The Architect

Renowned Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf – in a passionate letter urging others to vote, in the upcoming Presidential race (12 June) – talks of being a political prisoner during the time of the Shah alongside ‘reformist’ Mehdi Karroubi and even sharing a cell with him at one point. He says of him that ‘he had a big heart and it was impossible for him to be silent... against injustice’ adding that I ‘never saw him cry under torture, but there were many times when I saw with my own eyes his tears at an injustice done to others’. But Makhmalbaf’s endorsement is for the trained architect Mir-Hosein Mousavi who, he says, as an ‘artist speaks for the people’. He also praises Mousavi for his competent guidance of Iran's economy as acting Prime Minster during the long war with Iraq in the 1980s.

It has been said that the populist ideas of Sorbonne-educated Ali Shariati – a charismatic sociologist and left-leaning Islamic intellectual – that drew the youth of Iran into the revolutionary movement. Some who heard Shariati’s passionate speeches (leftist, Islamist and anti-monarchy) in the 1970s at Hosseiniyeh-Ershad may well also remember being directed by him to view the work of a ‘young idealist couple’, Zahra Rahnavard and Hossein Rah’jo  (Mousavi’s artistic pseudonym) who exhibited their work at the same establishment. Rahnavard herself later became chancellor of Tehran’s prestigious al-Zahra university, and was removed from her job after the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for inviting Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi to speak there.

An election photograph of Rahnavard and Mousavi holding hands has proved controversial within conservative circles and yet popular amongst many others.  Perhaps the most notable endorsement has come from Grand Ayatollah Yusef Saanei, who said that he favoured the ‘candidate who holds his wife's hand and steps unto the scene of politics and society.’ 

Rahnavard’s sculpture of a ‘mother and child’ in Tehran’s Mirdamad Square is a familiar sight to the capital’s residents. Today, she has become the first ever post-revolution political spouse actively to campaign alongside her husband. Together, the couple seek to highlight what they argue is the betrayal of the egalitarian ideals of the revolution.

Yet Makhmalbaf’s endorsement of Mousavi’s presidential bid is emblematic of an election where more is left unsaid. There are no clear election manifestos, just symbols, inferences and ultimately a blind leap of faith. He tells of Mousavi who, during his 20-year absence from the political scene, has worked largely as an architect. Makhmalbaf writes: ‘I call my mother and ask: Mother who you will vote for? She says... you were not here, the walls have become damp, the ceiling is cracked, I walked up the alley and there was a builder knocking down a house with a pick-axe. I told him: “Sir, may god bless you, come and fix my ceiling before it collapses on our heads”. He said: “Madam, my job is destroying things. If you want me to knock down your house give the job to me. But if you want to fix it get an Architect.”’ 

Nasrin Alavi will be blogging regularly for the NI in the lead-up to Iran’s election.


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