Most people who even vaguely follow Middle East politics will know of the movie Not Without My Daughter, based on a book by the same name by Betty Mahmoody and a helper. The book recounts the story of how Betty escaped from just-post-revolutionary Iran with her daughter, when her husband tricked her into going to Iran and would have trapped her there or, worse, made her leave Iran without her child, who would then be raised in a horrible fundamentalist Islamic country.
Anyway, I came by this book in a public library, and my curiosity was piqued. So I picked it up and skimmed it. And by "skim", I mean to say that I spent a good hour on it at least. (I lose track of time in public libraries...) The book was detailed and personal, and I was elated at the happy conclusion: Betty and daughter Mahtob escape, passing through extreme peril, to achieve a prosperous life once again in America.
But, as is so often the case, the story seemed incomplete to me. Because while Betty had her daughter, somewhere in Iran, a father, the villain Moody (Dr. Sayyed Bozorg Mahmoody), came back to an empty house, having never had the chance to say goodbye to his child. And Betty had little knowledge of or interest in telling us what happened on the Iran end after that. So we had an incomplete picture of the villain.
Google to the rescue then! I find out that, much more recently, Moody's story has indeed been told. It was told in a Finnish film called Ilman Tytärtäni (Without My Daughter). I excerpt a review below:
Variety - Without My Daughter: Alice Sharif, an American in Tehran who's married to an Iranian, and whose daughter Samira played with Mahtob, says the American women in her circle were outraged by the flagrant lies in Betty's book - such as the alleged Iranian habit of bathing only once a year. Sharif & Co. contend such fabrications were tailored to feed anti-Iranian sentiment in the U.S. She adds there was never a hint of Betty being beaten (as she claimed in her book), and she seriously doubts whether Betty and Mahtob could have crossed the mountains in winter without special gear. Sharif's husband says they could have left the country "the normal way."
Having visited (and having family) in similar parts of the world, I also have to wonder about the "bathing once a year" thing. If by "bath," Betty means a luxurious 5-star hotel deal with expensive salts and designer bath robes, then yes, I imagine it unlikely that the average Iranian has even one a year. In Pakistan, at least, people pour buckets of water over their head while standing ina bathtub fairly regularly---those that don't live in a more modern home with an actual shower. Of course people conserve water and try to use what they can afford to use (there are an unimaginably large number of poor people)...but Muslim countries put great value on cleaning with water regularly. She even acknowledges this when she notes that Moody wanted to shower after sex as a matter of religious custom. And somehow I doubt that most Iranians have sex only once a year.
But this is trivial. More importantly, I found a lot of places where Betty paints the behaviour and Moody's family and Iranian culture in a negative light, but I could just as easily see how the same incident could be taken as confirmation of the Ugly American stereotype. For instance, she recounts how she attempted to make an American meal for Moody's family, and how her sister-in-law complained about the fact that she used beef. She acknowledges that, apparently, in Iranian culture, beef is looked down upon as a lower-class meat. But at the same time, she takes her sister-in-law's behaviour as a rejection of herself. I put this in the context of other incidents where she paints her in-laws as mocking her, when it could just as easily have been indulgence of arrogant tantrums... (Other criticisms appear on the IMDB message boards.)
Of course, you could accuse me of being too charitable to Moody. After all, alternative interpretations of the events that Betty describes could be just plain wrong. This accusation is quite valid. Moody could very well be a jerk. Quite likely, there was something wrong with both of them---first of all, it is quite likely that he believed he had told her that they would be leaving permanently for Iran (this is what he claims), and quite likely that she had another interpretation in mind. The problem is that we have a bit of a role reversal here: Betty, by virtue of being an American woman with a dramatic story, has the power to paint an easily-hated post-revolutionary Iran as the abode of monsters, and there is nothing Moody can do about it. So we'll never know whose side of the story is the real one, and whose is the media creation/self-pitying lie.
What we do know, though, is that Betty allowed her story to become the very emblem of the popular American conception of Iran, and indeed seems still to be making money from it. That time was an opportune time indeed to take Iranian society out of its entire context and demonize it and the revolution. And we cannot entirely blame them, since it is the Iranian revolution itself that gives frequent opportunities for demonization. But removing the entire context of the Shah, Western power, and so on and replacing it entirely with symbols like this did a disservice to the world, particularly in the context of a possible attack on Iran.
And what we do know, also, is that Moody has not seen his daughter in many years, and if there's any truth to the notion that Betty's version is not entirely fair, but instead the partly the product of American power and privilege, then Moody's discovey of an empty house is an injustice. That this context exists means, unfortunately, the Betty's claims have to be viewed in that light of her privilege as an American. Moody has had story told about him in the world that he can never counter. Well, with this video, apparently he has had some small opportunity, but this will never be a Hollywood production
But even if he is at fault to some extent, which he may very well be, I can wish him a second chance with his daughter in the future. A second chance is something I can wish for almost anyone.