Why As An Iranian I’m Skeptical of Jon Stewart’s “Rosewater”

The trailer of Jon Stewart’s Rosewater was released. I ought to be very  excited. No event was more defining of my life than the 2009’s Green Movement. Jon Stewart is a witty comedian with honorable sensibilities, whose coverage of 2009 events, sending Jason Jones to Iran to cover the election and then how he handled the protests, made him famous and popular in Iran. I have watched all Daily Show episodes since that time, and no other American has been as influential in my understanding of contemporary United States. Plus, the Green Movement deserves to have books and movies. So what’s wrong? Why I’m not excited? Why do I feel the movie is going to be a failure in my eyes?

Most importantly: I’m not a fan of Maziar Bahari.

Maziar Bahari is a journalist. I knew of him before 2009. He seemed OK. Not especially insightful. He wouldn’t appear on my top 20 analysts of Iran, and whenever I read his reports it seemed a mere chronicle of events. I liked that he tried to draw on similarities between Iranians and Americans and make the two nations closer. Then he came to Iran in 2009 to cover the elections. He was interviewed by Jason Jones of the Daily Show. He was arrested. He was tortured. He then appeared on a televised confession, and was released by bail. He left Iran.

I never criticized Bahari or anyone else for confessing under torture. It does harm the movement and the political cause in many ways, but Bahari was a journalist, not an activist, and he was clearly in a situation far more than he could be expected to handle. But at the same time, it’s not heroic to cave under ordinary torture.

Bahari appeared on a program called Pargar, on BBC Persian TV. In that program he not only defended his caving as a right thing to do (which is defensible), he attacked people who remained resilient under torture. He called them – repeatedly – romantics, and foolish revolutionaries behind the flow of times, and he said all of this to the face of Iraj Mesdaghi, a man who was a political prisoner in the 80s, when the regime was ten times more vicious than 2009, who had barely escaped a massacre, and had remained resilient under severe torture, which eclipses Bahari’s torture by miles.

It was from that time that I abhorred Bahari. Many of people I knew abhorred him already for confessions, but I find that wrong. No one can demand others to act in a certain in face of torture. He had the right to choose his own safety and freedom. But I abhor him for belittling real heroes, real freedom fighters, people he’s not worthy of licking their shoes. It’s one thing to defend your own choice, it’s another to demean the choice of those who made other (arguably more honorable) choices. And this was in the heat of the time we felt Green Movement is being defeated, and we felt desperate and very angry. It wasn’t a good time to shit on the heroes of an oppressed movement, and there was no need to.

From then on, I always felt something meh and useless in everything Bahari says and does. Most recently I saw him criticizing Rouhani in the useless fashion that some Iranians outside Iran have, saying he should publicly condemn the arrest of some journalists. He of course – unlike some of his more ignorant counterparts – knows that these things are completely outside Rouhani’s jurisdiction, he knows that Rouhani is using behind the stage secret methods to make things better, and he knows how sensitive this subject is to the regime. He claims that if Rouhani speaks out about this particular issue, it will make things better. But it won’t – it will be political suicide for Rouhani, and it won’t free a single person. Rouhani is a fantastic politician who (almost always) knows when to go on offensive and when to not go, but ultimately opposition members like Bahari just want a revolutionary leader, not a politician president, and sanctions and economic turmoil and the danger of war be damned, Rouhani must pull a kamikaze to satisfy Mr. Journalist. Now who’s the romantic and the foolish revolutionary?

Maziar Bahari is an insignificant journalist, with useless views on Iran and its situation. He’s not among the most repugnant members of out-of-Iran opposition, and his website IranWire is pretty good. But he’s insignificant. He’s certainly no hero. And if he’s so much against romanticized heroes, maybe Jon Stewart shouldn’t romanticize him too.

In my heart of hearts, I don’t know if I can sit in front of television and watch him be glamorized. I am going to assume that there are no lies in his memoir and the movie, because I have never seen Baharai to be dishonest. But even the trailer turns my stomach: that he becomes the symbol of freedom while he desecrated the true symbols of freedom, that he says “they know they can’t defeat us”, but they did defeat you, Maziar, they did, and you don’t get to compose an epic poem for your mediocre verse.

We have a proverb in Persian, it’s called “Among all the 2400 prophets, did you have to follow Gergis?” And Gergis is either a made up name or someone completely lost to history (or myth). And I wonder the same – Jon Stewart, of all Iranian dissidents, did you have to choose this one?

Why not Ahmad Zeidabadi, a journalist who is still in prison, and withstood horrifying tortures, or Issa Saharkhiz, another journalist who immediately returned to criticizing the regime, or the mother of Sohrab A’rabi who lost her son in protests and became the symbol of defiance, or Mohammad Nourizad who transformed from fundamentalist regime supporter to the staunch courageous liberal who kisses the feet of Bahai children to ask for forgiveness, and many others? Why not Mousavi and Karroubi themselves?

Of course, Jon Stewart is free to tell anyone’s story that he wishes. But if Maziar Bahari is going to be appointed as the voice of MY generation, as a member of that generation, I want to vote “no”, thank you very much.

Also, it seems that reviews aren’t that much glowing.

I don’t know what to feel about this film. “Eager anticipation” is certainly not what I feel.

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