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December 05, 2003

The student movement, Jennifer Lopez and me!
Mehrad Vaezinejad  [info|posts]

jlopez.jpg This post may, in some ways, be similar to Hossein Derakhshan's "Let's start shaping...". Perhaps it could be viewed as an example:

The other night I was watching a semi-documentary on Channel 4 called "Iran Undercover". The program was made by a Canadian journalist who had been trying to show some of those realities that, as she believed, Zahra Kazemi had previously given her life to find out. For this, she had visited different (to say) oppositions in Iran, Germany, UK and the Netherlands. Despite all her efforts and all the risks she said she had been taking in the Islamic State, the program was not professionally well made: her resources did not seem quite credible and her story was very much biased. But most important for me was that unfortunately her focus was on recent student movements in Iran.

Back in Iran, and it is not a long time ago, I was relatively active or at least close to many of those who were active in the so called student movement. Honestly, watching her story, I was really shocked as I did not know any of those whom she mentioned as "leaders" of the movement. I do not have any intention to say she was faking, nor do I have the valid evidence to prove such a claim and after all, there actually was some measure of truth in her portrait of Iran. Simply, I just want to note that lack of independent literature on the recent Iranian socio-political situation by Iranians simply creates enough room for rather manipulated or poorly informed productions by foreign journalists. Just to have some idea of how far the images could be from the realities of Iran society, I mention an example:

At some stage of her analysis, she pointed to the local council elections and the very low level of turnout in large cities like Tehran. Then, while showing footage of an Iranian student movement leader (whom I never had heard of), she suggested that his letter being smuggled out of prison and his appeal to Iranians not to participate in a "sham" was the main reason for the masses not to take part in that election.

There is no doubt that anybody who knows Iran and its complex social situation would find such a deduction ridiculous. Yet despite her broad exaggerations (e.g. about intelligence service activities in Iran), one could still find some realities in her report, such as the corruption of judicial system or violence practiced by unofficial militias.

Having watched that feature, I felt the necessity of intellectual discourse and clarification of ambiguities about Iran more than ever. As an Iranian student living outside of Iran, as an Iranian citizen who thinks of himself as being concerned about his country, it was more than unbearable for me to watch somebody call himself a leader of the Iranian student movement, an ex-political-prisoner, and then shout to the camera: "I love Jennifer Lopez!"

Seńor Gręd at December 7, 2003 03:14 PM [permalink]:

I think there will always be misrepresentation of Iran (and other countries) in the Western media. Part of this is inherently unavoidable. You cannot possibly educate a certain people about another people from another part of the planet. Certain misconceptions are bound to survive, no matter how much you try. The residents of the US, in particular, are well-known for their ignorance about other cultures, in spite of the abundance of all the educational resources. Part of this misrepresentation, however, can be fought by providing sound pictures of Iran.

One important point to consider is the implicit message in Hossein Derakhshan's and Mehrad's post(ing)s that non-Iranians are *not* as qualified for opining about Iran's affairs as we Iranians are. This is not quite true. First, there are many Iranians who benefit from distorting the realities of Iran, so they would knowingly commit the crime of misrepresentation. On the other hand, there are non-Iranians who try their best to provide an unbiased picture of the country.

A shining example of this latter category are the journalist couple who were finally kicked out of the country some time ago: Answering Only to God (by Geneive Abdo & Jonathan Lyons).

mammad agha at December 7, 2003 10:10 PM [permalink]:

unfortunately as long as our foreign language media and tourism rate stay limited like now, we'll see these kind mispresnetation and misinformation... there was a nice documentary though that I saw on Arte by Thierry Michel, it's called "Iran, sous le voile des apparences". It came to Boston, too ;-)

yahya at December 8, 2003 12:04 AM [permalink]:

Iran Veiled Appearance that mammad agha mentioned is an amazing documentry. If you live in Boston, MFA is showing it again on coming Saturday. It is probably the best documentry I have seen about Iran's political situation. Unfortunately, it is a bit old so it doesn't capture defeat of Khatami.

Abbas Agha at December 8, 2003 03:40 AM [permalink]:

Good news is that BBC's Jim Muir is in the middle of making a documentary about Iran.

SG2 at December 8, 2003 10:13 AM [permalink]:

SG: You are born to criticize others' point of views. Too bad!

Seńor Gręd at December 8, 2003 11:12 AM [permalink]:

You are probably right, SG2! But don't encourage me, OK? I'm just sitting here now like a bache-ye khoob, licking my wounds. But tell me, for God's sake, why on the earth did you choose to imitate my nickname? esm ghaht bood?

Seńor Gręd at December 8, 2003 11:19 AM [permalink]:

Addendum: Criticising, I agree, is in my blood. I just enjoy showing people how wrong they are. :-) One thing that is usually missed by the "others" though, is that I'm as brutal on myself and my own "viewpoints" as on others'. Try to understand that, SG2.

SG2 at December 8, 2003 11:53 AM [permalink]:

SG: First of all I'm not imitating your nickname. Mine stands for something else (FYI). Secondly, understood!

Seńor Gręd at December 8, 2003 12:19 PM [permalink]:

I was thinking some more last night about the content of Mehrad's post(ing), and as usual I extrapolated a little and got to the following observations.

As I mentioned before, the misunderstanding between peoples coming from different cultures will remain forever a fact of life. Even a smart anthropologist who spends his whole life among a people other than his own, may not finally get it right, let alone a journalist who spends a short time in another country, with a minimum knowledge of even the language of the land.

In other words, words (and even pictures) fall way short of what we are used to expect of them, when it comes to portaying the subtleties of a culture to a people from another culture. Try this experiment: Go to Iran and try to tell those friends and relatives who've never been outside Iran what it feels to live in the US, or Canada, or wherever esle in the western himsphere that you live at. Try to quench the curiosity of the anxious folks who have a vague inaccurate idea of how it feels to live in the West as an Iranian, NOT even how to see the world from the eyes of a Westerner. The picture you draw, will naturally be far from well-rounded.

The difficulty you will encounter is similar to the difficulty of an old worldly man when he wants to communicate his life experience to the next generations. He'll soon give up, because they just don't get it. They haven't yet been through what he's been through. But if he can make them memorize verses from Sa'di's book of wisdom, then they may at some point have a moment of "aha!" and realize what that's been all about.

This *inherent* difficulty, this insurmountable shortsoming of language and other media, is in fact what makes a dialog among different cultures necessary. Add to this the fact that each of us have a necessarily limited vision of our country. Some are raised in North Tehran and some in South Tehran, so even assuming that we are honest our perspectives are naturally different.

The remedy is, I think, a willingness to hear others' stories combined with a tolerance for others' point of view. Also, the only way you can un-do the words of an ignorant journalist is by adding your own words through similar channels.

And it now seems to me that this is close to what Hossein Derakhshan is after!

Midland at January 23, 2004 02:41 PM [permalink]:

You got to love how Jennifer and Ben look together! I think they make a great couple!