Monday, August 22, 2005

Spicoli in Tehran

There has been a lot in the media lately about Iran. The controversial elections, the nuclear threat, the war in the country next door that has practically the same name! It's all very confusing. Luckily, the first piece in Sean Penn's much awaited series on his trip to Iran has finally been published in the San Francisco Chronicle. Sean will clear it all up for us.

It's the week preceding presidential elections. Candidates attack one another's credibility. Activists push to boycott the vote. Traffic and pollution choke the cities. Leftists support a no-win idealist. Preachers guide their flocks toward political starboard. The media have fallen under the grip of standing power, and should they defy it, they're imprisoned. University students promote human rights, while fundamentalists deny them. It is a culture in love with cinema. With Brad Pitt. Angelina Jolie. And anything Steven Spielberg. It is a nation of nuclear power, where the lobbies of the religious right effectively blur the lines between church and state. But it is also a country of good and hospitable people. And when the local team wins a big match, there is dancing, kissing, drinking and drugs in the streets. Women are graduating the campuses in higher and higher numbers, occupying government in higher and higher numbers. Sound familiar?
Wow, Sean, yes. Iran sounds just like America! Remember when the Canadian journalist went to the States a couple of years back and took pictures of a prison and was arrested and murdered by the government? Oh, wait, that was Iran. Okay, well, remember how the government executed two teenagers in Memphis in July just for been gay? No, that was in Mashhad. That's Iran too, right? Well, alright, you do mention the grip that the media has fallen under. I will grant you that point. Because, in America, Fox News is popular and right wing and changing the channel is hard when you left the remote on the other side of the room, and in Iran independant newspapers are shut down by the state, satellite dishes are illegal and bloggers have been imprisoned just for blogging. Which, you know, is pretty much the same thing.

I'm all for showing that Iranians are not all crazy fundamentalist Muslims. It is a very important point to be made. But the Iranian state is still very repressive. This is not the same thing as having an freely elected government that you don't like. This type of comparison is only slightly less infuriating than the Bush as Hitler analogy. It's lazy thinking, and it is offensive to people who have actually been oppressed by their governments.

Personally, I think I preferred Sean Penn when he was beating up paparazzi and smacking Madonna around (come to think of it, I preferred her then too).

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