Lipstick Jihad by Azadeh Moaveni.....................................B+
Fascinating look at everyday life in Iran, pre-“axis of evil.” I especially enjoyed her chapter on the veil and the effect it had upon women in Iran. Very incisive analysis of American vs. Iranian ideals & values. I wish that she had discussed gender relations more; she was most interested in politics, reform, the revolution.
Problems: Moaveni comes from a wealthy, secular family. This has apparently rendered her incapable of understanding how a person can truly believe in a religion, how a person’s religion can profoundly and meaningfully affect a person’s worldview. She portrays Iran as a country in the grips of a very few fundamentalist clerics, populated by closet secularists just waiting for their chance to shed pesky Islam. This I highly doubt. I noticed this same problem with religion in Carl Sagan’s Contact. He tried to write a religious character, the preacher Palmer Joss, who was totally flat and unconvincing. I feel this is because Sagan did not really believe that a person could be intelligent and religious. Moaveni has a similar issue. She cannot fathom that people would actually believe in Islam, would truly believe that Mohammed is a prophet. In Iran, she hangs out with journalists and corrupt clerics who shed their veils and grab beers as soon as they are out of the country. Perhaps if she had done something really brave, like mingle with the middle class, she would have found people devoted to Islam yet still unhappy with the anarchy of the country. People who view the veil as something other than repressive and the cause of constant bad hair days.
Now, I am just joshing when I mock Moaveni’s bravery. Some of her experiences are horrifying. I have great respect for someone who voluntarily moves from California to a third-world country to confront head-on her questions about her ethnicity and cultural history. I just think she is young and doesn’t even realize she has this religion perception issue. Someone on Amazon said she is wise beyond her years, and that makes me laugh out loud. No, sorry, she is not. Someone is confusing intelligence with maturity. Silly, silly. She is very intelligent. Her analysis is often razor-sharp and insightful. Is she mature? Not particularly. She tattles to her daddy when an auntie is mean, she hangs out with her teenaged cousin because adult Iranian women are “mean” to her.
Criticisms aside, I really enjoyed the book and highly recommend it. It made me think about things from a new perspective, especially America’s actions in the Middle East, and I love being made to do that.
As a postscript, towards the end of the book Moaveni complains bitterly about casual American prejudice against Islam. Which, by the way, she doesn’t even believe in. This I found incredibly hard to stomach, because earlier in the book she portrays Mormon women as cultish. She asks in the last chapter, anguish in her words, (paraphrasing) What other religion can you slander so completely and get away with it? The answer, Miss Moaveni, is apparently Mormonism. I might take you a little more seriously if you shed the religious hypocrisy.