Azar Nafisi is best known as the author of the national bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which electrified its readers with a compassionate and often harrowing portrait of the Islamic revolution in Iran and how it affected one university professor and her students. The book has spent over 117 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Azar Nafisi’s new book, Things I Have Been Silent About: Memories, a memoir about her mother, was published in January 2009.
Azar Nafisi is a Visiting Professor and the executive director of Cultural Conversations at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, where she is a professor of aesthetics, culture, and literature, and teaches courses on the relation between culture and politics. Azar Nafisi held a fellowship at Oxford University, teaching and conducting a series of lectures on culture and the important role of Western literature and culture in Iran after the revolution in 1979. She has taught at the University of Tehran, the Free Islamic University and Allameh Tabatabaii.
Azar Nafisi: Well you know the mythology of Iran – my father used to tell me that our country has been invaded many times. Constantly we have been as an empire, Greeks, Romans, then the Arabs, then the Mongols. And he said that the land is ruined. The houses go. Languages perish. But he said one thing we have kept which gives us the Iranian identity, and that’s our poetry and our literature. ... resurrected ancient Iran and linked it to the present Iran through his mythology going back to 3,000 years before. So for me the myth of Iran comes out of this weaving of the stories about values that Iran has tried to keep, which is human dignity basically. When I read..., what comes to me as a value is dignity – the idea of dignity; people giving their lives for it. You know and so I hope that that is the mythology that people think about. Whether they talk about Islamic Iran, or the Zoroastrian Iran, or just Iran, I think that they should go back to that mythology. Americans want to respect us, they should not say the Sharia laws is good for them because it’s their culture. The greatest Islamic philosophers and poets came out of Iran. Why don’t they remind us of ...who 750 years ago was criticizing the hypocritical clerics who, as he said, flogged people in public and drink wine in private? One of the most erotic forms of poetry comes out of the Arab and Persian culture. The most sensual music and dance comes out of . . . out of my culture. You want to celebrate us, and to believe in a myth. I’d rather you believe in this myth than the myth that Mr. Ahmadinejad is packaging.