How do we relate to Persepolis?

Persepolis: how can anyone relate if he or she didn’t ever live in a theocratic system such as the one Satrapi describes? I grew up in Greece, where the Christian Orthodox church played a major role in politics, but it did not possess absolute power. I remember when I was a teenager, a priest telling me to change my Slayer shirt and throw my leather jacket away because those things were “Satan’s play.” But that priest would never arrest me and torture me to change my faith or convince me that the path of Jesus is the correct one. For, I recall another priest who would say that God doesn’t care what you wear, or what music you listen to but He cares for what you hide in your soul. If you are not blasphemous towards Him, then you are not a “Satan’s play.” So, how can I—a man who grew up during the 90’s—relate to what Satrapi narrates? Well, I can’t. None of us westerners can. Simple as that. And this fact makes Persepolis a unique life-narrating graphic novel.

Persepolis, as the title suggests is topographical. It is the story of a young girl growing up in Iran. Persia has always been a historical region of the middle east, and the Mediterranean Sea for many great kingdoms rose and fell. For a westerner, even for a Greek whose country is very close to Persia, it is impossible to imagine not only the weather conditions but also the natural resources that sustain the citizens. Satrapi gives a little information about those elements of ordinary life, and how she could not? Persepolis is not a travel guide of Iran of that time, but a historical ethnography.

This identity, the one of historical ethnography, is the most important element which makes Persepolis a unique life narrative. First, readers get to read about the fall of a false emperor, the rise of a theocratic dictatorship, and the invasion of a greedy nation, influenced politically by western nations. But they don’t witness it. “As long as there is oil in the middle east, we will never have peace,” Satrapi’s father says, describing in one sentence the reason behind millennials of wars (43). Second, the situation in Iran described by Satrapi was domestic and forbidden for foreign eyes to witness its entirety. First, there was a dictator who could censor anything that could reveal his oppressive self behind the image of a righteous leader then the borders were closed for three years. As much as the reader might try to relate with the young Marjane’s endeavor it would be impossible, for only those who experienced it can talk about it and relate.

Finally, Persepolis stands for two principles, with which anyone who appreciates his or her freedom could relate: freedom of speech and freedom to believe (remember Norman Rockwell). Young Marjane and her parents fight for the right to share their opinion, and when they knew their life was threatened, they would stop. They wanted to believe in Allah, but with their own terms and not the ones imposed by the regime. And this is how Persepolis related to me. I want for myself, as much as for my son and his generation, the freedom to choose what and how to believe and the freedom to state my opinion without extreme consequences.

 

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