Monday, March 24, 2008

A movie recommendation

I just finished watching Offside. It's a movie about the 2006 Iranian soccer team playing the Bahrainis to qualify for the World Cup. More importantly it's a window into the complexities of Iranian society. The story takes place in real time, more or less, during the game. It focuses on a group of women who tried to sneak into the game, women are not allowed at soccer games because there are a lot of men there who may shout obscenities in the passion of the game. The women are detained and spend most of their time taunting and ridiculing thier male guards who are merely carrying out orders and attempting to avoid punishment for screwing up.

This film is excellent because it captures so many aspects of the characters' attitudes and motivations and offers a glimpse into one of the world's most closed societies. As westerners we read about Iranian citizens and, speaking for myself, wonder why they don't band together and overthrow their oppressors. Support for the Mullahcracy is only skin deep and the population is brutally oppressed. There is wide-spread popular support for revolution. So why not?

We also wonder whether or not it will become necessary to bomb or even invade Iran to curtail their pursuit of nuclear weapons. When considering these possibilities one must also wonder what the reaction of the population will be. We have been attempting to support elements of the population who resist the ruling mullahs. But so far those efforts have not born fruit. It is widely believed however that if we are forced to bomb or invade, the population, currently on our side, will turn against us in defense of their homeland.

This film captures those attitudes beautifully. Throughout the film we see soccer fans on their way to, from, or at the game wearing Iranian flags and chanting/taunting slogans of support for their team specifically but their country generally. This is the moment of success for an oppressed people without much to believe in. Nationalism and pride go hand in hand. This is the moment when the people band together in support of a common value.

It may seem silly to some. I've known many people who don't understand the power of sports. I live in Columbus Ohio, home of the Ohio State University Buckeyes. It's a wonderful place to live. But when I first moved here, after decades of drifting without a place to call home, I too was cynical about the Buckeye Fever that sweeps the land every autumn. I like to think of myself as above such petty interests and as an educated, intelligent, deep-thinking, erudite muckety-muck. But after a couple of years I began to see what it really means.

Sports are nothing more than a friendly form of nationalism. A sports team is a common point of focus and value for a community. It gives us a commonality and a singularity that is seldom achieved in any other venue and certainly not on such a wide scale. It brings a whole community together, gives strangers a common interest upon which to build a friendship. And having been through both a successful and an unsuccessful National Championship with my team in the last few years, I know the sheer joy and heartache that accompany the oneness with one's team. When the Buckeyes won the Championship in 2003, my voice was hoarse for 2 weeks afterward from screaming with every random person in the city. Horns were honking, people were cheering. It was an amazing moment to experience. Having years before learned to embrace Buckeye Fever, this crowning achievement gave me a brief moment of truly feeling connected to my city, my community, and my neighbors.

But there is a downside to this unbridled followership. It is not just pride that goes hand in hand with nationalism. All strong emotions do. Unfortunately these include fear, suspicion, and hatred. These are the classic mechanisms employed and exploited by dictators to keep their people from rising up in protest. And these natural human tendencies must be considered when fashioning U.S. policy regarding Iranian acquisition of nuclear arms.

If we were to bomb or invade Iran we would become the target of fear, suspicion, and hatred. The ruling mullahs would utilize their state-controlled media to paint us as the evil conquerors. The population would become hardened against us instead of what they should be, our natural ally.

The movie displays the nationalism of the people as they root for their team and their country. But is also discloses a disdain for their rulers. The women who are captured by soldiers at the soccer stadium openly taunt their captors. They repeatedly question the rationalization for barring them from attendance. But they also bond with the soldiers. They understand that the soldiers are forced into service. The soldiers' primary goal is to avoid punishment, especially that of extended military service. There is a wealth of knowledge here.

Iran is a proud nation, and for good reason. The last 30 years or so not withstanding, Iran has a glorious history of accomplishment. But her current rulers and their aims cannot be allowed to stand. The lives of millions are on the line and an apocalyptic madman cannot be permitted to acquire the weapons to make his visions a reality. It must become U.S. policy to mobilize all departments of the federal government, in conjunction with whatever foreign and domestic groups available, to assist the people of Iran to overthrow their government regain their pride of accomplishment. If we attempt to do it for them we will ossify their opposition to us. If we do nothing millions of Israelis will die as well as millions more people throughout the region in the inevitable wars to follow.

We have attempted to foment revolution within Iran for years. But we have not yet organized a concerted effort of all assets at our disposal. We have not yet rallied supporters to the cause. We have not yet convinced dissenters within the agencies of the federal government (namely State and CIA) to join the team. For too many years career government beaureucrats have been thwarting Bushes foreign and domestic policies. For a myriad of reasons, he has not attempted to clean house of those who undermine him. But this issue is too important. With the possibility of a squishy Democrat in the Oval Office next year, there is no more time for dilly-dally. The Iranian issue must be handled now. And it must be handled effectively.

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