‘Gando’ TV series stirs up spy scare in Iran
In Iran, the “mugger crocodile” occurs not only along rivers in Sistan-Baluchestan province but also on television screens, in the series “Gando,” the Persian name of the species.
First aired June 8 on Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting Channel 3, “Gando” is modelled on the British drama series “Spooks” from 2002 and follows the work of a group of Iranian Intelligence Ministry officers. However, as opposed to its British role model, which systematically depicts moral dilemmas faced by MI-5 officers, Iranian intelligence officers hardly ever doubt the infallibility of the organisation, let alone the regime, they serve.
It is this fanatical righteousness, coupled with the Manichean worldview of the script, that constitutes the truly horrifying features of the series.
Consider the cast of characters: The gallant intelligence operative Mohammad and his stunningly attractive colleague, Ms Fahimi, hunt spies under the guidance of their steely and stoic superior, Hossein. In this task, they are aided by computer geeks, informers and other God-fearing, devout and patriotic members of the Iranian public.
The enemies are just as clearly identifiable: Iranian/American dual national, carpet dealer and spy Michael Hashemian is based on Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, who spent 18 months in prison on espionage charges.
Other antagonists and spies include a theatre critic, a professor in journalism, a painter, a photographer, an environmental activist, a general practitioner, an importer of electronic components and a British tourist. Lesser enemies include corrupt aqazadehs or princelings, who, misguided by greed, betray the revolutionary ideals of their parents and stray from the path of salvation.
Smartly dressed members of the Iranian intelligentsia, who personify traitors, and their backers in US, British and French intelligence services, are, of course, no match for ubiquitous and omniscient agents of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry. By tapping phones, hacking Facebook profiles, using spy drones and physically shadowing the spies, the Intelligence Ministry always wins. Again and again, traitors and spies face a “Grand Inquisitor”-like character in the Intelligence Ministry detention centre and confess their crimes.
Allegations against entire social classes, including innuendo and slandering Iranian officials and their relatives in “Gando,” have real-life political implications.
Some reports claim Iranian President Hassan Rohani intervened and made minor changes in the 13th episode of the series. The fictional character Sima Azizi, who in the series is depicted as the nephew of the president, resembled Esmaeel Samavi, Rohani’s real-life nephew, who faced allegations of espionage a few years ago. After Rohani’s supposed intervention, the fictional character was presented in the series as “nephew of one of the authorities.”
On June 26, Ali Rabiee, Rohani’s spokesman, dismissed any attempt by the president to censor the series and added: “Let them broadcast whatever they produced. The [Islamic Republic] ‘Voice and Vision’ produces so many things against the cabinet that this [series] hardly counts!”
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is depicted as a minor evil character in the series, on July 3, said: “Thank God I don’t watch it, so I am not concerned about it… Generally, I don’t watch TV!”
Zarif’s answer may not be representative of 82 million Iranians, for whom television constitutes their main source of news and information. The bigger question is whether “Gando” will further spread spy scare in Iran by appealing to the ever-present xenophobia or the Iranian public will turn away from its crude propaganda in disgust.