About an Iranian film and related matters
An Iranian film made me think of my childhood in fascist Spain (from 1939). I saw Shah Reza Pahlavi dining at Maxim's in 70s. Reading of revolution being taken over by Islamic Regime, and black-veiled women. Progress? Get rid of primitivism first
About an Iranian film and related matter
Fernando García Izquierdo
When I first set foot in Madrid, after having knocked about for about a quarter of a century, and moved again among the Spaniards, my own friends and others, I at once got the impression that there was an important change in Spanish society, that Spanish women had taken a step forward in Matters Human (human rights and justice). I repeat: one step forward.
The impression was instantaneous, as most impressions are. I saw them (in 1977) more active, more forward-looking than I had ever seen them. When I talked to them, I found they spoke differently, maybe more intelligently, freely, starting forcefully, I mean the majority of them. I found them more beautiful, too, full of energy: not only the younger ones, but these in particular. They took an active part in politics, a thing which they seldom did in my time. When Franco was the head of the regime, there were ‘las chicas de la Sección Femenina’, the only ones who ‘seemed’ to do something, as were their sisters in Mussolini’s Italia or the Germany of the III Reich, where Hitler destined beautiful Teutonic beauty to procreate, procreate… the superior master-race.
These were the first impressions I received revisiting my Spain: a returning migrant, now in ‘the old country’, among the people he had known long ago. Images contrasting very much with others of the same old country, which had for many years remained unaltered in my mind, even while the world was turning, turning: before my eyes and elsewhere, everywhere even if I only saw a small chunk of the world; eternally changing.
In my grandparents’ generation, married women were almost all veiled, and many unmarried ones as well. Everywhere (I think) history has recorded all this, that women have been seen as subjects, oppressed, deprived of some rights, essential rights. Unmarried women, as they grew older, became spinsters in English; in Spanish ‘solteronas’, horrible designations. Why? Constantly receiving offence from men (who, in Spain, had the habit of touching their bottoms as they passed by), who looked at them mainly as objects for their pleasure, if not with scorn. The result was (and this was the most painful) that they voluntarily hid themselves, as a way of safety, or were forced (I am referring to unmarried women) to choose avenues that hypocritical, religious society would tolerate.
In my parents’ generation, things had altered only slightly, in this respect. My own mother had always refused to wear the veil or be dressed as an old woman at forty, just because of her status as a married woman. She was a person of character, who wouldn’t (as she said) obey the priests in this. She went to Mass every Sunday and compulsory feast days, but even then she refused to wear the veil. She bought herself a bonnet, to set on her head for an hour, on occasion, and that was all. All her life, my mother spoke against the priests, who were guilty of this miscarriage of justice. “¡A mí los curas no me hacen llevar ese trapo!” she used to say, “Them priests, forcing me to wear THAT RAG?, never!” And it was true that the ‘curas’ were most impertinent, in this as in other matters. They stopped being so (along the Mediterranean coast) when tourism began bringing riches to the nation (and the church) and our beaches were full of beautiful French girls in bikinis. Then, the priests turned a blind eye to this ‘immorality’ which previously had been a deadly sin.
Born in a small village, she left school at eleven, already knowing how to write and read rather well. She moved to the capital of the province and had to work to earn her living. All her life she read a good deal, and got an education by herself. When circumstances brought the separation of her three elder boys, she wrote to us letters full of love and good sense, until she was nearly ninety. She loved her daughters-in-law. I wish my own daughters (in later time) had written to me at least a third of what she wrote.
But even in our small family there was not the slightly semblance of justice, my mother was not a free person, because of her belonging to the wrong sex (or gender, if you prefer.) The law was the law, and my father was the ‘pater familias’. Full stop. A good affectionate man my father was, and I am sure he loved his wife, as she loved and respected him. But it was not right, that absurd situation. SOCIETY was evil.
In Spain, where I was born and brought up, when you spoke of the Moros, you had in mind people of a different civilization, practising another religion. Even today, in many towns and villages there are celebrations of past combats, ‘las guerras entre MOROS Y CRISTIANOS’. Some dress as christians, some as muslims, and all end up embracing one another, thanking Queen Isabella the Catholic for having sent the Muslims packing back to Africa.
That gave a chance to Spanish women, liberating them from the veil. However to think that these were ever equal to men... that is another thing. Like in other Continental European countries which followed the ‘Code Napoléon’ women were treated by the law as inferior, and always have been. Women and minors were part of the man’s patrimony. Dependants under the father’s ‘patria potestas’: until a boy became of age, at twenty-one; a married woman, whatever her age, passed into the power of the husband, all her life; unmarried women became of age, not at twenty-one, like boys, but at twenty-three, and yet, even then they did not possess the same human rights as the men. Intelligent women just chose some crooked ways to realise their wishes.
I’ll explain this reverting to the example of my mother. She wouldn’t ask for things straightaway. What she desired she got proceeding a roundabout way. She hinted, never demanded anything. And she almost always got her own way in the end. For instance, before my father might say (in June): “Shall I take you to Santander for holidays?” or, say, “I think you should spend the summer in Tordehumos with your cousins”, or whatever else; she had already moulded his mind bit by bit to satisfy her own whim, saying, for instance, “The boys need sunshine and sea breezes for their health” or “Growing boys need to go to a sandy beach”.
Even as a boy, I saw her thus preparing the terrain and win. Similar disgraceful ‘struggles’ you could see all over, everywhere, the male was the decider in every family. Even among succeeding generations. Men generally don’t like to see their women propose anything without first having given them the chance to express their own opinion.
What would not have been my surprise when I discovered (in 1953) that in other parts of the world the situation wasn’t substantially different! I remember I liked seeing the brown and golden heads-of-hair of the girls, and it would have been a pity if silly religion had deprived me of this pleasure. Yet, they were not entirely equal in human rights with the boys.
But of course they were not so subjected as the women I saw the other day in the Iranian film ‘Nahid’, who were not allowed to do what others could, because each strand of a woman’s hair freely fluttering in the air is a dagger directed against pampered male Iranians.
“Why?” I wanted to know, and I recalled the time when I was a student and what I learned then. What had caused women to be subjected to men? Since the time when the human race (back in prehistory) abandoned primitive communism, and exploitation of human by human started well-and-proper, right up to the present time, one half of the species, womanhood, has been scandalously oppressed by the other; women treated as inferior by men almost continually, nearly everywhere.
“A strand of a woman’s hair emerging freely from imside the CLOTH, to be a dagger?” This is monstruous, and it is doubly monstruous when you try and understand what the dogma is about. It is easy for priests to speak of a Supreme Being, imposing this and that dogma on the people, in the name of religion. This was already discussed at length in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and reason triumphed in the end over superstition and religion. The existence of an invisible, non-material ‘something’ emerging as governing forces over all matter, tangible matter, ruling our lives, determining our values, getting annoyed (going from the sublime to the ridiculous) because a woman in primeval times ate an apple, or because women gorgon-like are threatening the species with “strands of hair” is absurd to the extreme.
One day, not so long ago, at my doctor’s waiting room, a Moorish young woman sitting next to me, shrouded in black, attracted my attention to such an extent that I asked her (I have always been an impertinent guy) “Pourquoi vous portez le voile?” And she responded, “C’est ma religion.” “Your religion!!!” I think I shouted.
This morning (April 7), at nine fifteen, on France Inter, I heard the inimaginable (I would have fallen ill if I had heard that in my student days,1948-53, in Madrid.) A university girl (I repeat a Sorbonne undergraduate) when asked why she insisted on wearing the veil, replied, “Pour vivre ma spiritualité.” You cannot hear a more absurd statement.
On a cold damp afternoon in down-town Versailles we went to the cinema. Before my eyes passed a vision of Iran. I was sitting with my wife and my imagination travelled far away. A country I had never visited or seen much in pictures. Images, a town, the streets, establishmnents, business going on here and there. All that I saw: ah! and people. All, I should think, very much like I saw in other countries appartaining to the concert of nations of the free world, Scotland, England, France, Italy, Spain. No different. Except that the women, substantially fewer in number than the men, were all veiled. Now, what can that mean? Really, what? please tell me, what can that mean?
It is more difficult for me, and I suppose for others, to disprove that there is a “Someone Above” than state simply, as others do (even in the twenty-first century) that there is a god, the Great Invisible, that must be obeyed, and establish dogmas, impose rules and regulations allowing a few who dominate to ‘utilise’ women as they wish and to accumulate capital in their pockets, which is all we are looking for, GREED AND PROFITS.
“Contraditio termini”. Great philosophers have shown us that freedom and reason are one and the same thing. Science shows us that similar causes produce simlar effects. In the dogmas that are imposed by priests (or by whomsoever) in Iran, I see that strands of hair (it is said) can stab the hearts of men, destructive weapons. I saw in the mentioned Iranian film that women must wear the veil; but now a little ‘chiquitito’ veil is allowed. I didn’t see even one of those shrouding veils that were imposed at the beginning.
But now, we are informed by the media, we have got in Iran a new, more accommodating regime. Smaller ‘reformed’ veils are imposed.
No less a sublime artist than Count Lev Tolstoy, developing his semi-religious ideas later in life, sustained that women were different from men, as human beings. He did not say they were inferior. Far from it. What he said is that God had granted them a far superior status than to men, because WOMAN had the more sublime task of bearing babies, conceiving new life.
Excuses! Tolstoy did not add that he thought this was the ONLY task for women, and didn’t say that he was thinking of women of his social class. The peasant women didn’t represent much, and they killed themselves working. In Imperial Russia the masses lived in servitude until 1860. (Count Tolstoy voluntarily liberated his own serfs before this date.)
About that time an English woman (since this article is about ‘the sex’, as it was said in Britain until recently, to signify women) undertook some journeys which few of her contemporaries, men or women, would then have dared to take (there is a witten narration of her experiences.)The author, Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) undertook her long journey across the varied lands of the Near East, in 1911, on camelback and horseback. She went, from Dumeir (in Syria) right to the confines of Mesopotamia; perhaps she touched Persia too. After staying in the capital of the Ottoman empire, obtaining papers, performing different jobs, arranging interviews with very important Turks, reaching Sheiks and high officials, who probably weren’t believing their eyes (gosh, a woman!), getting safe-conducts and authority from the military…, accompanied by a single servant. She tells in literary language things that men read in their palaces or manor-house, in comfortable armchairs.
She effected long studies, went on an exploration which took her several months. How can anybody talk of human beings destined only to conceive babies for their men?
She delights us with the narration of her long journeys, explorations. She traversed (and we with her because of her good writing) unknown distant lands, mountains and deserts. Whenever it was necessary to visit local authorities, she did it, speaking several languages, communicating with the people, delighted to find out that all belong to the same human race. Nobody murdered or tried to swallow her and she ate nobody. Workers, officials, soldiers, guides, they all helped her. A woman travelling alone! Nobody thought that daggers were shooting out of the English lady’s hair, coming towards them, to kill or wound them.
She joined caravans along the Palmyra road, sold her horse when it was necessary to buy a camel. No one cheated her, robbed her: she didn’t fear the people, travellers on the road or the people inhabiting the villages. She was the first to recognise that the trip was too much for her. It would have been too much for any one; but she went on, entering an oasis, pitching her tent with the help of the servant. She got in contact successively with the Kurds of the hills, the nomadic cattle-drovers, the itinerant tribes of Arabs passing by, and others. She tells us of painful days under tropical storms, the crossing of deserts under a torrid sun, which dried the skin, and the entire earth around; when she pitched her tent again, it could be that she almost died of cold at night, under a most beautiful black starry universe.
If I have written at length about Ms. Bell’s adventures, going perhaps outside the subject of this article, it is (I emphasise) because I want to express my feeling of what I believe must have been the suffering of millions, billions of humans of “the gentle sex” (as was said once in England) living always everywhere in succession since WOMAN became a slave with the end of primitive communism, the passage from prehistory to history. The situation persists today and is doubly unjust today, because we know better, specially since rationalism came to History in the eighteenth century.
Let me finish this part of the article with a matter that is perhaps related to what I saw of Iran in the film. I chanced to read a few days ago something about an Iranian woman, Shirin Ebadi (‘Time’, March 28, 2016), Nobel Peace Prize. I learned that in her country, a good brave woman treads a painful calvary if she chooses the path of science and truth, struggling for human rights.
It is not just, I insist, that women be treated that way. A way that as the best historians relate has always or almost always transformed the region into a zone of primitivism, relating one half of our species exclusively to sex, when all is said and told. The men of the region have to learn, if they want to call themselves rational, Rational animals moved by reason rather than instinct.
Among the Cimbrii and the Celts (the original race that populated central and northern Europe, as well as among the Iberians, who came from the south by sea to what are today the British Isles, men were near savages: less however in this respect that some people of the Middle East. Does the passage of twenty centuries mean nothing to them?
But coming back to the theme of this article, the picture ‘Nahid’, which I saw in the Versailles cinema, filled me with sadness. I had heard of change in Iran. Our media are constantly trying to convince us that capitalism didn’t collapse in 2008, that, as Sarkozy sustained in December that year, we have been REFORMED and were again an enlightened people. Therefore when the Americans and the Iranians pacted together six or seven months ago, there were talks of a reformed Iran, I had some hope. I see there is nothing new. Oh, incarnate hypocrites!
In 1970 I became acquainted with a famous Parisian, an extraordinary elegant man, Monsieur Louis Vaudable, in Paris. I was in charge (just at the end of long line of American lawyers) of purchasing the famous restaurant ‘Maxim’s’ or ‘Chez Maxim’s’, in the Rue Royale, from this M. Vaudable.
My office was in 7 Rue de la Paix (second floor), almost round the corner, the very centre of Paris. We (my firm of lawyers) were acting in the name and on behalf of a powerful United States corporation (food and drinks) with registered office in Atlanta, Georgia. Monsieur Vaudable was the sole owner of the famous restaurant. (How his father, a chef, had become –after the Great War- the proprietor is a very interesting story into which we cannot enter herein). ‘Maxim’s’ had been built by the Cream of the English Aristocracy so as to have a pretext to have a good time (after a short trip) with the beautiful French ‘cocottes’ after the tiredness, great obligations, at home in politics and finance: the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, was there (in Paris) almost permanently, eating and carousing with the ‘belles filles.’
It was Monsieur Louis Vaudable who early one afternoon (I do not remember the exact date), making a discreet sign with his eyes murmured: “Voilà le Shah”. Mohamed Reza Pahlavi was having lunch with his wife. Apparently they came regularly to have meal. I was that day at ‘Maxim’s’ because my senior partner had just flown in from New York to work on the file (the attempted purchase of the restaurant, but specially the name, which was going to be used world-wide as solely the Americans know how to do.
What I am trying to convey here is more my own confusion rather than anything else. To me and I suppose to many people in the West, those days, the Iranian monarchical regime, specially after Mossadegh, was a horror of injustice: in the sense of the exploitation that was going on of the masses by the usurping elite. For there is more to it that the mere palaver of the present islamic regime.
The idea of a Persian Empire (any empire) was so dear to the Shah that, at the risk of ruining his people, Mohamed Reza Pahlavi in August 1971 ordered the Grand Celebrations of the 2500th centenary of the Persian Empire of old.
As for the deal with the Atlanta corporation, I was still working for my client in the negociations with Monsieur Vaudable when he told me that for a fortnight or so he flew to Persepolis backwards and forwards during the sumptuous celebrations, to serve meals to his majesty and guests, including crowned heads and billionaires from all over the world. In principle all the main dishes (this a detail about which I could not be sure) were coming from ‘Chez Maxim’s’.
In other words, Iran was ripe for revolution, and our “Free World”, haunted by the fear of communism, did everything it could to bring in religion, as a stop to progress. It has always been the same.
The above considerations came to my mind after seeing one afternoon in Versailles, as already said, the film entitled “Nahid”, by Ida Panahandeh. If I remember rightly I had previously seen four films made by persons of the said nationality, and three of the total number by women. All wonderful films. The director of the last one, Ms Panahandeh, is a real artist. To me, art is communication, an impression enters the inner being of the artist and there it will mature. It is perceived by the senses. When the impression matures there is a need to project it, communicate it to others, friends, neighbours and more distant humans, including future generations.
I am convinced ‘Nahid’ is a work of art. Unfortunately I don’t speak or even understand the language: neither did I read the French subtitles underneath for fear of losing part of the images.
Therefore, if I have misunderstood parts of the film and now talk wrong, I sincerely apologise. I will however give my opinion, for what it may be worth.
To begin with, the images, the impressions I perceived watching the film filled me, to paraphrase a very well known artist “avec une profonde tristesse”.
The impression was of a people living constantly under constraint, a colourless veil shrouds the lot. All is grey, lustreless, gloomy; life and colour are lacking, not because the film is deficient in these qualities (direction, the acting of the main characters: all is well done: real life is represented.)
It must be something inherent to today’s Iran. That is to say, the country, its norms, some obstinate, unpleasant mood, religion, ‘quelque chose qui ne va pas’.
I shall try to explain this with an example (and I repeat, this is the opinion of man who could not understand the dialogue, the Iranian language.) A few days later I saw a good French film, ‘Médecin de campagne’, and I despaired likewise seeing today’s rural France. “This is a country,” I was saying to myself, “which ten, twenty, thirty years ago, was a model of perfection in social justice… now everything is misfunctioning!’ What I want to convey is that the France I saw in ‘Medecin de campagne’ was deficient, poor, ugly. The Iran I saw a few days earlier, I found Iran worse, even if I would not be able to explain why with all certainty. Perhaps it was the treatment of women.
In Iran voices are hushed, people are suppressed, but specially women. They don’t express that sympathy which one would expect (from them more than from men, generally, it has always been so), men also weren’t nice. There’s money in the country, plenty to eat; there is no war…; but there is very little enjoyment of life. I repeat that this is an impression, it is the feeling I get from seeing those images (from the film.) I have not been in Iran.
You see people going here, going there; different places, at different hours of the day, and nowhere, to my mind, was there a nice atmosphere; you look at the scenes and the people before your eyes, and they don’t give you the sensation that they could ever be truly happy. This may be idle talk on my part, but one prefers to see some fun, people talking happily together sometimes, laughing, smiling, to hear some music, Why not? And even to see the girls smiling, dressing nicely, and even with their hair fluttering in the breeze. Again, why not? And there is no SIN in this. Nor do the women sin, looking at young men, to approach people and situations freely: there is no sin in this.
Of course, when I think of the pictures that came from Iran ten, twenty years ago, the burka, full veil, etc, I agree that something has improved… smaller veils, a touch of colour here and there. But is this enough? They talk of a REFORM; but is this the advance of civilisation humans have been expecting?
Sad, oppressive, dark coloured clothes, for evermore. What sense is there in this? “It’s our religion,” victims themselves, poor things, reply. Thank goodness the women are often beautiful, they make great efforts to introduce a speck of colour here and there, make-up around their eyes.
And no, no! this writer is not a fiend. I have been married almost sixty years to the same woman, whom I love and who loves me. I love beauty. Am I going to shroud my existence imposing an ugly veil because of superstitions, macho-fears and religion?
We have said ‘hushed’, but when men alone are together, in their communal places, performing as they often do, macho things, a multiplicity of them in close camaraderie are as boisterous and cheerful as can be. Drinking and shouting and bawling, gaming, gambling, showing their money. Cheating, yes. I saw there is a lot of that in religious Iran. As there was, by the way (if I am allowed this digression) in fascist Spain in my childhood. Going to church yes, a lot. Praying to ‘El Altísimo’, undeniably… “¡Y mucho!” But justice, happiness and common sense, NAUGHT.
Money frequently changes hands, even among minors (if of the right gender), not only legally, as in all the free world, but also illegally. And the faces of all these delinquents you should expect to see only in the drug-and-criminality world, not in ‘religiously-directed’ Iran. Gloom is the note (instead of love or joy) which accompanies the two main characters practically all the time. When they walk on the sands, for instance, ‘un homme et une femme’, they don’t go close together, they seem to be going to a burial. All silence. They hardly look at one another. What might they be thinking of? Probably of sex, as many do. They would like to get married. But they can’t. The regime doesn’t allow it. There is another man, her previous husband, who would gain full custody of their son if she did remarry. There is (by the way) another woman, the ex-wife or ex-lover of the bespectacled man. However, the issue on his part is deemed to be less of a serious sin.
But there is a loophole in the Islamic Law, it seems, and our two lovers can get quite legally a sort of document with which they’ll overcome the difficulty and live together all the same… but only for a while, one month.
In short, these two handsome and very sad human beings have a big problem. Each has had a child with another partner. I should not be alarmed by this fact, as where I live, marriage and family relations no longer seem to have much importance, and children too take to one or other of the natural parents in what we call ‘recomposed’ marriages. As we have seen, Nahid had a boy who would prefer to live with his father, a nasty drug addict. Perhaps the young fellow liked excitement, vice and money, like his father; or maybe he felt disgusted living with a woman, he being of the opposite, superior sex.
The handsome bespectacled man of the story, in love with Nahid, had a similar problem, derived from marriage ‘recomposition’. But here the offspring is a little blond girl of three or four, pretty but rather unpleasant. The man looks sad, doesn’t know what to do. From time to time the girl becomes impertinent and even unbearable. She has a strong character, in any case. Seeing her I thought she was the only person in town untouched by what I shall call ‘le fait religieux du pays.’ Good on the little girl, for showing the world she will be a woman with a will. Perhaps Ms. Panahandeh is trying to show us in this girl of strong character that she is the really sane person in the film, a female and a fighter, that a really free woman will have to struggle... and then will win.