Azar Nafisi: Do you do women a disservice by portraying them as victims?
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: I’m not portraying them as victims in the sense that would we be doing the Jews a disservice by saying that they’re being killed? I mean there are two different things. You see that is exactly why they would give half-truth. One . . . One point which no one can deny is actually someone much softer than I on these issues – ..., the Nobel Peace laureate. She keeps talking about the laws. When she talks about women’s rights, she’s not talking about women wearing the veil or not. She’s talking about the fundamentals of every society is in its laws. If you say that a girl can be married at the age nine or 13 by the consent of her father and the male judge; if you say that in a society women who were judges like ...can now be . . . should be defrocked and they cannot act as judges because they can’t . . . they’re emotional and they cannot judge well; if you say that women’s bodies are sexual entities that deprive men of their senses; if you say polygamy is okay, those people who are targeted by you are your victims. I’m not making it up. This is not something that I make up, you know, to say that women are victims; but really they’re not. But you say the other aspect of it as well; that not because of the Islamic Republic, but because women have been resisting this; and that every single thing I’ve written . . . The first article I published in English, actually before theNew Republic article . . . It was in 1994 maybe. It was about the issue of women, and I bought the example of Shahrazad and 1001 Nights and how do you resist? I say these things about the way they’re suppressed to tell you how do they resist, you know? And I bring many examples of the way they resist. But you can’t deny that aspect and just say they’re just vibrant entities in a void, you know? So I think that those people do a disservice. Why are these women heroic if there is nothing repressive going on? They’re just heroic because they live? You know are Iranian women really as free as they used to be? Or are they really as free as Hillary Clinton is? You know these are the issues that people should . . . And then they say, “Okay. In America you have so much nudity and sexual, you know, promiscuity,” which is not good and we should fight against it. But in America at least, you can come into TV, or you can write articles, or you can fight it, you know first of all. I can’t do that in the Islamic Republic. I go to jail if I come out like this. And the second thing is that in America you are still given a choice how to dress. You can wear the veil. You can come in the way Britney Spears does. And I prefer that to not having a choice.
Nafisi isn't making up the facts, she says.
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