Where do All Iranians Go?
Free countries believe they could offer equal social rights as long as the country is one hundred present neutrals in matters of religion. But religious countries have to adopt a religious system (whether be Sharia or any that are based on religious laws). Religion quite clearly states of the importance of following God’s written words. In the first countries, a man might feel the freedom to be, but he often feels the disconnection of his reality. The materialistic of his society, a contractual society that smells like cigarettes and capitalist junk food. In the latter countries, man feels no differences between himself and those around him, but he suffers from the loss of freedom of choice. People react differently to their countries; Some might ridicule both, some would rather freedom over anything, some think that a theocratic system is what will save us. Only a few, however, can understand what it cost to have a civilization and to distinguish their own morals out of what has already been set to them, only few can understand the disparity of being a woman living in any country. Marjane Satrapi is one of those rare people.
If I was going to write a review on Persepolis The Book, I would write the word amazing for an endless post over and over. But this is a look into Iran as a whole. I am using the book to analyze the subjects I want to speak about. This is not so much as a book review. This is about Iran, feminism, society, and freedom. Also, since I felt it’s necessary to know about the history of Iran and what got it to where it is now, how it was ruled and how religion was used in each era. I read. A lot on the subject in order to be able to write this. I also watched a couple of documentaries. All still I believe that my knowledge of Iran is insignificant. But I promise that I’ve tried to have my views based on trusted sources. Secondly, I am no better; I live in a country that is so similar to Iran. I speak here as a woman who has felt the same feelings Marjane has felt. I speak here as a human who is searching for freedom.
For nearly 120 years Iran, or as it was known back then, Persia was under the rule of the Qajar Dynasty families, who came from Turkic origins. Their last king was Ahmad Shah Qajar, a kid king who gained the power effortlessly after his father. His uncle took charge of the country’s affairs since the king himself didn’t hold these stuff in high esteem.
Ahmad Shah’s experience in life didn’t teach him that fragile kings don’t last long; so in 1926. Rezah Shah revolved against the Qajar families and crowned himself as Shah en Shah; King of Kings and from that moment, Persia’s days of Alqataria Dynasty were officially over and a new era began, the era of the Pahlavi Family.
Rezā Shāh, the Shah of The Kingdom of Iran from 1878 until 1944, was one of the very intriguing personalities in history. He didn’t want to only rule, he wanted to change Persia and to start his own version of a kingdom. He believed that Iran at the time was stocked in the middle ages and thus he, taking his inspiration from the west, helped to built universities, railways and hospitals. He cared, greatly, about educating Iranians. He also was known to deal ruthlessly with the enemies of the country. If we were to imagine him, Rezā Shāh was the kind of disciplined strong feared man. Although Rezah Shah supported everything as a belief in Westernization yet he didn’t want any religion of any sort to get in the way of his plan. Religion was modernization’s first enemy, according to him.
Stopping religion wasn’t at all an easy job. Since Iran is being fully populated by Muslims (98% Shia and 2% Sunni). Religion was in the roots of Iranians. No speeches or smooth persuasions could ever work on them to leave religion. Not that The Shah had any time to spare on that. He wanted to build his Kingdom as quickly as possible, so he began to outlaw women from wearing veils (Hijab); he literally asked to tear women’s veils apart and on the other hand, men were ordered to shave their beards -growing beards is an encouraged behaviour in Islam-. His project was mainly to strip religion away from people. He didn’t even care to consider establishing a secular government that separates its laws from the Islamic Sharia (or any religion), on the contrary, he completely wiped out any trace of religion in Iran. He wanted to become the only figure to be feared and hold out to.
Rezah Shah made sure to teach his ”The end justifies the means” philosophy to his first son, Mohammed Rezah Shah Balhavi, and the soon to be the next Shah. He sent him to the West because Iran needed enlightened and educated leaders. Although lonely and continually monitored, Mohammed managed to come back to Iran at 17 years old and got married just when the 1939 World War II started. Times where Iran declared itself as neutral in order to keep itself out of the war, but due to British and Russians need to supply troops through Iran, they invaded it from all the five sides. Rezah Shah realized how impossible it was to keep going, so instead of being dethroned he abdicated in favor of his son, Mohammed Rezah Shah Balhavi.
In Persepolis, Marjane’s Grandmother tells us the story of the new Shah and what kind of king he was. According to her, Mohammed Shah was an even worse king than his father.
Why did the New King Mohammed Shah Fail?
No one was more surprised by the new changes than Mohammed Shah himself. Nervous as he began and following his father’s steps and obsession with Westernization; he started choosing the very best graduates of European and American universities to form some sort of Technocracy Structure System; a system that manages and takes all decisions by the most educated selected people. He basically wanted to fill Technocracy everywhere without ever acknowledging that such people were working like machines and could only answer the questions they were receiving without ever asking ones, people like those didn’t pay much attention to the partisan ideology or political dialogue.
Mohammed Shah wasn’t only obsessed with Westernization, he also was a male version of Marie Antoinette; he spent most of the country’s money on celebrations and on his family and the people he surrounded himself with; people of Iran were watching him living lavishly while they were suffering from disparity in income and standards of living. Did anyone reject that? Yes, plenty. The Shah couldn’t offer to deal with any sort of opposition whatsoever. Iran was finally noticed by the West, its industrial situation was getting better, and a lot of rich people were getting richer, education was everywhere. He had to keep going and take the easy way out. So he established the SAVAK, along with the help of the United States, a secret police service that tortured and executed anyone they suspected of being an opponent to the Shah. Even expressing ideas upon Iranian politics was a threatening act.
Marjane’s uncle was one of the SAVAK’s victims. In Persepolis, we see how completely unmerciful and inhumane the regime was. All kinds of humiliation and pain were offered to whoever put himself against the Shah. The list of SAVAK torture methods included “whipping, electric shock, inserting broken glass, tying weights to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails, killing and cutting the bodies into pieces”. It was as brutal hell as it sounds.
The Shah may have built universities, roadways, all to offer a civilized life to Iranians. But both were disappointed; The Shah thought himself superior for Iran and Iranians couldn’t be proud or feel connected to the new Iran as they weren’t involved in its growth. Iranians were in fact excluded from all the political decisions. The New Iran was the Shah’s only success. His only project. Iranians looked at him as a reflection of the West ideas, an Americanized figure, and not at all an Iranian one. Also, his anti-religion movements made people feel more and more disconnected to him. Those who didn’t care much for religion weren’t pleased by the economic dissociation and lack of freedom (in terms of free practicing religion and exposing opinions) while the religious Shia Iranians.. well. They were not allowed to practice religion. How would that feel?
To those people, The Shah was besieged by two idol figures that he couldn’t even dream of reaching to; the first Imam to Shia, Ali bn Abi Thalb who stands as the perfect ruler and between Imam Al-Mahdi, the last Imam Muslims are expecting to appear on the end of time. The Imam who shall rule and end all injustice and spreads true Islam everywhere. And that, to them, was close.
Iran 1979 Islamic Revolution:
On 1978 of September, while the revolution was heating up, Mohammed Shah was interviewed by Mohammed Arkoun, an influential secular scholar in Islamic studies, where the Shah quite seriously asked Arkoun; “who started the revolution?” Arkoun replied; “ Yourself. King Majesty.You. Fifteen years ago, you visited the Holy Shrine in Qom and you attacked, publicly, religious leaders and you also rejected their criticism in regard to agricultural reform and women’s voting. You described their opinions as uncivilised. You were very aggressive, you even used humiliating phrases. A thing that made radios and TVs delete some of what you said.”
For years, Al Khomeini studied Philosophy and Religious Sharia in Qom. He taught a lot and knew how to surround himself with religious people. He drew these religious ones that often felt neglected. They were searching for a new path. Al Komenini gave them that; a revolution. So the movement began. Iran was, once again, changing. From forcing an Atheism Monarchy, it was restructured into a Theocratic Totalitarian country and running still by Islamic religious leaders.
What has changed? Or The Changing of The Sacred Female Body:
”Islam is politics or it is nothing.” — Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
From forcing people to leave religion, people are now forced into following a religion or rather leaders’ own understanding of the Islamic religion. Forming a Fundamental system, Iranian schools changed; no more non-religious schools existed. Women had to wear Hijab (veils), no unisex parties, even music is monitored.
Everything has changed. The new system took the mission of controlling everyone’s move, clothes, music, homes, drinks, everything. Iranians again couldn’t\cannot express any opinions in this regard. They had to follow the rules. They had to fake religion even if they didn’t approve of it or the way it is forced because not doing so might’ve cost them their lives. Iranians were not allowed to be seen walking or talking with the opposite sex alone, women who don’t like Hijab and would rather enjoy showing their skin were forced into covering properly. Covering their hair and bodies. If a group of friends (males and females) were suspected to be home parting, police are allowed to enter their home and then send these people to jail. Because Islam encourages women to cover, encourages separation between different sexes, the police had to do it for God.. Or maybe for sustaining power. But they say it’s God’s will.
The Veil \ Hijab:
I have always believed that there is no living creature that has been worshiped, loathed, subjectified, objectified, idolized, disdained, neglected, defended, attacked such as women. It’s been happening since year zero. Not only in Iran, almost everywhere; society taught us that women’s are Satan's tool, we are sex objects. Our minds are off and curvy bodies seduce. We have to be covered or otherwise, we will be raped. We are all have been through it, no matter where you come from. In Iran, for example, when Iranian women were not allowed to wear Hijab, not only their self-choice was taken away from them but also their spirituals beliefs; they were taught that women of beliefs are uncivilized and don’t represent educated avant-garde women. It hasn’t got any better when The new Fundamental Islamic system started to force women to wear Hijab. People of the new Iran “so-called Islamic” have diminished women into one word; fetna, Arabic for a temptation. They misinterpreted few hadiths and made a whole law out of their own understanding of religion. The veil was forced and they made sure to separate men and women in order to prevent anything that would lead to adultery.
Following such an adaption of thinking made women grew up believing they are a magical temptation and men believed they are driven by lust. Marjane hated wearing Hijab and always complained about the heat she feels during summer, she basically couldn’t grasp its purposes. A lot hated wearing it. She often asks: what if I showed a bit of my hair?
I have to say, Hijab or veil or whatever you call it doesn’t have an earthly purpose and it should not be presented to people as a cover of the body made for women to give them a safe ride walking back home, a thing to save her from men “the wolves”. Hijab is a sacrifice made by women to God, it’s a practice against objectifying women; those who wear it don’t care about being seen as sexually beautiful or seductive enough; it should be worn out of absolute spiritual guide into their true selves, to God, a way to appreciate their personalities more and a reminder to be kind no matter what you wear.. or not wear. That’s what it should be. Hijab is not your ticket to heaven nor your safety trip walking back home; Those who wear it should be treated as the same as the ones who don’t because a woman not wearing Hijab can be as spiritually as religious as the one who wears it. Hijab is a mystic life practice that doesn’t suggest purity and chastity but rather stands as a visible reminder to always be one.
Although all I want is to look at Hijab as a normal thing, a personal choice, there are still all those who are against it as there are all those who are for it. Anti-Religion people (so-called feminists, please THEY ARE NOT) almost always defend women’s rights to remove it because they say Hijab suggests that a woman is someone who thinks she’s a sex object. One of their stupid examples? Well, “if a belly dancer uses her body as a sex tool to stimulates men, a woman who wears hijab hides herself because she thinks herself as a sex tool, too and cannot be seen for that. A woman has to act normally, just like men.”
The example itself is silly. It attacks the idea of sexism while using it. It also asks for treating women as separate individuals, but still, surround them with men. First of all, there is nothing wrong with belly dancing and there is nothing wrong with women’s bodies; what’s wrong is to always perceive women as mere sexual objects, the New Fundamental Government may have forced women to cover their bodies in order not to tempt someone, but still all the same women are still perceived as sexual objects. Our societies chose to connect how much we show it with purity\virginity to the point of extreme sickness. A body is not a sin and a woman who shows off her body is not a whore who’s asking for something. If we were to say that Feminism is the movement of treating women with equal human rights, then they should be treated just like men; women should be allowed to express who they are by all ways without having to be judged. If a woman chooses to hide, then she can. If she wants to show her body, then she can, too. She is not covered to stop stimulating men. Neither naked to stimulate them.
The idea of this didn’t only make women stand against each other as competitors, but it also made men get treated like animals. Although both (men and women) have proved great capability to do… everything, we are still locked by all this. Rape Culture is another sickness that’s been growing out of our sexual ideas.
If a man rapes a woman wearing a short black skirt, whose fault is it?
Personally, I have met girls of all ages. Many would say that God has given men lust and women shouldn’t evoke that.
If a man rapes a woman wearing a black short skirt and a short top, whose fault is it?
God gave men to lust and women shouldn’t evoke it.
If a man rapes a woman wearing a long skirt and a long Jacket, whose fault is it?
God gave men to lust, again? There are no rules for lust, lust is not given; lust is controlled. And there are no rules for modesty, either. It personally differs. Lust is not hunger and women aren’t food. And didn't God give minds, thoughts, apprehensions, and controls to us, dear humans? If men are allowed to practice animals-like behaviors, what kind of humanity is there still?
If a person rapes a woman wearing a long skirt\shorts\dress\jeans..etc, it’s always the rapist’s fault. A human cannot be evoked; a human has the freedom of choice, someone who uses a stranger’s body to give a temporary pleasure to himself and a permanent pain to another, is a monster. Evoked or not.
Is religion Evil? and Does the Land of Freedom Exist?
People kill and steal for religion as they do for all reasons. But is religion evil? Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia are all countries that rule with so little freedom as a way of following “religion”.
Religion, I think, is a response to a revelation and people respond to that differently. Some spiritually, some aggressively. Considering that religion is evil presupposes that Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any sort of religion is one single thing, one single monolithic idea and while religions are collections of ideas and practise we cannot afford to make certain accusations. Religions have been expanding and adapting in all ways. Malaysia and Emirates are Islamic countries and so are Iran and Saudi Arabia, we cannot ever sum up religion into one single set of ideas or behaviours. Religion is diverse and thorough; it’s a lifestyle that gives meaning to so many people, it is what fills our emptiness and perhaps that’s where the danger relies on; a life so meaningless can lead into holding on so tight, so aggressively and at last into rejecting all others’ meanings.
One of the things I loved the most about Marjane is that although she openly spoke of how sick it was for her to stay in Iran with all the new Fundamentalism going on when she flew to Europe, one would think she’s going to praise the West lifestyles, but she doesn’t. She actually never quite feels fully contained.
The West was too free that it got her into self-denial, into following the flow, and into forgetting who she really is. Marjane hated how teenagers treated their mothers, how isolated she always felt. She was free. Too free to decide what to be…
At last, she chooses to live abroad, an ending that many thought to be a happy one except for me. Marjane may have lived freely and drawn this amazing book, but she was never home. Is that the cost, I wondered? I may have chosen the title Where Do all Iranian Go? as a symbolic question of where do people like Marjane can go and be; West is not home and home is collapsing and yet there are still those who believe in freedom so much that they don’t care if it costs them who they are and even burns them. Those very people, will they ever be able to be born out of the burning… anew? Do they feel the pain of becoming? But first, where do all the free people go? I wonder again.