Sunday, January 25, 2009

Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis

Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis, Vintage, 2006. Translated by Anjali Singh.

This is such a well-known book, that most readers may already be aware that it is an autobiographical graphic novel, which has been made into an animated film.

The author tells her story on two levels: her personal life and development, along with the story of her country, Iran. Both levels are interesting and well-presented. We follow Marjane from childhood, through adolescence to early adulthood. At the same time, we see what the Islamic revolution and the Iran-Iraq war did to people living there.

I don't often read graphic novels, so I'm no expert on the visual side. The drawing style seems quite simple and clean, but it is also very expressive. Sometimes complex emotions are conveyed with very few lines. I haven't seen the animated film to compare.

The lesson to be learned from this book seems obvious. The Iranian regime denies its citizens the basic freedoms most of the world takes for granted. People there try to live, at least in the privacy of their own homes, just like people anywhere. Their public lives are restricted, and they have to think about every small detail of clothing or behaviour.

The assumptions behind the religious doctrine enforced in Iran are not flattering. It is taken for granted that every individual is weak and easily led into extremes of hedonism. Thus, people must not show any outward sign of pleasure, sexuality or independence.

It seems to me much more meaningful for people to live a moral life when they have freedom of choice and are not forced into certain behaviours by fear of punishment. I believe that morality is compatible with freedom, and that the sort of force applied in totalitarian regimes is counterproductive. When people are stifled by repression, they may choose to rebel against restrictions that would have been natural boundaries had they been free.

Those who think of Iran as "the enemy" should be aware that a nation is not identical with its regime. Many, or perhaps most, Iranians might prefer to live under different laws. It is true that the current Iranian regime poses a threat to the Western world (and especially Israel) with its nuclear weapons program and its funding of terrorism. This threat is worsened by the ideological commitment of the regime. People who sincerely believe that acts of violence can be justified and will be rewarded in heaven are more likely to act than those who see more shades of grey in the world.

I would like to conclude with a short quotation from the Introduction: "I believe that an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists". This is a sentiment I wholeheartedly support.

Details of Hebrew version.

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