Liberal as in Liberty and Freedom. Iranian as in Cyrus and Ferdowsi.
Who the Hell Do You Think You Are?
I just read an interview of Jafar Panahi
, the renowned Iranian director, in LA Weekly
(hat tip: Normblog
) that contained an anecdote I could not help noting down here before going to bed.
Panahi is recalling 2003 when he was summoned to the infamous Ministry of Information. His 30-something interrogator has just gone on a 15-minute rambling of goverment memos indicating Panahi had published offensive material.
Then he said, “Why is it you’ve continued to stay here? Why don’t you just leave? Go abroad. They like you there, don’t they? They like your work. Go there. Why would you even want to remain here?”
I didn’t reply immediately. I was halfway done with my cigarette, and I put it out in the ashtray, and I looked at him and said, “Listen, I know exactly what I’m saying to you. And I realize where I am and I know where I’m living. So, it’s with full possession of my faculties and freely that I say this to you: Who the hell do you think you are to tell me I shouldn’t live in this country? If you ever said such a thing to me outside this building, I’d punch you so hard you’d never be able to get up again.”
He didn’t expect anything of the kind, and frankly, no one in their right mind would say such a thing to an interrogator in an official building. He was floored, and for about two whole minutes, he didn’t say a thing. Then, when he tried to speak again, I picked up where I’d left off. “Now,” I said, “you want me to leave this country? Let me tell you something. I’m never going to leave this country. If you want, you can expel me. That isn’t up to me. It’s up to you.”
This straight-forward, well-calculated and extremely courageous reply is basically the essence of Panahi's films too. I have been in that room myself and know the arrogant and self-confident air these interrogators exude. To say to them the truth as it is in such circumstances takes more than courage though. It takes clear thinking and the knowledge that in spite of their self-assured power they will be standing naked if one pulls the single thread that holds their dreadful outfit together.
But with all his courage, I do fear for this man's life. If he goes too far at some unfortunate moment, these people won't hesitate to kill him -- the murderers that they are -- as they have many a courageous soul before. I wish him safety and many more great films.