Long ago I had an argument with a friend about something the president had said. I can't remember which president, much less what the offending statement was, but passions were running high, and things devolved pretty quickly into a bit of a shouting match. In the fog of disagreement my friend said something to me that stopped me in my tracks -- something that I still think about to this day. She said, "What are you getting so upset about? It's not personal, it's political!"
I objected then and still object to this day to the idea that the personal and the political have nothing to do with each other. It is true, of course, that we all have to be able to argue without too much heat -- that we must learn to "agree to disagree," as they say. But I suspect it is precisely this divided consciousness that makes for a political culture as brutal, unkind and downright ineffective as the one we endure today.
Can you imagine having a debt-ceiling debate like the one we just witnessed had the men and women involved been more concerned with the human impact of the decisions they were making than the political point-scoring and grand gestures that they used the debate as an opportunity to make? Can you imagine the casual arrogance of Romney's "47 percent" remarks had he even the smallest regard for the livid consequences of his apathy? Can you imagine that war would ever look like a reasonable option, particularly a massive aerial assault on a primarily civilian area like Baghdad, or for that matter Teheran, if we had a closer, more human view of the men, women and children living in the houses that look like dots on the satellite maps we see on television?
All this brings me to recommend a remarkable film making the indie rounds this month called The Iran Job. This documentary, of which I am extremely proud to be executive producer, follows a charismatic young basketball player named Kevin Sheppard, who, having been disappointed in his dream to become an NBA player, has taken a job playing professional ball in Shiraz, Iran. Over the course of the season he has a chance to see the country, to understand its people and history and to befriend a group of three young women, who risk assault and arrest by coming to his apartment every so often to hang out and talk with him. We get to do all of this through the eyes and ears of a guy who, for all his acumen and eloquence, is pretty much a regular American "Joe" -- a guy who goes into the job with little or no grasp of Islam and Islamic culture, very little sense of Iranian history or politics, and only a vague sense of a menacing country full of "them" looking to do something awful to "us."
The Iran Job is a buddy story, a fish-out-of-water story, a Rocky story, a David and Goliath story and a bildungsroman all rolled into one. It is a comedy and an adventure but more than all of this, it is a film that gets to the heart of what we need to understand when we talk about Iran. Through the course of the film, our eyes are opened along with Kevin's. We come to see the perils of talking about a whole country as though it were a single, undifferentiated political entity, no matter how homogenous that country might seem from the outside. We come to see, along with Kevin, that these three women under their headscarves are nobody's victims or fools, and that they are hardly sitting quietly by as their countrymen and women fight for democracy and justice in their political systems.
This weekend's LA Times praises The Iran Job as "a remarkably apolitical political film" because it does a graceful and quiet job of reminding us that the political is always deeply personal indeed. The film's arrival could not be more welcome in the midst of another deafening round of saber-rattling discord -- a din threatening to swamp our better judgment and seduce us back into another conflict.
There is no argument against war quite so effective as a surprising smile and laugh from one you had once thought was your enemy. Let us hope that The Iran Job is widely seen.