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Oh yeah? Take this
A taste of their own medicine

By Hashem Hakimi
February 13, 2002
The Iranian

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 film.

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.

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