Contemporary perspectives on Iran

PBS reprints editor Lila Azam Zanganeh’s introduction to My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes: Uncensored Iranian Voices. Here’s an excerpt:

Recently, I was forwarded an e-mail written by a prominent member of the Jewish community in New York. It spoke of me and read: “Let’s have Leila on a panel, as a representative of the Arab press.” A gracious invitation sent, no doubt, with the best intentions. Alas, it so happens that I am neither Leila nor Arab. But like an overwhelming majority of Americans, this gentle-man — who knows I am Iranian — believes that Iran is part of the Arab world by virtue of the fact that it is a Muslim country under the yoke of a staunch Islamist regime. Iran’s story, past and present, is at once more intricate and more arcane, “something rich and strange.”

Perhaps to a greater extent today than ever before, Iran is a political puzzle. Together with Israel and Turkey, it is one of only three non-Arab countries in the Middle East. Historically, the Persian Empire became the first state to grant protection to the Jews 2,500 years ago — centuries before Arab invasions brought Islam to the Iranian plateaus. Yet Iran is now the world’s single “theocracy,” the only “Islamic Republic” of the Middle East (excluding Pakistan from the region proper), a virulently anti-Semitic state and — some say — one of the region’s most volatile powder kegs. The intransigent rule of the mullahs coupled with a nascent nuclear capacity seem to constitute a threat not only to Iran’s neighbors but to international stability at large…. Iran teems with make-believe democratic institutions and continues to bewilder Western countries.

Contributors include Azar Nafisi, Marjane Satrapi, Reza Aslan, and Salar Abdoh, one of my former City College professors (and my first “Writers on Writing” interviewee).

I emailed Abdoh and asked him to forward his contribution. The essay, a complex perspective on Tehran’s underground, excavates not only the schizophrenia of his home country — in one section, a devout Islamic maid nonchalantly vacuums a house while explicit porn plays on the TV — but also that of the expat returning to get the story for a Western audience.

I accidentally deleted the PDF, or I’d include a short passage here. For a mixed review of the anthology, see Michael Orthofer’s perspective. He gives the book a “B.”


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