|Oh yeah? Take this
A taste of their own medicine
By Hashem Hakimi
February 13, 2002
My nephew, whom I introduced to The Iranian a few years ago, wrote to
me after reading the vitriolic attack on Cyrus Kadivar and his article "We
are awake". He urged me to put down one particular episode in my career
as a diplomat, which I had told him about years before. He thought it might do some
good as another anecdotal evidence of the animosity towards Iranian culture and history.
In mid 1960's, after a particularly tough assignment in Iraq, I was assigned as the
Consul General in our Embassy in Rome. Iran was enjoying good and healthy relationship
with Italy at the time. The affaires of the Embassy with local authorities was on
sound basis. We had almost no significant problems or outstanding issues with the
Italian government and its institutions. It seemed totally different to the stressful
atmosphere in Baghdad.
But one night, out of the blue, on the Italian TV channels (RAI 1) showed a very
disturbing film about our country.
Instead of covering all aspects of life in Iran, the producers of this documentary
had concentrated on showing all the ills. Nothing was there in that film, except
dust and dirt of the run down districts of Tehran and other parts of our country.
It was all donkeys, mules, camels, pushcarts, animal drown carriages and caravan
dirt paths. There was no balance in it coverage and its bias towards Iran was obvious.
Nothing was shown of the modern Iran, not a yard of
paved road, schools, railroad, or factories. They had gone out of their way to show
everything that was ugly and dirty in a country that at the time was making
Mercedes and Volvo trucks, Paykan, and even Italian Fiat sedans. It was on its way
to becoming an exporter of Mercedes busses. It was clear that the film was made for
the sole purpose of adverse propaganda, vengeful in its purpose of giving the wrong
impression of Iran.
The bias made us immensely mad, since it was so unexpected from Italians to treat
us in such an exaggerated way. Next morning our Ambassador called all of us into
his office for consultation about this unexpected episode. He asked for ideas on
how to show the Italians, TV bosses and officials, the error of their ways.
I suggested to the ambassador that it would be futile to complain directly to the
people in RAI. I thought the only answer to this uncalled for adverse propaganda
was to reciprocate. Give them a taste of their own medicine.
I gave the gathering a short description of my plan. The Ambassador was skeptical
as how that task could be accomplished. I assured him that if he could give me few
days, he would see the results for himself.
I have been a keen amateur photographer all my life. I had all the necessary gear
for 16-millimeter cinematography. In Rome a Sunday Bazaar was (and probably still
is) held. The bazaar was right in the middle of Rome. For those who know Rome it
stretches from Trast Tevere behind the Victor Emanuel Monument called the Wedding
Cake by Americans, to Porte Portese.
Porto Portese was vast with vacant plots, full of ditches, mud ponds, shanty dwellings,
dirt and garbage all over the place. On Sundays, Porte Portese was boiling with all
kinds of people, who have nothing else to do save to kill time. In Porte Portese
you can find anything you wish from cars to stolen goods, pot, pans, puppies, kittens
-- you name it.
If your car stereo was stolen the week before, there is a good chance that you will
get it back at a nominal price. Actually if anything is stolen from your car or flat,
the first advice of your Italian friends is to pay a visit on Sunday to Porte Portese!
They do it without shame. It is a fact of life. No argument or after thought.
I took my 16mm Cine Camera to Porte Portese and started shooting whatever came into
view. My aim was to show, without question, that the film was made in Rome. I therefore
zoomed to the back of the Victor Emanuel's Monument every now and then.
I made about 25 minutes of color film full showing the dirtiest aspects of Rome,
unsightly behavior of people, the stolen merchandise, a man sitting on the ground
selling cooked lamb intestine in a black big pan, such as we have in Iran, a crook
had a table cheating people by drawing leather line. Fortunately, when he saw that
I am shooting a film, the fellow pushed his customers away, opened the front of his
pants, and took out his genitals.
I showed nothing of the beautiful side of Rome; exactly the same way as the Italians
had done with us. Honest reciprocity, diplomatic style.
The film was developed and I added a sound track. The result of one-day's job was
a semi professional documentary film that nobody could deny. I showed the film to
my Ambassador and colleagues. I then asked the Ambassador to throw a nice dinner
party for the high officials of the Italian Foreign Ministry as well as the high
officials of RAI in his residence, so that after the dinner we could show them my
The Ambassador agreed to play along. After the dinner he announced that a film about
Rome, by one of our colleagues, is about to be shown.
Needless to say half-way through the show there was sound of scuffle between our
Italian guests. One of them shouted that the film should be stopped. They could not
stand it any more. The Italian high officials were furious with one another and in
Italian style they kept shouting at one another and pointing fingers at one another
for the fiasco RAI had created.
Most of them just stormed out of the door without even
the usual diplomatic courtesy of thanking the Ambassador for a lovely evening!
After few minutes, calm was restored and the Undersecretary of the Italian Foreign
Ministry apologized to the Ambassador for the stupid act of the RAI personnel and
asked that the entire episode be forgotten. He admitted that it was a shame that
the Italian authorities behaved in such an irresponsible manner towards a very friendly
country. He begged that our film not be used by Iranian TV or any other institution.
He also promised to put right the damage done by the RAI documentary. Indeed they
kept their promise. The Ambassador sent a report about the RAI film and sent my film
to Tehran with the recommendation that it not be shown.
I have a copy of my film to this day.