Rouhani: Iran’s nuclear program will last “forever” (& Iranian women footballers to undergo gender tests”)

February 12, 2014

Iranian TV aired a program last weekend showing simulated shots of Tel Aviv being bombed by Iran

 

* Spurred on by what they see as the capitulation of the West and the weakness of Israel, the Iranian regime significantly ups the ante, both in practical and rhetorical terms, in recent days.

* Mass crowds take to the streets shouting “Death to Obama, Death to Israel”.

* Amir Taheri (Asharq Al-Awsat): 35 years ago, the Shah and his family flew out of Iran. He was not prepared to stand and fight because, he argued, a king is not a despot and cannot therefore kill his people in order to stay in power.

* The many diverse groups involved in the anti-Shah movement in 1979 had different, often contradictory, ideologies and agendas. However, once the Shah was gone, the most ruthless group -- the mullahs -- quickly moved to fill the gap left by his absence.

* For them the centuries-old “Age of Darkness” (Jahiliyah) was over. It was now time for Iran to assert its exclusively Islamic identity, assume leadership of the Muslim world, and forge a new Islamic superpower to stand up to the two “infidel” super-powers of the United States and the Soviet Union.

* In the first decade of the Khomeinist regime, almost 150,000 people were executed or killed. The Iran-Iraq War claimed another million lives. Since then, the regime has executed an average of 10 people each day. Almost 7 million Iranians, nearly 10 percent of the population, have been forced into exile. Over the past 35 years millions of Iranians have been imprisoned, often on spurious charges, and today Iran has the third-largest number of political prisoners.

***

* Three and a half decades after the Islamic Revolution, Iran remains one of the most repressive places a filmmaker can work. (Many Iranian directors have been imprisoned or forced into exile.) So, how did Iran’s cinema come to become one of the most critically acclaimed in the world?

* Iranian women soccer players to undergo mandatory gender tests, after it was revealed that several leading players – including four in the national women’s team – were men.

 

There will not be many dispatches for the rest of this month as I will be attending other work.

(I would like to remind readers from the UK and elsewhere who have written querying some of the spellings in these dispatches, that they are written using American English. Sorry, Britannia no longer rules the waves!)

* You can comment on this dispatch here: www.facebook.com/TomGrossMedia. Please also press “Like” on that page.

 

CONTENTS

1. Rouhani: Iran’s nuclear program will last “forever”
2. Iranian TV broadcasts 12 minute footage simulating bombing of Israel
3. Iran: We are going to develop new centrifuges 15 times more efficient than existing ones
4. Putting a noose round a poet’s neck
5. “A revolution of broken promises and forlorn hopes” (By Amir Taheri, Asharq Al-Awsat, Feb. 11, 2014)
6. “Iran claims to have tested two new missiles” (AFP, Feb. 10, 2014)
7. “Iran Supreme Leader Khamenei dismisses any compromise with U.S.” (By Morgane Lapeyre and Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, Bloomberg News, Feb. 8, 2014)
8. “Iran sends warships to U.S. maritime borders” (Fars news agency, Feb. 8, 2014)
9. “BBC Persian channel to air Israeli-made film for first time” (By Shany Littman, Ha’aretz, Feb. 11, 2014)
10. “Islamic revolution can’t upstage Iranian cinema” (By Charles Recknagel, RFE, Feb. 10, 2014)
11. “Iranian women footballers to undergo gender tests” (By Robert Tait, Daily Telegraph, Feb. 7, 2014)


ROUHANI: IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM WILL LAST “FOREVER”

[Notes below by Tom Gross]

In recent days, a series of developments by the Iranian regime, seem to prove that those who claim that “weakness (by the West) attracts aggression” (by dictators) are right.

Just as in Syria, where the dictator Assad has greatly increased his level of killing of civilians (by barrel bombs and other particularly horrible methods) since the West backed down from taking any forceful action against him last year, so too the Iranian regime is increasing its belligerence since the West, led by Baroness Catherine Ashton (a British diplomat now being compared to Neville Chamberlain), capitulated to the Iranian regime at the Geneva talks.

Yesterday, the 35th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran was marked with huge rallies, with mass crowds chanting “Death to America,” “Death to Israel,” “Death to Kerry” and “Death to Obama”. (The chants of “Death to Israel” and the burning of Israeli flags were mentioned by AP, AFP and other leading news organizations but were omitted by the New York Times in their report on the rallies: www.nytimes.com/2014/02/12/world/middleeast/anniversary-of-islamic-revolution-in-iran.html )

In a speech to mark the anniversary, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Iran’s nuclear program would last “forever”.

On Friday, Ali Larijani, the speaker of Iran’s parliament, said the Jewish state was a “cancerous tumor” that would be removed.

 

IRANIAN TV BROADCASTS 12 MINUTE FOOTAGE SIMULATING BOMBING OF ISRAEL

On Saturday, Iranian TV broadcast simulated footage of Iran bombing Kikar Hamedina square in Tel Aviv and other Israeli civilian centers. The film, which included footage of districts of Tel Aviv and Haifa being burned, lasted almost 12 minutes and included clips of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei speaking.

You can watch it here:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxpcHl2jj20

Iranian leaders have repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map.

 

IRAN: WE ARE GOING TO DEVELOP NEW CENTRIFUGES 15 TIMES MORE EFFICIENT THAN EXISTING ONES

Also over the weekend, Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi told Iranian State TV that Iranian scientists had developed a new generation of centrifuges “15 times more efficient” than its previous ones, and once again boasted that Iranian negotiators had completely out-maneuvered Western governments in Geneva.

Abbas Araqchi, another of Iran’s top nuclear negotiators, said on Monday that Iran would “under no circumstances” negotiate with the West on its ballistic missile program. His remarks were accompanied by the announcement that Tehran had successfully test fired two ballistic missiles, which are the preferred delivery system for nuclear arms.

The spokeswoman for the U.S. National Security Council, Bernadette Meehan, said in response: “UN Security Council Resolution 1929 prohibits all activities involving ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches.”

Here are photos of Iranian Defense Minister Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehghan unveiling “laser guided, surface-to-surface cluster, surface-to-air and surface-to-surface” Bina ballistic missiles.

 

PUTTING A NOOSE ROUND A POET’S NECK

Among those executed under the Rouhani regime recently was Iranian poet Hashem Shaabani who was hung by his neck the week before last. Shaabani had dared to criticized Rouhani’s repression of ethnic Arabs in Khuzestan province. And yet many Western politicians and news outlets continue to try and convince us – and themselves – that a “moderate” government has suddenly emerged in Tehran.

Many Western commentators on the Middle East – usually the exact same ones who never seem to tire of criticizing Israel, such as several of those at the New York Times – have ignored Shaabani’s execution, but you can read about it here in al Jazeera, for example:

www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/02/iranian-poet-executed-waging-war-god-201421043119959262.html

***

I attach seven articles below. The last three are “human interest” stories.

For those who don’t know, Asharq Al-Awsat is a leading pan-Arabic newspaper, and Amir Taheri (who is a long-standing subscriber to this email list) is one of Iran’s leading journalists in exile.

-- Tom Gross

 

Among other recent dispatches on Iran:

* Leading Iranian: “If Rouhani is moderate, I’m the Jolly Green Giant” (& Photo of the day)

* Why does John Kerry refer to the Ayatollah as “Supreme Leader?”


ARTICLES

35 YEARS LATER

Iran: A revolution of broken promises and forlorn hopes
By Amir Taheri
Asharq Al-Awsat
11 Feb, 2014

www.aawsat.net/2014/02/article55328833

In 1978, as the turmoil in Iran rapidly developed into a mass movement for regime change, those who took part in the events were unable to agree on a word that would describe what was happening.

The Mussadeqist middle classes, who provided the façade of the movement, used the word “nehzat” (awakening, in Arabic an-nahda) which was the name of their principal organization. The mullahs, who were still anxious not to take personal risks, suggested the word “qiyam”(uprising) because it recalled the events of Karbala in 680 when Husayn, the third Imam, was martyred. The dozen or so leftist groups, some of them armed and trained in Cuba and the Palestinian camps, favored the word “shuresh khalq”: people’s rebellion.

Then one evening, the Shah, broken by a cancer that had been kept secret, appeared on television and, reading from a text, surprised everyone by saying: “I have heard the voice of your revolution.”

Suddenly, “revolution” was the word everyone claimed to have been looking for. Initially, the groups involved in the turmoil had not wanted to use it because the Shah had used it to describe his own reform package as the White Revolution.

Well, now the Shah was giving his beloved term of “revolution” to his opponents. Was not that a sign that he would soon also hand over his power on a silver plate? The answer came a few weeks later, when the Shah conducted secret talks to form a ramshackle interim government that would allow him and his family to fly out of Iran. He was not prepared to stand and fight because, he argued, a king is not a despot and cannot therefore kill his people in order to stay in power.

However, the adoption of the term “revolution” did not end the debate. The diverse groups involved in the anti-Shah movement had different, often contradictory, ideologies and agendas. Much of the Left wished to use the adjective “bourgeois–democratic” to describe the “revolution” in the hope that this would be the prelude to the real “proletarian revolution.” Leftist guerrilla groups dreamed of a Mao-style “people’s republic” and tried to label the events as “popular revolution” (enqelab khalq).

However, once the Shah was gone, the mullahs quickly moved to fill the gap left by his absence.

For more than four centuries only two rival, and at times complementary, narratives had dominated Iranian politics: the nationalist and the Islamist. The Shah had been the spokesman for the nationalist discourse, emphasizing Iran’s ancient history as an “Aryan” nation with Islam only one of many ingredients that formed the complex Iranian identity. In 1979, deprived of its chief standard-bearer, that discourse appeared to be on the losing side. The alternative discourse, the Islamist one, was left unchallenged. According to that narrative, all of Iran’s pre-Islamic history belonged to “The Age of Darkness “(Jahiliyah). It was now time for Iran to assert its exclusively Islamic identity, assume leadership of the Muslim world, and forge a new Islamic superpower to stand up to the two “infidel” super-powers of the United States and the Soviet Union.

Having imposed the Islamist narrative, the mullahs started capturing the centers of power one after another, getting rid of many of their allies, at times simply by having them assassinated. What the mullahs could not do was to wish away the fundamental contradiction of Iranian existence for the past 15 centuries. There is ample evidence in Iranian literature and history to show that while Iranians don’t want to abandon Islam they are, at the same time, uncomfortable with being Muslims. Under the nationalist discourse they were unhappy because they thought, perhaps wrongly, that they were being invited to jettison Islam. Under the Islamist discourse, they started to fear that the mullahs wished to deprive them of their Iranian-ness.

The regime had changed along with the discourse, but the Iranian schizophrenia was still very much in place. Thirty-five years after the mullahs seized power, that contradiction remains unresolved and is, in a sense, the root cause of the Khomeinist regime’s bizarre behavior at home and abroad. The new regime had to accommodate contradictory aspirations. It had to describe itself as a republic, although there is no such thing in any Islamic tradition. It also had to use the label Islamic, although that had never been used by any of the 300 or so Muslim dynasties that had ruled Iran for 14 centuries. Finally, it used the word Iran, although Islam is a universal faith cutting across national boundaries. This is why the “Supreme Guide” is described as leader of Muslims throughout the world, not just Iran.

The new Khomeinist regime established itself at a heavy cost in human lives. In the first decade of the regime, almost 150,000 people were executed or killed in armed clashes and violent suppression of local revolts. For its part, the eight-year Iran–Iraq War claimed almost a million lives on both sides. Since then, the regime has executed an average of 10 people each day. Almost 7 million Iranians, nearly 10 percent of the population, have been forced into exile, creating in part the “biggest brain-drain in history.” according to the World Bank. Over the past 35 years millions of Iranians have been imprisoned, often on spurious charges, and today Iran has the third-largest number of political prisoners: some 4,000 according to human rights organizations.

Economically, Iran has had a history of under-achievement, to say the least. In 1978, Iran was richer than South Korea and, in terms of income per head, was on the same level as Spain. Today, South Korea is number 13 and Spain number 15, while Iran has fallen to number 18 in terms of gross domestic product. In terms of annual growth rate, Iran, suffering from several years of negative growth, is number 208 in a list of 215 nations. The myth of “self-sufficiency” (khod-kafai) peddled by “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei, combined with the effects of crippling sanctions, have kept Iran in a technological limbo.

The Khomeinist regime had three sources of legitimacy. The first was that of a successful revolution. In history, the side that wins automatically acquires a measure of legitimacy. However, that source of legitimacy has been eroded over the years as the new regime has created a new ruling class and moved away from original revolutionary aspirations. The regime’s second source of legitimacy was its reference to the people in the form of a series of elections which, though not perfect, initially allowed a limited mechanism for debate and choice. That source has also been eroded as a result of increasingly “arranged” elections with pre-approved candidates and massaged results. This is why voter participation has been on the decline. In the last presidential election, for example, voter turnout was the lowest ever since the establishment of the Khomeinist regime, and Hassan Rouhani won with the lowest percentage of votes cast of any president.

The third source of legitimacy came from a promise of a better life for the poor. That, too, has been eroded with the growing inequality across the board. In last Friday’s Prayer in Tehran, Ayatollah Muwahhedi Kermani offered a grim portrayal of a society split between the haves and the have-nots. “Someone must think of those crushed by misery,” he appealed. That came a few days after the government tried to alleviate pressure on the poor by distributing five million package of food in a system of wartime rationing.

But has the Khomeinist revolution produced no positive results? The answer is that it has. No phenomenon in history is entirely positive or negative. The first positive result of the revolution is that it has politicized the Iranians. Before the revolution most people thought that politics concerned only a few thousand people in Tehran. Today, many Iranians, perhaps even a majority, have developed an acute political sense that, given time and space, could help them develop a more humane and democratic system of government. Today, it is much harder to deceive Iranians with promises of revolutionary miracles. Having been mugged, they have become street-wise. The second positive aspect is related to the above. Before the revolution we had a thin layer of high-quality leadership at the higher levels but little or nothing in the middle or below. Today, the reverse is true. Today, even in remote provincial towns, one could find leadership levels capable of understanding and explaining the situation. Our middle and lower leadership levels are of a much higher quality than the upper echelon, with people like Khamenei, Rafsanjani, Khatami and Rouhani. Iran also has a vast reservoir of managerial talent that it did not have 35 years ago—at that time our media had a handful of star reporters and editors. Today we have many, many more, perhaps more than any other nation in the Middle East. Given a minimum of freedom and latitude they could do wonders.

Of course, part of these things might have happened anyway, with or without the revolution. But the fact is that they have happened during the revolutionary era. More importantly, perhaps, the tragedy of 1979 and its consequences have forced many Iranians, perhaps even a majority, to think seriously about the makeup of their identity. How much Iranian and how much Islamic? The answer to that question requires recognition of politics as a common public space for all citizens regardless of their individual and group specifics, including religion.

Recognizing that fact would give Iran the true revolution it has been dreaming of for 150 years, yet never attained despite many false dawns.

 

IRAN’S NEW BALLISTIC MISSILE CAN “EVADE ANTI-MISSILE SYSTEMS” AND ARE CAPABLE OF “GREAT DESTRUCTION”

Iran claims to have tested two new missiles
AFP
February 10, 2014

news.yahoo.com/iran-claims-tested-two-missiles-161513869.html

Tehran (AFP) - Iran said Monday it has “successfully tested” two missiles on the eve of the 35th anniversary of its Islamic revolution, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Iran’s ballistic missile programme has long been a source of concern for Western nations because it is capable of striking its arch-foe Israel.

“The new generation of ballistic missile with a fragmentation warhead, and a Bina laser-guided surface-to-surface and air-to-surface missile, have been successfully tested,” Defence Minister Hossein Dehgan said.

He said the new ballistic missile could “evade anti-missile systems” and was capable of “great destruction.”

The other missile can be fired from a plane or a boat to strike military targets with “great precision,” he added.

President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate elected last year on promises to engage the West diplomatically, congratulated the Iranian people and Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over the tests, IRNA reported.

The UN Security Council, the United States and the European Union have long imposed sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile programme.

Iranian officials have said they will not discuss the missile programme at talks with world powers later this month on Tehran’s controversial nuclear activities.

Western nations and Israel suspect Iran is covertly pursuing nuclear weapons alongside its civilian programme, allegations denied by Tehran.

***

ADDITIONAL NOTE:

If the bipartisan Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act so vehemently opposed by President Obama had been passed into law, the President would have been required to reimpose sanctions on Iran if the regime tested ballistic missiles with ranges exceeding 500km.

 

WHY ARE MANY IN THE WEST DELUDING THEMSELVES?

Iran Supreme Leader Khamenei dismisses any compromise with U.S.
By Morgane Lapeyre and Indira A.R. Lakshmanan
Bloomberg News
Feb 8, 2014

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the U.S. of hypocrisy and of seeking to undermine his country’s independence in a speech to air force commanders in Tehran, the state-run Fars news agency reported.

“The Iranian nation should pay attention to the recent negotiations and the rude remarks of the Americans so that everyone gets to know the enemy well,” Khamenei said as the Islamic Republic prepares to celebrate the 35th anniversary of its formation on Feb. 11.

The celebrations will include state-sponsored rallies in Tehran and come as the two countries seek to resolve a decade-old dispute over Iran’s nuclear work. Khamenei himself has given consent to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani to pursue outreach policies, while maintaining that the U.S. is fundamentally Iran’s adversary.

Rouhani signed an interim accord in November with six world powers, which marked the first breakthrough in an effort to curb Iran’s atomic program. Under the agreement, Iran will benefit from about $7 billion in sanctions relief.

“The Americans speak in their private meetings with our officials in one way, and they speak differently outside these meetings,” Khamenei added. “This is hypocrisy and the bad and evil will of the enemy.”

Khamenei’s statement isn’t anything new, according to Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council and author of “A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran.”

“Khamenei is signaling, primarily to his domestic audience, that the nuclear deal doesn’t change the larger picture -- Iran still distrusts America,” he said in a phone interview.

 

IRAN SENDS WARSHIPS TO U.S. MARITIME BORDERS

Iran sends warships to U.S. maritime borders
Fars news agency
Feb 8, 2014

english.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13921119001013

“The Iranian Army’s naval fleets have already started their voyage towards the Atlantic Ocean via the waters near South Africa,” Commander of Iran’s Northern Navy Fleet Admiral Afshin Rezayee Haddad announced on Saturday.

The admiral, who is also the commander of the Iranian Army’s 4th Naval Zone said, “Iran’s military fleet is approaching the United States’ maritime borders, and this move has a message.”

In September 2012, Iran’s Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari reiterated Iran’s plans for sailing off the US coasts to counter the US presence in its waters in the Persian Gulf.

Sayyari had earlier informed of Tehran’s plans to send its naval forces to the Atlantic to deploy along the US marine borders, and in September 2012 he said that this would happen “in the next few years”.

The plan is part of Iran’s response to Washington’s beefed up naval presence in the Persian Gulf. The US Navy’s 5th fleet is based in Bahrain - across the Persian Gulf from Iran - and the US has conducted two major maritime war games in the last two years.

In September 2011, Sayyari had announced that the country planned to move vessels into the Atlantic Ocean to start a naval buildup “near maritime borders of the United States”.

“Like the arrogant powers that are present near our maritime borders, we will also have a powerful presence close to the American marine borders,” Sayyari said.

Speaking at a ceremony marking the 31st anniversary of the start of the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, Sayyari gave no details of when such a deployment could happen or the number or type of vessels to be used.

Sayyari had first announced in July, 2011 that Iran was going to send “a flotilla into the Atlantic”.

 

BBC PERSIAN TO SCREEN ISRAELI DOCUMENTARY ON PRE-REVOLUTIONARY IRAN

[Tom Gross adds: Israel and Iran enjoyed relatively close relations prior to the 1979 revolution. Several Israeli friends of mine, whose parents worked in agricultural or other business development helping Iranians, grew up in Iran, attending Jewish or international schools there. El Al flew to Iran from Tel Aviv with almost daily flights.]

***

BBC channel in Iran to air Israeli-made film for first time
Documentary about Israelis in pre-revolutionary Tehran has won positive feedback from Iranian exiles, says director Dan Shadur.
By Shany Littman
Ha’aretz
February 11, 2014

“Before the Revolution,” a film made by Iranian-born Israeli Dan Shadur, recalls the final days of the Israeli community in Tehran, on the eve of the Islamic Revolution. It will be aired Tuesday evening on BBC Persian Television, a satellite channel that broadcasts in Persian and is aired in Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. This is the first time the channel is showing an Israeli film and this will coincide with the 35th anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s revolution in Iran.

Tonight, in advance of the broadcast, an interview with Shadur will be featured on the channel’s main news broadcast. The interview and the film will both be dubbed into Persian. Later in the week the channel has promised to broadcast a selection of readers’ reactions to the documentary.

Shadur’s 2013 film, an Israeli-American coproduction which was produced by Barak Heymann (and has been broadcast in Israel on the Yes Docu channel), tells about the pre-1979 Israeli community in Tehran, to which Shadur’s family belonged. The film describes a kind of paradise lost in which the Israelis were very well-off financially and had a thriving communal life, while at the same time ignoring the social injustice and oppression experienced by the Iranian people under the rule of the shah.

Shadur notes that at one point, an Iranian television station that broadcasts in English within Iran showed an interest in his film and considered purchasing it, but the deal fell through. During various screenings of the documentary around the world, he says, he has become aware of the fact that Iranians are very excited by the film, and react to it strongly. He says that this was a surprise, because he thought he was speaking from a very personal and Israeli point of view.

“Many Iranians say that the film respects them and their narrative. Many people who experienced the revolution approach me and say that they are opposed to the present regime and everything that’s happening in Iran,” Shadur explains. “They feel that the film expresses something of their outcry at the time, and that there was a reason why the revolution took place. As opposed to Hollywood films that present the architects of the revolution as a fanatic and bloodthirsty horde, they feel that it does take their viewpoint into account.

“Someone who was a prisoner of the shah’s secret police saw the film in Toronto and said that it expresses his pain. The film shows the problems in prerevolutionary Iran and the fact that the West was a part of them. And Israel was there, too.”

On the other hand, Shadur continues, “there are some who miss the good life they once had, and for them the film fulfills a nostalgic need. For younger people who were educated in the school system of the Islamic Republic, this past has been erased, both the Israeli and the secular past, in terms of their images. The pre-revolutionary archives are not accessible. These things [in the film] don’t exist in the official narrative of the Islamic Republic. Younger people are very excited about seeing it and they’re curious.”

Shadur says that he has also encountered the reactions of Iranian exiles who didn’t like the film: “In Los Angeles there was a very intense screening. There were many who said that it’s still impossible to say things against the shah. That he must not be called a dictator, and it’s not right that I do that. There are people who still perceive him as a kind of god. Occasionally, there were also adverse reactions from the left, too. Young people who felt that the film doesn’t show respect for the Iranian people and isn’t sufficiently critical of the Israelis, that it’s too soft on them.”

In the interview on television, which will be dubbed into Persian, Shadur says he will try to convey a message of peace and brotherhood.

“I’ll tell my story and about my connection to Iran,” he explains. “I feel that the interview itself and the screening of the film is a powerful and interesting act. It’s something that wouldn’t have happened a year or two ago. Maybe now there’s a kind of openness.”

 

UNDERGROUND FILMS DOMINATE IRAN’S SUCCESS AT FESTIVALS

Islamic revolution can’t upstage Iranian cinema
By Charles Recknagel
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty
February 10, 2014

When Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini took power in Iran 35 years ago on February 11, Iran’s filmmakers had good reason to worry.

The strict code of censorship ushered in by the Islamic Revolution convinced many that creativity and film were no longer compatible in Iran.

Yet today, despite the continuing strict censorship rules governing them, Iran’s artistic films -- as opposed to the country’s commercial-release films -- are universally acclaimed as among the most innovative and important participants in international film festivals.

The filmmakers’ ability to overcome the suffocation of censorship, while still working under it, is one of the rare successes in the daily struggle ordinary Iranians wage to have greater personal freedom under an authoritarian regime. At the same time, the battle against censorship has had a great influence in forging the look and style of Iranian art films, which have earned a place of distinction in the eyes of film lovers worldwide.

Many authoritarian governments impose strict political restrictions on artists. But the Islamic republic’s censorship code is unusually strict because it includes social restrictions as well. The social restrictions particularly limit how relationships between men and women -- one of the most fundamental subjects of the arts -- can be depicted.

The red lines forbid almost all physical gestures of romantic love, limit the kinds of issues that can be discussed, and bar women from singing or dancing on screen. They also require actresses to wear the hijab -- clothing that masks the figure and covers the hair -- for indoor as well as outdoor scenes, even though in reality Iranian women generally dress at home as they wish and don’t cover their hair.

Jamsheed Akrami, a professor of film at William Paterson University in New Jersey, says that the censorship code is so burdensome that the first talent any serious filmmaker must possess is the ability to get around it.

“Whenever you are under strict restrictions, you try to find out ways of getting around them to still communicate your messages. To the credit of the Iranian filmmakers, they have become very adept at skirting the censorship codes,” Akrami says. “In fact, as an Iranian filmmaker your most prized possession is your ability to undermine the censorship codes and find ways of getting around them. Your artistic gift is like a secondary requirement.”

THE ART OF ALLUSION

One way to get around censorship is to allude to subjects rather than address them directly. Akrami -- whose own recent documentary “A Cinema of Discontent” explores how Iranian directors such as Jafar Panahi (maker of “The Circle,” an independent film banned from public screening in Iran ), Bahman Ghobadi (maker of “No One Knows About Persian Cats,” an underground film never screened in Iran ), and the Oscar-winning Asghar Farhadi operate under censorship -- says the art of allusion has become the hallmark of Iran’s art cinema.

“Iranian movies in film festivals are praised for their minimalist approach, for their aesthetics of omission, how they say things by not saying them, how they show things by not showing them. But we can never be sure that those approaches are decisions that are made consciously by the filmmakers or whether they are the results of the censorship,” Akrami explains. “You don’t know if a filmmaker who is using a minimalist approach is doing it [because he chooses to] or because he can’t be more open in his communication with the audience.”

One technique many filmmakers have successfully used is to discuss the difficult subject of adult romantic love by viewing it through the innocent eyes of children. Another is to use traditional village life as a setting for discussing urban social themes. Both children and village life are generally viewed by censors as posing no threat to the Islamic republic’s strict moral codes or to its political stability.

What art films from the Islamic republic might look like without the burden of censorship is impossible to know. But Akrami, who has interviewed dozens of Iranian filmmakers, says they unanimously believe they could make better films if the censorship were lifted.

Making films in Iran is an activity that not only tests artists’ ingenuity. It also can bring heavy punishment if the artist is deemed too independent.

The best-known filmmaker to suffer punishment recently is Panahi, who was arrested in 2010 after years of conflict with the authorities over the content of his films. Panahi received a six-year jail sentence, which was suspended after an outcry from the international community, and is banned from making films for 20 years.

WITHIN THE SYSTEM, OR WITHOUT

The easiest course is to simply cooperate fully with the state cinema authorities, who provide directors with loans to fund films and offer some free equipment if the initial script is approved. Fully cooperating also means guaranteed approval for the film to be shown in domestic cinemas or on television.

The directors who cooperate make commercially successful films that simply accept the incongruities imposed by the state censors. That includes the absurdity of showing women wearing the hijab as they sleep at home and the careful avoidance of volatile social topics such as attraction outside marriage or high unemployment among young people.

But directors who want to make artistic films -- the kind that go to international festivals -- have only two ways to do so. They can still try to make serious films within the state system, but at the risk of seeing their films banned if they are caught breaking censorship rules.

Or they can try to make underground films at their own cost and without state approval. The films made outside the state system may get to global film festivals but they cannot be shown in Iran’s cinemas and can only be distributed illegally through black-market copies or via Internet download.

Both Iranian underground films and those made within the state system have won critical acclaim at film festivals.

Mohammad Abdi, a London-based film critic and author, says underground films have dominated Iran’s success at festivals during most of the last decade. “If you look at the films in the Cannes, Berlin, Venice, and many other festivals during the last 10 years, especially during the [Mahmud] Ahmadinejad presidency, you see that most of them were made without permission and actually they are illegal in Iran and they have no opportunity to be shown in the [domestic] cinema,” he says.

However, the Iranian film to have the greatest recent success internationally is not an underground film but one made by working within the censorship system. It is Farhadi’s film “A Separation,” which won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012, the first Iranian film to ever do so.

Abdi says Farhadi has proved to be unusually adept at working within and around the censorship restrictions to produce films that both gain permission for domestic showing in Iran and gain international acclaim for their depth of content and innovative storytelling.

 

ONLY “FULLY FEMALE” PLAYERS ALLOWED

Iranian women footballers to undergo gender tests
Iran’s female footballers are to be given mandatory exams to prove that they are real women
By Robert Tait
Daily Telegraph
February 7, 2014

Footballers in Iran’s professional women’s league are to undergo mandatory gender tests to establish that they are fully female.

The country’s football governing body is bringing in the random checks after it was revealed that several leading players – including four in the national women’s team – were either men who had not completed sex change operations, or were suffering from sexual development disorders.

Gender change operations are legal in Iran according to a fatwa - or religious ruling - pronounced by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, spiritual leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution. The law contrasts with the strict rules governing sexual morality under the country’s Sharia legal code, which forbids homosexuality and pre-marital sex.

Medical examiners will turn up unannounced at training sessions of teams playing in Iran’s women’s premier league, as well as those playing in the indoor league, known as footsal.

Ahmad Hashemian, head of the Iranian football federation’s medical committee, said the clubs themselves were now obliged to carry out medical examinations to establish the gender of their players before signing them on contracts.

Those unable to prove they are female would be barred from taking part in the women’s leagues until they underwent medical treatment, he said.

“If these people can solve their problems through surgery and be in a position to receive the necessary medical qualifications, they will then be able to participate in [women’s] football,” Mr Hashemian, a qualified doctor, said in remarks quoted by IRNA, the state news agency.

Sex changes are commonly carried out in phases in Iran, with the full procedure taking up to two years and including hormone therapy before the full gender transformation is completed.

Seven players have already had their contracts terminated under the federation’s gender test directive, according to IRNA.

Concerns about the sexuality of some players are believed to have been first raised four years ago when one women’s team voiced suspicions about an opposition goalkeeper.

Football is highly popular among many Iranian women, despite religious rules that bar them from entering stadiums to watch matches between male teams.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.