Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni

12 11 2007

Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni. Reading a book like this one makes me glad that I have restricted myself to by to-be-read pile. It is nonfiction, a memoir – genres that I usually stay away from. I really enjoyed this book. There were some political portions that I felt I needed more education about Iranian society to understand, but the parts were necessary to tell the story coherently.

Moaveni’s book relates her story of being Iranian in America and then being American in Iran. The two countries are quite different. We don’t have “morality police”, who stop women for having on makeup or showing too much hair or ankle.
She tells about the time she spent in Iran as the foreign correspondent for Time Magazine. It was during the early turn of this century, prior to September 11th. The laws were starting to loosen up and women were enjoying more freedom than they had since the Revolution. One resonating passage from the book is:

“Iran’s young generation – the generation born just before the revolution or along with – is transforming Iran from below. From the religious student activists to the ecstasy-trippers, from the bloggers to the bed-hopping college students, they will decide Iran’s future. I decided I wanted to live like them, as they did, their “as if” lifestyle. The chose to act “as if” it was permitted to hold hands on the street, blast music at parties, speak your mind, challenge authority, take your drug of choice, grow your hair long, wear too much lipstick…”

I cannot imagine living in a society where I have to cover my hair, because it’s beautiful luster might tempt a man sexually, a place where my husband and I could not hold hands while walking down the street.

There is one part in the story where a young couple pretends to not know each other when questioned by the morality police. The woman stands there straight-faced as her love is beaten and still does not claim to know him.

During a conversation about not being yourself in public a friend of the author’s makes an amazing insight about Iranian culture:

‘Personally, I dislike lies,’ he said ‘I find that if you act them out long enough, you begin believing them. You’ll find that lies are natural for people here. Having a facade is normal, because being honest is such a hassle. you have to decide what bothers you most – lying all the time or the consequences of openness.’

What an impossible pair of choices: One would corrode your spirit, and another would bring dailiy aggravation to your life. This, I realized was the central dilemma of life under the Islamic regime, and its culture oflies – whether to observe the taboos and the restrictions, or resist them, by living as if they didn’t exist. What if your conscience and your spirit dictated the latter, but you didn’t have the energy to live each day as a struggle. What did you do then?”

I can’t imagine having to pretend that I believed things that I did not – like Christianity – in order to avoid being beaten or killed. I can’t imagine not being able to ride alone in a car with a man that I was not married to.

Speaking of marriage, in Iran, they have sigheh – temporary marriage. This concept helps men to use prostitutes within the legal realm of the country. A couple can exchange vows in as little as 15 seconds and the marriage can last as little as 15 minutes. I would like to learn more about this concept, as it seems completely insane. A prostitute could be married hundreds of times with no ring, no alimony, etc…

I am extremely grateful that I am not a women in Iran or Afghanistan.
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