Sep 17, 2007

Zero Degree Turn

Iran has unveiled a new domestic influence operation -- utilizing the reliable (and ubiquitous) "we are the good guys" theme:

It is Iran's version of "Schindler's List," a miniseries about an Iranian diplomat in Paris who helps Jews escape the Holocaust -- and viewers across the country are riveted.

That's surprising enough in a country whose president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has questioned whether the Holocaust even took place. What's more surprising is that government media produced the series, and it is airing on state-run television.

The Holocaust is rarely mentioned in state media in Iran, school textbooks do not discuss it and Iranians have little information about it.

Yet the series, titled "Zero Degree Turn," offers a sympathetic view of the Jews' plight during World War II.

"Where are they taking them?" the horrified hero, a young diplomat who works at the Iranian Embassy in Paris, asks someone in a crowd of onlookers as men, women and children with yellow stars on their clothes are forced into trucks by Nazi soldiers.

"The Fascists are taking the Jews to the concentration camps," the man says.

The hero, Habib Parsa, then begins giving Iranian passports to Jews to allow them to flee occupied France to what was then Palestine.

Though the Habib character is fictional, it is based on a true story of diplomats in the Iranian Embassy in Paris in the 1940s who gave out about 500 Iranian passports for Jews to use to escape.

The show may reflect an attempt by Iran's leadership to moderate its image as anti-Semitic and to underline a distinction that Iranian officials often make -- that their conflict is with Israel, not with the Jewish people. ...

The series could not have aired without being condoned by Iran's clerical leadership. The state broadcaster is under the control of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say in all matters in Iran.

Moderate conservatives have been gaining ground in Iran, where there is growing discontent with the ruling hard-liners over tensions with the West and a worsening economy.

The government allowed the series to break another taboo: Many actresses appear without conforming to the state-mandated Islamic dress code. The producers wanted to realistically portray 1940s Paris, and thus avoided the head scarves and head-to-foot robes that all women usually must wear on Iranian TV.

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