Women. Life. Freedom

I’m in favour of all those things, and so I have organised a coach party to the demonstration in Trafalgar Square, which takes place tomorrow at 14:00. It’s a demonstration against the brutal and stupid rulers of the Islamic Government of Iran, which is killing women and children in their own country and running an embassy in ours as a base for terrorising those who have escaped. All of this with apparent impunity.

These demonstrations, which have been going on for months, are intended to raise awareness about recent events in this far-off but hardly insignificant country, which is very much our unfinished business. They have barely been reported on our state and commercial broadcasting channels. Having prospered through vigorous engagement with the world, we now seem to have adopted isolationism – when it suits us. Apparently not in Ukraine. 

What does this have to do with film? Well, I came to learn about Iran and its people through my love of Iranian cinema (the country has one of the world’s greatest cinema cultures) and through my friendship with Zoreh (Zoya) and Ali Ziad Nejad, who ran le Sous-Sol Cafe in Royal Well. They hosted the film selection meetings I organised for the Cheltenham International Film Festival, and held an after-party following our screening of Panah Panahi’s Hit The Road (recently shown at Cheltenham Film Society, to widespread bafflement). In return I helped them organise an event called ‘Cafe Tehran’ at which they served Persian food and I showed a few old documentaries about Iran. I probably gave a little talk, but I seem to have lost the text. They are fascinating.

I have since visited them at home, met many of their friends, had the privilege of watching Iranian (and Iranian exile) television and learning about the conditions of life for ordinary Iranians, of whatever religion or ethnicity: it is a very mixed country and has at various points been Egyptian, Greek, Turkish, British/Russian and ‘independent’. Its religions include Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Marxism, Islam and, most recently, enforced Islam, which is not really a thing, as young people say.

Persians (who speak Persian or Farsi, Indo-European languages like English, Russian, German and Yiddish) are keen to tell you they are not Arabs (who speak Arabic, a Semitic language like Aramaic, Syriac, Amharic and Hebrew), although in my view language is a meaningful way of organising human relations, whereas race is not. 

Iran and us

Possibly the first book I bought with my own money was the Penguin Encyclopaedia (1965 edition, although created in 1962, probably for the American market: it has a dollar price on the front, possibly to look trendy) and I still use it. Books are very much better than the Internet for anything sensible. Cat videos are fine. If that’s your thing, go for it. I’ve made one too.

Anyway, here’s what it says about the 20th century history of Persia, as it was known at the time of publication. ‘After the discovery of oil in 1901, Persia was divided into British and Russian spheres of influence, later abandoned after the First World War. e

To be continued…

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