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Ben Affleck Ponders Middle East Issues
Oscar Winning Actor Discusses the Shah of Iran, Dr. Mossadegh


Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project
| March 30, 2010            


Actor Ben Affleck

Before he became an Academy Award winning actor, producer and screenwriter, Ben Affleck briefly tried the academic route and chose to study the Middle East at Occidental College in Los Angeles. He finds the subject important, timely and yet, widely misunderstood.

"Most people in the United States don't even know the difference between Persians and Arabs" Affleck said in a 2003 interview with AFP while visiting US troops in Bahrain, discussing prevalent stereotypes about the Muslim world. He has always had an interest in reading about the region.

"It's the people, religion, politics, the culture and the legacy of imperialism and the way nations grapple with notions of nationalism", says Affleck. "Ever since the end of the first World War and the break up of the Ottoman empire, it seems to me that the Middle East and the Gulf has been struggling to define itself and emerge from the colonial shadow."

Affleck first drew global attention when he co-starred with his friend Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting (1997), sharing the Oscar for Best Screenplay. Both soon became major leading men in Hollywood. During the 2000 Presidential campaign, Affleck supported Al Gore, and in 2004, he campaigned for John Kerry. Affleck has since entertained ideas about running for political office himself in the future.

In March 2010, Affleck made his fifth trip to the Congo and founded the Eastern Congo Initiative, dedicated to aiding the humanitarian crisis there, particularly regarding women and children.


Ben Affleck on the Shah, Mossadegh

Ben Affleck selected Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuscinski as one of his five most important books for the column "Books That Made a Difference" in the August 8, 2008 issue of Oprah Winfrey's O magazine: "I majored in Middle Eastern studies in college, and it's a field that has held my interest over the 14 years since. Although it was published almost 30 years ago, this book is enormously relevant today—and a spectacular read.

Kapuscinski was a Polish journalist who traveled the world and covered 27 coups and revolutions, by his estimate, mostly in developing countries. Shah of Shahs is his account of the 1978 revolution in Iran and the events that precipitated it. Picking up after the democratic election of Mossadegh in '51 and the American-backed coup d'état to unseat him (engineered in part by men named Roosevelt and Schwarzkopf), Kapuscinski conjures images of the installation of the Shah, the use of his SAVAK secret police, and subsequent years of a brutal, murderous regime.

The historical narrative is elusive but cogent, and the snapshot structure is somehow perfect for the task—a man in an empty hotel, thumbing through photographs while a city burns. It reads like a mad travelogue, yet I learned more from it than from any of the proper history texts I read on Iran.

The book shows that ultimately the people of Iran had to choose between the oppression of SAVAK and the firebrand ayatollahs of the Islamic revolution. History tells us, of course, whom they opted for; Kapuscinski tells us why they did so and shows us the madness and tragedy of how it happened. If you want more on Iran, there is a brilliant book on the American-engineered overthrow called All the Shah's Men."


Argo (2012) movie trailer, directed by Ben Affleck: "As the Iranian revolution reaches a boiling point, a CIA 'exfiltration' specialist concocts a risky plan to free six Americans who have found shelter at the home of the Canadian ambassador."




Related links:

Matt Damon and Robert De Niro on Mossadegh

Howard Zinn: A People's History of American Empire

Academy Award Winning Director Stephen Gaghan on Mossadegh



MOSSADEGH t-shirts — "If I sit silently, I have sinned"

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