Hit Holocaust drama shows the real face of Iran
03/12/2007 06:00:00 PM GMT
"There's been a menu of demonising Iran to portray it as anti-Jewish, which is not the case at all… This popular TV series has tackled this issue because of all the propaganda against Iran."

By Adam Robertson

For seven months, millions of Iranians have been glued to their TV sets Monday nights to watch a World War II drama that dispels stereotypes about Iran and Judaism.

The story line couldn’t be less likely in a country whose president once questioned the very existence of the Holocaust: An Iranian-Palestinian student in France who helps save his love - a French Jew - and her family from the Nazis.

According to an article on the BBC, the fact that “Zero Degree Turn” has been allowed on Iranian state TV dismisses the allegations of anti-Semitism against the Iranians.

"There's been a menu of demonising Iran to portray it as anti-Jewish, which is not the case at all," says Iranian commentator and film-maker Nader Talebzadeh.  "This popular television series, which is visually also very attractive, has tackled this issue because of all the propaganda against Iran."

The writer and director of the series, Hassan Fathi, says the series is inspired by Abdol Hussein Sardari, a real-life Iranian consul in Paris who issued Iranian passports to more than 1,000 European Jews during World War II so they could flee.

"In those terrible years there were many people who could help the Jews, but they didn't because they were afraid they would be arrested," Mr Fathi explains. "But some Iranians, when they saw they could save some Jews, they left their fear behind and did so - because of their character and their culture, their beliefs and their traditions.”

Mr Fathi, a veteran director of historical fiction, told the Christian Science Monitor that the message of the series is that “what is endangering peace is extremist thinking, and political hard-liners that separate people from each other….

“God created people to love each other, regardless of religion.... Unfortunately [when it comes to] religion the current of extremism is always on, creating misunderstanding between culture,” he adds.

  • Zionism and Judaism

Like many Iranians, Mr Fathi believes that there is a huge difference between Jews, who are accepted by Muslims as fellow monotheists and "people of the book", and Zionism, which is officially condemned in the Muslim world as the destructive ideology of Israel.

"Let's be absolutely clear about this. Even if one single Jew is killed in German camps, the world should be ashamed. By the same token, if a single Palestinian dies, the world should be ashamed," says Mr Fathi.

"And this is not just the view of a minority, it's the position of most Iranians."

In fact, most Iranians, even those taking part in anti-Zionist demonstrations, would be shocked at any accusation that they are anti-Semitic. This clearly shows a history of religious tolerance in a country that recognizes Judaism as an official religion, grants the Jewish minority one seat in parliament and hosts more than 25,000 Jew; the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside Israel.

Commenting on “Zero Degree Turn", Ciamak Moresadegh, chairman of the Tehran Jewish Committee, said that the series “is a positive point for Jews in Iran.”

"The problems between the Zionist movement and Iran are not related to the Jewish population in Iran," said Mr Moresadegh, who wrote a letter of thanks to Iran's state-owned television for showing the series. 

  • Zionism and Nazism

Western media often uses President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s comments about Israel to step up rhetoric against the Islamic Republic.

"The media loves to harp on that theme… 'They want to wipe Israel off the map', 'This is Hitler'. I mean that 'Hitler - Ahmadinejad' is almost a strategic theme now for three years,” says Nader Talebzadeh, the Iranian commentator and film-maker. 

But the Iranian president differentiates between Zionism and Judaism.Although he hosted a Holocaust conference last December that featured Holocaust deniers, President Ahmadinejad takes pride in meeting members of Jewish sects who are also opposed to the existence of a Jewish state. 

He says the six million killed in the Holocaust are a modern exaggeration used by the West to justify Israel's creation on occupied Muslim territories. 

According to the Christian Science Monitor, the final episode of "Zero Degree Turn" shows Nazi Germany in favor of the Zionists in order to move Jews out of Europe. In the story, the Zionist uncle – who tries to keep the Iranian Muslim and his Jewish lover apart, is seen praising the virtues of Zionism: "Any Jew who lives outside Palestine is not a Jew."

Ali Akbar Velayati, a foreign affairs adviser to Iran's supreme leader, appeared on TV right after the final episode last week to stress the big difference between Judaism and Zionism.

"The European policies created Zionism more than the Jews [though] extremist Jews had a role. The Jews are victims, and Muslims were the same," asserted Mr. Velayati. "Europeans fighting Jews, the last time in Germany, has historic roots. And the correlation between Zionism and Nazis is known."

According to the BBC, “Zero Degree Turn” also happens to be extremely well produced, with music and cinematography up to the highest Hollywood standard.

"This was the most professional TV series in Iranian history. Everybody watched it," says one regular viewer.

For many Iranians, the political subtext was secondary to the story. The viewers were touched by the love story of the Iranian student, Habib, and his Jewish lover, Sarah. In the last episode, Habib and Sarah were finally united at the foot of Iran's snow-covered Damavand mountain.

“It was a very tough night for me," says Fathi of the final episode. "But I was so happy Sarah and Habib got together. The days that God is very happy are the days that people from different cultures hug each other in brotherhood."

-- AJP