Imagine yourself, a human being. That should be easy enough. Now, imagine yourself relatively young. Since those of us who are not currently young were once young, that should still be easy. Imagine you have hopes and dreams for the future. You see yourself as person capable of independent thought and you want the freedom of action you believe should go with it. Perhaps you would like to be a dancer, or a film-maker, or a writer.
But you live in a country where you are not permitted to dance. Or where the government tells you what to write. Or where religious authorities tell you what to film. Despite this, you are determined to be a human being capable of independent thought and action. You write, you make films, and you find you are threatened with prosecution and violence.
So you flee.
You flee to a country where you have heard that you will have freedom of expression, a country where that is enshrined in law and an inherent part of that culture.
When you get there you are told that you can’t write what you want, you can’t make the films you want. The people who have denied you your humanity at home have followed you to your new country. They speak on your behalf. They say that you do not want this freedom of expression.
Now, what do you do?
I wrote this after listening to Lila Ghobady speak at the Secular 2014 Conference. In the 1990’s she was an active part of the Iranian underground cinema, making films that were not supported by the government.
According to an interview she gave to Bitch Magazine:
After secretly shooting these films, we had to leave the country since it was not possible to distribute the underground films we had made, which we wanted to edit and distribute abroad to introduce the underground cinema of Iran to the world to show that an alternative cinema to the official government cinema exists. Living abroad, we could also help our friends working inside Iran to continue their work on underground cinema. Our friends in Iran have been working on films on issues such as self-immolation and teenage suicide – both of which occur at an unbelievably high rate in Iran today. They are also working on the topic of the role of government gangs who have started sex trade businesses to export sex workers to an international market. In addition, they are working secretly on films about labour and student protests in Iran.
The dark reality is that by creating censorship and phony turmoil, the Islamic Republic of Iran succeeds in deviating paths of artistic and social expression. It tries to dissipate the confrontational energies of the Iranian people and prevent them from organizing. For this, it creates phony social movements. When it cannot hide public poverty, prostitution, trade in children, and the overall devastation that has overtaken Iranian society, it presents itself as a critic that objects to its own doings. With a variety of tactics, it controls social protest by suggesting that transformation and change can come from within the government. It engages in thievery, and plays the role of the anti-thief. It is the executioner that plays the role of the defending attorney. It plunders public wealth and then creates charity boxes for the poor. The underground cinema exposes these tactics, especially in the art and cultural arena.
Ghobady moved to Canada. She attended Carleton University in Ottawa where she recieved a master’s degree in Canadian/Women’s Studies. During her talk, she mentioned how disturbing it was to hear some students ask that speech at the university be limited to shelter the feelings of some Muslim students. She says that she still has nightmares about living under a theocracy.
The reason I started this post using the second person pronoun, was because I really think it is necessary to see these questions from the point of view of the persecuted. There are Muslim women say, “I do not want to be saved.” To them, I say, “I wasn’t thinking of you.” I am a fairly powerless person myself, and not in a position to save anyone. However, to the extent I can support people like Lila Ghodaby, who wants for herself the same things I want for myself, I will.