This film is about more than just the heroism witnessed in Bam
December 4, 2006
I was in L.A. on business when two of my Persian friends, who are both in the film making business, invited me to attend the premiere of a new film by a mutual friend of theirs, Jahangir Golestan, which has not been released yet, called "Bam 6.6." It was hosted by the Iranian Student Association of UCLA at the De Neve Auditorium.
I did not know what to expect exactly but I assumed it would put me in tears as any presentation of a human calamity of such a magnitude would do. I certainly did not think that it would bring any joy to me however I went along.
At the time of the Bam earthquake, I remember donating more money than I have ever given to a political campaign or any other charity despite warnings from friends in Iran expressing skepticism about whether the money would ever reach the survivors. I also remember reading a story in our local paper, the San Jose Mercury, that an American couple, engaged to be married, had been caught in Bam in the earthquake. The woman had been gravely injured and the man, who was from Redwood City, California eventually bled to death.
I went online and started to research about this man, Tobb Del Oro. What I found was that he had shared my deep love for the Middle East and particularly Iran and he had been concerned with the Western media’s demonization of Iran. I remember writing to his sister and his fiancé after that and offering to help them publicize their goal of establishing a private school in Bam through my writing. I also remember suggesting that a human interest film about their personal tragedy although perhaps painful might also help them to realize Tobb’s goal of better understanding between our two cultures and the fostering of peace.
In a short time after the film began, I came to realize that it was largely the story of Adelle Freedman and Tobb Del Oro. At first, I wondered how their personal tragedy squared with the loss of 50,000 lives of anonymous Persians, who were only a statistic in the USA, but as I listened to Jahangir Golestan state his mission with emotion and a sense of earnestness and urgency, I came to understand that he too shared the same goal that Tobb and I had shared. The use of this American couple in his film, was that of a pair of goodwill ambassadors not to Iran but to America. This couple could reach into the hearts of the American public bringing behind them in tow, the message that the Persians are a very kind and generous people, with a rich culture and with much too offer the common humanity of the entire world.
In fact, in these times, when Iran has been labeled as one of the corner stones of the “Triple Axis of Evil” by our President and the IRI has labeled America as “The Great Satanic Force” and there is talk of an impending war found daily in the media, I can understand Jahangir’s sense of urgency, so great, that he staked the equity in his house towards the production of this film.
We have often seen how some great natural calamity such as the devastation of New Orleans by hurricane Katrina, tends to bring out the best in humanity and an opportunity for heroes to show us their capabilities. Certainly the earthquake in Bam was no exception, as scores and scores of unsung heroes from Bam, from Iran and from all around the world rose to the challenge of helping those suffering in Bam. Besides the large loss of human life, the destruction of the medieval citadel is also a great loss to world culture.
However, this film is about more than just the heroism witnessed in Bam. The events following the earthquake, the incredible humanity and generosity shown to Adelle Freedman, whose Iranian surgeons and nurses refused to accept any compensation, the Persian woman who gave up her professional career at Sony to come and work with the children and orphans in Bam, and all the acts of great humanity exhibited in the wake of this catastrophe actually become a dramatic symbol of an even larger concept which the author is trying to present. He is trying to say that despite the politics and power struggles of governments, that the people of the world share common humanity despite their cultural and ethnic diversity. He is also trying to show the world and most especially the Americans, the basic kindness of the Persian culture and the premium it places on generosity most especially towards guests and visitors of whatever nationality.
The Americans in the film acted amazed to discover that the Iranian people accepted them with open arms when they arrived in Iran and Adelle’s parents, received so many dinner invitations into the homes of complete strangers that they were overwhelmed by them.
But you see I already knew this and it did not take an earthquake to wake me up about this nor did it take an earthquake to bring the kindness out of Iranians, because it had been my great privilege to live and work in Iran for five years during the 1970’s. During my first year which I spent teaching English for the Iranian Air Force, many of my students, who were of humble origin, would invite me to dinner at their homes and insist on clothing me in pajamas for my greater comfort and feed me with the best food they could possibly afford even if they didn’t eat another chicken again for a month. I found kindness and generosity from the top of the society to the bottom of it.
In fact wealthier Persian friends would routinely invite me to dinner and then insist that I stay in their guest room all night and for breakfast the next morning. They would often give me the keys to their apartments and automobiles for my use while they were away on vacation in Europe. I have to laugh because generosity and a sense of hospitality are so deeply ingrained in Persian culture that when I was taken hostage during the revolution, the first thing my captors did was insist on feeding me even though I had just eaten because never let it be said that a hostage should go hungry ...
So in as much as this film puts Persians in a very positive light, I think it is a worthy message that all Americans need to hear. As it says in the bible, do not look for the pit in your enemy’s eye until you see the moat in your own. The Iranian people do not deserve a bombing or a military invasion or even the deprivations of economic sanctions, what they deserve is democracy and not the “spreading of democracy” that superpowers use as a euphemism for their imperialism; what the Iranian people deserve is the same kinds of freedoms and rights and democracy that the American people want for themselves.
Lastly this film also focuses very largely on the children of Bam, the children who sustained greater losses than many of the adults, children who had the greatest psychological vulnerability, the greatest economic insecurity and yet they were shown smiling and laughing and trying to carry on with their lives, they were shown dancing and shown loving their schools as the rocks of stability in a sea of destruction and change. The children showed better than anyone else possibly could what is the hope and faith of humanity, the resilience of the human spirit, that in the face of all odds and adversities, humanity still has the capacity to find itself, survive and overcome destruction and eventually even prosper ... Comment