"Criminals should not be tried. The trial of a criminal is against human rights. Human rights demand that we should have killed them in the first place when it became known that they were criminals."
-- Ayatollah Khomeini
I don't have a Kindle but I do have an iPhone, so when Amazon released the Kindle app for the iPhone, I was interested in seeing how workable it is to read a book on the phone. Given that I often spend hours a day reading blog posts and email on the phone, doesn't seem like too much of a stretch, and so far so good.
My inaugural book is Reading Lolita in Tehran, a book simultaneously deconstructing Nabokov and discussing the life of women in Islamic Iran. I have mixed feelings about the prose, but it is growing on me. More important than any feelings about the quality of the writing, there are a few sequences that really jumped out at me so far and I thought I'd go ahead and share them.
The first just emphasizes the...well, you don't need me to put up neon signs for this, just read it yourself:
"I have to tell you that the Ayatollah himself was no novice in sexual matters," Nassrin went on. "I've been translating his magnum opus, The Political, Philosophical, Social and Religious Principles of Ayatollah Khomeini, and he has some interesting points to make."
"But it's already been translated," said Manna. "What's the point?"
"Yes," said Nassrin, "parts of it have been translated, but after it became the butt of party jokes, ever since the embassies abroad found out that people were reading the book not for their edification but for fun, the translations have been very hard to find. And anyway, my translation is thorough -- it has references and cross-references to works by other worthies. Did you know that one way to cure a man's sexual appetites is by having sex with animals? And then there's the problem of sex with chickens. You have to ask yourself if a man who has had sex with a chicken can then eat the chicken afterwards. Our leader has provided us with an answer: No, neither he nor his immediate family or next-door neighbors can eat of that chicken's meat, but it's okay for a neighbor who lives two doors away."
On the darker side...
A fortnight earlier, Sanaz and five of her girl-friends had gone for a two-day vacation by the Caspian Sea. On their first day, they had decided to visit her friend's fiance in an adjoining villa. Sanaz kept emphasizing that they were all properly dressed, with their scarves and long robes. They were all sitting outside, in the garden: six girls and one boy. There were no alcoholic beverages in the hour, no undesirable tapes or CDs. She seemed to be suggesting that if there had been, they might have deserved the treatment they received at the hands of the Revolutionary Guards.
And then "they" came with their guns, the morality squads, surprising them by jumping over the low walls. They claimed to have received a report of illegal activities, and wanted to search the premises. Unable to find fault with their appearance, one of the guards sarcastically said that looking at them, with their Western attitudes...What is a Western attitude? Nassrin interrupted. Sanaz looked at her and smiled. I'll ask him next time I run into him. The truth of the matter was that their search for alcoholic beverages, tapes and CDs had led to nothing, but they already had a search warrant and didn't want it to go to waste. The guards took all of them to a special jail for infractions in matters of morality. There, despite their protests, the girls were kept in a small, dark room, which they shared the first night with several prostitutes and a drug addict. Their jail wardens came into their room two or three times in the middle of the night to wake up those who might have dozed off, and hurled insults at them.
They were held in that room for forty-eight hours. Despite their repeated requests, they were denied the right to call their parents. Apart from brief excursions to the rest room at appointed times, they left the room twice -- the first time to be led to a hospital, where they were given virginity tests by a woman gynecologist, who had her students observe the examinations. Not satisfied with her verdict, the guards took them to a private clinic for a second check.
To summarize the rest of that story, the parents are told the girls were killed in a car accident, then finally manage to get them out but the girls are subjected to twenty-five lashes, and to top it all off Sanaz is treated as having brought this on herself by her parents and brother and is from then on subjected to more restrictions in her life.
If you ever find yourself slipping into that "all culture is relative" point of view wherein each country is basically the same, some with burqas and some without, I recommend grabbing a copy of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel, discussed in this post or Reading Lolita or heck any of the slew of "I was a woman in an Islamic state" books out there, several of which are on my audiobook list and which I'll no doubt discuss here after I listen to them.
Whatever you believe about how the US should interact with Islamic countries at a political level, it's important to remember the point of view of some of those, especially women, who have to actually live under the conditions imposed on them by Sharia law. In addition to Sharia law, there is this "manifest destiny"-style Islamic revolution concept that many of the leaders follow, and when you see Canada or Britain or France dealing with these issues it's particularly striking to recall those countries that, just a few years ago, were more or less Western-style democracies and are no longer.
As one of the sayings of Islamic revolutionaries goes:
One man, one vote, one time.