We spent this evening with Habib Ahmadzadeh, a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war who writes stories and makes films based on his experience as part of his effort to promote peace. When Habib was 16, his town was invaded by Iraqis and he was swept into the war defending his home. We started out with a private showing of his film “Night Bus,” which garnered many awards at the Iran Cinema Celebration in 2007 and was in consideration to be the film that Iran submitted to the Oscars that year.
The main character in the film, Eesa, is based on Habib. He is a 16-year-old soldier charged with escorting a bus with 38 Iraqi POWs with the help of one fellow Iranian soldier and a bus driver. Throughout this moving film, they deal with countless obstacles, from a sick POW to taking wrong turns to coming under enemy fire. The most compelling part of the film is the way the characters’ understanding of the humanity of their enemies evolves. The Iranian soldiers and Iraqi POWs begin to question the divisions their governments are creating between them. You can see the emotional toll that war takes on the main characters, especially the young Eesa, who exudes bravado but also reveals a vulnerable side worn down by the horrors of war. I will be bringing a copy of the film back to the US with me and highly recommend checking it out.
We also watched a short documentary about environmental artists commemorating IR Flight 655, the civilian plane that the US Navy shot down in 1988, killing 290 innocent civilians. There are many people in the US who are not aware of various incidents that have caused deep mistrust or frustration in Iran with the US government, and a lot of our conversation about this one got to core issues between the US and Iran. Habib asked us how we would feel if a government shot down one of our civilian airliners and then gave the captain of the Navy ship responsible for the incident a medal for bravery. It is hard to truly grasp how American exceptionalism must feel to people in other countries, though many of us recognize it and are frustrated by it, but I think it is important to hear these opinions, both for us and our government, to create better understanding as we move forward toward stronger relations. He says the Iranian people have always liked the American people, but have serious problems with our government.
Habib identified one of the main obstacles to peace between the US and Iran as the United States’ attitude in interacting with Iran. Iranians are frustrated that the US always approaches Iran as an inferior country rather than a peer, the West in general thinking the East is “backward.” He resents the US government consistently using phrases like “you should” and “you must” when speaking to Iran. He described it as putting a cat in a corner and not letting it out. The cat will jump on you because you confined it to a corner, and then you complain and say, “look what the cat did to me.” He also compared it to the US government thinking it’s Batman and Iran is the Penguin.
I think this sentiment is fairly common, and it came up earlier today when we were riding in a cab. The cab driver asked Leila where we were from and she told him. She explained what we were doing here, and he told us he appreciates what we are doing but wanted to know why our government is always telling them what to do. President Obama has definitely made significant strides in his rhetoric on this issue, pledging to engage with Iran with mutual respect and indicating that he is not attempting any regime change. Hopefully we can continue to work to push the administration and our government so those words turn into action.
I gave Habib CDs with your messages of peace on them to share, and before I leave I will record a video of him with his message of peace to you. He has also asked me to share some of his writing with you and get your responses, so I will post those on the blog when he sends them to me.