As a graphic novel, Persepolis literally illustrates the history for the reader without leaving much to the imagination. Although that might seem like a disadvantage, I think that’s actually appropriate for the content of the novel. It helps to keep our “western” ideas and conceptualizations of Satrapi’s world separate and we can see her world exactly the way she sees it, even during her childhood. That made me appreciate this text even more, and how it is helping me understand the Islamic Revolution more clearly. As part of an assignment for another class, I am keeping up with the current bigger media stories in the Middle East. Understanding their history on a deeper level has definitely allowed me more incite to their current interests. (And in case any one is curious, the Arab League Summit is meeting in Baghdad this week; 2 big topics of discussion are the situation in Syria as well as Iran’s nuclear plans.)
Reading Farideh Goldin’s article called Iranian Women and Contemporary Memoirs made me think about how dangerous writing a memoir can be for an Iranian. Goldin says, “Writing of self is frightening; it has consequences. Life narratives cannot possibly explain the author’s life alone without involving other family members and friends.” And Satrapi speaks out so boldly of the oppression her friends and family suffered from and their acts of protest. Goldin’s article also talks about the reason why so many memoirs have been written in recent years and I thought it was interesting that she attributes that partially to the Bush administration creating a stir of western interest in Iran: “with the wealth of material on Iranian history and the fallout from the Iranian Revolution, and western curiosity about a country that was recently labeled as an axis of evil by the Bush administration, it is possible to have a personal story that is not totally private; it is possible to write a life narrative that is more political than confessional.” And, at least to me, Persepolis is not an exception to that idea; it tends to act more as an informative story than as a diary, even despite the fact that Satrapi seems to hold back nothing.
Buttons of Peyote
The dusky sky
pushes my peyote buttons being pressed by an American Eagle
Beep, Beep, Beep, BEEEEP, flatlined in the desert
Yet the sun peeks through, giving a dark hazy, potentially false, sense of beautiful hope
Nothing is ever in order
We watch the melted metal
fall from the afternoon sky.
The Human Shades of Khaki, denim, and window pane
create an urban Twilight – Watches shoot through my
peripheral like streams of Hot tracers.
Desert of Despair
Sand whips around as the blades cut the air
the drab palettes of war separated by the heat
Choppers disintegrating as I pull out my hair
The desert heat will melt the metal
The space in the desert where misery and destiny meet
In the worn skies of the desert of despair
Layer Cake: A Recipe
Step one, mix cultures & ideals into a bowl
Stir with ignorance and xenophobia.
Beat in death until stiff.
Bake at 120 degrees, or until the helicopters melt.
Garnish with WMDs. (if you can find them).
On September 12, 2003 Riverbend talks about reading a blog called Turning Tables written by an American soldier and how he “somehow puts a human face on the troops in Iraq.” This is exactly how I feel as I’m reading Riverbend’s blog. A glimpse at the “other side.” I think it’s relevant to add here that I’m a veteran of the Iraq War-Operation New Dawn; my unit was among the last to be drawn out just a few months ago. I agree with some things Riverbend says and other things completely infuriate me. And what makes me most angry is that I’m not even sure why it’s infuriating to me. Maybe because after reading her account, what the hell were we doing in this country? Even though I have to agree with her that the US troops’ invasion in Iraq was not justified, I can’t say we didn’t accomplish something there. Call me naïve, but despite the fact that so many civilians despised our presence, I’d like to think our “occupation” did some good.
I’m not defending the actions of the soldiers from early in the occupation, such as the horrifying raids and lack of judgment and professionalism. The soldiers in Iraq were there because they were told to be there, they were tossed into a foreign country into a complete culture shock and given guns, ammo, and lenient instructions. The soldiers knew there were innocent civilians and they knew that there were terrorists. What they didn’t know was how to tell the difference between the two. The most unfortunate part of this early “occupation” was that there was no strict Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the soldiers to follow. 18 and 19 year old soldiers were fed the same media news we were fed back home, except they were put behind destructive, area-target weapon machine guns. They were shot at and they shot back.
One thing that Riverbend stresses in her blog is that even though she’s against the occupation, she is on the side of humanity. She takes pity on the US troops pulling security in the sun in full gear, hydrating with warm water. She recognizes the tragedy of 9/11 for the horrific loss of 3,000 human beings. A big thing she said that struck me was “American long-term memory is exclusive to American traumas” (Riverbend 48). And how can one argue with that?
From my experience, the Iraqis were excited with our presence. On a mission that brought one of our squads to a small village, we were welcomed with a sprawled out lunch of goat legs and fresh fruits (which was considered a huge deal). One of my main jobs was to work with and help train the Iraqi police. As far as my unit goes, we trained IP recruits to operate the AK-47 weapons and to recognize Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) I’ve been doing my best to keep up with local news in Iraq and even though there are still a significant number of security risks within the country, Iraqi Police have become more successful in finding IEDs and applying successful security measures in those situations.
Riverbend’s account is completely fascinating to me. I read about her culture and feel honored that I got experience part of that. I wish that I had read her blog prior to my deployment, I would have had a better sense of their culture and their thoughts.
On another level, some things Riverbend went through were horrific and my experiences cannot even compare to the terror of hers. I empathize greatly with her, and that’s one thing this blog has done for me: “put a human face” on Iraq. I was there for about 9 months and although we experienced water and electricity shortages every so often, it was nothing compared to the hardships Riverbend and her family had endured for years. So many American soldiers have been lost in the war in Iraq, but so have so many innocent Iraqi civilians. Her words best describe my reaction to her blog, “mixed feelings in a messed up world” (Riverbend 15). I’d like to think that even though our government placed US troops in Iraq for about a decade, that it wasn’t all in vain. Because whether or not the US government was justified in sending troops into Iraq, all gave some and some gave all. Both innocent civilian Iraqis as well as our own American Soldiers.
The biggest thing I got from reading Far Away, aside from alarming confusion, was the theme “nothing is as it seems,” especially things (or situations) that seem to be familiar. Any kind of connection my mind assumed about a scene ended up completely misled. The actual truth of the situation was absurd. Churchill presents ambiguous situations several times throughout the play, each time with increasingly alarming results. Even though the play is short, it seems like pretty much every line weighs with ambiguity and further meaning. It seems so open to interpretation, from every heavy line, to the lack of stage directions.
Ben Brantley’s theater review helped put the play into a better perspective for me. He makes a connection between the play and September 11th: “For New Yorkers living in the elongated shadow of Sept. 11, the waking dreamscape of ‘Far Away,’ where the promise of violence broods in even the coziest corners, is bound to feel familiar. Ms. Churchill envisions a world in which nothing, but nothing, is to be trusted” (Brantley). The opening of each scene in the play begins with a kind of familiarity or normalcy. The first scene starts with a child searching for comfort because she cannot sleep, which is a common scenario. But, as young Joan tells her aunt about the shocking things she saw her uncle doing that night, the tension starts to build and we the audience realize something very wrong is going on. I think that with this example, Churchill shows that danger and corruption can emerge from the most unlikely places, including at the home front. It’s almost as if Churchill is metaphorically defining this movement already as a “living nightmare.”
In the next scene we watch as Joan and Todd fall in love while they work on hats for a parade. It all seems harmless enough, there’s even a competition involved for the best hat to be placed in a museum. The last place I expected to see these extravagant hats was on the heads of prisoners in an execution procession. After we learn the type of parade the hats are in, the line that affected me most about the hats was: “Sometimes I think it’s a pity that more aren’t kept…It seems so sad to burn them with the bodies,” then the hats are called a metaphor for life. “You make beauty and it disappears” (Churchill 25), and the hats burn, the bodies burn, and the beauty burns along with it. The last scene is when we realize that nothing is safe, no one and no thing can be trusted. This “movement” has become a war and every creature is subject to it, Joan even talks about the use of gravity, noise, and light as weapons. Harper questions whether her own home actually is a place of safety. No one knows who they can trust or even which side is the “right” side. Harper tells Todd, “I don’t know what you think.” He replies with “I think what we all think” (Churchill 33). What his response said to me was that no one knows where anyone else truly stands; no one knows what anyone else thinks.
Brantley, Ben. “THEATER REVIEW; Where Trust Is Smothered By Violence.” New York Times 12 NOV 2002, n. pag. Web. 28 Feb. 2012. <http://theater.nytimes.com/mem/theater/treview.html?res=9f0ce5d71331f931a25752c1a9649c8b63>.
Churchill, Caryl. Far Away. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2001. Print.
Homebody/Kabul has a lot of focus on the hardships of women in Afghanistan.
“One of six newborn babies die here. One in every six. About half the remaining Afghan children die before they reach the age of five. And thirty-five percent of those hardy survivors are drastically malnourished, I mean little potbellied skeletons, starving slowly to death. On the Human Index Rank this place is 169th of 174 countries, it’s not really a state at all, it’s a populated disaster. The only reason it’s not considered the worst for women is because the Afghans don’t do genital mutilation. Most of the arable land is land-mined” (Kushner 51).
I find it interesting that after Homebody tells us how much she loves the world, she ends up entangled in and part of the most repressed culture for women. As an Englishwomen she had boundless opportunity to learn and explore the world, whereas in Kabul her Frank Sinatra CD is described as “Impious music which is an affront to Islam, to dress like so and then the music, these are regrettable” (Kushner 34). But she actually has the desire to join the “drowning” instead of “watching others perishing in the sea” (Kushner 28). The way she sees it, as a homebody, she isn’t a part of the world.
I think this photo (from 2010) of Afghani women passing by a German soldier speaks a lot about the position of Islam women, especially when thinking about some points Kushner brings up in his play. My Global Literary Landmarks class focuses on the Arab world and one of our texts describes “the virtuous woman.” Malise Ruthven quotes Qaradawi in saying “The Muslim woman is chaste, dignified, self-respecting and modest, while the woman who is ignorant of the divine guidance may be vain, showy, and anxious to display her attractions” (Ruthven 108). It is considered insulting for another male to even look at a married woman, regardless of their intentions. It’s the woman’s job to take care of the children, to take care of the household. It’s the husband’s job to provide for his wife and children. “Thirty thousand widows live in the city with three thousand children to feed, and they’re not allowed jobs!” (Kushner 86). When a woman is widowed and prohibited from employment, how can she fulfill her duties? As a widow, being a burden to the society seems unavoidable.
Works Cited: Kushner, Tony. Homebody/Kabul. New York: Theatre Communications Group, Inc., 2000; Ruthven, Malise. Islam A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997; Photo: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2011/02/09/uk-afghanistan-casualties-children-idUKTRE7181D020110209