For Iran, the film 300 is the equivalent of the Danish cartoons, but with go-faster stripes.
The Iranian representative at Unesco has logged a complaint and last week president Mahmood Ahmadinejad of Iran called the movie a psychological assault on the Iranian nation. The president may not be too accomplished at diplomatic niceties but he can spot a rabble-rouser from 300 paces. This, for the Iranians, is the equivalent of the Danish cartoons, but with go-faster stripes.
The movie is a gore-fest of computer-generated special effects, based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller about the battle of Thermoplyae in 480 BC between the Persian empire and an alliance of Greek states.
Of course, movies routinely take historical events out of context, and 300 doesn't disappoint in its avoidance of historical accuracy. The authors are on record as saying that this is a fantasy and not historical film-making, but they haven't explained why they have such racist fantasies.
History or fantasy, 300 is an out-an-out racist diatribe worthy of contempt. I only need to refer you to Dana Stevens who wrote in her review for Slate: "If 300 had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s, it would be studied today alongside The Eternal Jew as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war".
It is an interesting paradox that works of imagination set in the distant past or the future tend to say more about how things are at the time of their making than movies with a contemporary setting. Think of sci-fi movies or swords-and-sandals from the 1950s or 1970s. More than anything else they tell us about the world view, mind set and emotional temperature of the people who made them and the time they were made.
In 300, the soldiers of King Leonidis utter guttural HOAAWTH! in the exactly the same way American GI's do (or at least we are assured by Jarhead), and the soldiers of the imperial Persian army are dressed exactly as modern-day Taliban, badly armed with meat cleavers.
What is most worrying to me is the idea that "western civilisation" is not, as I had understood it to be, the cultural, economic and militarily power dominating the globe, but a civilisation on the back foot, cornered, victimised and under siege. This bit isn't just fantasy; this is exactly the world view of the lunatic fringe of the far right politics of BNP, Jean-Marie Le Pen and Co.
The Spartans behave as the archetypal id of the neo-conservative regime changers' ego - uncompromising and unforgiving. This is the language of the "surge" rather than Baker-Hamilton recommendations. King Leonidis is cynical about diplomatic niceties, slaughtering Persian emissaries against all convention. This is the cartoon version of the way John Bolton behaved at the UN, making it clear that he had nothing but disdain for what he considered to be the double-talking, wheeling and dealing that diplomacy usually is all about.
It may not surprise anyone that King Leonidis repeatedly makes reference to "freedom" and calls the Persian troops slaves. The average audience of 300 - which I assume to be 16-year-olds taking time off from playing computer games - would not know that the Spartans were notorious as slavers, and that Persepolis was built by wage earners.
In the same way that the movie holds a distorting and flattering mirror to a particular narrative of the west, I am equally cynical about the Iranian tendency for the vainglorious. Growing up and going to school in Iran (as I did) you are brought up to think of Persian imperial history as unblemished and continuously glorious.
The past, for many in Iran, is a warm sunny happy country. We love nothing more than to daydream of a time when Pax Iranica had pacified half the known world - where we were the magnanimous and wise overlords. The disconnect is that modern Iran so fails badly in comparison.
The uniting of the secular westernised Iranians in Los Angeles and the so-called religious fundamentalist government in Tehran demonstrates that nationalism is still a principal energising factor in Iranian politics.
This means that all the analysis that sees an "Islamic" threat or civilisitional conflict between imaginary constructs called the west and radical Islam is plain wrong. The fact is that the Islamic revolution and Shia Islam are two of many expressions of Iranian nationalism, and not the other way around.
Iran is an animal blighted by the sin of national pride, but it rarely bites unless it has been kicked first.
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