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)
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.
- Now Tell Me More About What You’re Wearing by Ilyka Damen October 26, 2006
- The Gaza Ceasefire and the Hereafter by Natalia Antonova January 17, 2009
- I Leave New York and They Will Come by Fauzia November 5, 2007
- This is what anti-semitism looks like by The Girl Detective July 9, 2008
- This is what is wrong with America. by Vanessa July 24, 2007