be included in this wild, wild world, although we are included if we do not separate ourselves, the last remedy left to us.

In the absence of any wisdom to remind these fellow “wild” and “free” citizens that every inch of Iran belongs to all Iranians, Moslem or otherwise, and Khaled Eslamboli has no right to any of it, we, the residents of the left hemisphere, have to remind them that at some point their reign is going to end, just as it did for all who invaded this great country of ours; and what would remain of them is what has remained of others, just a name. The only difference would be that there would be left more records of the Islamic Republic than that of the Mongols, or even Pahlavis for that matter, thanks to professional journalism and multimedia. If the past history is registered just with scattered references to terror and violence, the Youtube abundantly spices the Islamic Republic’s violence with a bitter and sad laughter and holds them all afresh and intact for ever. Though I’m not sure that the generations coming, long after we all are gone, will be able to have even a sad laughter at these dark pages of history.

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