Love of Country in Persepolis
The graphic novel Persepolis: The Story of Childhood offers a glimpse into the life of an expatriate of Iran, Marjane Satrapi. The work is detailed in its representation of the turmoil that was experienced by many people during the Islamic Revolution that took place from 1978-1979 and effected women disproportionately. Iran before the Islamic Revolution was notably progressive, with women and men able to mix in professional and educational settings and women had a conservative choice about dress and professional and personal development, after the Islamic revolution the nation was in turmoil and though as many if not more women supported the Islamic Revolution many challenges were faced. Some of these challenges are supported in Persepolis, such as the closing of Marjie’s mixed gender secular school and the demand to wear the veil and for her to attend an all girls’ school.
It is clear that these changes likely marked only the surface of a strange time when Marjie’s normally very liberal family had to face many restrictions that were new to them and contradicted their internal openness and spirit. The work touches on these concepts relatively lightly, as the form of the graphic novel lends itself to the expression of limited memorable glimpses into life changing events for the writer, i.e. those things that to the writer form pinnacles of feelings and decisions. These include the effects that news stories of the turmoil had on the author and her life, as well as her desire to be a part of the revolution, something that her mother and father forbade mostly on the grounds of her safety. In context the family was supportive of the revolution, but like many people hoped it would allow more personal freedoms but mostly security, as the Shah, who was being protested was a harsh ruler who had been placed in power by Western forces, a situation that affected the family deeply as Marjie’s grandfather had been a member of the ruling class prior to the Shah’s reign and though he supported the Shah and became one of his ministers and he was imprisoned and tortured later as was his son Anoosh, Marjie’s uncle who became a hero to her. (54)
This is not to say that Marjie had any real disconnect from the Islamic faith as she was remarkably religious in spirit, even believing that she was a prophet. Yet, when she was 14 her parents chose to send her to Europe, to protect her from the turmoil that still surrounded the revolution and a war with Iraq and to offer her a better education. (152) Therefore it is important to note that her initial experience as an expatriate was as a result of decisions she was only a party to, as the choice to leave and resettle in Europe was not hers but her parents’. Their decision was no doubt based largely not on ideology, as they hoped like most that the Islamic Revolution and possibly even the Iraq war would bring greater peace and tranquility to Iran and reiterate the ideals of Islam, but on Margie’s personal safety, given her real propensity to join in the fray, attend protests and even bring along her maid and friend, Mehri. The side story of Mehri also offers a great deal of insight with regard to the culture as Mehri, as a member of a lower class was restricted in many ways leaving a contradiction to the normal liberalism in the family, as they had then to follow stricter ideations of the broader class struggle. All of this affected Margie greatly. (35) As did the countless examples of instability during the first few months of the Iraq war when ideation and fundamentalism as an ideal begins to evade even the most innocent places and in one scene children are given plastic painted gold keys and told they are the key to heaven when they are martyred in the war. (100) The situation was entirely to convoluted for safety and conflicts were bound to occur. Margie’s parents chose to do what many who could afford to did, send their children but especially their daughters to the safest place they could afford as reality was remarkably unpredictable. Simple expressions of self, such as going to the market wearing western clothes becomes a threat to society and a cause for Margie to become increasingly rebellious. Of course the many tragic deaths around her also feed this rebellious nature and Marjie’s parents fear the worst for her, when she has a confrontation with a teacher at school and is expelled, and send her to Vienna.
Marjie’s choice to remain abroad was hers as an adult but as she notes in her work her fear the very first time she left Iran was that she and her family would never again live together, as she knew her parents would visit but this would likely be the extent and this was live out. (150) There is also a clear sense in the work that there are no black and white easy answers. The whole of the political, social and religious turmoil is a convoluted expression of a child’s view and memory. Yet this is not to say that it is not salient, as it is probably more representative of the real inner turmoil many face in regions where events and social and political events shape the lives of everyday people on a very personal level. There are not meant to be any easy answers, just a long list of confusing and contradictory events and ideologies that lead to instability and fear of harm. It is clear from Margie’s story that she has a deep love for her country, and yet she remains abroad, writing and working outside her native country.
Not, unlike many expatriates of nations in conflict the relative safety and security of a peaceful nation as well as the ability to move freely about, choose one’s own fate to a large degree and be one’s self is likely intoxicating. It is also clear that this does not exclude Satrapi’s real love of her home nation. Expatriates are born every day and often come from nations where the world is a confusing mess of political and social turmoil and fear for one’s life and freedom is tangible, as was the case with Satrapi. It is noted that Satrapi desired to write and publish this very work because she wanted the world to know that not everyone in Iran was an extreme fundamentalist and that the nation, at its very core is made up of millions of people with normal conflict over ideology and faith, love for country and love for human kind. Just the act of expressing these thoughts is part of her desire to support her country. Iran in particular has experienced an extreme brain drain, as it is called by researchers where thousands of individuals who have been educated and well trained have left the region (even before the Islamic revolution) for Europe and the U.S. To escape the threat of censure, contradiction or simple restrictions on human freedom. (Torbat 272) There is nothing about this that makes these people less or more patriotic, and many even leave with the full intent of returning when life is better at home, yet the comparison of standard of living and personal freedom between the new nation and the old is often far to pragmatic a reason not to return or to return only for visits. Once someone has left a nation in turmoil, with a damaged social and cultural fiber and a crumbled infrastructure for a place that is peaceful, free and full of opportunity (and even many new contradictions) it is exceedingly hard to return.
Had Satrapi, returned to Iran, when things were more stable her voice as a free woman would likely have been silenced. She may have been able to help contribute to and develop a sense of greater good in Iran, even in the name of a more liberal faith, but she would do so at great sacrifice. Expatriates are not contradictory beings shaming their homelands by choosing personal freedom and choice over returning, they are simply individual people with very pragmatic and real desires to be a part of something less restrictive and complicated and support their nation from afar. There is by the very nature of expatriation as sense of offering greater good from afar when your ideas would likely be rejected at home, as liberal and external, influenced unjustly by the broader society and in the case of many Islamic nations the freedoms and Westernizations that are highly suspect in the Islamic world. This is especially true of women, as the kind of feminist and egalitarian ideals associated with the western tradition (by perception and sometimes reality) fly in the face of the conservative nature of the home nation. Defining Islamic Feminism is a universal debate in the broader world and even in Iran and other Islamic…