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Author Topic: Some musings of Iran and freedom
Twedzel
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I thought I'd share with you exerpts of a conversation I had with my uncle last Christmas. I've been thinking about it alot as I reads the posts about Americas freedom and foriegn affairs policies. I am not passing judgement here, but conveying insights my Aunt and Uncle carried back with them from a recent two month trip to Iran.

First a bit background, my uncle is a minster and is a very intelligent man, much more so than I. As is my Aunt who is proffesor in a Toronto area university, who specializes in feminism and religion studies. Definantly not a lady you want to get into an argument with and a die hard, yet sensible feminist. During a visit last Christmas, we stayed up well into the night discussing among many topics their rescent trip to Iran. They went in an official capacity, as part of the first official delegation as a minister to meet with a muslim preist, and to live with them as they do. This was done as an attempt to learn from each other, and to open a door of communication... it was very much a grass roots plan, organized and embraced on both sides. Here are some of their findings.

First off they weren't suprised to find we had as many misconceptions about them as they did of us. Their first reaction was to how warm, friendly, and generous everyone was to them, even strangers in the street. They found many comonalities with the muslim priest and found that they soon became good friends.

The television was highly censored, One of the most popular programs was a religious program where a muslim high priest would preach the Koran in one hand with an AK 47 in the other. In one hand was the word of love and the other hand to enforce it. This was one dicotamy my uncle never could understand. And was a sentiment echoed by the preist my uncle stayed with. Apparently not all of their ranks are as extreme as the ruling faction that is now in power. But again, theirs is a society that endured much war and bloodshed through their entire history. Something we do not understand.

The discussions my uncle had with the priest invariably turned to freedom. And the priest had expressed things to him in a way he had never seen befor. How much of our (north American) freedom is a myth. And it is on a very basic level. In words I could never do justice to, my uncle explained it to me. I will try to relate it in a simplified way, from the moment we are born we are subject to a very insidieous form of brain washing. So subtle that we do not know it is happening, so ingrained into our minds it affects our lives and our ideas of self worth. Commercials, advertising, the notion that who we are is built up of our possesions. Its a system that feeds itself, to that point that we give up on spirituality in the name of the dollar. It explains why we as animators are subjected to a studio system devoid of heart and why the bussiness class can become so easily deviod of morality. For it is finance that rules our lives. And you see, it is true... ask yourself why you need that house, your 4x4 you never drive out of a city or anything you "own". To the Iranians, this idea is as foriegn and repulsive as our idea of their religious subversion is to us. And we are willing to fight hard to protect this system it is so ingrained into us. When I heard this something clicked, and now that I think on it, what makes us... the democratic countries so wonderful to live in, is that we are told how we ought to live instead of being told how to live. It is our choice to heed these words or not. And we are given the freedom to choose, and perhaps choose wrong if that is the case.

My Aunt had many discoveries of her own. To blend in with the population, she desided to wear the full gown and veil adopted by the women there. I will remind you she is a strong feminist and was at first very leary about the whole idea. However to properly integrate into society she did just this. First she found the clothes to be very comfortable. She was much less concerned of how she was representing herself a fashion symbol (anouther idea so ingrained its hard to seperate yourself from). She asks how many women do you know who subject themselves to tight uncomfortable or blantantly innapropriate clothes for the weather, in the name of presenting some form of image to society? This doesn't exist there, neither do eating disorders, how odd. She found the women to be quit strong and intelligent. Not in a way she had expected, although she confessed that she didn't really know what to expect. The second thing she noticed was the veil gave her an odd sense of power. No longer was she judged by her appearance as is so customary in North American society. She was anonamous and it forced men to deal with her as person, rather than as a pair of breasts. Although she freely admitted that the social treatment of women to be "backwards" by a feminist stand point, she found that in the homes it was often a different story. But either way, she came away with new understanding and some respect for ideas that had represented much of what she hated in society.

They had more to tell, and I fear I may stray to far from my point, which is I guess understanding. People are not responsible for the actions of their governments. Just as Americans are not responsible for The governments foriegn affairs policies (especially since much of these dealings are hidden from the population) nor is the average arab responsible for the Talibans stand on its issues. Their society is as brainwashed on how the world ought to be as ours. And they know as little of us as we do of them. Just a few thoughts to share.


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Dave is
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An excellent post. A fascinating cultural switch. What is clear is that they can be as puzzled by by their leaders as we can by ours.

The real problem is that when that materialistic world invades the ancient highly structured nonmaterialistic world. It is very attractive to those who are tempted hence the severe reaction to it. I would like to offer the suggestion that they are no more free from "brainwashing".

Amid pointed out American atrocities like the devil had visited the saints of Iran . Like Iran didn't accept the Shah. They are not saints nor are they in any way just victims. They are more violent even in their own back yard, willing to kill their brothers . Americans didn't pull the triggers on their guns for them or make the Shah torture or use secret police. The American press was the first to bring the Shahs human rights violations to him face to face and accuse him of using secret police to torture a his opponents and broadcast it to the world. While it is a different cultural view I see nothing in their actions that make them superior in any way. Show me a better culture that that allows human freedom of thought and speech . My question is that if America had supported Ayattolah instead of the Shah would they have been any less guilty in protestors eyes of supporting a violent dictator. Interesting.


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AMID
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quote:
Originally posted by Dave Brewster:
Amid pointed out American atrocities like the devil had visited the saints of Iran . Like Iran didn't accept the Shah. They are not saints nor are they in any way just victims.

Come on Dave, you're notorious for twisting people's words, but don't give me this libelous tripe that I tried to label anybody as the "devil" or "saint," I was merely stating the facts and that's your own interpetation of my statements.

quote:

They are more violent even in their own back yard, willing to kill their brothers .

Most people there were just as willing to "kill their brothers" as Americans are in times of war. As one World War 2 vet I know recently told me, "War is legalized insanity." There's no humanly justifiable reasons for why people kill others in wars, but when you've got leaders who brainwash their uneducated young into fighting for a higher cause they don't even understand, you end up with WWII, Vietnam, Iran/Iraq and the ilk.

quote:

Americans didn't pull the triggers on their guns for them or make the Shah torture or use secret police.

But it is well-documented that the CIA very kindly taught them how to set up a secret police.

quote:

The American press was the first to bring the Shahs human rights violations to him face to face and accuse him of using secret police to torture a his opponents and broadcast it to the world.

A fine example of a free press that was blatantly unaware of what its own government had done behind its own back.

quote:

While it is a different cultural view I see nothing in their actions that make them superior in any way. Show me a better culture that that allows human freedom of thought and speech . My question is that if America had supported Ayattolah instead of the Shah would they have been any less guilty in protestors eyes of supporting a violent dictator. Interesting.

If you knew the history, you'd see the US was supporting both the Ayatollah and the Shah during the time of the war ( for example read the Two Tracks To Tehran part of http://www.zmag.org/zmag/articles/ShalomIranIraq.html ). What other country in their right mind would support both sides of a revolution, and both sides of a war?

I'm kind of wondering how an animation board spiralled into some wartime history board so quickly but for my part, I'll try to get back into cartoons. Anybody want to insult Squigglevision some more

Amid
http://www.animationblast.com


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AMID
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Twedzel,

Fine post about cultural differences. Obviously there's no right or wrong here. Both cultures suffer from extremist views of life, but there's good to be found in everything as you point out. It's a matter of recognizing and understanding the good of all cultures and applying that to our own lives.

A few comments about entertainment culture in Iran. While true that the regular TV features highly censored state channels, the majority of people in Iran live off of American and European satellite TV -- for better or worse. While one of the most popular programs may have been the Muslim priest with an AK-47 in the home of the priest, that is hardly representative of what normal people there watch. It is sort of like visiting a priest in America and the priest showing you the Trinity Broadcasting Network's televangelist shows. Speaking to people there recently, they're well familiar with MTV, Eminem, Cartoon Network, and every new American movie. Mr. Bean is incredibly big there currently. Most people use state TV mainly to watch the sports broadcasts.

A somewhat ironic point is that while Persians are trying to get their fill of Western culture, Westerners are embracing Iranian live-action filmmaking as never before. It's amazing how celebrated their films have become within the art house and international festival community. Two weeks ago, a Persian film won top prize at the Montreal World Film Fest for an unprecedented third time in a row. Last week, best director went to an Iranian director at Venice. A Palme d'Or at Cannes in '97, Oscar nomination in '99, and so on... Of course all this makes sense if you subscribe to the theory that all great art comes from artists working within significant constraints, either imposed on you by somebody else, or self-imposed constraints. In Iran, the immense constraints are forcing the filmmakers to focus on character, emotion and story, and to be creative in ways unimagined by those with far greater resources. Unlike the American film industry, the concept of overpaid celebrities and name actors is nonexistent, special FX and elaborate sets are not possible because of budgets, and sex cannot sell a film there. Instead of hampering creativity, these boundaries have inspired. To apply that to a recent piece of animation, the producers of the BATMAN animated series found a way to create a great adult action-adventure cartoon working within the tight constraints of children's TV censors by emphasizing mood and finding creative ways to imply violence and create tension.

Amid
http://www.AnimationBlast.com


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Dave is
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Sorry Amid but I have to start by warning you against line by line quotes. It doesn't bother me but the rules here are against it.
I'll take issue with your accusation of being notorious for twisting peoples words. Anyone can read your statement. I stand by my description of your assertion of the US government "inserting" the Shah. As if it were forced or US troops invaded. If there were any balance in your statement anywhere list Irans own responsability for it's own plight I wouldn't be raising the issue but it does portray the US as the "devil" in this situation.

WW2 vets were stranded in a land that was not their own and isolated from the culture that was their support. It is no suprise that an extended war would lead to some breakdown of humanity. Not so with a war that exists on ones own border. Hate runs deeper and longer in the middle east than anywhere else in the civilized world. The Iran Iraq war killed a million.

The CIA taught them to set up an intelligence unit, not a torture chamber and secret death squad. That is totally unfair. Again, no responsability for Iranians concieved and carried out these crimes.
None.

Of course the press was unaware. I wonder Amid, how much did that do for removing the US governments support. Are the US people guilty because they didn't know what a US supported allie is doing ? I think not.

US interests in Iran that area were obvious and as it clearly states that France was selling arms to Iraq during the war. The US didn't make them go to war and spoeculation they wanted a protracted war is just that, speculation. .

It spiraled into this because you wrote much about US atrocities abroad.


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Otterslide
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I heard Squigglevision supported the Shah and the Ayatollah too. The Bastards!!!

Of course, it's just a rumor.

And it was my gardener who said it.

And he was drunk.

And I don't speak his language.

--------------------
Bryon E. Carson, Proprietor
 -


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Twedzel
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Amid, thank you for the clarification the state of entertainment, I will also clarify, my uncle was staying and communicating largly with the religious community there... and probably not the types to have much to do with MTV. And also by popular he probably meant by airtime rather than 'ratings'. I'm sure it was more like how we would view a prime time Oral Roberts. As I said, the priest he was staying with did not agree with this type of ideology.
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neitherhere
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Thanks, Twedzel, for the very interesting post. It’s always interesting to hear an honest view of how non-Americans look at the US.

I’m surprised, however, that you took everything the Iranians said at face value, particularly the whole “freedom is a myth” business. This is something one hears all too often from people who have some sort of proverbial ax to grind with America, although in truth is simply a mirror opposite of our own lack of understanding of the Eastern psyche. The principal failing of the argument is the assumption that we Americans are unaware of our own culture and the ways it affects our daily lives. This is false; we are well aware of things like style, trends, advertising, etc., which is why parody is such a large part of our culture. We get the joke because we are the joke. (If we didn’t, there would be no animation industry!) We understand the cultural forces that direct our lives and are thus free to follow or disregard them as we please. Taking fashion as an example; one has but to look at any crowd of Americans to see how free from cultural restraint we really are. (Stretch pants, T-shirts....in some cases, cultural restraint might be a good thing.) If fashion is an “insidious form of brain washing” then we have very dirty minds...um, wait...that’s not what I meant!

Contrast that with the chador your aunt wore. Would a Moslem woman feel free to chose otherwise? In Iran I’ve heard there is some tolerance for western dress, but in much of the Moslem world she would not even be free to think of it. To do so would risk penalties that might include even death. I may be wrong in my interpretation of your aunt’s feeling of “freedom”, but I strongly suspect that what she found was the freedom FROM being an individual. In covering herself in black from head to toe, she became to all around her, an essentially generic woman. This, I’m sure, freed her from all of the western concepts of what it means to be a woman but in doing so took away, rather than accentuated, her individuality. The best comparison for this is of course the web, where we exist behind the anonymity of screen names. We are freer in some respects than we might be conversing face to face, but our very existence to one another is reduced to text on a screen. Which then, is really freedom?

We Americans question our culture, we laugh at ourselves, we feel free to change and adjust, or not, as we see fit. These are American traits, things which much of the world, including your Aunt and Uncle’s Iranian friends, find utterly incomprehensible.

Still, their time in Iran must have been fascinating. It's heartening to know that such friendly exchanges can occur.

BTW, I do NOT own a 4x4; I own a bicycle. Now THAT’S freedom!


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AMID
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quote:
Originally posted by neitherhere:
Contrast that with the chador your aunt wore. Would a Moslem woman feel free to chose otherwise? In Iran I’ve heard there is some tolerance for western dress, but in much of the Moslem world she would not even be free to think of it. To do so would risk penalties that might include even death. I may be wrong in my interpretation of your aunt’s feeling of “freedom”, but I strongly suspect that what she found was the freedom FROM being an individual. In covering herself in black from head to toe, she became to all around her, an essentially generic woman. This, I’m sure, freed her from all of the western concepts of what it means to be a woman but in doing so took away, rather than accentuated, her individuality. The best comparison for this is of course the web, where we exist behind the anonymity of screen names. We are freer in some respects than we might be conversing face to face, but our very existence to one another is reduced to text on a screen. Which then, is really freedom?

Once again I feel compelled to reply and share whatever knowledge I have of Iran. The few stock clips of the country that American media has repeated forever are a gross misrepresentation of how normal folks there live their everyday lives. In terms of dress, at homes and at parties, it would be difficult to discern what country you're in. Stores sell fashionable clothes from Europe and people are every bit as stylish as their European counterparts. In a recent relative's photo I saw, I was actually jealous of some of the furniture and junk that he had in his house. They're able to import awesome goods from Europe at relatively affordable prices, stuff that I could only dream of affording here in the States. Of course, when you go outside you've got to be more cautious in dress, but people always manage to adapt to the idiosyncrasies of their government. Then again, I read a nice article in the August issue of MOTHER JONES about the complex dynamics of the role of the veil in Iranian society, and how the tensions between traditionalist and modern values have actually helped progress the role of women in modern Iran, so there's many sides to the story.

On a similar note, I'd highly recommend reading animation director Gene Deitch's first book FOR THE LOVE OF PRAGUE. It is an incredibly fascinating look at his life in Czechoslovakia during its Communist years. The wonderful thing is he contrasts it with his American way of life. He presents the pros and cons of each in a way that makes you want to live in both countries at once. The beautiful part of human nature is that we're able to adapt to different environments and make the best of the hand we're dealt.


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neitherhere
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AMID - Apparently there's a greater degree of tolerance than I was aware of. Glad to hear it, and I apologize if my ignorance offended. However, if my point was overstated, I don't think it was completely wrong. There are a lot of horror stories that come out of the mid-east and not all of them can be written off as western propaganda (although many of them certainly are!). Iran is an interesting case; a country definately changing from what it was in the Carter/Reagan era.
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