There are some things which you might hear about over and over again. You might read about them in a newspaper or even see them on TV. And you might give out a sigh or even shed a tear at their horror but after a few minutes of Friends or Frasier, half an hour on the phone or a funny joke told by your friend, all is forgotten. You can't even recall what you were upset about in the first place.
But what about all those who are living that horrible nightmare? What is to become of them? Usually, they're left abandoned, alone in their suffering until someone who cares enough, someone who actually does give a damn comes along. Although, who this person might be or when he might decide to knock on the door is another story. They're almost forgotten by most.
But I remember the visits to our house by that lawyer relative of ours. He worked in Ahvaz and most of the time he'd talk about the weird, chaotic conditions there. It would be the same every year: “I can't take anymore of this. I'll be moving in a few months.” no wonder he finally did – to the farthest corner of the world possible. The cases he had to deal with were so different from the ones I was used to hearing about on TV, in movies or even from my father's friends. Clean cut men who could just as easily have been going to a party or a wedding instead of the office or the court.
And although this guy was also a lawyer, there seemed to be a world of difference between them. The stories he told would be mostly about the Arabs and some of their strange traditions. I remember staring at him with my mouth wide open while he told stories of brutal murders and horrible deaths. How the brother strangled his own sister with the approval of the whole family because there were rumors about her in the village, or how the father stabbed his daughter because she disobeyed.
But most stories revolved around one thing: In some Arab tribes when a girl is born, she automatically belongs to her cousin (pesar amou). If her oldest cousin doesn't want her she is passed down to the next cousin. But she is their property and can't think of doing anything without their permission.
Now the problem occurs when the girl's family moves away to the city for some reason. She goes to school and maybe even to college, “expands her horizons”, meets people she never could have DREAMED of meeting in the village and maybe even falls in love. Not good. Because then the cousin finds out and you find two dead bodies the next day. She's long gone and so is her “true love”. Sometimes she agrees to marry the cousin to save her lover and burns herself on their wedding night.
I remember the goose bumps on my back when he told us about his wife's student, a bright pretty girl who was getting ahead in life. But then the cousin came along and she ended up inside a coffin. I always wondered why the girl's family would do that to her. If they wanted to make her go by the rules carried out in the tribe why did they take her away. Why did they let her explore so much of what's out there, let her become a totally different person than the obeying, happy wife she would have become in the village, a person alien to all the weird, sometimes barbaric traditions.
Well of course, I had no idea. Then I heard about a new movie named “Arous-e Atash”. One with a plot similar to all the true stories I'd heard. I was expecting a very sad, heartbreaking movie. But I came out of the theater with a totally different opinion. For one thing the acting was superb. Something you can't find in most Iranian movies. And though the story was sad, the last thing you would want to do was cry. In fact a lot of the scenes were funny.
We are introduced to two different types of characters: Ahlam and Parviz (the lovers) and his friend lawyer. We know every single word they're going to say. Their thoughts and actions are very similar to ours. Ahlam is the rebellious Arab girl brought to the city at the age of two after her father's death. A young doctor who might have grown to become an old doctor if things hadn't gone the way they did.
The best thing about this movie is that there are no good guys and bad guys. We feel sorry for Ahlam just as much as we pity her tall, cigarette smoking cousin. He might seem like a horrible creature at first but as the movie goes on, we see that in his own way, he is also a victim of the society in which he lives and at the end we might even like him more than all the other characters.
The director, Khosro Sinai, says in a society where cruelty and oppression rule, we are ALL oppressed. We see that Farhan's way of thinking is barbaric, but it is not unusual considering the place he's lived his whole life. He can't think any other way. There's been no teacher or college professor or even a friend to shown him another path. He's lived in a closed, isolated atmosphere his whole life. We might have all ended up the same way if we were living under the same conditions.
The story takes place in an Arab village in Khuzestan. They are far away from us. We have never seen them and probably never will. But when we think twice we see that all of us are living in different tribes and villages. Each of our tribes might have rules and regulations which seem weird and outdated to an outsider. How many of the things we do each and every day are only because we really WANT to do them? And how many because we feel as if we should?
Of course that's not always bad. The bad part is when we refuse to think with an open mind, when we refuse to see beyond the borders of our village. “My movie took place in an Arab tribe,” Sinai says, “but what took place there happens in different ways all around the world. In a family, a political party, a country and so on.” Farhan had an excuse. He was uneducated, had no chance to see and explore. But what about all the ones out there who are educated and have seen what goes on beyond their village but still PERSIST on their wrong beliefs. And not only that, they use force to make others obey.
“There is nothing more dangerous than ignorance in action,” Goethe said. But what's even more dangerous is the ignorant person who will never accept the fact that he might be wrong, that he might be ignorant. Don't we see that in the bigger village, where we're all from? A huge village in the Middle East right beside Turkey and Iraq that's been having troubles of this kind for far too long? A country of a thousand and one tribes that won't let anyone outside their borders breath?
But then, who is supposed to change all that?
George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world, the unreasonable one persists to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” But at what price? What kind of a person, in his right mind would give everything up, would put everything he has on the line, would risk everything, even his life, so that on a distant day far from now things might began to change? Shaw's words about the unreasonable man are true but it seems as if the only one who never benefits from this change is the one who makes it.
But in the end, Ahlam wasn't the only one who lost her life because of her tribe's wrong beliefs. Farhan's life also came to an end because of the same reasons. And I keep wondering does it always have to end this way? Can't we ever find another solution, besides war and killing to solve our problems? I guess some things are just too confusing to figure out.
Najmeh Fakhraie is a 17-year-old student in Tehran.