War: Bringing Us Together Since…

From every newspaper and newscast I read/watch these days, it seems like Iranians, as, an entire nation of people, are cast as anti-Semitic bigots. And while I am almost positive there are Iranian people who fit this bill, I cannot imagine that all Iranians believe what our favorite Ahmadinejad touts as the Iranian ethos: hate Jews, homosexuals, the West, etc. etc.

So, to read this article in the WSJ is not only promising and exciting, but also enlightening. A new TV show called “Zero Degree Turn” is apparently a huge hit with Iranians all over the country. (I’m trying to post a clip of an episode from YouTube above, but until I technology and I stop having a marital spat, you can check out full length episodes at YouTube)

The hour-long drama, “Zero Degree Turn,” centers on a love story between an Iranian-Palestinian Muslim man and a French Jewish woman. Over the course of the 22 episodes, the hero saves his love from Nazi detention camps, and Iranian diplomats in France forge passports for the woman and her family to sneak on to airplanes carrying Iranian Jews to their homeland.

Now, I think this is pretty grand. The story casts an Iranian-Palestinian Muslim man and a French Jewish woman. That’s pretty ballsy of the director if Iran really is as anti-Semitic as I think we’re all led to believe.

The really surprising part, I think, is the fact that the show is state-funded. State-funded? Wow.

…the government’s spending on the show underscores the subtle and often sophisticated way in which the Iranian state uses its TV empire to send out political messages. The aim of the show, according to many inside and outside the country, is to draw a clear distinction between the government’s views about Judaism — which is accepted across Iranian society — and its stance on Israel — which the leadership denounces every chance it gets.

As someone who has spent a majority of her high school and college career reading, learning, and arguing about Israel and Palestine and trying to formulate my own thoughts on the entire situation, I found the above quote especially interesting. I know a lot of people, friends of mine, who would believe that being anti-Israel automatically means anti-Semitic. I wholeheartedly believe that it does not. But I suppose I understand many Jews who would believe that. I think it’s possible to oppose the fundamentals of a state or its policies without having to oppose the people of that state. It’s kind of like…oh, the way I oppose most, if not all, the ridiculousness that Dubya likes to write home about, but um…I don’t hate Americans. And opposing US policy on anything does not should not imply that I’m anti-American.

Iran is home to some 25,000 Jews, the largest population in the Middle East outside of Israel. Iran’s Jews — along with Christians and Zorastrians — are guaranteed equal rights in the country’s constitution. Iran’s Jews are guaranteed one member of parliament and are free to study Hebrew in school, pray in synagogues and shop at kosher supermarkets. Despite Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statements, it isn’t government policy to question the Holocaust, and the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hasn’t endorsed those views…
He [Hassan Fatthi, the show’s writer and director] says he came up with the idea for “Zero Degree Turn” four years ago as he was reading books about World War II and stumbled across literature about charge d’affaires at the Iranian embassy in Paris. Abdol Hussein Sardari saved over a thousand European Jews by forging Iranian passports and claiming they belonged to an Iranian tribe.


Fabulous. Pretty damn great. While at NYU, I took a class on peace and conflict resolution and learned a great deal about the many successful uses of non-violent activism and protest, especially during World War II…non-violent protests that actually prevented many Jews from being sent to concentration camps. I had no idea that Abdol Hussein Sardari, and I’m sure other Iranians, managed to save over a thousand European Jews by “forging Iranian passports.” Somehow stories like this have managed to slip through the cracks of our telling of history. That, to me, is disappointing, because these stories are just as heroic and inspiring as the more obvious ones (read: Schindler’s List)

Furthermore,

Iran is home to some 25,000 Jews, the largest population in the Middle East outside of Israel. Iran’s Jews — along with Christians and Zorastrians — are guaranteed equal rights in the country’s constitution. Iran’s Jews are guaranteed one member of parliament and are free to study Hebrew in school, pray in synagogues and shop at kosher supermarkets. Despite Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statements, it isn’t government policy to question the Holocaust, and the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hasn’t endorsed those views.

Media is one of the most important venues for political dialogue, and, as exemplified in the case of Myanmar, one of the first methods of control is to shut down or completely dominate radio, newspapers, television, and internet access…which is why this is so great:

The message appears to be grabbing the public. Sara Khatibi, a 35-year-old mother and chemist in Tehran, says she and her husband never miss an episode. “All we ever hear about Jews is rants from the government about Israel,” she says. “This is the first time we are seeing another side of the story and learning about their plight.”

The fact that so many viewers tune in every Monday night to watch this story unfold should be evidence that Iranian society is not as naive or ignorant as some might believe and are more open to conversation and dialogue.

Before I ramble any further, read the entire article. It’s pretty decent.

And as a last sidenote: Hassan Fathi also directed the film Marriage: Iranian Style. If you have access, you should definitely go out and find this film. And then watch it. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll have a nervous breakdown…well, hopefully not the latter. But it’s a good film. Check it out.

*I feel like I have to put a little disclaimer here (after the fact), that I do not believe that everything is peaches and pie for Jews in the Middle East. I do not. Absolutely. And that’s not at all what I’m trying to portray with this post. I just think this article and this TV show are good examples of a progression, hopefully forward.


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18 comments for “War: Bringing Us Together Since…

  1. SoE
    November 5, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    It’s probably worth pointing out that Ahmadinejad’s quote to wipe out Israel is a false translation. And even if he had any intentions to do so he could hardly decide anything on his own because the Guardian Council always has a say, too, and the Supreme Leader, Chamenei, has the final word. As far as I know neither of them is interested in getting rid of Jews. A forbidden religion in Iran is the Bahá’í Faith but that’s another story.

    From what I’ve learned Iranian politics are pretty messy.

  2. sam
    November 5, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    There was something on NPR the other day about a related issue – they were profiling the author of Among the Righteous, about Arab (I know Iranians are Persian, but the book is about Arabs) peoples who saved jews during the holocaust (mostly by helping to issue false identity papers). I was totally captivated, because I hadn’t really heard this story before.

  3. sam
    November 5, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    The point I was trying to make with the last comment (before I hit submit accidentally), is that while the particular TV show is probably “fiction” as all scripted shows are, it has some historical factual basis backing it up. The most interesting part of the NPR conversation was about how many of the children and grandchildren of those who saved jews are secretly proud of their parents and grandparents, but that they can’t discuss it publicly because of the current political climate. Perhaps shows like this will allow the discussion to be more “public” in the future.

  4. Fauzia
    November 5, 2007 at 3:40 pm

    Sam,

    I wholeheartedly agree with you, which is why I think this show is so promising. The fact that it’s state-funded means there is that while the media is still state controlled, at least they are letting “fictional” shows like this one out to the public…which in turn, means…educating the public on a past that they may not have known about before (I definitely was ignorant to it).

    That’s great.

  5. Fauzia
    November 5, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    SoE,

    Noted. And yeah, I should have mentioned that Ahmadinejad’s quote has been mis-translated on numerous occasions. But I figured that’d open up a whole other discussion.

  6. MizDarwin
    November 5, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    Opposing a state’s policies is one thing, but what do you mean by “oppos[ing] the fundamentals of a state”? What are a state’s “fundamentals”? That sounds awfully like “Israel shouldn’t exist” to me … and it would be hard to find a way that that sentiment is not anti-Semitic.

  7. Fauzia
    November 5, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    MizDarwin,

    Hmm. Maybe my language wasn’t applicable. But, I’m not sure that I believe that “Israel shouldn’t exist” is an outright anti-Semitic sentiment. I’m not saying that “Israel shouldn’t exist” but just to play the Devils’ advocate here, if I were to say that it shouldn’t, that does not preclude me from believing that there should be a state where Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Christians, can all live together without it having to be a Jewish state. I’m not a fan of Muslim states either, in case you were wondering.

  8. Leo
    November 5, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    Any noninsane person understands that all of Iran, or any other country for that matter, cannot be anti-Semitic. But to say that many Iranians and the rest of the Muslim and Arab world are indeed quite anti-Semitic. The refusal to believe in the Holocaust yet willingness to believe in the Blood libel of so many in that part of the world is, of course, due to being brainwashed. But it exists in large numbers nonetheless. The rights Jews have in Iran are touted in this blogpost in a tone that suggests everything is wonderful for them. The fact that they are unable to speak out about issues concerning them without serious reprocussions puts all of those rights in perpetual jeapardy. Nor is the fact that the Iranian regime is attempting to systematically destroy the Bahai faith mentioned. It’s completely unreasonable to paint an entire nation as monolithic in any way. That is especially true for Iranians/Persians. But let’s not try to pretend that this is an all accepting progressive society of some sort.

  9. Leo
    November 5, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    A couple of more things. Apologies for my previous comment which I forgot to edit. I meant to say that it is unreasonable to pretend that much of Iran, and the rest of the Muslim world, is not anti-Semitic. One can say this without coming to the moronic conclusion that every Muslim/Arab/Persian is anti-Semitic.

    Also, I would argue that in the context of our existence large number of actual Muslim states which are infinitely more repressive than Israel at it’s worst as well as the Holocaust and other anti-Semitic events in history it is, in fact, anti-Semitic to say Israel shouldn’t exist. Sure, believing that no country should be any type of religious or ethnic state and that all types of people should be treated equally in all states is by no means anti-semitic. Yet the logical conclusion of such a utopia would be Israel’s nonexistence. . But such utopian ideals ignore history. So, in the context of the world as it is, if one’s belief is that Israel’s existence as a Jewish state is the world’s biggest problem, then one is probably an anti-Semite.

  10. MizDarwin
    November 5, 2007 at 7:52 pm

    Historically, states like that haven’t worked out too well for the Jews for about 3,000 years or so, though. We tend to get expelled, killed, converted, etc. And it just seems a bit rosy to suggest that such things wouldn’t happen now, when they have happened consistently for millennia. Because of this history I see the foundation of a Jewish state as fundamentally a defensive maneuver. Though I realize settlers and other nasty folk don’t agree with that. I also think there was a good argument to be made, in the first half of the 20th century, for founding a Jewish state somewhere other than Palestine. But that is where it got founded, and history indicates such a state is needed. So what are you gonna do.

    In general, though, I really appreciated this post. I’ve got a severe love for the Iranian people and now there’s one more reason for it.

  11. Fauzia
    November 6, 2007 at 6:22 am

    In response to several comments, so I won’t quote them all: I’m not trying portray the ENTIRE Iranian population as accepting and progressive. Hell, I’m not trying to portray the Middle East as accepting and progressive. It is not. At all. I’m not trying to deny that anit-Semitism is the norm for many governments/people in the Middle East (and yes, I find this disgusting). But, if anything, I was trying to present one positive portrayal of Jews (and Jews and Arabs traversing religious and cultural boundaries) in Iranian media. Why can’t we see the TV show as one step towards combating anti-Semitism in the region? Nowhere in my post did I say that the Middle East or Iran, specifically, was not anti-Semitic. I meant that this TV show is a really fabulous example of how the state-funded media is helping to combat that anti-Semitism. I’m trying to focus on the positive, just once.

  12. Leo
    November 6, 2007 at 11:37 am

    A positive step, no doubt. I wonder whether anyone knows the story about how, exactly, the show came to be. I do give you props for bringing attention to it.

  13. SunlessNick
    November 6, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    But, I’m not sure that I believe that “Israel shouldn’t exist” is an outright anti-Semitic sentiment. – Fauzia

    I agree that it’s not necessarily anti-Semitic – there are even Jewish sects that say it – but it does set off alarm bells.

    … a state where Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Christians, can all live together without it having to be a Jewish state.

    Israel makes a lot of effort to be such a state; it’s government might be dominated by Jews, but it’s run more on secular priciples than religious ones. (AFAIK)

  14. Hector B.
    November 6, 2007 at 3:01 pm

    a state where Palestinians and Israelis, Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Christians, can all live together without it having to be a Jewish state.

    Israel makes a lot of effort to be such a state; it’s government might be dominated by Jews, but it’s run more on secular priciples than religious ones.

    Israel works as a Jewish state at the present time because it’s 80% Jewish. Since the rest of the world’s Jews are pretty happy where they are, Israel will have to both encourage its Jews to reproduce, and discourage non-Jewish immigrants, if they want to maintain this majority.

  15. Tara
    November 6, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    Growing up Jewish, I never got the impression of Persians as anti-semitic. We know there is a larger Jewish population that was permitted to stay there than anywhere else in the middle east, and the long tradition of relatively greater religious pluralism necessitated by the strength of the Zoroastrian tradition there. I get annoyed when I think people paint it overly rosy – I saw a BBC documentary on Youtube that went on and on about how happy the Jewish community was, in between clips that made it crystal clear that no one felt safe speaking freely.

    Still, I think part of the reason some aren’t so excited about this movie is that weak Jews have always been more palatable to anti-semites than strong Jews. It’s unfortunate that, in that part of the world, anything that tends to affirm the existence of the Holocaust can be said to be a positive step. But a movie that promotes sympathy towards the poor pathetic Jew (ish woman) being rescued by the strong, noble, gentile ____ to be repatriated as a regulated religious minority isn’t exactly, well, amazing.

    But still – better is good!

  16. Kyle
    November 6, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    Israel makes a lot of effort to be such a state; it’s government might be dominated by Jews, but it’s run more on secular priciples than religious ones. (AFAIK)

    A state can call itself secular, but that doesn’t stop it from upholding overt and institutionalized racism. Ethnic divisions persist throughout economic and social life in Israel and if you ask any ethnic minority in that country about their human rights and their quality of life versus the majority, one can come to some pretty awful conclusions. Jim Crow and Apartheid are two different historical moments that come to mind.

  17. Tara
    November 6, 2007 at 11:12 pm

    Oh wow Kyle, thanks for bringing up the apartheid thing! If it didn’t come up in EVERY single thread about Israel ever, someone might for an instant forget about it and think that everything is just hunky dory in the middle east!

  18. Fauzia
    November 7, 2007 at 2:43 am

    But a movie that promotes sympathy towards the poor pathetic Jew (ish woman) being rescued by the strong, noble, gentile ____ to be repatriated as a regulated religious minority isn’t exactly, well, amazing.

    Well…you’re probably right. You are right. On a feminist level, this movie isn’t exactly the greatest example of a strong, heroic woman. But…that opens up the topic of contextualizing feminism. Cultural feminism. All of that. All that comes to mind when I read that comment is…baby steps. Baby steps. That doesn’t mean we should all throw up our hands say “Hallelujah” hand over a Nobel Prize to these guys, all I’m saying is: baby steps.

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