Last night I finally got around to watching Persepolis, an animated film released in 2007 which won a Cannes Jury Prize and was nominated for an Academy Award. The film traces the history of Iran from the late 70s, through the eyes of a young girl growing up. I found the movie profound for several reasons.
The movie depicts life in Iran up until the late 90s, showing the imposition of fundamentalist Muslim values on a society that had become used to being more westernized and modern. You see those values most strikingly directed against the freedom of women. The movie shows how head scarves and burqa were like donning a mask, or more accurately, bonds of religious hypocrisy and oppression, while in the privacy of homes and in underground meetings the people were/are still more modern in their conduct and outlook. It shows how the ignorant and less educated used religion to oppress the rising intelligentsia, executing thousands of university students and academics because they questioned religious doctrine. In showing this double life that is endured by many Iranian people, I discovered a new perspective and sympathy for this population. It helps one realize that there are many more enlightened Muslims out there, often repressed by religious thuggery.
And herein lies the greater lesson of this film. The kind of theocracy depicted in the Muslim world is not that far from the kind of theocracy that fundamentalist Christians are clamoring for in the western world, especially in the United States. The same signs are there, -the repression of women, the condemnation of the academics and scientists, the martyrdom, the discomfort with sexuality.
Religions in general, and particularly Christianity, has a long history of oppression. Women were oppressed by Christianity for centuries because of Eve and because of perceived sexual temptation. They were the scapegoats and are still oppressed, second rate citizens in many Christian and Mormon traditions. Science and intelligence have long been a victim of religious narrow mindedness, from the Inquisitions, to Galileo, to the current battle between Creationism and Evolution. When Europeans invaded North and South America, religion was the foundation on which the persecution and annihilation of the native people was justified. Millions were slaughtered in the name of God and Jesus in order to steal their gold and land. The Catholic Church perpetrated lies and damaging myths about the Jewish people, which played no small role in their persecution throughout history, and made the holocaust of the Nazis more possible. Slavery was originally condoned by Christianity since the black Africans brought to the new world were deemed heathens and less than human. This attitude persisted into the 20th Century. To see the connection between religion and racial discrimination one need look no farther than the burning crosses of the KKK.
And now, in modern times, religious fundementalists have found a new victim on which to project their hatred. Those religious leaders that attack people of different sexual preference and orientation are little better than unhooded KKK. Attacking these people is just the next step in a long tradition of oppression and hatred practiced by fundamentalist and ignorant facets of the Christian churches.
What these people want is to create a theocracy which would differ from the religious thuggery in Muslim countries only in the fact that it would be in the name of Jesus, not Mohammad. It would be the theocracy of Margret Atwell’s A Handmaiden’s Tale. Their goals are plain to see. Many advocate the repression of women, the condemnation of intelligence and the desire to see Biblical law (-their interpretation, of course-) become the law of the land.
Like the rise of Muslim fundamentalism in Iran, they will come to power on the shoulders of the ignorant, of whom there is no shortage. They will rise to power, supported by those people who claim an allegiance to the Bible, but many of whom have seldom read it or who depend on their interpretation from fanatic preachers.
Persepolis is a clear window into the religious persecution within Iran and the impact on it’s culture and people. It should be regarded as warning to North Americans. We have the same religions fanatics who claim to have a message of love, but who have demonstrated clearly, time and time again, that they are harbingers of hatred and fear.