The people of Iran have endured an awful lot in the 33 years since they overthrew the Shah: hijacking of their revolution by the ayatollahs, eight years of war with Iraq, their government becoming the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, progressive narrowing of their civil liberties, rule by an erratic cabal under the pretense of elections, economic hardship resulting from international sanctions, crushing of their hopes for change after the 2009 election, and the dispiriting voyeurism of change they pioneered blowing past them to become an Arab Spring. They may yet have worse to face, either in the form of their own government’s repression or an attack on their country to prevent it acquiring nuclear weapons.
In the midst of all that discouragement, Iranian civil society shows us flashes of all that might be in an Iran whose government was not a threat to its own people and to us. Iranian movies have a fascinating poignancy and power in the past decade, its artists telling stories of Iranian life that compel attention while showing both what is unique to Iranian culture and so much that is universal in human aspiration and experience. Ashghar Farhadi’s The Separation, nominated for the best original screenplay Oscar, is a wonderful example of the struggle to be truthful when the strictures of repression punish in many ways.
My favorite recent example of the Iran that might be is less weighty, but no less important for that: the Cardboard Khomeni. In one of the weirder -- so weird it’s North Korean worthy -- choices of the Iranian government, on February 1st they reenacted Ayatollah Khomeni’s 1979 return from exile to Iran. Khomeni being long dead, the state ceremony used a larger than life cardboard likeness, escorted off the airplane (check it out http://knowyourmeme.com/photos/246257) and in other events commemorating the establishment of Iran’s theocracy. The Iranian blogosphere has been lit up ever since with Cardbord Khomeni’s hilariously photoshopped into events like the moon landing and Ronald Reagan’s inauguration, standing on the Berlin Wall as it was torn down.
Mel Brooks was once asked whether it wasn’t in poor taste to mock Nazism as he did in the play The Producers. His answer was that ridicule plays an important and liberating part in the sociology of confronting evil, taking away its awe and thereby making it something humans can challenge. That’s always felt right to me, and I hope it holds true for the people of Iran as they struggle to wrest control of their government. May their humor fuel their willingness to continue resisting a government that withholds from them freedoms they claim as universal human rights. Three cheers for the perpetrators of the Cardboard Khomeni satires!