Iran, the country of rich history, colorful cultures and society, spectacular natural beauty and vast fauna and flora diversity has long been at the receiving end of unfavorable propaganda to the detriment of truth, reality and touristic curiosity. Those who have visited Iran have been pleasantly mesmerized by its people and places. But, how do professional photo journalists and photographers see this country? Assignment Iran is a four part documentary that, in each episode, tries to depict what a renowned photo journalist or photographer has to say about his time in the country. Some recount their stories and experiences of their deployments to Iran at the time of what later became one of the most essential turn of events in the second half of the 20th century: The Islamic Revolution of 1979 and then during Iran-Iraq war which is known as the most elongated war of the century. While others say what they found fascinating about the people and what frames they have frozen through the lenses.
So I set out to try to find out for myself exactly what had happened. I have no sympathy for the regime in Iran, or for any political regime for that matter. So when then the book finally came out it was met by silence, which of course is the most devastating critic.
Up until the age of 20 I lived in the United States. I grew up in Los Angeles which is one of the largest cities in the US on the West Coast and learnt there some basic lessons about life. But essentially grew up in profound ignorance which of course is the lot of most Americans.
At 78-79 I became aware of – like many people in North America—of the nature of the previous regime in Iran, the Shah’s regime. And having certified that it was in fact a despotic, cruel & tyrannical regime I joined Iranian exiles here in Montreal in marching in the streets; and educating myself about the realities of Iranian history. So when the Islamic Revolution occurred in 1979 I was powerfully struck by it. First of all I was delighted to see that the tyrant had fallen, had been overthrown by a mass movement –truly a mass movement almost unparalleled in the century of course. Millions of people took to the streets & said the Shah must go.
So I set out to try & find out for myself what exactly had happened, what was peculiar about Iran & what did the Islamic Revolution mean. I was familiar with the French Revolution, with the Russian Revolution, with the Chinese Revolution and these were somehow social events, depicted as social & political revolutions but there was one that cast itself as religious.
So like anyone else who was serious about dealing with these issues I had to first of all confront my ignorance; to try to overcome it. How do you do that? -By reading & by seeking experience and also by trying to find out for yourself on the spot what happened. And over time these self assigned missions as I said became more & more complex. Several resulted in newspaper articles, a couple resulted in books and a few of them resulted in films of which I collaborated with a colleague of mine Jean-Daniel Lafond who was a leading filmmaker. And these are books that I have written, and these are books that I have translated right up until here from Greek & French. So this is my first book “Persian Postcards”, ok; this was published in… What was the date of this? -1999. Since that first time which was in 1983 or 84, actually the date escapes me I think it was 84 I’ve been back 30 times.
I had accumulated notebooks full of things that I had seen & heard; not all of which can be published in the daily press. So I said what am I going to do with this, just sit on it? Or am I going to try to make some use of it, so I did. I transformed these notes into a book which described what I saw, heard, smelled, felt when I was in Iran; not only in Tehran but visiting other cities as well. There is a section here about actually my first encounter with Iran. I could read that if you wish: When the Shah fell & in mid-January 1979, Western media greeted the transformation with guarded optimism. Only a few months had it elapsed when these same media began to revile the man who had brought the man low of the Tyrant. To judge by its unanimity they’re conclusion might well have been dictated by some shadowing central agency.
When compared with other massive popular upheavals of the modern era like the French, Russian or Chinese revolutions the change of regime in Iran more looked like Mao Zedong’s tea party than Lenin’s Festival of the Oppressed. There could be only one way to get to the bottom of this. I would have to see for myself. Not only that I attempted to visit the Islamic Republic, if I managed to get there, I would testify as a reporter to what I found that all of this actually took place as I looked back upon it seems only slightly less astonishing than the original ambition nor the pretention itself. The thing that I found attractive about the atmosphere was still present; the intensity, the commitment of individuals who have deep political and or religious beliefs despite the fact that they found themselves in a minority all of those things were present. I was fortunate because I fell in with people who had that strong sense of commitment to building a better more egalitarian society in Iran.
So I found that Iran has emerged since the terrible days of the war with Iraq into a thriving modern society with a relatively in fact very high level of culture, economic development, and prosperity for some—the bit of poverty that I saw I won’t say has disappeared but it’s much more difficult to find. So Iran has emerged. Never was anything I wrote about Iran changed or censured, striking! I developed a relationship with La Press & particularly with certain people in La Press who appreciated what I was doing. Because I was giving them the kind of reports that they could not find the wire services, from the international press services & so on; could not find. I was writing with names, photographs, times, places, these were real individuals with whom I spoke. And this is what they said. It was an interesting case.
I would come back from Iran, I would write 4 or 5000 words; they would be published untouched, absolutely remarkable! And when I wrote the books that I wrote about Iran, the same thing nothing I wrote was challenged or censured. Just like we say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, truth is also in the eye & the ear of he or she who reports it. So often the account of an event that I would produce would not at all be the same as the account that a news agency journalist would produce, or that an Iranian journalist would produce because he would be working under certain constraints, that a French journalist would produce & so on. But during the years that I frequented in Iran I saw an immense variety of viewpoints some of which had the struggle to make themselves heard but they had a constituency. That’s what I wanted to reflect of in my reporting and I think I did it fairly. I have no sympathy for the regime in Iran or for any political regime for that matter. But I have immense sympathy for Iran as a culture & as a people, immense.
This is my last book than we were one.
This is myself & my late brother.
This is the place where he’s buried in New Zealand.
This is the book that is sitting right beside me fortuitously on the table.
This book is something old men would do which is to tell the story of their lives. This is the way we hope to avoid disappearing totally when we are physically no longer present. And it’s an attempt for me to come to grips with events that took place in my life that shocked & transformed me; particularly the death of my younger brother which occurred 32 years ago which was somehow the key moment in my life. And what a tended to do & what I had intended to do in this book was to link the story of his death which occurred by his own hand with the way we were brought up as young men in the United States; trained into accept the American imperialist system not to argue about the imperative for the war & aggression that’s somehow part of the American psyche. .
Early on I became aware although indistinctly of the nature of you might say the American civilization or American culture. I found that I had been struggling against it & ultimately to reject it although I took a long time to articulate how I would do that.
My first step was to refuse to serve in the US army & to refuse to go to Vietnam which is why I left the United States & established myself in Canada. Well, my brother was not so fortunate; for whatever reason he was unable to leave, & at the army experienced terrible things & as a result of that ultimately brought his life to an end. For this I do not blame him nor our upbringing. But I do blame the broader circumstances of American culture that allowed this mindset to shape & to distort the life of our family. Not only of our family but families of hundreds of thousands of people and of course we’re still living, we as citizens of the world with this monstrosity today. It’s truly a monstrosity! How can a society say we will take upon ourselves to make a moral judgment about the right to survive, to live or to die of those around us? Who are we?
These are the kind of questions that I wanted to ask and I do ask in this book & I try to connect the way an individual brings his life to an end and another one continues on his life with the nature of that society, the way it shaped the family, the way it shaped us & how we struggle to emancipate ourselves from it. The events that took place in Iran at 79 & 80 as I said before set me off on the path that eventually led me to discover Islam in a profound way & finally to become a Muslim, Alhamdulillah as they say. I don’t know whether that particular argument is (?) to the chat that we are having, perhaps to some interest to you I don’t know. But what was crucial was the conflicts of these two events; a tragedy & an awakening that’s the story of this book.
The title of which is Then We Were One originally, you could see by the cover which I was two little boys, there were two. And after that there was one, the survivor who is myself who is telling the story.
This is Takeover in Tehran, khanume Ebtebar, there are some photos in here as well.
These are the documents being shredded which they later pieced together one at a time absolutely remarkable. We spoke before about patience & forbearance. Yes, there you had it. The lady who was the spokesperson for the students who captured the US Embassy in 79, khanume Massoumeh Ebtekar with whom I became very close. And with her wrote a book about the capture of the embassy from the Iranian point of view. The only book ever published from the Iranian point of view about those events. The dominant version of course was of the hostages themselves. But thanks to the existence of this book which we did together no responsible person can say we don’t know what the Iranian point of view was. It’s there & it’s the responsibility of a journalist to – if he wants to write historic story these days to find that book.
So when the book finally came out it was met by silence, which of course is the most devastating critic. Generally speaking there are noble exceptions, but generally speaking we have a party press especially in the United States, Europe & Canada. Not in the sense that there’re of the Soviet Union where the Communist Party actually dictated was in the newspapers & television; but in the sense where it would be inappropriate for you as a journalist or as a publisher or as an editor to disagree with what the political line of the White House is. This was immediately visible after the events of September 11, 2001 where people were told to watch what they say. And the meaning was clear, if you want to keep working be careful. Nobody was going to die and put to prison yet but if you want to keep working watch yourself, one. Two, the mass media are extremely concentrated in the hands of a few individuals many of whom by the way are Zionists. This is not to hold a racial position; this is hold of a political position, to make a political analysis.
So with regards to the events in the least particular, not only Iran but to generally speaking the Arab world in what we might call & the greater Islamic world this cannot only be attributed to individuals, this can be attributed to as far as I’m concerned the political, cultural & social agenda. What exactly that agenda is difficult to determine at this point. Some say it’s the consolidation of the US’s Empire in a universal hegemony. And I believe that the current US administration believes that, they won’t say it but I believe that’s what they think. But if I say that publically people would laugh at me publically & say oh, you are a conspiracy therapist. So I won’t say that publically I’ll just allude to it in our friendly chat here. It would be wrong to say that there is total unanimity in say the United States or in the West about the necessity of attacking Iran over its so called nuclear program. There are those who are arguing powerfully for it saying we must attack Iran, & must attack before they do this & do that, before they incinerate the entire world. I don’t pay any to the German’s have furnished Israel with nuclear power at some rates which have a missile launch capacity and in which the Israelis can install their atomic warhead missiles.
Ok, this is parenthetically, not much is made of that. So who has the actual capacity now to attack another country with nuclear weapons?-not Iran. But somehow Iran is the threat because then maybe it will think about doing that at some point in the future. Although the Iranian authorities have said we have no intention of doing so and it’s un-Islamic to produce and to use these devices which I agree with. But there are voices, honorable honest voices in the American media landscape which say no you are liars. In fact Iran must be judged as any other nation much on the basis of what it does, not what it might do. Just as if I were to make a judgment about you for instance; I would examine what you’ve written & what you’ve said & say well, ok this is what I think. But it would be unfair of me to say because you are an Iranian person at some point you might become violent with me. This is what they call the 1 percent theory, 1% possibility that maybe at some point in your life you would do something inimitable to me. I was fortunate enough after becoming acquainted with Iran, going several times to… going there during Ashura which is the month in the Islamic calendar where Shias support the martyrdom of Hussein.
I became acquainted with the story of Hussein with his rendezvous in Karbala with the forces of oppression & with the power of his action. Here is a man who categorically says no to injustice & marches out against it although he knows that he will be defeated. & yet that position of principle was more important to him, far more important to him than his life, far far more important; One of the priorities that we have in our lives; yes. So if you’re sensitive to the question of justice & how it works itself out in the world, how can you not be moved, drawn to the example of Imam Hussein? And from that time until the time that I actually accepted Islam formally how many years passed? 28 years passed; a very slow progression.
This is not somebody who says on the spirit of the moment a great light comes down & I become a convert. No, that didn’t happen. It was deliberate, cautious, asking questions, resisting. The American Muslim Jeffry Lang has written an eloquent book entitled Struggling to Surrender. And a person who comes to Islam has to struggle against everything that he or she has gone through previously against the nature of life in the west, against the dominant doctrines of our culture; overcome them, to make that ultimate surrender which is the key to Islam.
See the threat the American threat against Iran is an existential one not only to the Iran society but for , actually for our civilization. When I say our civilization, I mean first of all the Western civilization the product of the childhood, but also for (?)