by Claude Salhani
Stewing in the juices of their religious righteousness, Iran’s ever-vigilant mullahs, perhaps sometimes a tad overzealous but confident they are keeping their revolution on the path of the virtuous, have found a new enemy upon whom to set their ire.
After all, unless you are an Iranian mullah, who would not want to be as cool, as suave, as tough and as just as the main man in this story?
A word of caution though to those who may seek to confront him. This antagonist is no stranger in fighting authoritarian entities. He always sides with the underdog and he’s always victorious.
Last September, there was the absurdity of a ruling by the ever-righteous mullahs when they stopped a local production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The play was stopped and its director arrested on grounds that the play had a scene in which a man danced with a woman. We thought that saved the Islamic Republic once and for all but lo and behold.
In their unrelenting vigilance, the mullahs have been faced with a challenge that came with somewhat more of a kick than the English bard. This time, the mullahs picked on the Chinese martial artist Jackie Chan.
Well, truth be told, the mullahs were unable to set their wrath directly on Chan, so they did the next best thing: They fired the director of Iran TV. The man who is responsible for allowing a scene in a Chan movie showing a brief — if explicit — sex scene that inadvertently slipped through the censorship process that weeds out any interaction between men and women. Well, nobody is perfect, not even religiously correct Iranian censors.
After the scene aired on Iranian television, a regional boss of Iran’s state broadcaster Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) was fired.
News reports stated that viewers on Iran’s Kish Island were shocked when their local TV station showed the martial arts star having sex with a prostitute in one of his films. That is far beyond the usual limits in Iran, where men and women are not even allowed to shake hands on the screen, let alone display certain parts of their anatomy.
There was a quick reaction from the shamed mullahs after a viewer posted the clip online.
“Clips of immoral scenes of a film featuring Jackie Chan have been circulating on social media, which was apparently shown by Kish IRIB,” the semi-official ISNA news agency reported. “These scenes, which are in total contradiction with the principles of IRIB, have ultimately led to the dismissal and reprimand of some of the employees of IRIB in Kish.” Among those fired was IRIB’s director-general for Kish.
There were angry responses from some Iranians pointing out that no one was fired over a bus crash that killed ten students at Tehran’s Azad University. “Buses turn over, planes crash, ships sink… no one is dismissed… A few seconds of Jackie Chan making love on IRIB and immediately all staff in that section are sacked,” wrote one Twitter user.
IRIB presenter Reza Rashidpour joked on his morning talk show that the controversy could have been avoided if IRIB had included a caption saying Chan was married to the actress playing the prostitute. He was referring to a recent programme in which IRIB added a caption to say a couple holding hands on screen were married in real life.
Indeed, in parts of Iran, brothels used to employ blind sheikhs who would marry the customers and the ladies of the night. These marriages were for a very limited period, typically about an hour. This practice of marrying for a predetermined time is allowed in the Shia branch of Islam.
The basic sin in the Jackie Chan broadcast was not the display of the sexual act, it was running afoul of the mullahs’ code of ethics, which puts hypocrisy above all other values cherished by Iran. Without that hypocrisy, the mullahs could simply lose their fig leaf and their power over the rest of the population.