I just finished Marjane Satrapi's first two graphic memoir books, Persepolis and Persepolis 2, the latter having been cleverly bestowed on me as a late birthday present by a marvelously savvy woman I know, who is a voracious reader and helps me not to be an oaf.
These books (and there are others now, I understand) are about her life as a girl and then a woman during the cultural revolution in Iran. She's smart and funny and talented and totally unapologetic (which as my faithful readers know, is my favorite characteristic a human can have in this terrified and terrifying world).
I hadn't fully decided to post about her and her work, in spite of the fact that I loved her books, but in traipsing about the internet behind her name, I came across an interview by Michelle Goldman at Salon.com (April 25, 2005) that absolutely made up my mind. In fact, contrary to my usual style, I am quoting a huge hunk of the interview here since she's talking about Iran at a time when we need more rational input about this country and culture. The whole interview, needless to say, is utterly worth reading (not to mention the books, which are MUST-READS), but here's a bit to get you started.
Satrapi: "[T]he world is very fearful, because we don't know who the enemy is. The world is at war, but at war against who? Bin Laden turns into Saddam and Saddam turns into someone else. They all the time talk about security. Security, security, security. But when you talk about security, then everything is about being safe. And being safe also means having less freedom.
"It makes a society much more conservative, looking for security. If you have freedom, then you have more risks. It goes together…My grandmother always said the saddest life is to be born a cow and to die a donkey. That means you are born stupid, and you're going to die even more stupid…What is the interest of life if you're always scared…? What is the point in living? Just eating and shitting and making money?"
Goldberg: Some conservatives here think that secular young Iranians would be happy if America would come and liberate them. What would you say to them?
Satrapi: "Democracy, contrary to what they try to tell us, it's not a paper that you hang on the wall and then you have a democracy…
"...They [America] talk about the human rights in Iran…[H]ow is it that the United States makes the biggest deals with China, and China is far from respecting human rights? What about Saudi Arabia? If you want to talk about an inquisition, the Iranian regime is far from being an inquisition. We have almost a free press, people leave, women have the right to study, they drive, they work. Saudi Arabia, they don't have anything like that! Talk about human rights in Saudi Arabia! Why doesn't anyone go and put a bomb in Saudi Arabia and kill the king?
"…[W]hen the Iranians wanted to become democratic in 1953 with [Mohammad] Mosaddeq and to nationalize our oil, the CIA came and made a coup d'état in my country. Why do you want me to believe that they want to come and make a democracy? We have to make our democracy!
"…For the people who think that America will come and liberate them, I invite them to read the history and see what America has done. I'm not talking about American people...I love going to the United States...I've been for several book tours; I've come for vacation with my husband. For me it's an amazing country. I love the enthusiasm of Americans…I love the pop art, I love the American cinema, there are so many things that I love about America! I love Coca-Cola, you know?
"My criticism is not towards America -- it's towards the American government, which to me are two different things. The America that I know is not represented by George W. Bush."
Goldberg: Do you see similarities between the Christian fundamentalists in our government and the mullahs in Iran?
Satrapi: "They're the same! George Bush and the mullahs of Iran, they use the same words! The mullahs of Iran say we have God on our side; he has God on his side, too. Both of them are convinced that they are going to eradicate evil in the world. But when these words come out of the mouth of a mullah, it's normal. It's a shame that the president of the biggest secular democracy in the world talks with the same words as the mullahs. It's extremely scary."
Goldberg: Do you have any advice for secular Americans who are faced with living in a country that's increasingly governed by religious fundamentalists?
Satrapi: "If I have any advice, it's that every day that you wake up, don't say, 'This is normal.' Every day, wake up with this idea that you have to defend your freedom. Nobody has the right to take from women the right to abortion, nobody has the right to take from homosexuals the right to be homosexual, nobody has the right to stop people laughing, to stop people thinking, to stop people talking.
"If I have one message to give to the…American people, it's that the world is not divided into countries. The world is not divided between East and West. You are American, I am Iranian. We don't know each other, but we talk together and we understand each other perfectly. The difference between you and your government is much bigger than the difference between you and me. And the difference between me and my government is much bigger than the difference between me and you. And our governments are very much the same."