Monday, March 2, 2009

Thoughts evoked by Reading Lolita in Tehran

I started Reading Lolita in Tehran this weekend, and so far I have really enjoyed it (apart from the details I've learned about Lolita I wish I had learned from the actual novel). Nafisi's anecdotes have made me remember and think about some ideas and people from my (not so distant) past. Two of my closest friends from high school are Muslim. They are both devout, but one much more so than the other. Their names are Fidaa and Shaam. Fidaa was born in the US, lived for a few years in Palestine, and then came back. Shaam lived abroad in several Islamic countries until she was 16. Oddly, Fidaa was more strict with her faith than Shaam. I was able to learn a lot from them, and especially now that so many Americans are caught up in a post-9/11 hatred of all things Islamic, I can honestly say that I did form my opinions about the Muslim faith and culture with a lot of careful thought and understanding. Fidaa always covered, and Shaam never did. One day Fidaa told me that she was more free than any American girl who wanted to run around with the word "juicy" on her ass. She didn't have to flaunt her body to be recognized (she was the valedictorian of my class, by the way). It was a personal choice for her to cover, just as it was Shaam's choice not to. Shaam always said that she just wasn't ready yet. In reality I suspect she enjoyed the attention she got; she is gorgeous.

I don't keep in very good touch with either of these girls anymore, but I did meet them for lunch a few months ago. It had been about two years since we had seen each other. I doubt Shaam will ever cover, and Fidaa is never going to change her mind about her beliefs. I wonder, though, what both of these girls would think about Reading Lolita in Tehran? I'm afraid that Fidaa would be one of those radical students in the book, intelligent yet thoughtless at times. Would she realize that if all women were forced to cover it would just undermine the efforts of those who had already been covering? We have discussed the stoning of adulterers, and she did not condemn it. She doesn't listen to music in her car because "there can't be room in your heart for popular song lyrics and the words of the Koran". And yet we still got excited about designer purses and trips to the mall. What, then, does someone like Fidaa think of a book like Lolita? Fidaa continues to exist almost paradoxically, while Shaam becomes more and more "westernized". I guess Reading Lolita has just made me think a lot about issues like this, and wonder if the world, and Iran, will ever resolve them. 

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