There is now a new semi-documentary, semi-science fiction propaganda film in the US, entitled Iranium (Iran + Uranium). As an Iranian-American, after watching the film, I felt angry that here we were with another Hollywood film demonizing Iranians. This of course had started with the movie Not Without My Daughter filmed in 1991 in Neve Ilan, Israel about Iran. Then there was more, more recently the movie 300 which took the IEDs wielding Persians (same as Iranians) to the sixth century BCE, against the freedom-loving Spartans (my history degree tells me otherwise), who are actually American forces fighting in Iraq. These films were made by conservative and neo-conservatives who are part of the Hollywood fantasy/propaganda industry. One could say that it was fair, indeed a tradition, as during the Cold War, the Russians ended up as the “bad” guys in films, no matter whether the movie was concerned with ancient, medieval or modern history, or even science-fiction. However, this film goes beyond the world of Hollywood.
Nowadays a new bogyman has entered the American public life and that is Islam, and even those who are born in the Middle East. However, what makes the movie Iranium different from those mentioned above is that it has a clear message and intention and it is paid for by certain interested entities for a very clear reason. The movie emphasizes the hate that supposedly Iran has for the US and the international community and the danger of the destruction of the world (more precisely, Israel). The movie suggests that the US has not done anything to contain Iran, a sign of its weakness. This is of course in clear ignorance of the fact that Iran has been surrounded by US forces in Iraq, Republic of Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and a host of Persian Gulf Arab States and that it has been under heavy sanctions for decades. The film suggests that from the Iranian hostage crisis to Obama’s administration, the US has been soft against Iran in the past 30 odd years.
Iran is blamed for every bombing in Africa and the Middle East. From the bombings in Beirut in 1983 to the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 to Yemen in 2000, to even the 9/11, there are innuendos that Iran was involved in some way. The movie suggests Iran is behind every mischief that is taking place in the world in the past 30 years. Some of these allegations are documented and some are unclear, but many more is so far from the truth that one wonders why people with big titles and representatives of the US or other countries would make such claims that “Iran gave support to hijackers” of the 9/11 bombings. This claim is as accurate as stating that aliens from outer space helped the hijackers in their aim.
Experts from many news programs are prodded and the most trusted and accurate of them all, Fox News takes the majority of these showings in the film. But the first 40 minutes of the film is just a setup for what those behind the film really want to tell and that is Iran’s nuclear threat to the US, Israel and the world. The maps and diagrams show Iran’s capability through it proxies reaching Spain, Sweden, UK and Russia, or more directly their ability to load a dirty bomb or through missile attack on a cargo ship hitting such places as “Washington DC, Baltimore and New York.” Again, it is suggested that it is possible that Iran could launch an electromagnetic bomb in the atmosphere above the US which according to the film, in a year will kill 9 out of 10 Americans!
This is a good story for films that would be on the same shelf as the Day that the Earth Stood Still to The Blob. This part of the film certainly reminded me the science-fiction movies and quite interesting in the range of imagination and paranoia. More interesting is the contention that Iran may be able to infiltrate the US through the US-Mexico Border. I have bad news for the film makers, there are millions of Iranians in the US already and have infiltrated the country and are now lawyers, doctors, university professors and successful entrepreneurs. In fact the Iranian-Americans are one of the highest educated minorities in the US and their contribution has been enormous. These Iranians came here for a better life and not to infiltrate the US to bomb it. However, this film is bent on creating fear and by mixing the incursions through the border and linking it to your Iranian neighbor in the US, a nice psychological warfare program for the English speaking audience. Thus, anyone else coming from the border or on planes to the US is fine, but just watch for the Iranians.
The message of the film has been that “we” have been tolerant of Iran and that the US has no will to take action. What needs to be done is to have crippling sanctions and then military strikes on Iran. This aim follows the US policy towards Iraq, where from the time of President Bush Sr. in 1990 to the “Compassionate Conservative” President Bush Jr., according to UNICEF (United Nations) some estimated 500,000 children died as a result of these “compassionate” sanctions and “collateral” war, and another estimated 600,000 were killed in the war that lead to the freedom and democracy in Iraq. This is the prescription that is laid out at the end of the film by the talking-heads, and cemented together by the Iranian born Hollywood actress, Shohreh Aghdashloo. At the end of the film, the pitch is this: we should not wait for Israel to strike, the US will be blamed anyway, and so we might as well strike Iran first. This logic would not be acceptable even from a grade-school child, let alone from a motley crew of educated talking-heads.
But a little research into the foundations and personages behind the film points things to a certain direction. The movies if financed by several organizations, mainly the Clarion Fund, whose president is Raphael Shore who is also the co-producer of the film. Mr. Shore is a Canadian-Israeli film producer and Rabbi belonging to a Jewish Orthodox non-profit organization named Aish HaTorah. This organization seeks to amplify the danger of Islam to the world. His other “documentary” masterpieces include Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West (2005) and The Third Jihad: Radical Islam’s Vision for America (2008).
The director is Alex Traiman who lives in the Israeli West Banks settlement of Beit El. Kenneth Timmerman whom Simon Wiesenthal believes is “tracking down the murderers of tomorrow,” is at work in helping the victims of the September 11 attacks sue the government of Iran because of its support of al Qaeda, appears at rallies for the support of the Iranian monarchy, and has written on the plight of Christians in Iraq, the destruction of Israeli towns during the Hezbollah rocket attacks, and a novelist is one of the main talking heads in this “documentary.”
Other talking heads include Arnold Resnicoff who in the film is identified as the US Military Chaplin, but a quick search identifies him as conservative Rabbi and military officer as well; Dore Gold who is the President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and former advisor to the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; Michael Ledeen, a board member of the Coalition for Democracy in Iran, founded by Morris Amitay who was the former Executive Director of American Israel Public Affairs Committee; and Chet Nagle who is the author of the novel entitled: Iran Covenant which deals with Iranian attempt to have a multi-pronged attack on Israel (again, mind you, this is a novel).
Then there are US representatives as well who take part in the interviews, namely James Woolsey, the former CIA Director; former Ambassador to the UN John Bolton; NY Representative Eliot Engel, a vocal supporter of Israel, condemning Palestinian rocket attacks by Hammas and sponsoring the resolution in the Congress that Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel; Nevada Representative Shelly Berkley who according to the Natasha Mozgovaya’s Israeli Newspaper Haaretz had said, “Berkley, a Jewish politician well-known for her support of Israel, backed the Israeli operation in Gaza during December and January, and even told Haaretz that Israel may have been too tolerant (earlier),” among other talking heads in the film.
There are also scholars such as Bernard Lewis whose politics is clear and has significantly changed since 1967. More intriguing is Clare Lopez, of the Center for Security Policy, and who believes that President Obama’s administration has been infiltrated by Islamists (Vali Nasr) and their supporters and that such organizations as NIAC and its President Trita Parsi (a Zoroastrian) are lobbyists for the Islamic Republic of Iran. Her repeated showings jives well with her general paranoia that the US is being attacked from all directions, all the way to the US government. Simply put, no Muslim born person should have any contact with the US government.
Lastly, there are few Iranian figures that can not not be mentioned. First is a young man by the name of Amir Fakhravar, the leader of the rarely heard Independent Student Movement – of which he seems to be the sole member as other Iranian students avoid him like a plague – who was much publicized through his contacts with Richard Perle (Neocon theorist who pushed for attacks on Iraq). He is included in the film entitled: The Case for War: In Defense of Freedom; Mandana Zand Ervin, the President of the dubious organization called the Alliance of Iranian Women who has written an article objecting the award of the Noble Peace Prize to Shirin Ebadi, the first Iranian, and Iranian woman to get such honor, in 2003 (how ironic is this!). She calls Ms. Ebadi “unknown Iranian woman for her unknown human-rights activities in Iran.” In fact the unknown is not Ms. Ebadi, but rather Ms. Zand Ervin, who partakes in Iranian separatists meetings; Lastly, it is Mohsen Sazgara, former member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, then turned Green (supporter of the democracy movement in Iran), and now in his third metamorphosis, as a conservative talking head.
All of these people were brought together to make a propaganda film to instill fear into the hearts and minds of Americans that Iran and Iranians are coming to get them from Mexico, on cargo ships, with rockets and nuclear bombs. The message is to bomb Iran before they bomb “us,” or more correctly, one make an educated guess, if I am allowed, “Israel.” If I am not mistaken, there seems to be an overwhelming right-wing Israeli or pro-Israeli camp behind this film with its message. No matter how one is against the current government in Iran, the disseminating of some facts with lies and fantastic stories together is a disservice to everyone and does not do any good.
I can not end this piece without mentioning the Iranian-born actress Shohreh Aghdashloo who narrated this film. Her politics in recent times has become clearer and clearer, appearing in Fox News and being courted by neo-conservatives. Her last film, Stoning Soraya had all the elements of psychological warfare, backed by Christian right-wing zealots. She may have become a star in Hollywood, but she is no star for me, who never misses an opportunity to poison what the American audience gets to see from her about Iran and Iranians.
In the early 20th Century starting with D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, African-Americans were portrayed as slaves, criminals and brutal rapists, until Sydney Poitier objected this typecasting and played in such films as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night in the 1960s. He could have played the docile or mad or villainous African-American and get paid for it, but his consciousness would not allow it. He and others changed the image of African-Americans in Hollywood and gradually in the US. Ms. Aghdashloo, unfortunately lacks such consciousness and plays the Iranian female terrorist in the television shows, along with a host of negative images of Iranians in Hollywood, and partakes in this supposed “documentary.” I liked her old films in Iran, especially Sooteh Delan (Desiderium) where she played a prostitute, employed by a businessman, Habib Agha Zoroofchi to occupy his younger mentally-challenged brother. She appears to continue that role, but this time not for Habib Agha’s brother Majid Do Kaleh, but for another country and a much more sinister cause. I still like her old films.
Touraj Daryaee is the Howard C. Baskerville Professor in the History of Iran and the Persianate World and the Associate Director of the Dr. Samuel M. Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture at the University of California, Irvine. He is the editor of the Name-ye Iran-e Bastan: The International Journal of Ancient Iranian Studies and the creator of Sasanika: The Late Antique Near East Project.