Nafisi Reads Lolita in Tehran

I’ve read most of Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi. It is a fascinating book with some important lessons.

The book makes vividly real the day-to-day fear and oppression of living under a theocratic totalitarian regime. I found this quote (pages 5-6) heartbreaking:

For nearly two years, almost every Thursday morning, rain or shine, they came to my house, and almost every time, I could not get over the shock of seeing them shed their mandatory veils and robes and burst into color. … Gradually, each one gained an outline and a shape, becoming her own inimitable self.

These girls got to meet and read books. Not all women fared nearly as well. Nafisi offers a pretty good summary of life for women in the country (page 27):

[W]omen of her mother’s generation could walk the streets freely, enjoy the company of the opposite sex, join the police force, become pilots, live under laws that were among the most progressive in the world regarding women… In the course of nearly two decades, the streets have been turned into a war zone, where young women who disobey the rules are hurled into patrol cars, taken to jail, flogged, fined, forced to wash the toilets and humiliated…

And of course many women were simply slaughtered.

What I found most interesting about the book was its point that the Marxist left often helped the theocratic right:

…Marxist organizations had tacitly taken sides with the government, denouncing the protesters [against Islamic crack downs] as deviant, devisive and ultimately acting in the service of the imperialists. … They claimed that there were bigger fish to fry, that the imperialists and thir lackeys needed to be dealth with first. Focusing on women’s rights was individualistic and bourgeois and played into their hands.

Neither America’s left nor right is as socialistic as the cultural leaders in Iran are. Yet, as America’s left increasingly embraces the religious right, the ultimate potential result looks frightening. If you want to see what happens when Marxists embrace theocracy, read Nafisi’s alternately heart-wrenching and horrifying book.