May 5, 2013
It was a double bill. An Israeli singer and an Iranian who I had heard perform on numerous occasions before that day at this new venue. My ticket named a famous celebrity as the presenter – a producer to the stars, practically the Godfather of the recording industry and the patron saint of who’s who on the A-list. So I figured it must be a marketing plug. Probably Mr. Big Shot sat on some board and had graciously lent his name to one among many events on the season’s calendar. After all, the entire cultural scene in this town runs on philanthropy and celebrity horse trading rather than Uncle Sam’s love for the arts who, judging by those head shots pasted all over the country jabbing his finger in my face and yours, is probably more interested in fine arsenal rather than fine jazz – much less in obscure world music from the rural Middle East.
So you can imagine my surprise when I saw the celebrity producer, in the flesh, a little older and a little heavier than his TV persona, walk up on that stage, slightly hunched, and dressed in his finest, festooned with a blue silk scarf to make the introductions.
He said he was so happy and moved to be presenting an Israeli artist along with an Iranian. Really? I am sitting in the audience puzzled as to why that is interesting — more interesting than say an artist from Zimbabwe with an Iranian. Or an Eskimo with the Israeli. It goes to show the power of music, he said, clasping his hands in reverence. That despite all their differences, music is the language of peace and can bring people together. Shalom. Salaam ….
Peace? Between Iranians and the Israelis? Does he mean the Jews and Persians? Jews and Arabs? Israelis and the Arabs? The Palestinians? One never knows with celebrity activists.
For a while it seemed that an adopted African child was an absolute must have accessory to a designer outfit just in case one was caught off guard walking out of Kitson’s by the paparazzi. But with all the modern day upheavals; the Arab spring, the Syrian revolution, the poor Afghani women sequestered inside their burqa – (now that we know what the heck a burqa is, never mind that they have been wrapped in that thing for centuries) – with the mass rapes in eastern Congo; the Maasai land grab in Tanzania; oil exploitation by Shell in the Niger delta; Yanomami evictions from their ancestral land in the Brazilian Amazon; oppression of the Nepalese Dalit; the Tibetans, Burmese, Darfuries ….and did you know that the Saudi women can’t even drive?… well — Its practically a supermarket out there!
A giant outlet of pet causes, discount and premium brand raison d’etres right for every pocketbook — the privileged Brentwood dweller wishing to get a whiff of the exotic from the safety of her security patrolled, pesticide-free, air conditioned mansion without missing a single Pilates class; the suburban minivan-driving soccer mom wanting to escape the routine of humdrum PTA meetings, Costco hoarding exercises and Wednesday nights at the in-laws; and of course that constant mother lode of activism — the idealistic college kid who has channeled all his frustrations growing up in a dysfunctional family with an abusive or absent parent into saving the world whose army of middle men sit ready at call centers tethered to donate buttons happy to help pay his way into his inner humanitarian through a simplistic, ready packed and pre-digested narrative to fund raise, validate mainstream agenda, and stamp that free-trade locally grown designer-diet, free of guilt in spite of its higher price tag because an undisclosed amount is going to some tribe with an unpronounceable name in the middle of a war zone.
Excuse me, but since when are the people of Iran and the people of Israel at war with each other and in need of peace, understanding and a hearty sing-along? If you can’t recognize a conflict for what it is – namely a pissing contest on the highest levels to wield influence over the cradle of civilization – nowadays simply the cradle of strategic trade routes and bottomless oil and gas fields, kindly refrain from opining on the subject, let alone using your position and status to give it oxygen. Because you know what? You may actually be breathing life into a non-existent problem; worse – diverting from the actual one. In other words, if you can’t be bothered to read an in depth analysis from all angles – and I don’t mean listening to Wolf Blitzer on an infinite CNN loop – then stop. Do no harm.
But in the event you should find yourself in the position of wanting to engage in the fine art of political activism, here are a few thoughts.
Did you know that over 80,000 homeless wander the streets right here in Los Angeles, or that we in the U.S. incarcerate a larger number of our own people than any other country – that’s a quarter of all documented prisoners in the world.
Did you know that the prisons are privatized and that their lobbies, like all other lobbies in this great democracy have short-circuited the system, passing laws to maximize sentencing terms for profit?
Did you know that The U.S. is among the top five countries carrying out executions along with Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and China.  And did you know that once the hysteria around the Boston Marathon bombing subsides and the main stream media is done mourning the lives of the three victims and dissecting the two suspects ad-nauseam, there will still be a violent crime committed in this country every 25.3 seconds,  that’s up to 30 gun related deaths, 162 injuries, not to mention 53 suicides each day. 
Now; in case you do decide on that fundraiser, here’s also an idea for an opening concert: An evening of songs for peace and understanding – a double bill — An upcoming young Chechen duo along with a band from the Czech Republic!
….Now that is what I call interesting.
The Washington-AIPAC love-fest season is once again upon us. The New York Times’ featured article sports a picture of Biden and Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, in loving embrace pledging support and allegiance, unconditional and eternal. Kiss! Kiss!
All talk of settlement freeze is shelved for the moment as the most formidable Washington Lobby – for all intent and purposes, agents of a foreign country – push for yet more resolutions choking Iran; seek blanket agreement for congressional backing of whatever measure Israel deems necessary to pursue their interests; and secure their 3.1 billion yearly aid even as sequestration threatens American jobs and economic recovery. Not bad! If the forefathers could see the turn this democracy has taken, they would be thrilled I’m sure.
My reaction as a hyphenated American is pure horror! My Persian side – because of the double standard applied to policy issues and the mess it has created by selective meddling in my region. My American side — because of the constant hemorrhage of resource, blood and money due to this “special relationship” which seems only to benefit the Israeli hardliners and political aspirees in the U.S. Congress. My Persian side – because of the chokehold the sanctions impose on 70 million innocent Iranians destroying generations through lack of opportunities and basic needs; my American side — because it squanders any good will I presume to project in terms of standing up for human rights and democracy to my Persian side. On both fronts, this special relationship pits me against the world and my ideals; my hyphenated existence; and etches ever more deep scars of cynicism in the myth of exceptionalism my adopted country preaches day after day.
In a day and age where my American government routinely throws about terminology invoking notions of “Homeland”, “Patriotism” and “Security”, I wonder how so many of my compatriots can promptly pin their lapels with the American flag, applaud multiple invasions squandering over a trillion dollars at the first breach of air space on 9/11; yet remain unphased by our elected officials who routinely pledge allegiance to the Israeli flag; get fitted for a yarmulke and pose for photographs at the wailing wall before every election; and unreservedly throw about terms like “unconditional support” when support means continued undermining of the rights of other people, of international law and of our own national interests.
The peace process is all but dead in the face of continuing settlements on occupied land thanks to this alliance that extends blanket diplomatic immunity to Israel no matter how outrageous the act. Instead, the focus is squarely diverted on nonexistent nuclear ambitions of Iran even as experts fail to find evidence of such intentions. The former director of IAEA, Hans Blix, has once again gone on record to confirm that Iran has not violated the NPT; that there is no evidence that Iran has plans to weaponize and that military threats based on mere suspicion is not justified. Yet the hysteria around nuclear threats seems to have a life of its own, continuing to escalate on autopilot as Israel and the U.S. bond in front of cameras just in case anyone had doubts as to how special, special was.
Advocates of this relationship say things will change organically. Look – J Street is the answer to AIPAC and slowly we are witnessing criticism of Israel and this unique relationship creep into pop culture and mainstream discourse. Journalists, thinkers, artists have taken a bolder approach to questioning the nature of this relationship and who it is really benefiting. The recent SNL sketch and the spirited debate over Chuck Hagel’s confirmation are good examples. The New York Times itself opened the article half-mockingly by referring to the “thunderous ovations” and “slick videos” of the annual conference captioning the Biden – Barak huddle, reminiscent of the 1970’s Brezhnev – Honecker embrace.
This week at the conference there was no mention of settlements. No mention of peace talks. Instead standing ovations of the 13,000 strong friends of Israel, delighting at promises of military action against Iran.
“From the bottom of my heart, and with the clarity of my brain, words alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions alone will not stop Iran. Sanctions must be coupled with a clear and credible military threat if diplomacy and sanctions fail.” Netanyahu declared. Well, he should know, he is an authority on serial non-compliance yet shielded from action by a special friend who finds it more expedient to tackle the fall out rather than the root problem.
Soon President Obama will be making a visit to Israel – a first American president to go to Jerusalem. It is sure to ruffle some Palestinian feathers who dream of making part of this city their homeland. Contrary to his first term when he pushed for a halt to illegal settlements as a precursor to meaningful peace talks, there will be no more mention of a freeze. There will be no criticism of Israel for the oppression of Palestinians in occupied land. There will be no demands for compliance with U.N. resolutions.
Obama is going to Jerusalem to show that the American President does not bluff. At least not when it comes to Iran.
November 20, 2012
A few years ago I was traveling through Africa and found my self in a rickety cab. As I bounced up and down in the lumpy back seat, shifting spots to avoid the broken springs and whatever was festering in the exposed paddings, another passenger got in and sat in the front seat. He was in a jovial mood and had just passed some sort of certification exam. “I passed! I passed!” He declared.
First I thought it was a college exam, or some life changing professional achievement. Turns out it was an HIV/AIDS test. And if you know anything about Africa, you know the importance of such a test. Conversation rolled from AIDS to lack of employment, poverty, state corruption, war; then the passenger sighed and said.
“You know, I really admire Ben.” The driver agreed. “Oh yes. Ben. He is a great man. We need somebody like him here in the Congo.”
I wondered who Ben was. I had lived in the country for months, and not heard of anyone by that name. “Sorry — Ben? Who is Ben?” I interjected from the back seat, shifting over the lumps and bumping my head violently on the ceiling as the cab cleared another pothole.
“Ben! You don’t know Ben? Madame! He is very famous. Il est Genial.”
“Ben what? Who are you talking about?”
“Laden.” Both men chimed. “Bin Laden!”
Amazing! Here I was in a Christian country. The Moslem population in Congo is miniscule, and yet Bin Laden represented something of a hero – a symbol of resistance to a higher injustice.
I have traveled almost ten years in Africa. On this continent, the narrative often goes like this: Bin Laden was a hero, Ahmadinejad should be admired for standing up to the West, Ghaddafi will be remembered for the many mosques and schools he built; and the Palestinians – well, Palestinians are the very embodiment of suffering; the equivalent of Jungian archetypes for victims of all things unjust, unfair and hypocritical; the ultimate evidence that the lectures on human rights by the masters of the world, and all that talk of democracy are nonsense. Palestinians are the very essence of pain and resistance with whom anyone from any corner of space and time can relate to and stand with in solidarity.
In Africa, most people are only too familiar with hopelessness, lack of recourse, lies, oppression and co-opted systems in which they have no part. They are also familiar with the basic reality that desperate people beget desperate actions. And when all other options fail, in the absolute vacuum of hope, the most radical elements will emerge to reinvent their own brand of justice to right all the wrongs that cannot find recourse in alternate forums.
This week as rockets fly overhead, the headlines on the 24 hour news cycles focus on the terrorist strikes at the urban centers of Israel. Newly elected Barack Obama who has evidently forgotten that he has nothing to fear from AIPAC anymore, releases his stale clichés on Israel’s “right to defense” even as he stands with his Nobel Prize counterpart and lectures the Burmese Junta on the rights of dignity and equality for all people. The narrative in the U.S. focuses on “terror” in Israel and the 90% Israeli support for the attacks on Gaza. Indeed the CNN poll shows that 57% of our own citizenry are in favor of the strikes, evidence of the complete disconnect from context at the confluence of selective reporting, ideology and middle class consumerism.
That the Jerusalem post has printed an op-ed to the effect that entire communities should be flattened in Gaza, left without water, electricity and basics has not triggered outrage in this country, nor has it made a dent in the absurd notion that Gaza has had self-determination since 2005. America’s mainstream stands with Israel. Congress stands with AIPAC. And Operation Pillar of Defense plays out as a bad sequel to Operation Cast Lead – as if the obscenity of the title in itself is not an outrage.
The casualty figures at the bottom of the TV screen in fact tell the whole story. Day 6 of the conflict. Gaza: 107 dead; Israel: 3 dead.
Israel maintains it is only pursuing “terrorists” and the rest are unfortunate collateral losses. They even go so far as to say that casualties are results of a deliberate Hamas strategy of employing civilians as human shields, thereby disassociating the reality of the cause of the militants from its fundamental connection to the perpetual anger of a humiliated people – one, an inevitable consequence of the other — like gravity.
Mr. president – for all the talk of not wishing to lead from behind and being a force for good; for the $1.4 trillion spent to date in pursuit of jihadists; and for the thousands sacrificed in the fight for what has been summarily dismissed as mindless terrorism, how about walking the talk of justice and focusing on the oldest grievance in the Middle East.
How can you pretend to push for human rights by upholding a six-decade Cuba policy while washing your hands from the crushing Israeli blockade of Gaza.
How can you reconcile your crippling sanctions on Iran for possible breach of NPT commitments, while vetoing any measure that would condemn Israel’s continued occupation in violation of International law.
How can you rise up in defense of Libyans and Syrians while staying mum on the continued aggression against Palestinians.
How can you rationalize your national outrage responsible for waging two wars in pursuit of one man culpable of killing 2900 Americans in 9/11, without on some level understanding the outrage against decades of Palestinian humiliation, displacement and occupation and the need to avenge it.
How can you expect to further the cause for democracy and peace if you don’t play the part of the unbiased advocate for dignity for all people.
How do you expect to hold back the wave of anger against the U.S. and the creation of a new generation of activists every time you opt to read from the “unconditional support” script, brandish the lone veto on the Security Council and value the Israeli life over that of a Palestinian.
Gravity is a fact. Those who pretend to live in a void may never fully grasp its meaning. But they are no less susceptible to its effects.
October 5, 2012
“I speak on behalf of an angry people…” Mahmoud Abbas; 67th GA address; New York.
The yearly orations and political posturing at the disempowered assembly hall of the United Nations are over. Once again the elected and non-elected leaders of the new world order used their thirty minutes in the sun to lecture, to scare, to grandstand, to remind – and in the case of the Palestinians, to implore for justice in front of a powerless albeit sympathetic audience who have been forced to turn their attention to phantom warnings of one non-existent bomb by a madman in the Middle East who is making daily threats of imminent attacks. And I don’t mean Ahmadinejad. In fact, if you suspend disbelief and look past the glaring duplicity of what his own government represents, all that talk of Rumi, poetry, and harmony between the children of Adam may have even given you the warm fuzzies, especially when followed by the ramblings of this year’s comic relief – Wyle Bibi Coyote.
Too bad political leaders are often deaf to their own preachings, as if reading from a script written by an alter ego in a foreign language. This year’s dueling event at the GA address was also marked by breathtaking hypocrisy as the Iranian leader orated on the interdependence of all human beings as limbs of the same body and lamented the killing of Bin-Laden without legal due process, while hundreds of political activists languish in Tehran prisons, and homosexuals find themselves to be endangered species in their own land.
Ahmadinejad spoke of equality and Justice, apparently drawing a blank on the condition of women who live as second-class citizens, segregated — indeed considered half their hairy counterparts in the eyes of Islamic law. And for those thriving on Israel hate-talk, he denounced the “Zionist regime” as a fake government, yet failing to address the irony of his own ascent to a second term in the now famous “where-is-my-vote” 2009 fraudulent elections.
Not to be outdone, Bibi drew on history to rebut the “fake” label by mapping out thousands of years of Jewish roots in the Middle East – blond and blue eyed included – evidently seeing no paradox in uprooting millions from the same land and relegated to ghetto existence. Then he reached out to garner world empathy for the primordial Jewish dream of return, knowing fully well these are the policies denying the same dream to millions of Palestinians in their homeland.
He mocked the outdated Islamic orders of the neighboring states as throwbacks to the medieval ages, all the while quoting Abraham, Isaiah and Jeremiah; framing Jewish claim to the land of Israel in biblical terms; and he postured as the region’s only force of modernity, technology and progress as if the nuclear advances in Iran were resulting from black market dealings, rather then fruits of achievements of a highly educated population in the fields of math and sciences.
He spoke of the sacredness of life, of democracy and protection of the rights of people – all except that of the Palestinians of course; and of those who may perish in the eventual elective attack he lobbies for on a daily basis. He went on to hail the Israeli humanitarian compassionate efforts in Japan, Haiti and elsewhere, while dismissing his government’s direct hand in sustaining the catastrophic conditions of 1.7 million sardine-packed inhabitants of the 140 sq mile Gaza strip – a place described as “hell on earth” by those who have seen it first hand.
And finally, he lobbies daily for the U.S. to go to war with Iran based on self proclaimed unilateral red lines, while denouncing the desperate lone appeals for statehood and self determination by the Palestinians at the United Nations, the only international forum for such a plea, as unilateral — therefore irrelevant.
At the end, the leadership in Israel and Iran have more in common than they realize – both rooted in hypocrisy, each needing the other to self legitimize as the rightful upholders of justice and the protectors of the persecuted – two sides of the same coin, one drawing on centuries of shi’i martyrdom; the other, exploiting Jewish collective victimization — the Islamic Republic, enjoying a welcome distraction to its widespread human rights abuses; Israel diverting world attention to something other than illegal and expanding settlements on stolen land.
Bibi will sorely miss Ahmadinejad when he finishes his term next year. Polarizing figures are crucial to political maneuvering and divisive posturing. Meanwhile, for me, the takeaway was the haunting words of Mahmoud Abbas on the podium alarming the world of impending catastrophe in the holy land. “…I am here on behalf of an angry people. “ — a sober forewarning of what is to come. If the recent events in the Middle East are any indication, the road map from hopelessness to violence and destruction should be self-evident, not that anyone’s listening.
I don’t know if Bibi’s red line on his toy bomb will get him the regime change he is hoping for, be it in the U.S. or Iran – but one thing is for sure, Islamic regime now has a great excuse to step up production towards a real bomb – after all, they say, there is a crazy man on the loose in the neighborhood.
The first season of the Trayvon Martin reality show is finally over. George Zimmerman is behind bars 45 days after the shooting of an unarmed African American teen-ager which snowballed into a national soul searching crisis as to whether Americans are closet racists.
Activists, celebrities and ordinary citizens stepped up to express their outrage and demand justice. Tweets from Justine Beiber and Spike Lee along with thousands of irate phone calls flooded the airwaves; and civil rights politicians like Reverend Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson came out to denounce the act as an egregious example of racial hate crime. The Rainbow Push coalition held hands, singing “We Shall Overcome” and the “Million Hoodie March” rallied in cities across America. In a short period of time, over 2 million signatures petitioned for the arrest of George Zimmerman who continued to invoke self-defense under the “Stand-Your-Ground” law, which expands the rights of citizens to use deadly force in any public space if they feel threatened – albeit by a small framed, unarmed, skittles chewing minor like Trayvon.
The law which has been promoted by the National Rifle Association and Republican politicians have now been passed in 25 States and since its enactment in 2005, “justifiable” murders have increased several fold – 36 in Florida, up from 12 just 5 years ago. Had the other 24 been literally getting away with murder before the law, or are we getting jumpier as a nation?
Mayor Bloomberg says it is clear that the law has undermined the integrity of the justice system, made the country less safe, and that it is promoting a culture of impunity. Others call it “kill at will” or “shoot first”. The national debate is curiously timely considering the broader global context.
In the past ten years, since the attacks on the twin towers, the U.S. has been increasingly basing its foreign policy narrative on the concept of preventive and pre-emptive attacks. Dick Cheney even went so far as to make a case for action with as little as one percent probability of a threat clearly ruling out leaving his house in case of encounter with a discarded banana peel – a fear many of us wish he had heeded. Over the course of the past decade what started as a deadly attack by a handful of non-state loosely aligned actors in New York City, has lead to the invasion of several countries, the death of hundreds of thousand, and the displacement of millions in the Middle East and beyond as America consistently “stood its ground”.
George Bush rightly stressed his war on terror was not anti-muslim; no more than the Trayvon Martin case is anti black. Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and the proxy wars we wage in the horn of Africa and beyond are not about hate as much as they are about fear — fear that continues to get packaged and sold for political and economic gain by an increasingly violent America which uses violence as its principal currency as sure as it does its greenback. We use violence as currency for entertainment, casually feeding it to our children in ever more brutal video games and demanding more of it in our movies — more than our European counterparts who seem to prefer sex – thanks to their Mediterranean DNA; and we use it as the prime currency to define ourselves as individuals whether at home, in our neighborhoods; or on the world stage by “standing our ground”, resolute and uncompromising no matter how asymmetric, intransigent and one sided our demands.
We nurture violence through the exploitation of fear by the right wing with links to a multi billion dollar arms industry which brings jobs to constituents who fund their Washington representatives to preserve their livelihoods; by the political machinery where each side postures as the more patriotic by being hardest on crime – hardest on terrorism; and mostly we nurture fear and violence by a disconnected public who gladly consumes the messages of a lazy and complicit media who mostly amplifies the conventional narrative of power without trying to reframe the conversation.
The Iraqi WMD wild goose chase quickly became “support our troops”; a multi billion dollar military expansion across the globe was sold as “peace through strength”; and the “war on terror” became the catch all phrase for the pursuit of all things evil by our heroic forces whose patriotism bars them from asking why.
The result is a polarized world with a clear “us” versus “them” narrative framed by fear, resolved through force. As the Trayvon Martin story plays itself on an endless loop on national channels, another round of “negotiations” to stop Iran from enriching uranium is taking place so that we may get over the election hump before bombing yet another country. Who knew election season could be so hazardous to your health.
As others more astute than myself have observed, and Mark Twain’s powerful reminder we choose to ignore, the rhetoric rhymes alarmingly with the argument for the Iraqi invasion – the mushroom cloud was it? It is ironic how asymmetric “strength” can in fact lead to conflict rather than peace. Even more ironic that the citizens of the strongest, most powerful country should be so ruled by fear that they should seek to eradicate even the smallest, most minute possibility of harm to the point that they would be scared out of their wits by a hoodie, or see a country with no evidence of a weapons program an existential threat to themselves and their ally who, between them, own over 8,000 nuclear warheads.
Barack Obama has successfully fended off an Israeli attack for the moment even as he embarks on non-starter negotiations, demanding the unreasonable even as he ratchets up “crippling sanctions” against 70 million Iranians. Israel for its part is preparing for a strike by securing bases in Azerbaijan and unleashing AIPAC on the U.S. congress.
Following the tsunami of outrage against the injustice in the Trayvon Martin case, Mr. Obama finally broke his silence and offered this measured response: “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin.”
Mr. president, in this election season as you walk the fine line between your Nobel Peace Prize and your second term, consider seeing beyond color – beyond borders, to see every child, every where, as your own.
March 5, 2012
Amidst talk of bombs and wars, a small Iranian film sweeps up the highest honors in western cinema. Its unassuming director goes up on stage, faces Hollywood aristocracy and his voice, soft and humble flows across the airways reaching millions dedicating his golden statue to the good people of his ancient land.
The following day various sites hailed the event as an example of cultural camaraderie ignoring the threats of imminent strikes and annihilation red lines; and you tubes of Iranian families sitting spellbound in front of their satellite TVs, holding their breath to be ushered into the hall of fame by their archenemy, spiraled throughout the internet. Once again it was clear — people will ignore the rantings of their politicians to come together in celebration of all that their humanity has in common while embracing diversity.
The Iranian PR machine predictably declared the whole thing to be a triumph over Israel – since the “Zionist Nation” was also competing in the same category. Well thank goodness for small nothings. That’s what I love about movies. It can be all things to all people — and come Kodak day, those who lose can snub the whole thing as a meaningless self-congratulation exercise, while winners graciously fumble for words in front of a blank teleprompter basking in their two minutes of sun in front of Hollywood royalty. As for the peanut gallery, they can thank whomever they want.
I had heard volumes about the movie. As it picked up awards from Berlin to France, Canada and the Golden Globes, I went to see it. I found myself in a familiar place. A place of my childhood. A place where I remembered so well that I felt I knew all the characters in their multiple layers with their emotional subtexts – It is every day Middle East where millions of lives negotiate the burdens of cultural obligations, economic hardships, faith, politics and thousands of years of complex history which has equipped them, above all, with the unique art of nuance – a multilayered capacity to cope, to reinvent, to thrive, even as they try to maintain a sense of integrity and social cohesion.
The story is set against the backdrop of an old man suffering from Alzheimer – like his native country sunken in a sense of oblivion, the old man meanders in the background, disoriented, helpless or asleep while the young Termeh, the future, convulses in the conflict between two poles — one who wants to leave, wishing for change – and another who wants to stay — out of duty, out of choice or simply, out of love because even if his father may no longer recognize him, that he nevertheless knows he is his father, knows this is where he belongs.
Our helpless background hero is entrusted to a devout religious caretaker who is going through her own crisis – financial and personal. A series of encounters pits characters against each other, testing the limits of truth, faith and duty in anticipation of a final verdict – will Termeh choose to go, or will she stay behind – like her country, caught in turmoil, the answer is hard to come by. As the credits crawl by, the audience is no closer to a resolution. The future remains uncertain.
Like any good story, the parallels between fiction and reality are skillfully crafted even getting a pass from the Iranian authorities who failed to put a finger on anything which could be construed as overtly political. But of course it was. How could one be from the Middle East and not be touched by politics. Hidden in between the crevasses of the personal stories, a larger story looms in layered subtext.
The triumph of the film was its brilliant ability to portray the multiple layers of conflict and heartbreak without commentary, without judgment – and despite the lies, deceptions – even a murder charge – no villain – just a complex set of personal predicaments juxtaposed on a larger canvas, crafted with details of human interdependence that at the end leaves the audience with a profound sense of compassion for each character.
The couple are estranged not because they reject one other, but for individual choices; the accused intervenes on behalf of his accuser; the prosecutor listens with concern and the devout character is taken beyond the current caricatures in the media to reveal a deep sense of morality, unable to swear on the Koran even if it could bring her personal gain. Throughout the story, a quest for truth runs like a silent witness, reassuring and ever present.
These days, when talk of war and binary choices seeks only to dominate and vilify, rather than approach and understand, the world is presented as a struggle between good and evil, each narrator posing as the custodian of truth – indivisible and uncompromising – as if competing to keep from understanding the other. The success of “separation” could be a nod to the humanity in all of us, which longs to bridge and empathize.
If only we could stop playing the polarizing roles we are so used to.
February 20, 2012
A stern faced broadcaster opens against a backdrop of military drums and bold captions: “ The Sum of All Fears”! He goes on to speak of President Obama as the “Commander in Chief” – and announces that the “conflict with Iran is escalating”.
A map of the strait of Hormuz, reminiscent of war room paraphernalia flashes, pointing to the “apparent provocation” by an Iranian vessel, which got so close to an American navy ship that the latter was “forced to fire flares” in response to the “hostile action”.
Then came the MSNBC report, which in an eerie echo of the run up to the Iraq invasion, opened with: “…now that it looks like Iran is actually trying to start a war either with the United States or with Israel…” and went on to ask his guest whether there was still hope for diplomacy even after the attacks against the Israeli diplomats in Georgia, India and Thailand.
All this alarmist talk may be great for TV ratings, and perfect consumption material for an audience who by now fear all things Middle East, but it raises serious questions as to the role of media in a democracy and their responsibility to provide unbiased account of all sides over public airwaves.
In fact, the hostile elements were small smuggling boats, hardly a match for an aircraft carrier, not belonging to the Iranian government, its military or even the revolutionary guards and acting on their own. It would be like bracing for war with the Somali government in response to the Somali pirates – although wait – did we do that? – Furthermore, the details of the bomb blasts are still unclear despite the almost buffoonish episode in Bangkok which left an Iranian legless, so let’s not buckle up for war just yet. Perhaps they were behind the blasts, why pick India, or Thailand as staging grounds and risk losing friendly allies in a shrinking network of trading partners. More puzzling — if they did mean to teach Israel a lesson for the assassination of their nuclear scientists, why not take credit? i.e. what is the point of taking revenge if the “revengee” does not know where the blow comes from? It would be like the loan shark letting the banana peel take the wrap for the broken leg.
Yet, the Iranians have flatly denied all three attacks in contrast to the Israelis who have remained silent on whether they were behind the assassinations of the Iranian scientists, much like their policy on whether or not they own nuclear arsenal. Or whether they arm, fund and train the MEK, a terrorist organization, to conduct attacks in Iran – points which merely get a passing mention in the press, and have been drowned by the hysteria over Iran’s nuclear program — no real investigation, no indignation and most certainly no bold headlines demanding U.N. action.
It is not surprising that Israel should push for war in spite of its own best interest. It is also not surprising that the likes of Lieberman and Graham should wish to rule out diplomacy and insist on a red line, sooner, rather than later, even as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta confirms there is no evidence that Iran has decided to make a bomb. The US and Israel both have an interest in placating hard line elements in their administrations and of course, what could be better than war-talk to distract from real issues like jobs, economy, and illegal settlements in an election year.
The single-visioned focus on the nuclear issue has already sidelined the human rights tragedy and snowballed into “crippling” sanctions, tightening the noose on ordinary people. Over 70 million innocent Iranians – men, women and children increasingly find it difficult to get access to basics, with staggering effects on health care, nutrition, education and basic livelihoods, rippling through years to come. We only have to look to Iraq to see the devastating toll years of sanctions took as it impoverished and displaced hundreds of thousands even before Bush unleashed his war on “terror”. It is ironic that the West should be repeating the same scenario and tightening the screws on millions of civilians in Iran, all the while rising up in protection of the same in Syria – as though civilians have ever been anything but tools of manipulation for politicians anywhere in the world.
One thing is certain. The days of the chivalrous state warfare are long gone and countries now work in parallel with covert operations, targeted assassinations, unmanned drones, proxies and contraband arm deals through third parties to accomplish their objectives. They leave the justifications to the media, then brutally repress dissent or deftly horse trade on the Security Council to block opposition. Iran is no exception, but let’s ask the right questions and hang blame at the door of the appropriate aggressor.
We live in a realistic world – and power seeks to consolidate, whichever its face and whatever its cost. It’s the media we count on to give us the facts and hold each party to scrutiny.
Press! Do your job! This is news — not reality TV.