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A Salute to the Iranian People

Monday, June 29, 2009 at 06:28 AM EDT

There was a revolution in Iran in 1979 but did the people get what they wanted? It’s said that the revolution against the Shah was against the monarchy, and for communism. This never happened, and it is believed that this was due to interference from the West. Islamic Rule was established. Now there is upheaval again, with the people taking to the streets, demanding that the election be annulled. They are not protesting against Islamic rule, but the election which they say is a sham. That the current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad got barely 12% of the vote, not 65% as he claims. That the real winner is Mir Hossein Mousavi. Ofcourse there are those who believe that it is not just the stage managed election that the people are upset about but also Islamic Rule, and they want a President who can usher in reforms. That is probably what the Iranian government fears too. So while many in the middle east look on at the events in Iran with envy and admiration, the regime is taking no chances.

In this context it is worth reading Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel Persepolis. It gives one an insight into life in Iran. It is autobiographical and she tells her story through cartoons she has drawn herself. The sketches are simple and so is the language. There is humour, drama, emotion, feminism, and the history of a people and a nation, all in one. Right at the start of the book, we have the 10 year old Marjane upset that she has to wear a headscarf even at that tender age, and that she cannot go to a co-educational school anymore as all co-ed education is banned. But just because Iranian women were forced to wear the scarf, it did not mean that they became submissive doormats. They never were and never will be. Early on the revolution both men and women demonstrated:

Just as they are doing now, in 2009. “Iranian women have been on the front lines of anti-government protests challenging the official results of the June 12 election…The face of a woman has become the symbol of the opposition.” That of Neda Soltan. People are going to ensure that she did not die for nothing.

One sentence early on in Satrapi’s novel has stayed in my mind.
It does seem as if the population is together in the 2009 protests as well. Now that it is too dangerous to protest on the streets they are protesting by crying out Allahu akbar!” (God is great!) after 10 p.m. at night. No one can deny them this freedom.

My heart goes out to the brave Iranian people and I support them in their quest to be heard. I have signed a petition online as a gesture of support. Of all the middle eastern countries I feel closest to Iran, because we have a long history with Iran. Not just the history, it’s also the people…in western India most of us have Parsi friends. Parsees are originally from Iran. After most of the population of Persia was converted to Islam, Zoroastrianism was shunted out, but some of the followers of this religion took shelter in western India (636 CE) and till today Parsis practice their religion freely in this country. There are a lot of Iranis who have settled in India too, particularly in western India. I knew many when I was a student and there were also a lot of Iranian restaurants, but these restaurants are dying out now.

Coming back to the turmoil in Iran today, Marjane Satrapi has spoken out against this election and so have other Iranian artists. This is what Award-winning Iranian film-maker Bahman Ghobadi has said in Paris:

music and sex are banned, going to bars is banned, women are not allowed to sing…I don’t think there is a single other country in the world where young people are so depressed, so pessimistic, where there are so many suicides…But the positive thing is that now people are no longer afraid, they dare go out.

As Marjane Satrapi explains, the state may ban a lot of things but the people always did what they wanted, in private.

They had their mixed parties, and they had their alcohol, even if it meant that there was a danger of being arrested if there was a raid. It was like that then, and so it must be now. I think Iran is different from other middle eastern countries. This is just the view of an outsider but here is an article which says:

IF you ever visited Iran with the assumption that it was after all another Muslim nation where all one could expect to see was Mullahs exhorting the faithful to prayers and women clad in burqahs waiting at home for their husbands to return, you would be well advised to prepare for a surprise….They (women) are there in offices, in the markets, driving cars, in the class rooms and the canteens, indeed everywhere, alone or in groups, with men or without them. Once in a while young couples can be seen walking the streets holding hands. Women and men were in the stadium too cheering the Iranian soccer players, and when Iran won the first match on way to the World Cup, young women spectators threw off their scarves in a momentary gesture of celebration, and a touch of defiance.

Marjane said one of the reasons she wrote this book was because she wanted to tell the world that the Iranians are not fundamentalists and fanatics and terrorists. They are just like any other people in the world, and it is only a few extremists who are attempting to taint their name. To say the book is stunning is perhaps an understatement. All I can say is that if you haven’t read it you have missed something profound.

I will leave you with a funny cartoon from the book:

(All cartoons have been taken from the book Persepolis)

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