Friday, March 16, 2007

Persian The Thought

Seanachie is a big fan of Iranian culture, or at least that small part of it with which he is acquainted, such as the films of Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen and Samira Makhmahlbaf, Abol-Fazl Jalili and Jafar Panahi; the poetry of Furough Farrokhzad and Ahmad Shamlou, and the excellent comic-book work of Marjane Satrapi. The latter in particular has been instrumental in increasing awareness among Westerners of the country that goes beyond the familiar clichés of crazed fundamentalist ayatollahs and defiant anti-Western rhetoric. What has been most remarkable about the Iranian diaspora over the past twenty years, spread as it is around the Middle East, North America, France and Britain, is both its success in business, academe and other fields but also its resolute opposition to the Islamic regime back home. And that opposition is mirrored in many sectors back in Iran, where it is a good deal trickier, to be measured almost week-by-week against variations in the political climate.

Now, however one thing has succeeded in uniting both the Islamic establishment in Iran and the more liberal diaspora: the new film 300, due to be released in Europe next week, which tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae fought in 480BC by the Spartans against the Persians, led by the celebrated Xerxes. The Iranians on both sides complain of historical inaccuracies and misrepresentation of ancient Persian culture, while the Iranian government condemn an 'act of terror' directed at them by the West. While there may be be an undercurrent of historical bias in the fiction based on a comic book by Sin City creator Frank Miller, I doubt that most people involved in the film even considered that the ancient Persians had any relation to modern Iran. To view the film as an piece of Imperialist propaganda is misguided, to say the least. But one can understand the frustration of Iranians, who, as well as seeing their country and culture constantly smeared by ignorant Westerners (and disgraced by the madmen in control in Teheran), should also see their ancient civilization unrecognised. Even if disputing the facts of a battle that took place two and a half millenia ago is a bit sensitive. My favourite act of dissension by Iranian bloggers is the 'Google-bombing' devised by Canadian-based Pendar Yousefi, which plans to divert Google searches about the film to websites that offer other perspectives on Persian culture and art. Enlightening even a hundred lazy Westerners will be a job well done. The Iranians will get redress of sorts with the release later this year of the film adaptation of Satrapi's Persepolis, which from the film stills alone looks like it is going to be great.