Brian Jones Liberating Literature in Iran At the time of the memoirs in Reading Lolita in Tehran, the Islamic Regime

of Iran had combined politics and religion, turning the nation into a multi-faceted power. Supposedly, everything the Regime did was for the good of Islam. The Ayatollah was held in the highest regard by both the government and its citizens, and because of this, he could determine the fate of entire country. Some might say, however, that he abused this power. After all, the government could – and did – abuse citizens through intrusion, confiscation of contraband, torture, and death. Death, unfortunately, was an almost constant threat to everyone in the country. Propaganda promoted anti-Western ideas; during the war in Iraq, anti-Iraqi propaganda was found in many places as well. Not coincidentally, one of the problems Iran had with Iraq was its ties to the Western world. One of the worst side effects of all the propaganda was that the society took away individuality from its citizens. In doing so, it also took away some of the citizens’ freedom; so much, in fact that individual people became “irrelevant.” The society revolved around the society, not the individual. As long as everyone complied

with the rules and blended in, everything was considered to be alright. A good example of this was the mandatory wearing of veils by women. The veil, along with the chador, literally covered up the individual, as well the more important concept of individualism. It should be noted, though, that this only applied to women. Males dominated the society. The argument could be made that men forced things like veils on women out of their own laziness. Men claimed that they could easily be sexually aroused from seeing even a small patch of skin on a woman. Women, even married ones, knew next to nothing about sexual relationships. Much of this came from the fact that men respected their wives, and as such they did not focus their sexual thoughts upon them. Instead, men focused their sexual thoughts on any attractive women; one of Azar’s students had a fiancée who never looked at her, but instead always stared at her sister. Sex could not be seen in a healthy, sensual way. Pleasure was considered the “great sin.” To make up for this, people wanted to enjoy pleasurable things as much as was allowed. Reading literature was one such example. For one thing, it could simply provide entertainment. Reading could open up the senses through imagery. It also served as a distraction, or

an escape from the world around the reader. Furthermore, literature brought back individuality to the reader. Reading also allowed the women to learn from the parallels in the novels. They could relate to the characters. Generally, they read about conflicts, like the bizarre relationship between Lolita and Humbert. It is not as though they would actually enjoy reading about conflict; instead they wanted to learn from these conflicts. However, the stories were not totally parallel to the situations in which the women found themselves. The women were not Lolita, and the Islamic Regime was not Humbert. At the same time, the stories provided a sanctuary. The women could live in the world of literature. It could even be said that all of the women actually had two identities: One person lived in the bland, real world; the other person was found in the other, more imaginative world of literature. Their true freedom and power came from the imagination. Everything in Iran was very strict and cold, and to counter this, literature stimulated the imagination. As previously stated, Iran was anti-Western in its books, movies, and ideas. Books and education were limited to fit Islamic ideals. Many books were controversial if they even featured anti-Islamic characters, whether or not they were portrayed in a good or bad light. Islamic

fanatics wanted to look at books in black and white, but what the women in Reading Lolita in Tehran understood was that there were shades of gray. They knew that Lolita was not simply a bratty, sexually-craven girl; she was a victim of Humbert’s mind games. Anything that wasn’t Islamic, such as stores and restaurants, had to be pointed out to the general public, because those kinds of things were looked down upon by most Muslims. Reading Western literature, then, undermined the government. Similarly, refusing to wear veils was something of a political statement. It is somewhat ironic that it turned out that way, especially since initially wearing the veils had been a political statement – before, of course, the government forced it upon all women. When the choice of wearing the veil was removed, the meaning behind it was removed as well. So it was with reading Western literature. Allowing oneself the freedom of reading what one wants is freedom in itself. This is how women could liberalize themselves from the tyranny of the Islamic Regime.