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Society & Culture

'On the Path of Salman Rushdie': Iran's Culture Ministry Threatens Makers of Holy Spider

May 30, 2022
2 min read
Director Ali Abbasi, left, with actors Zar Amir Ebrahimi and Mehdi Bajestani
Director Ali Abbasi, left, with actors Zar Amir Ebrahimi and Mehdi Bajestani

Iran's Ministry of Culture has launched a startling attack on the makers of the 2022 film Holy Spider, saying its creators were "following the path set by Salman Rushdie".

In a threatening statement issued on Monday, shortly after lead actress Zar (Zahra) Amir Ebrahimi won best actress award at Cannes, the Cinema Organization of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance called the film by Ali Abbasi "fake, hateful and disgusting".

Holy Spider was described as "a lewd night letter from the disturbed mind of a Dane of Iranian origin” that "insulted" the values of millions of Muslims. By making the film, the Ministryclaimed, Abbasi "seeks to follow the path that Salman Rushdie has taken in the Satanic Verses, and the burners of the Holy Qur'an".

In 1989 the British author Salman Rushdie was the subject of an infamous fatwa by Ayatollah Khomeini calling on Muslims to murder him for supposedly insulting Islam in his book The Satanic Verses. Rushdie went into hiding for almost 10 years while several of his book's translators and publishers were killed in reprisal attacks.

Abbasi's film is a dramatization of the real-life story of Saeed Hanaei, a working-class religious fanatic who murdered 16 women, all sex workers, in Iran in the early 2000s. Hanaei was unrepentant until the end, claiming he was doing God's work by "cleansing" the streets of prostitutes. He was even supported by some rabid conservatives in Iran.

Hanaei's exploits were previously covered in a 2003 documentary film by IranWire's founder Maziar Bahari, and a film by Iran's Ebrahim Irajzad in 2000. Abbasi was not granted permission to film in Iran, so Holy Spider was made in Jordan.

The Ministry of Culture further claimed that Cannes Film Festival was "under the control and orders of the French government" and Holy Spider being screened and lauded there was "purely political": “France and the Cannes film festival must be held responsible for offending millions of Shia Muslims around the world.”

In a tweet, Minister of Culture Mohammad Mehdi Esmaili said the same: “Iran is proud of artists who do not stand against the deeply-held beliefs of the heroic Iran nation under the influence of the glitter of politicized festivals and the propaganda of mercenary and treasonous media outlets.”

During her Best Actress award acceptance speech on Sunday, Zar Amir Ebrahimi also highlighted the plight of protesting Iranians inside the country ."Although at this moment I am very happy, part of me is very sad for the people of Iran," she said. "My heart is with the people of Abadan."



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