Azar Nafisi

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Azar Nafisi
Azar Nafisi Lectures at the Spanish National Library (2010).jpg
Azar Nafisi lecturing at the Spanish National Library (24 February 2010)
Born Persian: آذر نفیسی
December 1, 1955
Iran
Occupation Writer, professor
Language English
Ethnicity Iranian
Citizenship American
Alma mater University of Oklahoma
Notable works Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Notable awards 2004 Non-fiction Book of the Year Award (Booksense), Persian Golden Lioness Award

Azar Nafisi (Persian: آذر نفیسی‎; born 1955)[1][2] is an Iranian writer and professor of English literature. She has resided in the United States since 1997 and became an American citizen in 2008.[3]

Nafisi has been a visiting fellow and lecturer at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and served on the Board of Trustees of Freedom House. She is the niece of famous Iranian scholar, fiction writer and poet Saeed Nafisi. Azar Nafisi is best known for her 2003 book Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which remained on the New York Times Bestseller list for 117 weeks, and has won several literary awards, including the 2004 Non-fiction Book of the Year Award from Booksense.[4][5] The book also led to controversy about Nafisi's alleged connections to neoconservatism and colonialism.[6]

Life in post-revolution Iran[edit]

Nafisi returned to Iran in 1979 where for a time she taught English literature at the University of Tehran.

In the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the subsequent rise to power of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Islamic Republican Party in 1980, Nafisi soon became restless with the stringent rules imposed upon women by the new government.

In 1995, she states that she was no longer able to teach English literature properly without attracting the scrutiny of the faculty authorities, so she quit teaching at the university, and instead invited seven of her female students to attend regular meetings at her house, every Thursday morning. They studied literary works including some considered controversial in postrevolutionary Iranian society such as Lolita alongside other works such as Madame Bovary. She also taught novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James and Jane Austen, attempting to understand and interpret them from a modern Iranian perspective.[7]

Work[edit]

Nafisi left Iran on June 24, 1997 and moved to the United States, where she wrote Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, a book where she describes her experiences as a secular woman living and working in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the book, she declares "I left Iran, but Iran did not leave me."

Nafisi has held the post of a visiting fellow and lecturer at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC and has served on the Board of Trustees of Freedom House, a United States nongovernmental organization (NGO) which conducts research and advocacy on democracy.[8]

Criticism[edit]

In 2004, Christopher Hitchens wrote that Nafisi had dedicated Reading Lolita in Tehran to Paul Wolfowitz, the United States Deputy Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush and a principal architect of the Bush Doctrine. Hitchens had stated that Nafisi was good friends with Wolfowitz and several other key figures in the Bush administration. Nafisi later responded to Hitchen's comments, neither confirming nor denying the claim.[9]

In a 2003 article for The Guardian, Brian Whitaker criticized Nafisi for working for the public relations firm Benador Associates which he argues promoted the neo-conservative ideas of "creative destruction" and "total war".[10]

In 2006, Columbia University professor Hamid Dabashi, in an essay published in the Cairo-based, English-language paper Al-Ahram (Dabashi's criticism of Nafisi became a cover story for an edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education)[11] compared Reading Lolita in Tehran to "the most pestiferous colonial projects of the British in India," and asserted that Nafisi functions as a "native informer and colonial agent" whose writing has cleared the way for an upcoming exercise of military intervention on Middle Eastern. He also labelled Nafisi as a "comprador intellectual," a comparison to the "treasonous" Chinese employees of mainland British firms, who sold out their country for commercial gain and imperial grace. In an interview Z magazine, he classed Nafisi with the U.S. soldier convicted of mistreating prisoners at Abu Ghraib: "To me there is no difference between Lynndie England and Azar Nafisi."[12][13] Finally, Dabashi stated that book's cover image (which appears to be two veiled teenage women reading Lolita in Tehran) is in fact, in a reference to the September 11 attacks, "Orientalised pedophilia" designed to appeal to "the most deranged Oriental fantasies of a nation already petrified out of its wits by a ferocious war waged against the phantasmagoric Arab/Muslim male potency that has just castrated the two totem poles of U.S. empire in New York."[14]

Critics such as Dabashi have accused Nafisi of having close relations with neoconservatives. In the acknowledgements she makes in Reading Lolita in Tehran, Nafisi writes of Princeton University historian Bernard Lewis as "one who opened the door". Nafisi, who opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, rejects such accusations as "guilt by association," noting that she has both "radical friends" and "conservative friends."[15]

In a critical article in the academic journal Comparative American Studies, titled "Reading Azar Nafisi in Tehran", University of Tehran literature professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi states that "Nafisi constantly confirms what orientalist representations have regularly claimed". He also points out that she "has produced gross misrepresentations of Iranian society and Islam and that she uses quotes and references which are inaccurate, misleading, or even wholly invented."[16]

Responses[edit]

Nafisi responded to Dabashi's criticism by stating that she is not, as Dabashi claims, a neoconservative, that she opposed the Iraq war, and that she is more interested in literature than in politics. In an interview, Nafisi stated that she's never argued for an attack on Iran and that democracy, when it comes, should come from the Iranian people (and not from US military or political intervention). She added that while she is willing to engage in "serious argument...Debate that is polarized isn't worth my time." She stated that she did not respond directly to Dabashi because "You don't want to debase yourself and start calling names."[17][18]

Nafisi was also defended by a number of sources.

  • Ali Banuazizi, the codirector of Boston College’s Middle East studies program, stated that Dabashi's article was very ‘‘intemperate’’ and that it was ‘‘not worth the attention’’ it had received.
  • Christopher Shea of the Boston Globe argued that while Dabashi spent "several thousand words...eviscerating the book," his main point was not about the specific text but rather the book’s black-and-white portrayal of Iran.[17]
  • Writing in The New Republic, Marty Peretz sharply criticized Dabashi, and rhetorically asked ‘‘Over what kind of faculty does [Columbia University president] Lee Bollinger preside?"[17]
  • In an article posted on Slate.com, author Gideon Lewis-Kraus described Dabashi's article as "a less-than-coherent pastiche of stock anti-war sentiment, strategic misreading, and childish calumny" and that Dabashi "insists on seeing [the book] as political perfidy" which allows him "to preserve his fantasy that criticizing Nafisi makes him a usefully engaged intellectual."[14]
  • Robert Fulford sharply criticized Dabashi's comments in the National Post, arguing that "Dabashi's frame of reference veers from Joseph Stalin to Edward Said. Like a Stalinist, he tries to convert culture into politics, the first step toward totalitarianism. Like the late Edward Said, he brands every thought he dislikes as an example of imperialism, expressing the West's desire for hegemony over the downtrodden (even when oil-rich) nations of the Third World." Fulford added that "While imitating the attitudes of Said, Dabashi deploys painful clichés."[17][18]
  • Firoozeh Papan-Matin, the Director of Persian and Iranian Studies at the University of Washington in Seattle, stated that Dabashi's accusation that Nafisi is promoting a "'kaffeeklatsch' worldview... callously ignores the extreme social and political conditions that forced Nafisi underground." Papan Matin also argued that "Dabashi’s attack is that whether Nafisi is a collaborator with the [United States]" was not relevant to the legitimate questions set forth in her book.[19]

Works[edit]

  • Nafisi, Azar. "Images of Women in Classical Persian Literature and the Contemporary Iranian Novel." The Eye of the Storm: Women in Post-Revolutionary Iran. Ed. Mahnaz Afkhami and Erika Friedl. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1994. 115-30.
  • Anti-Terra: A Critical Study of Vladimir Nabokov’s Novels (1994).
  • Nafisi, Azar. "Imagination as Subversion: Narrative as a Tool of Civic Awareness." Muslim Women and the Politics of Participation. Ed. Mahnaz Afkhami and Erika Friedl. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1997. 58-71.
  • "Tales of Subversion: Women Challenging Fundamentalism in the Islamic Republic of Iran." Religious Fundamentalisms and the Human Rights of Women (1999).
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003).
  • Things I've Been Silent About (2008).
  • The Republic of Imagination (2014).

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Following eighth grade, Nafisi's parents sent her to England for schooling from 1961-1963. Nafisi 2010, chapter 8, pp. 69-70; chapter 13, p. 115
  2. ^ BBC 2004 Interview with Nafisi
  3. ^ Iranian-American author lectures at the Spanish National Library
  4. ^ The Stephen Barclay Agency
  5. ^ Yale University Office of Public Affairs
  6. ^ "Faculty page at the University of Minnesota". 
  7. ^ "The Fiction of Life" Interviews May 7, 2003
  8. ^ Freedom House: Board of Trustees
  9. ^ Doug Ireland (14 October 2004). "AZAR NAFISI REPLIES TO HITCHENS et. al.". Retrieved 15 September 2013. 
  10. ^ The Guardian: Conflict and catchphrases
  11. ^ A Collision of Prose and Politics by Richard Byrne, Chronicle of Higher Education, October 13, 2006.
  12. ^ Reading Lolita at Columbia
  13. ^ Boston Globe , Women and Islam, by Cathy Young, The Boston Globe , October 23, 2006 [1]
  14. ^ a b Pawn of the Neocons? by Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Slate.com, November 30, 2006 (retrieved on October 21, 2009).
  15. ^ Richard Byrne, "A Collision of Prose and Politics
  16. ^ IngentaConnect: Reading Azar Nafisi in Tehran
  17. ^ a b c d Book clubbed by Christopher Shea, The Boston Globe, October 29, 2006 (retrieved on October 21, 2009).
  18. ^ a b Reading Lolita at Columbia by Robert Fulford, National Post, November 6, 2006 (retrieved on October 21, 2009).
  19. ^ Reading & Misreading Lolita in Tehran by Dr. Firoozeh Papan-Matin, IslamOnline, 2007.
  • Azar Nafisi's CV

Bibliography[edit]

  • Nafisi, Azar. 2010 (2008). Things I've been silent about. Random House Trade Paperbacks. (Originally published 2008)

External links[edit]