I was reading an account of the Iranian regime’s crackdowns on some of its most talented citizens, and was struck by the author’s claim that the incarceration of the great Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi was worse than the 2001 destruction of the giant Bamiyan statues of Buddha in Afghanistan in the Spring of 2001, about six months before 9/11. Panahi was sentenced to five years in jail and twenty years of internal exile, during which he is forbidden to practice his art. Inevitably, I thought of the dual urgency that drives ideological regimes: to take control of the past and to bend the imagination of their subjects to accept the doctrines of the rulers, no matter how preposterous those doctrines.
Orwell’s famous victim in 1984 finally agrees that black is really white (or the reverse?), and if he tried to make a movie suggesting that human vision was accurate, even in conflict with Big Brother’s proclamations–even when they changed from one day to the next–he’d have been treated just like Panahi.
It is all part of rewriting the past in order to control the future. Just as the Taliban blew up several Buddhas, so the mullahs in Iran are eliminating references to Ancient Persia in contemporary texts, and are trying to convince young Iranians that their country’s history begins with the Islamic conquest.
It won’t work, of course; you can’t hide all that information in this day and age. But it tells us two things of great importance: history is very important, and the rulers of Iran are just the Farsi-speaking versions of Mullar Omar and the Taliban. Iran’s great history and culture are in other hands.