Confessions of a fundamentalist in Ahmadinejad’s Iran of today
In addition to their distinguished achievements in architecture, sculpture and poetry, the people of Iran have developed a particularly close relationship with the cinema. The first movie houses opened in Tabriz and Tehran in 1900, the year the first Iranian film was made by Akkas Bashi. The 1960s saw the emergence of a notable national cinema school that combined poetry and neo-realist elements and which now, even after the Islamic Revolution, continues to produce films by directors that have become popular with cinephiles in the West – Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Rakhshan Bani-Etemad and Jafar Panahi. Mahmoud Dehnamaki stirred up a storm of controversy with a film on two serious social issues that are taboo to the establishment: prostitution and the financial corruption among the political elite. One would expect him to be a Western-style intellectual living in one of the rich, northern suburbs, having benefited from the restricted liberalization of the Khatami period and suffocating in the new political atmosphere following the election of the new president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Stereotypes, however, can be deceiving. Dehnamaki is not a professional film director, but the publisher of SOBH magazine. He is considered one of the most extremist members of the ultra-conservative press. He took part in the 1979 revolution, was impressed by Ayatollah Khomeini, and for four years fought at the front in the war with Iraq, while Ahmadinejad was making dangerous incursions behind enemy lines. Dehnamaki was also a member of the decimated army that liberated Khoramshah in 1982 – a decisive turning point in the eight-year war. He actually lives in an ordinary apartment with more books than furniture, and condemns the social inequalities that broadened under the Rafsanjani and Khatami governments as a result of their overtures to a market economy. He sees Ahmadinejad (for whom he voted and whom he supports) as the country’s hope for a return to the idealism of the first few months of the revolution. «Corruption and social inequalities appear, in one form or another, in all countries of the world,» Dehnamaki said in an interview with Kathimerini. «What must chiefly be blamed is the model of economic development. The original vision of the revolution in 1979 was a (model of) development that would transcend both the capitalist, brutally competitive model as well as the atheist, tyrannical communist one. The basic tenets of Islam, a religion that sees each person’s participation in politics not as a right, but as a duty, allows for dealing with modern challenges at the level of economic growth from the viewpoint of progress and justice. Still, the first two years of the revolution was a time of great internal conflict, verging on civil war, and for eight years nearly all the Arab world and the West supported Saddam Hussein in the deadly war he waged against us. As a result, we could not realize our visions.» In a country where young people wear jeans, eat hamburgers and pizzas, buy DVDs of Hollywood films and hope to study at universities in the West, some of our interlocutor’s views provoke rage. «Previous governments made many mistakes in dealing with young people’s way of life and spiritual education. Phenomena such as moral decline, pornographic films available through the Internet, the humiliation of women, all might be acceptable in the West, but they were not acceptable in Iran. The West’s cultural imperialism threatens the entire East, from North Africa to China, Indonesia and even Japan. All traditional societies are concerned at the sudden invasion of Western models that uproot values, ways of life, customs and social relationships.» Yet he is realistic about Iran’s nuclear program. «We don’t want nuclear weapons. It would be stupid to want them because, after all, they are useless. A huge nuclear arsenal did not stop the Soviet Union from breaking up. The only protective shield for a regime, for a system, for a state is in the will of God and the support of the popular masses. Our legal right to acquire nuclear energy is another issue. I do not believe there will be a war. The Americans know that Iran is neither Iraq nor Afghanistan.» As for Ahmadinejad’s statements about Israel and the Holocaust, Dehnamaki has this to say: «It is true that (these views) might have cost us something with regard to our image with some governments, but I do not think they harmed us. I should say that they benefited us in the eyes of peoples, or at least most of them. After all, Ahmadinejad said nothing that was not self-evident. We Persians, like the Arabs, have never persecuted Jews. The problems were created by Europeans. If those problems assumed the dimensions they claim, the dimensions of a Holocaust, then it is the Europeans who should assume the burden of resolving them. They should have set up a Jewish state in Europe, where the overwhelming majority of Jews lived. Why should the Palestinians, the Arabs, the Muslims, pay for their crimes?» Dehnamaki is an educated man and appears to know Westerners well, or at least those he wishes to know. To support his views on Israel and the Jews, he cited French philosopher Roger Garaudy and controversial British historian David Irving. Yet the harshness of his positions were not reflected in his expression, tone of voice or body language, which were modest and polite. Above his desk hangs the portrait of the Shi’ites’ martyr Hussein, a handsome face, where pride is mixed with defeat.