Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jafar Panahi - In Defense of Tolerance & Free Speech

Jafar Panahi, the internationally acclaimed Iranian film director was arrested earlier this year by the authorities on charges of making an "anti-state" film. He was held in detention without trial for 3 months and released on $200,000 bail only after his compatriot filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami circulated an open letter petition to the Iranian government that was signed by the likes of Steven Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.

Robert Mackey in the New York Times today has the details of the story including the English translation of the full text of the passionate statement that Panahi made to the court last week in defense of artistic freedom and tolerance. It is a plea that must be heard by repressive governments and authoritarian groups all over the world. This is an eloquent defense of the most basic of human rights: the freedom to think and speak one's conscience without private or public coercion. It is convenient to talk only of Iran in this context but these are values periodically under threat in many parts of the world. Sadly, it is the so-called Islamic world where most restrictions exist on this fundamental human freedom with many western allies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt being the worst offenders.

Here's the second half of Panahi's courageous statement which is patriotic in the best sense of that much abused word:
History testifies that an artist’s mind is the analytical mind of his society. By learning about the culture and history of his country, by observing the events that occur in his surroundings, he sees, analyzes and presents issues of the day through his art form to the society.

How can anyone be accused of any crime because of his mind and what passes through the mind?

The assassination of ideas and sterilizing artists of a society has only one result: killing the roots of art and creativity. Arresting my colleagues and I while shooting an unfinished film is nothing but an attack by those in power on all the artists of this land. It drives this crystal clear however sad message home: “You will repent if you don’t think like us.”

I would like to remind the court of yet an other ironic fact about my imprisonment: the space given to Jafar Panahi’s festival awards in Tehran’s Museum of Cinema is much larger than his cell in prison.

All said, despite all the injustice done to me, I, Jafar Panahi, declare once again that I am an Iranian, I am staying in my country and I like to work in my own country. I love my country, I have paid a price for this love too, and I am willing to pay again if necessary. I have yet another declaration to add to the first one. As shown in my films, I declare that I believe in the right of “the other” to be different, I believe in mutual understanding and respect, as well as in tolerance; the tolerance that forbid me from judgment and hatred. I don’t hate anybody, not even my interrogators.

I recognize my responsibilities toward the future generations that will inherit this country from us.

History is patient. Insignificant stories happen without even acknowledging their insignificance. I, myself, am worried about the future generations.

Our country is quite vulnerable; it is only through the [guarantee] of the state of law for all, regardless of any ethnic, religious or political consideration, that we can avoid the very real danger of a chaotic and fatal future. I truly believe that tolerance represents the only realistic and honorable solution to this imminent danger.

Jafar Panahi
An Iranian filmmaker 
UPDATE: December 20th, 2010

Jafar Panahi was jailed by the Iranian authorities for 6 years for working on a film which was judged "anti-regime". He has also been restricted from traveling abroad or speaking to foreigners for 20 years. Here's the story in The Times.

Iran is a particularly noxious regime but defenders of individual liberty and freedom of speech need to be vigilant everywhere. From religious zealots who advocate murder against offensive expression to the Western governments bearing down on Julian Assange to dissuade people from exposing their wretched power games, individual freedoms need consistent defense everywhere on the globe.   


Zakintosh said...

It's wonderful to see this post.

Fawad Zakariya said...

Thanks for the visit ZAK, as always!