Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Complete Iran -- Writer's Poke #371



The average American knows nothing about Iran. That’s my basic premise.


Marjane Satrapi’s The Complete Persepolis is the autobiographical account of one girl’s experience growing up in Iran. The period it covers is just before the Shah’s overthrow in 1979 through Satrapi’s ultimate exodus from Iran in 1994.

What’s unique about the story is that it provides the average American reader with an “insider’s perspective.” We learn, too, that what it means to be an insider is not uniform. That is, Satrapi presents Iran as a complex nation. It has its extreme elements, and those elements may currently be in power, but Iran shouldn’t be thought of as one person with one voice. Satrapi may be an outsider in her own homeland, but she's not alone. Not even close.

In the United States, we recognize that we are a nation of different religions, different regions, different political views, etc. We may have customs and traditions that unify us in important ways, but no American would make the mistake to say “the United States is” totally this way, or totally that way. Would we? Well...

Perhaps some might say this, but hopefully what they mean to imply is, “The United States should be” this way or that way. Likewise in Iran, the power in charge may want the country to be one way, but Iran isn’t one way and never will be. Not all of its people support its leaders’ official positions, just as not all Americans support the official policies coming out of Washington, D.C.

Recently, for example, when the Iranian movie A Separation won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture, the Iranian government declared it a “victory over Zionism,” simply because the Iranian movie had beaten out an Israeli movie for the honor. Did Asghar Farhadi, the film’s director, view it that way? Of course not, and it’s not likely that most Iranian people viewed it that way, either.

What does the average American know about Iran? Not much. What can we learn about Iran? About as much as we would like. Does it matter? Absolutely.

What do you know about Iran? What should you know, and how can you learn what you need to know?

“I am sure the majority of Iranians want a peace agreement with Israel and want Iran to integrate with the international community and accept its universal values.” – Moshe Katsav

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