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Iranian-Canadian Journalist and Editor of IranWire Maziar Bahari was arrested in Tehran while reporting on the 2009 presidential election protests and held in solitary confinement for most of his 118 days in captivity. He was accused of “masterminding the coverage of the Iranian election by the Western media” and being a spy for the Mossad, the MI6, and the CIA.
Soon after protests erupted over charges that President Ahmadinejad had stolen the vote, Bahari was picked up by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard and sent to Evin Prison, which is notorious for torturing political prisoners. He was repeatedly beaten and forced to give a false televised confession. After international pressure mounted and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed interest in his case, Bahari was released on $300,000 bail.
His riveting memoir, Rosewater: A Family's Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival, was published in June 2011 and adapted by The Daily Show's Jon Stewart into the 2014 political drama Rosewater. Variety called it “a stirring account of human endurance and a topical reminder of the risks faced by journalists in pursuit of the truth.”
“What happened to me,” says Bahari, “really symbolizes something bigger than me. I was maybe unlucky to be able to explore some of the darkest sides of the Iranian government, the revolutionary zeal, and the corruption. But I was lucky to be able to come out and talk about it.” An Iranian court sentenced Bahari in absentia to an extended flogging and more than 13 years in prison on various charges including conspiring against national security and insulting the supreme religious leader.
In 2014, Bahari launched IranWire, a bilingual news site in which young Iranians and Iranian citizen journalists discuss national and local news, study the craft of reporting and writing, and work closely with professional Iranian journalists.
Bahari’s documentary films include And Along Came a Spider; Of Shames and Coffins; Targets: Reporters in Iraq; and The Fall of a Shah. The International Documentary Film Festival organized a retrospective of his films; he was honored by the ILEX Foundation for Excellence in Iranian Cinema. His most recent film is Iranian Odyssey.
Bahari was a correspondent for Newsweek for over 10 years, covering Iranian economic, political and cultural life. His own story of resilience in the face of repression became the subject of a 60 Minutes segment and a Newsweek cover story. He has appeared on Fareed Zakaria GPS, The Daily Show, and the BBC. Bahari is the founder of Journalism for Change, a platform that showcases best practices, forges new networks, and provides a new outlet for citizen journalists.
Rosewater: An Iranian Odyssey
In “Rosewater: An Iranian Odyssey,” Maziar Bahari tells the story that was the inspiration for his riveting memoir, Rosewater: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival, and Rosewater, the film directed by The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart.
On June 21, 2009, just nine days after Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected in a highly contentious election, the Revolutionary Guards arrested award-winning Canadian-Iranian journalist and filmmaker, Maziar Bahari, in his mother’s home in Tehran.
For the next 118 days, he remained imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin prison, where he was severely beaten, and accused, among other things, of espionage and plotting a velvet revolution. Rosewater is a riveting, on-the-streets account of the contentious elections, and the tale of a reporter willing to risk everything to tell a story. But it is also a deeply moving personal story about a family profoundly — and brutally — impacted by Iran’s changing regimes. In 1954, Maziar’s father, a Communist, was imprisoned by the Shah’s secret police and spent two years in prison for the crime of belonging to a treasonous organization. Nearly 30 years later, not long after the Shah’s government was overthrown and the Islamic Republic of Iran was created, Maziar’s sister, Maryam, spent six years in prison for her involvement with the Communist party.
Bahari’s personal and family story presents a unique overview of the tortured modern history of Iran and his reporting and analysis of the inner workings of the Islamic government give the audiences an unprecedented insight into the zeitgeist of modern Iran and the men who run it.
Consider screening Rosewater, now available through the distributor, at your event.
Citizen Journalism: Smart Phones, Social Media, and Democratization of the News
The democratic nature of the Internet and its popularity in the Middle East has made an antidote to autocracy and dogma in the region. The increasingly educated young Middle Eastern cyber activists are at the vanguard of revolutionary changes. They organize their efforts on the Internet and challenge traditional ideas and ideologies on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. They have become citizen journalists, capturing events on their phones and sharing their stories throughout the world. These sites allow the youth to mobilize their struggle for democracy in constantly changing and imaginative ways that take authoritarian regimes by surprise and force knee-jerk reactions by the regimes, such as the blocking of websites and the arrest of Internet activists.
The advent of citizen journalism and Internet activism threatens despotism and ideological zealotry by providing a new path for revolutionary (or evolutionary) change. The 21st century revolutionary media liberate revolutions from the monopoly of a few leaders. Whereas pamphlets and short wave radio in the 19th and the 20th centuries dictated messages of the leaders to the masses before revolutions and then were used to indoctrinate and suppress them, the Internet deprives would be despots of the power to control the message. The Internet allows every citizen to be a leader and shape the message in her or his own way. Liberating revolutions from the tyranny of revolutionary leaders is a crucial step in creating a democratic Middle East in the future: a region in which nations will be able to poke and dislike each other rather than bomb and attack other countries.
Iran and the U.S.: Challenges & Opportunities
The history of relations between Iran and the United States since 1979 is a long list of grave errors, radical rhetoric and missed opportunities. The hostilities between the two countries have damaged the interests of both nations in the Middle East and hundreds of Iranians and Americans have perished in the process. The myopic policies of American administrations have contributed to the current state of affairs, yet without a doubt it is the Islamic government can be credited with a large part of the blame for the hostilities. The regime has made anti-Americanism the main part of its raison d’etre. While Iranians have grievances about past American interference in its internal affairs in the past and the unconditional support given to the Shah’s dictatorship from 1953 to 1979, these genuine complaints have been cynically manipulated by the Iranian regime to rally popular support for its wrong policies.
There is no way for the American government to repair its relations with the current group at the helm of the government in Iran. Changing the behavior of the regime, or ultimately changing the regime itself, has to be an American foreign policy priority. Yet the change cannot, and should not, happen in a short period. The United States should continue negotiate with Iran about its nuclear program. Iran has to clearly understand that it has to pay a high price for its investment in the nuclear program, and that the program in the long run will consume many of its resources and will makes it less secure. More targeted sanctions against human rights abusers and the nuclear program should be imposed and bad sanctions, which hurt ordinary Iranians, should be lifted. But most important of all, the United States should make a stronger effort to communicate with the Iranian people, especially the youth.
Iran has the most pro-American population in the Middle East outside of Israel. The most important weapons in the American arsenal are democratic values, which are shared by millions of young Iranians. The United States and other western countries should invest in developing democratic culture in Iran and develop different methods of communications that will allow young Iranians to communicate with each other and the rest of the world. Artists, novelists, filmmakers and intellectuals have to be provided with forums to express themselves, and at the same time the United States should invest in satellite television, satellite internet and other means that help Iranians communicate. Trying to understand Iranian youth and helping them to achieve their democratic objectives is the best hope for the American government to safeguard its interests in Iran and the Middle East.