Sunday, April 6, 2008
It's a little-known fact that I'm obsessed with Iran. My two best friends are Persian, so I've spent a lot of time learning about the culture and the language; this summer while living in LA, I even stayed at my best friend Ana's house and her mom frequently spoke to me in Farsi. I actually came to understand a lot of it, and I like to fancy myself an okay Farsi conversationalist, even if I can't begin to read or write the language.
I also took a course called "Politics and Society in Iran" last semester (I got an A, thank you very much), and I'm a big fan of Iranian cinema, and even corny singers like Googoosh.
The reason I'm telling this to you is because the Iranian parliament just put forth legislature that would make working in what it deems to be "pornography" illegal - and not just illegal, but punishable by death.
Iran is seen as a country shrouded in mystery; women cover their hair and faces lest the morals police harass them. They can barely leave their homes without a male escort. Religion and law are perilously intertwined into Shari'a, an Islamic based legal philosophy. The nation has a popularly elected president, but everything is controlled by the Supreme Leader - a religious figure, a power-hungry titan, and yes - a fascist.
The sad thing about Iran is that it wasn't always this way. It is a land rich in cultural and political history. Spanning back to the Persian Empire, Iran has always churned out immensely well-educated people, and has its own set of cultural values that Americans, with such a young nation, could only dream of having. It was only within the past 50 years, after the Iranian Revolution, that things in the nation started to change.
Things weren't always this strict. They weren't always this difficult. The segmentation between public and private spheres of life was not always this rigid, obvious, painful.
And it is painful for those who remember the old Iran to see what the country has come to. Ana's mom, Fereshteh, frequently goes back to visit family. I was there when she returned from such a trip and the anguish on her face was palpable; she remembers the Old Iran, and shudders when confronted with the New Iran - the one that makes it illegal for women like Zahra Amir Ebrahimi to make a sex tape with her boyfriend, and, citing Islam, denies the human body. In a country that had previously celebrated sex and the body through artwork and public dialog, this is a damn shame.
The other irony is that, under Shari'a, temporary marriage is legal. Temporary marriage allows a married man to take on another wife through a verbal contract. No one needs to officiate this marriage, and in this way, both men and women can skirt anti-prostitution laws. If a man is caught fucking someone who is not his wife, all he needs to say is that they entered into a verbal temporary marriage agreement, and they are both free to do as they please. How is this not sexual promiscuity? How is this not worse than pornography?
But the Iranian government does not see it that way. And for women like Ebrahimi, unfortunately, sexual expression could now lead to death.
Earlier: Iran and the film Persepolis