The situation in Iran has been one of violence and death ever since the foundation of the Islamic republic back in 1979. Now with better technology we can view censored images of the Islamic troops bombarding unchallenged through the Iranian peace activists, artists and students, teachers and all the people who think freely. According to international nongovernmental organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and just as importantly, Journalists Without Borders, Iran is the biggest jailer of journalists, artists and free thinking people. Iran stands second after China for number of executions and by considering the ratio to its population, Iran is the number one violator of human rights especially in the terms of freedom of speech and opinion.
Most people know that Iran is occupied by an Islamist regime but not all understand to what degree this occupation pervades. As an Iranian film-maker who was born and raised under the reign of the Islamic regime, I can show in my work the injustice and inequality of my society. Ahmadinejad pushed for militarization of the regime and reestablished the Islamic fundamentalism in Iran, censorship was imposed rapidly and film making and cinema were under complete restriction by the government. For example, Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Mohammad Hosseini has said that “cinematic and cultural issues are major concerns of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his second term in office”1, and film production figures for the last five years clearly shows why the majority of Iranian film-makers didn’t produce any movies since Ahmadinejad got in as President.
But the deep penetration of Islamic rule into Iran started on Feb. 14, 1989, when Iran’s Tehran Radio broadcast a message from the country’s “supreme leader,” Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, sentencing to death Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses. Cultural murder continued during Rafsanjani’s presidency and with Khatami, Iran’s Minister of Culture in the 1980s, forbidding Western culture and video players because: “it affects people’s faith and may cause cultural decay.”
This censorship broadened in 1988 as thousands of activists were executed over a period of five months, when Mir Hussein Mousavi was Iran’s prime minister at the time. Mir Hussein Mousavi, the leader of the green reform movement has declined to tell what he knows of the mass murders.
Amnesty International recorded the names of over 4,482 different thinkers reportedly killed during this time without a trial.
As a result, a phenomenon called the underground culture took shape in Iran. Women, intellectuals, students, experienced and well known film makers, artists, and other experts in cinema and literature joined the underground art group. All members of the underground movement were at serious risk and jeopardized their lives for criticizing the government and for raising public awareness through the media.
An Iranian film-maker, Jafar Panahi is known to have criticized the outcome of last year’s disputed presidential elections, which returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power and sparked opposition protests across the country. Panahi, who is currently in prison and on hunger strike in Tehran says: “At first they didn’t allow me to make the movie; it took ten months before they gave me permission to make the movie. They gave me a letter that read after the film was made, they would evaluate it to see whether it could be shown. I forgot about the letter. I thought that I would make the movie first and then I decide what to do about the situation. If I had paid attention to the letter, I would have to be my own censor and maybe then, I would have been able to show my film in Iran.”2
Jafar Panahi’s movie shows the plight of oppression that women bear under the force of Iran’s Islamist Regime and the patriarchal society that they live in. But Panahi’s movie is not about the situation of women alone. It shows what the Iranian people have suffered as a whole, and how they have persevered. It also displays the cause of liberty and struggle of the people as they stand for their rights, for freedom and democracy.
Although there is a social irony in Panahi’s movie: it points to a darker reality. In Panahi’s most recent feature”offside” the conservative father searching for his daughter stands out singularly on frames. It symbolized how the previous generation’s belief is condemned as long as the soldier stands up alone, proving the fact that the current authoritarianism is defenseless.
Underground Cinema and literature is mostly about humanity and its struggle in society. This human being is trying to open up the circle that he encounters; he tries to escape boundaries, to break through a “closed circle.” Even when it seems the social restrictions never end. In “The Circle” (2000) by Jafar Panahi which is banned in Iran (along with offside and Crimson Gold), the metaphor became explicit when the movie ends on the rebirth of the other individual, as we ask ourselves: is it possible to open up this circle someday?
In one of the final sequences in “Offside”, the inquisitive girl asks to speak with the soldier: ”I want to speak just 2 words” she said, but the soldier just shouted louder as if there is no dialogue. This is how the evolution of the Islamic regime develops as the gap between authority and democracy widens. The soldiers have fallen victim to authoritarianism: they are forced to carry out the unjust laws created by the authoritarian regime.
I would have to say the entire Iranian population is imprisoned on their own land and is strictly of an Islamic political doctrine. But as the final sequence in “Offside” becomes futuristic when the specter of the morality police and their scary van doesn’t dampen people’s spirit and they can’t hear what’s happening in the game. No matter how hard a “Regime” tries to isolate and alienate a population, people will continue to connect.
Panahi has been sentenced to six years in prison and is banned from film making for twenty years. He is not the first one, nor the last.
Panahi hopes for the reform.
I believe reform would not be the final solution as long as religion has its grip on politics, culture, and society. Previous regime presidents have similar records while in power.
Iranian collective conscience will never forget about the serial killing of Ali Akbar Saidi Sirjani, Mohammad Mokhtari, Jafar Pouyandeh and the other victims of Islamic regime. The theocracy is murdering the creative soul of a nation, but underground art and culture are subversive, in the truest and best sense of the word. I see the underground arts movement as dedicated and devoted to the observance of human rights and acceptance of the democratic demands of the people, realization of civil society, religious tolerance, recognition of the principle of pluralism and variety in the political arena and the use of civil disobedience to achieve these goals.
Iranian people are often victims of religious politicians who do not represent the Persian identity or cultural heritage.
Today, people protest on the streets shouting: “Esteghlal, Azadi, Jomhourie Irani” -Independence, Freedom, Iranian Republic. People expunged the “Islamic” from the anthem of the revolution and replaced it with “Iranian Republic”. People have rejected the Islamic system and are building up to put an end to political Islam and bring a secular system in their country.
Underground art has the potential to support this movement and expand and spread it as much as possible and to move forward.
Obviously the authorities are correct in recognizing cultural movements as the most serious threat to their rule, and in their warped world view, they decide to ban cultural movements. The truth is: creativity thrives in such conditions.
If today, they arrest my colleagues such as Panahi and Nourizad one after another and think by jailing people they can destroy their creative force, every day that they are in jail, hundreds of Panahis and Nourizads are born outside, inspired and energized by their detained colleagues.
AUTHOR Farangis Siahpour is a filmmaker, scriptwriter, and author. Her films include Once Upon a Time, The Day After Tomorrow, and the documentaries Ferdosi and Situation. She is the author of a collection of short stories, It Passes You By, and the play Irani Eyd. She blog at www.cinemapen.com.