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Hamid Dabashi shows how the cover of 'Reading Lolita in Tehran' symbolises the way anti-Iranian propaganda is formed in the U.S. works
February 22, 2007 9:38 AM   Subscribe

The cover of 'Reading Lolita in Tehran' symbolises the way anti-Iranian propaganda in the U.S. works:
The original picture from which this cover is excised is lifted off a news report during the parliamentary election of February 2000 in Iran. In the original picture, the two young women are in fact reading the leading reformist newspaper Mosharekat. Azar Nafisi and her publisher may have thought that the world is not looking, and that they can distort the history of a people any way they wish. But the original picture from which this cover steals its idea speaks to the fact of this falsehood.

The cover of Reading Lolita in Tehran is an iconic burglary from the press, distorted and staged in a frame for an entirely different purpose than when it was taken. In its distorted form and framing, the picture is cropped so we no longer see the newspaper that the two young female students are holding in their hands, thus creating the illusion that they are "Reading Lolita"--with the scarves of the two teenagers doing the task of "in Tehran." In the original picture the two young students are obviously on a college campus, reading a newspaper that is reporting the latest results of a major parliamentary election in their country. Cropping the newspaper, their classmates behind them, and a perfectly visible photograph of President Khatami--the iconic representation of the reformist movement--out of the picture and suggesting that the two young women are reading "Lolita" strips them of their moral intelligence and their participation in the democratic aspirations of their homeland, ushering them into a colonial harem.
Read Hamid Dabashi's full essay 'Native informers and the making of the American empire.'
posted by hoder (67 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Rafe had some interesting thoughts on how Iran is being portrayed in the US media, and how you can see normal daily life from places like Flickr. I didn't even know they had snow and mountains and skiied.
posted by mathowie at 9:48 AM on February 22, 2007


My girlfriend quite liked the book. I'm not sure she knew it was just a whole bunch of propaganda. What did you think of the book?

Iranian women are called to be silenced from all sides. That must suck.

A few years before writing Reading Lolita in Tehran, Nafisi wrote The Veiled Thread. The essay is old, from 1999, but touches on a lot of topics well worth reading about: womens rights, politics in Iran, the problems with the Reformist party, etc.
posted by chunking express at 9:52 AM on February 22, 2007


Thanks, that was a fascinating article. I have to admit to not having read the book, classing it as the sort of mercenary memoir that crops up whenever world events need explaining on an easy-to-digest human scale. I had no idea that Azar Nafisi was so firmly entrenched in the neo-con club:
To achieve all of these, while employed by the US Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowits, indoctrinated by the father of American neoconservatives Leo Straus (and his infamous tract Persecution and the Art of Writing ), coached by the Lebanese Shi'i neocon artist Fouad Ajami, wholeheartedly endorsed by Bernard Lewis (the most wicked ideologue of the US war on Muslims), is quite a feat for an ex-professor of English literature with not a single credible book or scholarly credential to her name other than Reading Lolita in Tehran.
I thought Dabashi did a good job of marshalling many strands of theory and history to pretty much demolish Reading Lolita.
posted by OmieWise at 10:02 AM on February 22, 2007


There was a recent NYTimes (I think) piece that criticized Lolita in Tehran not for being propaganda but for being inane.
posted by grobstein at 10:02 AM on February 22, 2007


I'll have to come back to this.

must...stop...thinking...of...Sue...Lyon...arrrggghhh!!!
posted by pax digita at 10:03 AM on February 22, 2007


While I agree that cropping the image and putting it on the cover may "strip [these particular women] of their moral intelligence", I don't agree that this is an example of "anti-Iranian propaganda". Women in Iran who actually were reading Lolita would be wearing scarves and looking down at a book, no? That is, it falsely portrays what these two individuals were doing (at that moment) but it does not falsely portray the generic image of "women reading Lolita" looks like.
posted by DU at 10:04 AM on February 22, 2007


Excellent use of the </i> tag, DU
posted by DU at 10:04 AM on February 22, 2007


Yeah, except that the whole point is that it falsely portrays the women on the cover (and by extension Iranian women and Iranian culture) by removing them from the context of 1) higher education, 2) reform media, 3) a reform president. In other words, they took a picture which militates against a particular version of Iran bruted about in the US and, by cropping, made it into a picture which sought to be generic and in service of a book promoting just the version of Iran that the original picture gives the lie to.

The issue isn't, "What would women reading Lolita in Iran look like?" The issue is that Reading Lolita argues that Iran devalues the very things which the uncropped picture shows are evident in Iran.
posted by OmieWise at 10:08 AM on February 22, 2007


Or they were lazy, found the photo fit the bill and Photoshopped it to taste.

No you're right. It's some crazy racist conspiracy to shape Western opinion about them durrty Persians.
posted by basicchannel at 10:15 AM on February 22, 2007


The issue is that Reading Lolita argues that Iran devalues the very things which the uncropped picture shows are evident in Iran.

devalues == can't ever find an example EVAR?

Maybe I'm just brainwashed by the Western Media Oligarchy, but isn't it pretty undisputed that Iran is a women-suppressing theocracy? The fact that the original of this particular picture shows a peek of enlightenment doesn't really change the thesis of the book, unless the book says that there is ZERO enlightenment inside of Iran (which it may well do).
posted by DU at 10:20 AM on February 22, 2007


Graphic designers crop book covers all the time to fit the theme of the book. They could have done a photo shoot with models and staged the women anyway they wanted too. It's just cheaper to source a photo from a news agency or a stock agency.

I've never read “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” but it makes no sense to me to criticize a book by its cover anymore than it is to judge a book by its cover.
posted by disgruntled at 10:22 AM on February 22, 2007


There is a good balanced account of Dabasi's attack on Nafisi in the Chronicle of Higher Education here. The article is called "A Collision of Prose and Politics: A prominent professor's attack on a best-selling memoir sparks debate among Iranian scholars in the U.S."

The article reports that Dabashi said in an interview, "To me there is no difference between Lynndie England and Azar Nafisi." England, of course, abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib. That, putting it mildly, reveals a gross lack of perspective and speaks volumes about Dabashi's critical faculties.
posted by chinston at 10:26 AM on February 22, 2007


DU, it is, as ever, more complicated than that. For example, more women graduate university than do men.
posted by matthewr at 10:28 AM on February 22, 2007


more women graduate university than do men
Whoa. I really should proofread for double-entendres prior to posting.

posted by matthewr at 10:30 AM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


I liked the book. I thought that it was mostly about the different understandings of American and European literature of people who are not from those cultures and, also, women's rights. I did not feel like it was anti-Muslim or anti-Iranian. It did not make me want to invade Iran. I don't remember the cover.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:31 AM on February 22, 2007


The book cover designer probably searched for "Iranian Women Reading", and that was the most usable photo that came up.
posted by empath at 10:38 AM on February 22, 2007


The article goes far beyond the book cover, which isn't even mentioned until over halfway in. Dabashi doesn't judge the book based on the cover, he points out that the cover shows the opposite of what the book purports to show. Surely that's worth comment. It need not be a conspiracy, but it seems strange to dismiss it as an artifact without consequence.

As to Dabashi's "gross lack of perspective," reading his essay makes it clear that the frame for his concerns is an attack on Iran by the United States. He sees Nafisi as laying the cultural groundwork for such an attack. One can disagree with him and think that his concerns are overblown (although many people who don't particularly care for Iran have the same fears), but if you don't acknowledge that framework then his "critical faculties" do indeed seem suspect. The comparison to L. England, for instance, seems like letting off Nafisi lightly, were an attack actually to occur, and if you accept his reading of the role of a book like Reading Lolita in setting the stage for such a war.
posted by OmieWise at 10:39 AM on February 22, 2007


See A Genre in the Service of Empire: An Iranian Feminist Critique of Diasporic Memoirs for more (short part of a longer article that will "soon be available at" a website that doesn't yet exist?)
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:41 AM on February 22, 2007


isn't it pretty undisputed that the current Iranian government is has partially realized ambitions of creating a women-suppressing theocracy

That was tricky to tidy up. Kind of proves Dabashi's point about establishing the notion of a monolithic and brutally repressive Iran in order to prepare the ground for the mass slaughter of these medieval savages, doesn't it?

Here's a hint, DU: Dabashi takes about the "systematic loss of collective memory." He means everything from the idea that women in hijab could read anti-government newspapers and think critically in contemporary Iran to the fact that Iran is one of the oldest civilizations on the planet and that even the Ayatollah's purges didn't totally erase its depth and diversity of culture.
posted by gompa at 10:54 AM on February 22, 2007


Nonsense, basicchannel, we all know the arm of the publishing industry that makes some of the worst commercial art in the world is part of the military industrial complex!!!!!
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:55 AM on February 22, 2007


I think a better fpp might have presented a more rounded account of Nafisi's book, including some of her responses to attacks such as Dabashi's. I don't know enough about Nafisi to say for sure, but I think that Dabashi misrepresents RLT, at least to some degree. And it certainly seems false to call Nafisi "an ex-professor of English literature with not a single credible book or scholarly credential to her name other than Reading Lolita in Tehran." Nafisi has never to my knowledge endorsed American military adventures in Iran or Iraq, and the claim that Nafisi is wholly critical of Iran can be made only by calling the women who are the protagonists as irreducably "un-Iranian" because of their opinions re politics and gender.

Finally, the "unmaksing" of this picture strikes me as unimpressive. Should the makers of the book have photographed two real Iranian women reading Lolita? I thought her whole point was to emphasize a reformist potential among Iranians such as her students, rather than to omit such reformism from her "picture." Indeed one could easily imagine a photo-essay that argued that the uncropped picture reveals what Nafisi suggested all along, that an aesthetic exercise like reading Nabokov is a political act as well.

I'm no expert on Nafisi, and there may well be deplorable aspects of her opinions of which I'm unaware; however, I'm not persuaded by this "you're either for Iran, or against it" attack that Nafisi is as terrible as she's here made out to be.
posted by washburn at 10:59 AM on February 22, 2007 [3 favorites]


Omiewise, your reasoning astonishes me.

You seriously contend that, were a war between Iran and the United States to occur, Azar Nafisi's culpability for that war would actually be comparable to--and in fact greater than--England's culpability for intentionally abusing prisoners who were under her direct control. And Nafisi's guilt would be based on her authoring of a book that is about the virtues of a free society insofar as it is a basic human right to read what we want to read.

Words fail me.
posted by chinston at 11:03 AM on February 22, 2007


Demonizing those women who speak out again Iran as Uncle Tom's is a lazy way to refute what they have to say. Is Dabashi or the Women from ZMag arguing that the experiences of Nafisi are false? That the experiences of other women that fled Iran are false? I get the sense Iran kind of sucks if you are a women. And this from talking to people from Tehran. I can't imagine life in small town Iran is awesome if you are a girl.

Blaming Nafisi because the US wants to invade Iran is stupid. She wrote a book about a reading group in Tehran. She doesn't dictate US foreign policy. People need to get mad at the right people.
posted by chunking express at 11:03 AM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


Seriously. Suggesting that Iran may not be a fucking utopia is not the same as saying we should drop bombs.
posted by Tlogmer at 11:04 AM on February 22, 2007


(Addendum: I'm sure there are nice ski resorts in Iran, and plenty of culture, and good music, and female university science students. It's a billion times better than Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, there's a huge gulf between the Tehran elites and the working classes, and the Iranian gov. is still incredibly sexist. On the gripping hand, I'll be marching on D.C. if Bush goes to war with them.)
posted by Tlogmer at 11:09 AM on February 22, 2007


Maybe I'm just brainwashed by the Western Media Oligarchy, but isn't it pretty undisputed that Iran is a women-suppressing theocracy?

Isn't it insane that we, the United States, criticize Middle Eastern countries on the issues of women's rights, but here women are treated in the same poor manner? We expect Iraq's government to have at least 25% of it comprised of women, but in the United States congress there are only half that many women represented. This is just absurd.
posted by j-urb at 11:15 AM on February 22, 2007


Long, overblown, pointless:

WHAT
THE
FUCK,
HODER?
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:18 AM on February 22, 2007


I really recommend people read the essay I linked to by Nafisi
before they judge her based on what Dabashi has to say. (She's certainly are more eloquent a writer.)
posted by chunking express at 11:20 AM on February 22, 2007


Criticizing a book by its cover is not the same as judging a book by its cover?

WTF?

For your reading pleasure may I suggest any of the books found beneath these covers: http://www.msvu.ca/english/pulp/covers.asp.
posted by tzelig at 11:24 AM on February 22, 2007


Isn't it insane that we, the United States, criticize Middle Eastern countries on the issues of women's rights, but here women are treated in the same poor manner?

Are you honestly trying to say that women in, say, Saudi Arabia enjoy the same rights as women in the United States?
posted by TBoneMcCool at 11:37 AM on February 22, 2007


I don't think he's arguing that, since we're talking about Iran, not Saudi Arabia. FYI: Saudi Arabia isn't Iran.
posted by chunking express at 11:40 AM on February 22, 2007


Since the picture was cropped that means the book is propaganda?

Do you think Iranians might possibly be fed a distorted view of the US as well?
posted by acetonic at 11:41 AM on February 22, 2007


chinston writes "Omiewise, your reasoning astonishes me."

I think you misunderstand me. As I said in my first comment, I've not read Nafisi's book, so I certainly wouldn't venture a firm opinion on it, or on her role as a propagandist. However, I'm sympathetic to Dabashi's general point, which is that books like hers serve political functions, and in the politics of this moment, where war with Iran is certainly on the horizon (although we might go down a different path), her book (may) serve the function of eliding aspects of Iranian history and current culture that would not support the argument for war.

My comment about her relative to England was made in the midst of a comment about Dabashi's frame of reference. It isn't mine. I happen to think his is overblown. Regardless of frame, the culpability of propagandists is certainly open to discussion, and there are many examples of people being held accountable for propaganda dissemination despite not being engaged in the kinds of direct attacks England perpetrated. (And, in any case, I'm not talking here about judicial guilt.) It's not transparently clear that Lord Haw-Haw, for instance, is less guilty of wrongdoing than is England, even if he did not put hand to bullwhip. So, within Dabashi's frame, which is, again, not mine, it would seem to be giving Nafisi a bit of a pass to only compare her to England. (Which is worse, helping to start a war, or abusing a few prisoners?)

What I actually think, however, is that the weakness of Dabashi's essay, and its presentation here, is that in order to garner interest he hangs it on an ultimately inconsequential book. But, in a way, that's part of his point. The general US population doesn't give a damn about Iran, or Iranian culture, and their biggest exposure (even among educated, generally interested people) lately has been to BushCo cant and Reading Lolita. How do you write an essay about this potential war when no one cares, and to the extent that they do, they've only been exposed to the other side of the Iranian coin?
posted by OmieWise at 11:43 AM on February 22, 2007


"... we, the United States, criticize Middle Eastern countries on the issues of women's rights ..."

chunking, FYI: Saudi Arabia is a Middle Eastern country.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 11:47 AM on February 22, 2007


Hah. Damn it, I can't read. Yeah Saudi Arabia is fucked up. There are lots of ugly stories coming out of Pakistan as well.
posted by chunking express at 11:55 AM on February 22, 2007


Dabashi's point, which is much more interesting than the stupid cover-photo expose on the front page, is this:

"As all other acts of propaganda and disinformation, Reading Lolita in Tehran is predicated on an element of truth. The Islamic Republic of Iran has an atrocious record of stifling, silencing, and outright murdering secular intellectuals, while systematically and legally creating a state of gender apartheid. But the function of the comprador intellectual is not to expose and confront such atrocities; instead, it is to take that element of truth and package it in a manner that serves the belligerent empire best: in the disguise of a legitimate critic of localised tyranny facilitating the operation of a far more insidious global domination--effectively perpetuating (indeed aggravating) the domestic terror they purport to expose."

Ok... now we're getting somewhere. Things are bad (very bad) in Iran, but apparently saying so automatically feeds the needs of hegemonic knowledge production in an imperial context. I can see that... and I'd be a lot more worried about it if I judged the risks of the US invading Iran to be high. However, I don't. You heard it here first, folks: we're not going to invade Iran. It's simply not possible, operationally, nor is it strategically useful or economically feasible.

So then we're left with the rest of it: does Azar Nafisi really serve as an Uncle Tom? Is she selling out her people culturally by misrepesenting them as lazy or morally weak or stupid? The answer here has to be no, and even Dabashi admits it: "an atrocious record of stifling, silencing, and outright murdering secular intellectuals, while systematically and legally creating a state of gender apartheid." Nafisi tells the truth... but Dabashi thinks the truth is dangerous. He's right to point out the benefits that accrue to native elites who're willing to throw in with hegemonies... he's wrong to think that she wasn't justified in betraying a country that oppressed HER because of her gender, especially when she's just helped the US to score some complicated ideological point, and not to start a war or cause death and destruction.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:57 AM on February 22, 2007


Isn't it insane that we, the United States, criticize Middle Eastern countries on the issues of women's rights, but here women are treated in the same poor manner?

I used to work with a (non-Muslim) Iranian woman who left Iran because of intolerance toward her religion and the piss-poor tratment of women by the government. As an example, she told me that Iranian courts recognize the testimony of a woman as one-half the value of a man's. In other words, your comparson is asinine.
posted by rocket88 at 12:22 PM on February 22, 2007


...and I demand a preview button!
posted by rocket88 at 12:23 PM on February 22, 2007


Did anyone else find this line particularly galling in light of Dabashi's style?

BECAUSE THE NATURAL domain for the operation of comprador intellectuals, true to the origin of the term in facilitating commercial transactions, is the middle class morality of their host country (now mutated into an empire), innuendo and insinuation are among the principal tropes of their operations.

He's been calling Nafisi a comprador for twenty pages, but no, she's the practitioner on insinuation and innuendo in memoir while he's just a straight-talking truth-to-power proletarian? He's not at all taking advantage of the exoticization of foreign intellectuals for his own benefits? Yet he is the "Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York, the oldest and most prestigious Chair in Iranian Studies." Hmm...
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:58 PM on February 22, 2007


Are you honestly trying to say that women in, say, Saudi Arabia enjoy the same rights as women in the United States?

No, I said "equally poor manner." Both cultures devalue women, although with different methods. Some Middle Eastern country's physically murder women, in America we murder women mentally through consumer culture which promotes woman as nothing more than sex objects. Have you seen what girls in elementary schools are wearing? They're taught to be sex slaves instead of doctors or lawyers and such.


She told me that Iranian courts recognize the testimony of a woman as one-half the value of a man's. In other words, your comparson is asinine.

If anything is asinine, it's your hearsay evidence. When was this conversation? After the revolution, many years ago, or was it recently? Could this person be exaggerating? Maybe this non-Muslim has a thing against Islam? The idea that Muslims are pagans and worshippers of Satan has been around in Christianity for some time. This wouldn't be the first time another religion tried to demonize another. My point is that there are a number things wrong with hearsay evidence, please don't use it. I could make up something like "my aunt is from Iran and she says the people in the West are bigots, and that the way women are treated is exaggerated." I've actually heard that from Iranian women, you know, so I really don't care about this person from your work.
posted by j-urb at 1:02 PM on February 22, 2007


and if you didn't understand all I'm saying is that America needs get off its high horse! only 13% of congress is made up of women and we want Iraq to have at least 25% of women in their parliment? a bunch of christian white men think they can tell a woman's body what to do? even when shes been raped? come on. get real.
posted by j-urb at 1:10 PM on February 22, 2007


From what I've read of Nafisi, she's a good writer, which is more than I can say for jargonmonger Dabashi. And I despise the practice of calling writers names and pillorying them as comprador whateverthefucks because your Hot! Radical! Theory! disagrees with them.

Also, the argument about the cover is incredibly stupid (and blockquoting two paragraphs of it wasn't friendly to the front page of MeFi).
posted by languagehat at 1:13 PM on February 22, 2007


j-urb: It was post revolution...about 4 years ago, and she wasn't a Christian. But by all means don't take my word for it, or hers. This looks like a non-hearsay source that says basically the same thing.

...in America we murder women mentally through consumer culture...

That's really all I need to see to know what you're about.
posted by rocket88 at 1:30 PM on February 22, 2007


Can anyone recommend a recent book that effectively presents the other side of the Iran picture? The intelectual life, reformist movement, empowered women, all the things RLiT is supposedly missing?

I'm just curious. The closest thing I've read is Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis books, which are awesome.

(PS: I agree with everyone who said the argument about the photo-cropping is stupid.)
posted by Tones at 1:59 PM on February 22, 2007


Don't judge a book by its cover
posted by Postroad at 2:07 PM on February 22, 2007


Tones, Lipstick Jihad is quite good. It covers an American Iranian Times reporter going back to Iran to live and work. It's really good. In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs jumps around a lot, covering all sorts of random stuff, but it's also quite good. It's written by a British fellow living in Tehran with his Persian wife.
posted by chunking express at 2:10 PM on February 22, 2007


The book cover designer probably searched for "Iranian Women Reading", and that was the most usable photo that came up.

The book cover designer probably has no idea who Khatami is, what he stood for, or what he looks like. The designer also cannot speak or read farsi, and even if she could, she probably wouldn't be able to recognise a reformist newspaper from a religious hardline newspaper.

As far as the designer knows, the women are eagerly reading about how Hezbollah have just feasted happily on Israeli babies in a traditional ritual feast in that big Mecca gathering whatchimajiggy, with the Ayatollah Khomenei's image looking protectively over them.

It's a nice point, hoder, but I would file it in the "ignorant irony" folder.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:16 PM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


The essay is a bundle of nonsense,though I have to say that citing a Jewish critic (Amy Kaplan) is something unexpected from on e of Columbia's hate-filled batch of Middle East people. To call Bernard Lewis "Humbert Lewis" as the writer does is a quick indication of the hate this idiot spews out. And to believe the Nabakov novel is a bad piece of fiction is merely to show he knows nothing about great literature.

He seems to believe anti-Iranian feelings all came about becuse of this book he is ranting against, as though Bush read that or any other book other than Goodnight, Moon.

Iran does not treat its women in a decent manner. There, I said it.They must wear prescribed outfits to make sure they conform to a view held by religious nutters. The country was mislead when the secular Shah ran it and it continues this way under the religious lads.
posted by Postroad at 2:17 PM on February 22, 2007


No, I said "equally poor manner." Both cultures devalue women, although with different methods. Some Middle Eastern country's physically murder women, in America we murder women mentally through consumer culture which promotes woman as nothing more than sex objects.

Are you fucking kidding me? That a pervasive consumer culture is somehow just as destructive to women as actual murder? From my end, it seems you value womens lives and/or their ability for self-determination so little that exposure (and not just exposure, creation, too,) to consumer culture is tantamount to death?
posted by Snyder at 2:21 PM on February 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Both cultures value & simultaneously restrict women in different ways" is what j-urb is trying to say.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:26 PM on February 22, 2007


"Both cultures value & simultaneously restrict women in different ways" is what j-urb is trying to say.

That would be true of any two cultures. He's trying to *equate* the morality of the two cultures in this sphere.
posted by shivohum at 2:39 PM on February 22, 2007


He might be trying to say that, but what he wrote was "...but here women are treated in the same poor manner," then makes an equivilance between murder and pop culture. It's one thing to say that sexism exists in both cultures (it's still weak sauce when the comparisons are between America and Saudi Arabia, but it is true, to a degree,) but to say that women are treated/valued the same in America as they are in Saudi Arabia is to become a the right-winger's parody of leftists.
posted by Snyder at 2:42 PM on February 22, 2007


I guess he'd hate Marjane Satrapis work as well.
posted by Artw at 2:59 PM on February 22, 2007


When I hear the phrase "comprador intellectual", I reach for my Browning.

"White men saving brown women from brown men," as the distinguished postcolonial feminist Gayatri Spivak puts it in her seminal essay, "Can the Subaltern Speak?"

This is an obtuse illustration by Dabashi, for is not Nafisi herself the author of her work? Is not Nafisi the subaltern in question, the brown woman in question, speaking for herself? May I ask which culture published her book?

The general US population doesn't give a damn about Iran, or Iranian culture, and their biggest exposure (even among educated, generally interested people) lately has been to BushCo cant and Reading Lolita.

Yes, those are certainly equivalent things. What nonsense. Whatever the merits of Nafisi's work, comparing the relatively few people who have read her insider's point of view to the relatively many who have read only outsider's points of view and portraying them as the same point of view is a very dishonest argument. Then again, if Nafisi actually argues in favor of a US bombing campaign to liberate Iran's women, I retract my statement.

We expect Iraq's government to have at least 25% of it comprised of women

We do?
posted by dhartung at 3:00 PM on February 22, 2007


When I say that "in America we murder women mentally through consumer culture" I am not speaking literally. I am talking about how very young girls are herded down a path of selling their bodies rather then their minds. There was a book out several years ago by a psychologist who worked with young girls, Reviving Ophelia, which argued that something in a girl's spirit really does die because of consumer/pop culture. So maybe theres more truth to what I'm saying than what you might think.

Now did I ever say that Iran's or Saudi Arabia's treatment of women is acceptable? No.

Do I think that the United States, and many countries in the Middle East are responsible for holding back women? Yes.

Are they the same in the methods they use to hold back women? No.

Are they equally guilty, but maybe not in their level of guilt? Yes.
posted by j-urb at 3:31 PM on February 22, 2007


j-urb- I'm generally happy to agree with you in this argument, but COME ON!
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:35 PM on February 22, 2007


Yes, those are certainly equivalent things.

I certainly didn't suggest that they were, nor do I really think Dabashi did. One need not see them as equivalent to be worried that those are the major sources of information.

I'm frankly surprised at the vitriol directed at Dabashi in this thread. I'm no big fan of Iran as a country. One of the dividing lines in my life is American Embassy hostage crisis in Tehran. My father was a diplomat, we had family friends in that embassy. I was ten years old and knew what was going on and it scared the shit out of me in a particularly personal way. So I've got a predisposition, enhanced by the current Iranian whackjob President, to cast a very careful eye at Iran's actions and rhetoric. For all that, I'm more than a bit concerned about the presentation of Iran in US media and propaganda right now, and I'm sympathetic to Dabashi's argument. In my world it's a commonplace that the effects of cultural production are sometimes best understood within the context of the particular social and political climate that is producing them. A large part of Dabashi's argument is that in this case the social and political climate is not, in point of fact, Tehran, it's the USA.
posted by OmieWise at 3:36 PM on February 22, 2007


Okay, I probably should have used "both" or "each" instead of "equally." Maybe that might clear things up.

America = Guilty (maybe less guilty)
Mid East = Guilty (maybe more guilty)

similarity, equality, is "Guilty."
posted by j-urb at 3:41 PM on February 22, 2007


I recall more than one Iranian telling me proudly all about how poorly women are treated in the west, unlike in Iran - how they are generally expected to dress like tarts, how they starve themselves to death, how they can be used just for sex by men without any honourable intentions, how difficult they can find it to marry & start a family, how easily they can be divorced & left to fend for themselves, how many thousands of rapes there are daily, how many go unprosecuted, how women are abused & killed by their partners, often without adequate protection from the law...
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:18 PM on February 22, 2007


AFAIK, Iran does not have the history of honor killings that plague Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan (I wonder about more rural areas, but Iran has been going through a massive urbanization process.

It is also amazing how westernized a certain portion of the young population is. If you saw pictures of my cousins, you would be amazed that they weren't taken in New York or LA. (this of course is a product of class more than anything...)

Watch Iranian cinema! there are many female directors, and they deal with the issue of gender in Iran in interesting ways.
posted by stratastar at 4:27 PM on February 22, 2007


Ok... now we're getting somewhere. Things are bad (very bad) in Iran, but apparently saying so automatically feeds the needs of hegemonic knowledge production in an imperial context. I can see that... and I'd be a lot more worried about it if I judged the risks of the US invading Iran to be high. However, I don't. You heard it here first, folks: we're not going to invade Iran. It's simply not possible, operationally, nor is it strategically useful or economically feasible.

Ok... now we're getting somewhere. Things are bad (very bad) in Iraq, but apparently saying so automatically feeds the needs of hegemonic knowledge production in an imperial context. I can see that... and I'd be a lot more worried about it if I judged the risks of the US invading Iraq to be high. However, I don't. You heard it here first, folks: we're not going to invade Iraq. It's simply not possible, operationally, nor is it strategically useful or economically feasible.
posted by geos at 9:30 PM on February 22, 2007


The book is about seven or eight brave, studious and intelligent women who risked their personal security and the approbation of their families to gather, read and discuss banned books. All that comes across in the book -- calling it anti-Iranian propaganda is bullshit. Just because the US is warmongering and looking for excuses to invade Iran doesn't mean either that (a) the government of Iran is spotless (many of the citizens of Iran hate their government, with good reason, though probably not quite as much as they would hate a US invasion), or that (b) Iranians themselves have no right to criticize their country or portray aspects of it in a negative light.
posted by Fat Charlie the Archangel at 2:04 AM on February 23, 2007


Also, I think empath has the most likely explanation for how the cover photo was chosen.
posted by Fat Charlie the Archangel at 2:06 AM on February 23, 2007


Ok j-urb, I see where you are coming from, and agree to an extent, but with the caveat that the sexism in both cultures (American and Saudi,) is different both in degree and in kind.
posted by Snyder at 10:29 AM on February 23, 2007


The coming news from Iran confirms Dabashi's opinion:
While Ahmad Batebi Suffers Brain Stroke, his wife is arrested.
posted by erinther at 7:02 AM on February 24, 2007


I really enjoyed Reading Lolita in Tehran and have passed it on as much as I possibly can - not because I think that it is the authoritative text on Iranian culture, but because prior to reading it, I had zero exposure at all to Iran beyond the news headlines and it intrigued me. I'm definitely going to check out In The Rose Garden of the Martyrs - I'll probably grab it from work this afternoon. (Ah, the joys of working in a bookstore.)

I can see the side of the argument that says "It's propaganda! She's not writing about Iranian literature! She pretends it doesn't exist!" but it seems more than a little disingenuous. Such a criticism doesn't take into account that she's writing for an English speaking audience, most of whom have never read anything about Iran or by an Iranian author before. Introducing Iranian culture through the lens of a reading group discussing English language classics is not a bad thing. The book would never have been marketable had it been Reading Iranian Classics in Tehran. Say what you will about writing for its own sake, but the people who claim that truthiness is the chief value in writing and that never should something be spun to make it more accessible to a wider market are probably wankers who are sitting on a metric ton of unpublished prose.

Joe Average is not going to pick up RLiT because Joe Average hasn't read Lolita. The book's target audience is the well-educated, those who have read the Western canon themselves. These people are more than likely to then go out and read more about Iran, rather than buying one author's view of things as gospel. I definitely see RLiT as an introduction rather than as THE authoritative text on the subject, which would put me in an entirely different camp from Dabashi.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:35 AM on February 24, 2007


Introducing Iranian culture through the lens of a reading group discussing English language classics is not a bad thing. The book would never have been marketable had it been Reading Iranian Persian Classics in Tehran.

On reading The Shah-Nameh in Sydney: I felt a slight tinge of shame when a sweet young Iranian girl with the largest honey-brown eyes in history was surprised that Ferdausi is not studied in our high schools. "But we are studying all *your* great poets. *Lear King* is my favourite of your great historical tales..."
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:05 PM on February 24, 2007


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