Bridge to Iran, Part One

by Rowan on September 3, 2012

A rare call for understanding

Link TV is a somewhat off-the-beaten-path kind of channel, whose mission it is to show another side of things, to help Americans see another perspective in the hopes of breeding understanding. In an age when celebrity rehab stories often trump issues of national security on the nightly news, LinkTV brings many refreshing new objects of inquiry to the American viewer’s attention: from LinkAsia showing us major developments on the massive Asian continent to Mosaic giving us an extremely well balanced view of news programs from the Middle East, this writer believes LinkTV makes a brave attempt at, and succeeds in, showing the American people relevant things that are glossed over or just ignored by mainstream U.S.
media.

 

One such program that I wish more people would watch, especially top policy makers in Washington, is, “Bridge to Iran.” This bridge, literally depicted at the beginning of each episode, means to connect the idea in most peoples’ minds that Iran and Iranians are so alien and
strange that everything they do must be bad with the fact that Iran and
Iranians, while quite different from Westerners, are no more mysterious than any other country or people in the world. You do not have to like Iran’s
politics or be a fan of Mr. Ahmedinejad to appreciate this program, which
shares with us stories that we can all relate to, or at least empathize with:

Cinema Encounters in Tehran

This short episode shows us the experiences of young Iranian (and some American) film makers as they prepare for Iran’s first “New Horizons Festival for Independent Film Makers:” Jonathan Yoni Brook (the son of an Israeli immigrant) ventures forth from New York City not only to present his short film, but also to prove to himself that Iran’s people are not the same as Iran’s government; he is joined by Musa Syeed, an American of Kashmiri descent, but whose family originated in Iran. Abbas Amini
is an Iranian who wants to become more familiar with Americans and their
culture, especially film. Mr. Amini is showing off a film about the life of
Iran’s sugarcane farmers. Atefeh Khadeolreza is an accomplished short-film
maker who has attended numerous international film festivals. For this festival she presents a documentary, filmed in Serbia, about mythical beings that supposedly inhabit the forests. Massoud Bakhsi, the film festival’s coordinator tells us in quite-good English the background of the festival and about Iranian youth in general. Ellie Erfani is an Iranian American who chose to return to the country of her parents’ birth, working with the festival as official translator.

To a soundtrack of traditional Iranian instruments, our two Americans navigate their way through a Tehran evening; stumbling their way through a conversation with a pair of mullahs at the movie theater where the festival takes place; men in camouflage motorcycling through the streets; discussing Iranian cinema with the owner of a video store; translating the ubiquitous religious writings found on posters and flags all over the place, one even in Hebrew; looking through a random collection of portraits at an art store, from John F Kennedy to Hazrat Ali; taking in the bazaars, packed as they are into ancient alleyways; eating in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant from steel dishes; checking out a chic mall in North Tehran (the Beverly Hills of Iran) where even chador-wearing ladies bare the tell-tale bandages from plastic surgery . Far from being treated as enemy aliens, our two Americans are welcomed warmly by all they meet, and are invited
to collaborate on a short film with two of the native contestants.

We Are Half of Iran’s Population

From a light-hearted expose on a small segment of Iran’s arts
community we arrive at an issue of critical importance: What is a woman’s place in Iranian society? In the run up to the 2009 election, film maker Rakhsan Bani Etemad seeks to bring to all four candidates’ attention the importance of women’s issues and the seeming lack of progress in improving their lot in life, despite promises of such in the constitution written by the then-revolutionary government of Khomeini. Ms. Etemad is successful in this task, gaining an audience with three of the candidates, namely Mohsen Rezaee, Mir Hussein Mosavi and Mehdi Karroubi; the incumbent and winning candidate, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad,
could not be reached for comment.

But what kind of issues exactly did Ms. Etemad feel it
necessary to bring up? After interviewing individuals and coalitions of women, representing a good cross section, a few issues are sore: 1) While after the revolution of 1979, women were forced to take a step or two back, for the most part, women’s lives and role in society have advanced, BUT there seems to be a movement to roll this progress back; 2) Despite the fact that females make up more than half university students, male students are given preference in admission to prestigious academic programs, such as medicine, and they must also contend with ethnic quotas; 3) A woman suffering from an abusive marriage has little legal recourse and must suffer in silence; 4) Almost-non-existent welfare for single mothers and children cause much unnecessary suffering; 5) The misapplication of, “Islamic” law and principles to keep women in an inferior place.

This episode goes to show two things: First, it is not fair
to make a blanket accusation that all Iranian women are oppressed and denied any real opportunity for advancement because when you see the sheer number of female professionals being interviewed, from lawyers to non-profit directors to members of parliament, it is clear to see that women are certainly not shut out of the upper echelons of society. Secondly and conversely, it is clear that the Iranian government does not view women as equal to men. An interesting side note: In Iran, any person may decide to run for elected office, but that does not mean that your campaign will be, “approved,” i.e., that does not mean you will be allowed to actually contest the election. In the 2009 presidential election, 476 people applied, all but 4 were “disqualified.” So while women are treated unfavorably a lot of the time, men certainly share in the shortage of fair treatment.

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