Azar Nafisi: Western Mythology: What is the West really fighting?
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: The way should be . . . should be fighting fundamentalist ideology. Whether they are doing it or not is another story. First of all I think well partly if you are dealing with someone like Osama bin Laden, then I know that the fight is military. Apart from that it shouldn’t be. You know I was very much against the war in Iraq before it happened, apart from the fact that I had lived in Iran and I knew how disastrous it will be for my country, which it was. Because the most extreme elements of the system got into Iraq, and they also got to suppress the Iranian people far more. And every time you talked about democracy they say you’re an American stooge. So for us we paid a price. But I think if the West doesn’t understand that what the fundamentalists are afraid of is the culture of democracy, what is it that they object to? Freedom of women; freedom of expression; freedom of minorities; freedom of culture; all of these is what Osama bin Laden is saying – calling the west decadent the way Stalin used to call the West decadent for these issues. So these are your strong points. If you’re fighting, you fight with culture. You fight with ideology. If you’re fighting with people who torture their own people and others, you don’t do the same thing. So the West I feel should be very careful about not becoming cynical of its own values. What threatens the West is partly radical Islam or radical Islam; partly the fear of terror. But the most threat to the West is cynicism about its own values and principles. And that I think is what threatens the West.
The West should be fighting extremist ideology.