Read Jon Stewart’s new movie today
If you’re a fan of “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central, then you know Stewart is in the Middle East directing a movie and comedian John Oliver is sitting in for him. The movie Stewart is shooting is called “Rosewater” and is adapted from the book, “Then They Came For Me,” by Maziar Bahari.
You have to read this book. I’m sure you’ve read book reviews where a reviewer says, “I couldn’t put it down!” or describe a book as a “page-turner.” I’ll say this much. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so engrossed in a book that I literally stayed up all night reading it like I did with “Then They Came For Me.” It’s that captivating.
Bahari, an Iranian journalist who wrote for Newsweek, left his pregnant girlfriend in his adopted home of England to visit his native Tehran, Iran, to cover the 2009 presidential election. The election primarily pitted reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi against the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. You probably remember that Ahmadinejad and the Revolutionary Guard stole the election and thousands of Iranians poured onto the streets in the Green Revolution protests.
Bahari was in the thick of it, watching as protestors clashed with police, filming the confrontations and reporting it to a mesmerized world audience. Four men soon visit Bahari at his mother’s home. In the prologue, he described the ringleader this way: “I could smell him before I saw him. His scent was a mixture of sweat and rosewater, and it reminded me of my youth.” Rosewater is the name he gave the Revolutionary Guard member who arrested him, took him to Iran’s worst prison, Evin Prison, and interrogated and tortured him and accused him of being a CIA spy.
In between vicious interrogations, Bahari exercises in his dim cell, doodles on the floor with a smuggled pen and fantasizes about being home with his fiancée. He also imagines conversations with his deceased father, who had spent time in prison under the Shah.
Bahari not only educates Western readers about the brutal reign of the U.S.-backed Shah, but also writes about how the Ayatollah Khomeini and his supporters promised democratic reforms and freedoms along with Sharia law, which in retrospect seems obviously incompatible. Iranians’ disenchantment with the revolution and current leader Ayatollah Khamanei is a constant theme in the book..
One of the things I loved about this book was the look into life in a country Westerners don’t hear a lot about. From Iranian home life, foods and customs, to the tactics of the regime, Bahari peels back the Persian curtain and offers us a glimpse. One doesn’t think of Iranian teenagers with spiky hair wearing Tommy Hilfiger, miniskirts and stiletto heels, faux Versace and Gucci headscarves. But Bahari assures us that such adventurous, rebellious youth do indeed exist even though there are secret police that can arrest them for such violations of public morality.
“Laws in Iran are not made to be followed; they are made to be broken, albeit as surreptitiously as possible,” he writes.
So why is comedian Jon Stewart helming the movie based on this book? The Daily Show sent correspondent Jason Jones to Iran years ago to interview Bahari for a comedy bit. Jones dressed up as a spy for the segment. Imagine how Bahari felt when his interrogator showed him the video segment and questioned him about this “terrorist” he’d met with! Stewart felt horrible about the confusion and optioned the rights to the book.
Bahari paints a harrowing picture of his more than 100 days in Evin Prison with the psychopathic Rosewater, a hulking man who played both good cop and bad cop, alternately offering him tea and beating him mercilessly. At the same time, with the Daily Show episode and a later one involving American comedian Pauly Shore (of all people), the Revolutionary Guard is made to look like an Islamist version of the Keystone Kops.
The danger is palpably real, however. One doesn’t need to be fascinated with the geopolitical intrigue of Iran or the Middle East to be drawn into this chilling tale. And while the bulk of it may seem hopeless and brutal, there is hope. The Iranian people see through their government. We see this hope in Bahari’s mother, an 80-something pistol who refers to the government as “garbage.” We see a hope for the future in a young cabbie named Davood who wants a better life for himself than driving a motorcycle cab on Tehran’s dangerous streets. We see it in Amir, an old revolutionary who regrets helping Khomeini gain power. There is hope that Iran can eventually have it’s own Persian Spring and throw off the cloak of religious fanaticism and violent fascism.
Jon Stewart’s movie, “Rosewater,” will hit screens in 2014 and I’m sure it will be a powerful film. But don’t wait for the movie. Read the book now.