A few weeks ago, Mamoun Fandy, a media analyst, syndicated columnist and former professor of Arab Studies at Georgetown University, was interviewed on the subject of Michael Moore. Fandy stated that Iraqis who were familiar with the film found Moore’s portrayal of them to be exceedingly racist; he went on to say that Moore’s callousness to the plight of the Iraqi people and to the unbelievable human rights devastation in Iraq was outrageous.
And that was only the verdict of the Iraqis.
I have also been asked to express the judgment of a number of Iranians who saw the film in Iran. They sent e-mails, faxes and even phoned me to ask me to report their reviews.
First, other than David Lynch’s film, ‘The Straight Story’, Iranians have not really been exposed to any western films in their cinemas. The Mullahs’ film board forbids the display of women’s uncovered hair and all the other “corruption” Western filmmakers spread. For Iranians, therefore, viewing Michael Moore’s film was a tremendously novel experience.
After 25 years of living in a virtual concentration camp, Iranians have become exceedingly socio-politically savvy. Moore’s anti-American propaganda did not attract anywhere near as many viewers as the Mullahs had hoped for. Tehran’s despots had hoped the film would challenge the Iranian people’s favourable notion of President Bush and promote John Kerry.
But Iranians are too smart.
A group of 12 university students, for example, composed of both men and women who had seen the film, collectively wrote me and signed an e-mail which said: “Wow, this guy complains that Bush lied once. What would this windbag do if he lived here where our president lies to us once an hour?”
Another comment was: “This guy gets to publicly accuse Bush of lying and becomes famous and adored worldwide. We, here, complain about some decrepit and inconsequential government lackey and we not only go to prison but some of us get death sentences. He ought to thank his lucky stars he lives in a country where he’s allowed and even encouraged to be this obnoxious…”
Someone else quipped: “If he thinks that the U.S. is so bad, he’s welcome to trade places with us…since he’s so forgiving of brutal Middle Eastern dictators!”
Another young man said: “They are showing this film to erase from our minds the idea of America being the great liberator; maybe Americans themselves don’t appreciate what they have but we sure do!”
Another comment was: “Outside such pathetic ideological schemes, Moore’s fixation to reprimand and castigate his own society is so great that he is BLIND to the fact that our ancient land and society cannot be regarded and dealt with in the same fashion; therefore he has fallen pray to the Mullahs for whom he is nothing more than a tool to discard when his mission for them is completed.”
My father, Siamak Pourzand, a 75-year-old Iranian journalist, film historian/critic/promoter has been a political prisoner since November of 2001 in the Islamic Republic of Iran, where he has experienced severe torture. During this time, not one member of the self-involved, international film community, to whom I reached out about his plight, responded. When in the fall of 2002 I called Michael Moore’s office, (like I did many other Hollywoodites) I was told: “Sorry, but Mr. Moore is too busy AND just can’t get involved in these types of matters because we can’t be sure who you are and what your agenda is.”
I am sure Moore is a busy guy, but with all the blowhard exposing of “evil” that he proclaims to be doing, I’m sure he could have asked someone on his team to find out who I was and what my so-called “agenda” was. But unfortunately, he cannot even be bothered to contact the brilliant Ray Bradbury to get permission to use Mr. Bradbury´s copyrighted title, let alone contact some random Middle Eastern wretch like me, who’ll challenge his myopia and force him to cast a critical eye outside the little box that he so cozily lives in.
Most intelligent and politically savvy people from my part of the Middle East and the vicinity, with whom I network, believe that Moore is not qualified to address our issues; he is simply not familiar with our cultures, history, mentalities or peoples’ needs; NOR does he have to right to impose his diatribe on our exhausted and abused peoples.
Mr. Moore and his mindless and greedy distributors thought that they could manipulate the Iranian people; but this goes to prove a crucial point: Moore thinks he speaks for his audiences but he does not know them. Otherwise, he would not have agreed to screen his film in a country whose citizens’ collective, real-life experiences drowns the clamor of Moore’s vapid bitching.