What Do Neocons Have Against Iranian Women Filmmakers? (UPDATED)

HSBC ad

(UPDATED below with something of a correction.)

This is typical of neoconservative aggression against Iran: It’s intellectually dishonest, utterly lacking in empathy, short-sighted, sloppy and hypocritical.

Perhaps on his way to hiking in the West Bank, or whatever he does for vacation, young neoconservative upstart cum Israel government PR adviser cum Israel lobbyist cum partisan political operative Noah Pollak was in the Athens airport, where he snapped this picture of an advertisement for the bank HSBC:

Along with this picture, Pollak tweeted:

I saw this HSBC ad today at the Athens airport. It says that Iran treats women better than US. Truly outrageous.

Actually, that’s not what the ad says (intellectually dishonest). It says that 25 percent of Iranian films are made by women, whereas four percent of American films are made by women. Do those statistics surprise you? Well, that’s the point, not some overarching statement about whether women are treated better in the United States or Iran. That much is clear from the full ad (click picture to enlarge):

The right side of the advert reads:

We find potential in the most unexpected places.

Do you?

When both sides of the ad panel, and the accompanying image, are all read together in context — the ad takes on a very different light than Pollak’s gross mischaracterization and misrepresentation by omission. HSBC, it turns out, is surprised to find that such a high proportion of films in Iran are made by women, perhaps precisely because of what can be considered a tough struggle there for equal rights. But Pollak ignores the context (short-sighted; utter lack of empathy). Instead, he sets alight nationalistic outrage and the burning itch to demonize Iran at every turn.

Getting back to the link at the top of this post. Kejda Djermani at Commentary, where Pollak used to work, posted the picture (crediting it to “a friend”), linked to the full ad, and exclaimed that the “added context” doesn’t make “the ad any more intelligible or less preposterous.” She then goes off on a rant about ‘who edits these ads anyway?’ (Reader: Did you understand this ad?), and drops a non-sequitur about how many Iranian women suffer violence at the hands of religious authorities:

“In Iran it’s 25%” What is? The portion of American films made by women? Or the portion of Iranian women beaten up by the religious police at some point in their lives?

Again, Reader, did you understand this ad? Do we really think these two young neoconservative pundits did not? (Intellectual dishonesty.) I’m sure the figure about Iranian abuse is made up from thin air. (Sloppiness.)  After all, this is the journalism of Commentary. Pollak’s more recent project at the Emergency Committee for Israel fares little better in the realms of honesty and fair-mindedness.

Moreover, though, is that the Iranian film industry is something to celebrate. If either pundit had taken the time, before lashing out at HSBC (fueled by hubristic outrage that one would dare compare the Islamic Republic to the U.S.), to watch a few Iranian films, they’d realize Iran has a thriving and internationally-regarded film industry. Among the three quarters of Iranian movies made by men, some do address the plight of women in Iran. Iran’s women filmmakers have themselves, for more than a decade, made films which vividly portray the inequality and injustices they face. (Utter lack of empathy.)

One would think these apparently prolific women filmmakers would actually make ideal objects of support for the neoconservatives, who claim to be bothered at every turn by human and women’s rights abuses in Iran. (Short-sighted.) But any such support must take a back seat to demonizing Iran. (Hypocrisy.)

UPDATE: I’d like to note that I may have misspoken, or at least spoken with a level of certainty that I should not have possessed. I haven’t read enough of Kejda Djermani’s stuff to know that she is, indeed, a neoconservative, a label which I affix with a careful knowledge of what the word means. For attaching this label to Djermani while speaking out of ignorance, I’d like to apologize.

I made this assumption based on the fact that Djermani writes for the neoconservative flagship magazine Commentary, but should have been more careful about the idea that writing for a neoconservative magazine does not make one a neoconservative. Perusing her blog, I did find this post on the Park51 Islamic Center, which I found thoughtful and honest (while disagreeing with much of it). I look forward to reading more of her work and making a considered judgement about whether or not she should be labeled as part of the neoconservative movement (and I welcome a response from her about whether or not she considers herself part of the movement).

None of that, however, detracts from the central argument of the above post: that whether one is for or against the Islamic Republic (perhaps especially if one is against), the Iranian film industry, and particularly women’s role in it, is something to be celebrated. I also stand by my assertion that, for the above reasons, both Pollak and Djermani’s characterization of the HSBC advert is short-sighted and intellectually dishonest. In that respect, I stand by my characterization that both Pollak and Djermani’s reactions are typical of reflexive neoconservative commentary, even if one of the writers may well not be a neoconservative.

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Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.

5 Comments

  1. Thanks for your review!!! finally a logical and honest review of this ad… I found this ad very interesting and it truly unlocks the hidden potentials and facts! It is a shocking and amazing ad.

  2. “It’s Kejda Gjermani.”

    What’s Gjermani? The neo-con or the misguided but actually-nice-deep-down author?

  3. If I remember well, isn’t 25% about the proportion of college age women who have been victim of some form of sexual assault in the States ? (including non-reported assaults)

    cf : The National College Women Sexual Victimization Study (Fisher 2000).

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