Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is 'The Daily Show' a Weapon? 'Rosewater' Reveals How Comedy Rattles Tyrants

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Is 'The Daily Show' a Weapon? 'Rosewater' Reveals How Comedy Rattles Tyrants

Article excerpt

"Rosewater," Jon Stewart's first film as writer and director reveals how Iranian officials can "weaponize" anything, including a comedy news show, and use it as an excuse to imprison, beat, and torture a journalist working there.

The film is an adaptation by Mr. Stewart of Iranian Canadian journalist and filmmaker Maziar Bahari's memoir "And Then They Came For Me," about his 118 days of imprisonment in Iran in 2009.

Bahari's torturer pointed to the satirical "Daily Show" report about Iran, in which correspondent Jason Jones was dressed like a B- movie spy when he interviewed Bahari in a cafe.

As captors asked Mr. Bahari, who worked as a reporter for Newsweek from 1998 to 2011, why he was discussing his "spy" activities on a TV, show Bahari exhaustedly replied - in both real life and the film - "Why would a spy have a TV show?"

Bahari later told Stewart that his captors were looking for excuses to fabricate charges against him. He does not blame the talk show host, according to a Daily Show interview he gave when after his release.

"I could be in Sesame Street and they would accuse Elmo of sedition," he says.

The film's title comes from a passage in Bahari's memoir, which has now been re-released under the same title as the film. Even when blindfolded, he writes, he always knew his torturer was present in the room before he spoke because of his cloying, unmistakable smell.

"I could smell him before I saw him. His scent was a mixture of sweat and rosewater, and it reminded me of my youth," Bahari writes.

According to his memoir, when he was six years old, Bahari and his aunt would often attend the a shrine in Iran's holy city of Qom. "It was customary to remove your shoes before entering the shrine," writes Bahari, "and the servants of the shrine would sprinkle rosewater everywhere, to mask the odor of perspiration and leather."

Bahari, return to his native Iran to cover the presidential election and the subsequent protests challenging the results that kept President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power. After shooting news video of the protests, he was arrested.

Terry Gross, host of NPR's "Fresh Air," asked Stewart Thursday if this experience has led him to change the topic and guests he picks. …

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