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Bad Iranians, bad Muslims, good Americans

My wife and I went to see the film “Argo”, directed and starring Ben Affleck. It is a tense action flick, based on a true story.

Steve Latham

During the 1979 Iranian revolution, demonstrations against the Shah’s dictatorial regime initially united combined secular liberal and Muslim fundamentalist groups.

With the return of Ayatollah Khomeni from exile in Europe, the Islamists began to take the lead, and soon turned on their erstwhile democratic allies.

During the unrest, revolutionary forces invaded the US embassy, and took some of the staff as hostages.

Six of these staff members escaped, however, through a side door; and hid in the Canadian Ambassador’s house. Eventually a secret CIA ‘exfiltrator,’ Tony Mendez smuggled them out, disguised as a film crew.

It is this aspect which provides the movie’s comic element. The film they were ostensibly in Iran to produce was supposed to be a science fiction space opera.

It is the incongruity of setting a film like this in Iran, which supplies a surreal air to the picture’s account. However the comedy is not paramount.

“Argo” is a genuinely taut thriller and Affleck proves his mettle as a director throughout the movie. But the political subtext is ambiguous, to say the least.

The portrayal of Iranians in the film is one-dimensional and stereotyped. They are baddies, Muslim fanatics with no redeeming features.

The airport guards provoke smiles only because they are stupid enough to believe the spy’s ruse.

The single good Iranian is the Canadian ambassador’s maid, who helps the Americans escape. Otherwise, most Muslim characters are violent extremists.

Affleck makes a gesture in the direction of historical accuracy, with his documentary-style introduction to the film.

This depicts the American and British support for  the Shah’s coup against the democratically-elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh, in order to keep control of the oil industry for the West.

Apart from this, however, the film is a celebration of US innocence. Admittedly from a conscience-stricken Democratic Party perspective, the movie is a rehabilitation of the USA.

It admits past faults, all the better to assert the supremacy of American democracy from a position of supposed liberal honesty.

The story ends with Affleck’s character, Tony Mendez, hugging his wife in the doorway of their home, the stars and stripes flying patriotically outside in the garden.

After this, the movie presents an overview of what happened to the main characters after the incidents in the film.

Here, President Carter is lauded as the President who commanded the rescue. Carter claims the incident saved the lives of the escapees without any casualties.

The movie thus rides roughshod over the failure of Carter’s own mission in 1980 to rescue the actual embassy hostages.

This ended in a debacle with the crashing of some of the helicopters transporting the rescue squad, and the death of several soldiers.

The final indignation is how Hispanic CIA operative, Tony Mendez, is racially transformed into the WASP, Chuck Norris look-alike, figure of Ben Affleck, who apparently could not resist playing the hero.

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