Taking offence seems to be turning in to a full-time occupation in Iran. Just days after being gravely offended by the awarding of a knighthood to Salman Rushdie (an author who, ironically, was honoured by the Iranian literary establishment for his novel, Shame) the mullahs of Tehran have got themselves in a tizzy over the French-produced film version of Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis.
The Iranian embassy in Thailand has successfully lobbied to have the French animated film withdrawn from the Bangkok International Film Festival. The director of the festival, Chattan Kunjara na Ayudhya told Reuters, with wonderful diplomacy:
‘I was invited by the Iranian embassy to discuss the matter and we both came to mutual agreement that it would be beneficial to both countries if the film was not shown. It’s a good film, but there are other considerations.’
The last sentence seems a touch odd coming from the director of a film festival. What could these ‘other considerations’ possibly be, eh?
Here is President Ahmadinejad’s media adviser Mehdi Halhor, speaking after the film’s showing at Cannes to help you out:
‘Producing and highlighting the anti-Iranian film Persepolis in Cannes falls in line with Islamophobia.’
You could kinda see that coming, couldn’t you?
Anyone who’s read the Persepolis books will know what nonsense this is. The monochrome graphic novels are practically a love song to Iran, and don’t actually dwell that much on religion at all. What do you say to that, Mehdi?
‘[Persepolis presents] an unrealistic picture of the achievements and results of the glorious Islamic revolution.’
So we’re getting a little closer to the truth: the charge of ‘Islamophobia’ is dishonest and disingenuous: what you’re really about is trying to silence a voice that questions the line of the ‘glorious revolution’. And I’ll admit you’ve got a point here: Persepolis does highlight the dark absurdities of the time: from the obsessive prurience of the religious police, to the tragedy of the child-Basiji, sent to clear minefields with plastic keys to paradise hanging from their necks.
But I think that Tehran has missed a trick here. While Satrapi is certainly no fan of the current regime, a huge part of Persepolis (at least the books) is dedicated to the wickedness of the reign of the Peacock Throne, and, later, the vacuous posturing of the western intelligentsia Marjane meets when she moves to Paris. Marjane emerges an interesting, independent, proud Iranian.
Rather than attempt to stifle the film elsewhere, the Iranian government should actively promote Persepolis in their own country; it is an honest, thoughtful, beautiful work, which, far from being ‘anti-Iranian’, could actually bolster confidence and self-belief among Iran’s millions of young people.
But then, that may well be the last thing the regime wants.