Rosewater’s story all too relevant in the West

February 14, 2015
osewater is based on Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari’s memoir detailing his jailing by the Iranian regime.

Written & directed by Jon Stewart
Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, Kim Bodnia
In cinemas now

Written and directed by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show fame, Rosewater is a film set in Iran about the ever-present danger of an unaccountable government.

This film is based on Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari’s memoir And Then They Came For Me, detailing his jailing by the Iranian regime. While it focuses on the Iranian government, the film should also provoke reflection on the actions of Western governments, including Australia’s.

Many people may know Jon Stewart as the US comic who hosts The Daily Show — which Stewart has just announced he will soon be leaving. So it was interesting to see him take a short break from his show to work with Bahari on Rosewater.

Stewart has a personal connection to the film’s story: part of the Iranian authorities case for jailing Bahari came from a Daily Show interview the journalist did with Stewart in 2009. The authorities used the interview as evidence Bahari was a US spy, and have since denounced Stewart as a “Zionist agent”.

Stewart’s passion for the project is also unsurprising when you know his friend, Egyptian fellow comedian Bassem Youssef, was recently charged with insulting Egypt’s president and Islam. As Stewart pointed out, if insulting the president and Islam was a crime in the US, “Fox News goes bye bye”.

Bahari’s tale of persecution might be much more relevant to viewers in Australia than many think. The Australian government claims to champion freedom of the press around the world, and celebrated the release of Australian journalist Peter Greste from an Egyptian jail, but it also subverts civil liberties and silences dissent at home.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the recently passed legislation that sets out jail terms of up to 10 years for journalists who write articles revealing information relating “special intelligence operations”.

Western governments would like you to believe the threats to freedom come only from non-Western regimes, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. No politician has been held accountable for the illegal invasion of Iraq and subsequent deaths of hundreds of thousands of people.

No politician has been held accountable for torture in the US-run Guantanamo Bay prison camp. And no politician has been held accountable for the wholesale surveillance undertaken by the National Security Agency and the so-called Five Eyes Alliance — involving the governments of the US, Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Soon after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the US agency’s huge global spying operations, journalist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras — who worked with Snowden — chose not to travel to the US over very real fears of arrest.

The Western media are quick to criticise governments that criminalise journalists like Greste and Bahari. But they are less quick to criticise Western governments that criminalise whistleblowers like Snowden and Chelsea Manning.

A major concern in Australia is our seemingly nonchalant approach to privacy. The “I have nothing to hide” argument seems to assume that our politicians and those in power are sincere in their stated intentions of protecting Australian citizens.

Maybe “you” have nothing to hide, but what about human rights lawyers involved in work the government doesn’t like? Or public servants who blow the whistle on political corruption?

As Greenwald points out in his book No Place to Hide: “Transparency is for those who carry out public duties and exercise public power. Privacy is for everyone else.”

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