The manufactured success of Nafisi’s "Reading Lolita in Tehran" opened the floodgates for women’s accounts
of their abuses in Afghanistan and Iraq to appear in American bookstores, precisely at the time that the
Bush administration unleashed its attacks on those same countries. Women were being abused by their men,
their culture, and their religion! Someone must do something about these horrors! The U.S. army was doing
precisely that, liberating these women, one Abu Ghraib torture chamber and Falluja massacre at a time.
What is lost in this sordid scenario is the fact that women in these, as in all other, areas have been
active agents of their own destiny, defying the culturally inherited and colonially acquired measures
of their oppressions and abuses in terms domestic to their own history and culture. They need not have
waited to read "Lolita."
To be sure, the case of "Reading Lolita in Tehran" is not entirely representative of this genre of autobiography
and is a reality sui generic. In all fairness, not all of these authors are employed by a U.S. Deputy Secretary
of Defense. Not all of them are endorsed by the solitary remaining patriarch of Orientalism — now the chief propagandist
of war on Muslims — Bernard Lewis. “Reading Lolita in Tehran” will remain as one of the most ingenious
marketing strategies in the U.S. publishing industry, where the injured ego of an imperial hubris was sought to
be restored by offering it the infantilized youth of the enemy on a narrative platter. It was soon after the publication
of this book that sexual harassment of Iraqi inmates in the U.S. torture chambers and the subsequent beheading of
foreigners in Iraq ensued. The correspondence between Azar Nafisi and Lynndie England is not institutional but organic,
for they occur and concur at a particularly traumatic moment in the U.S. imperial imaginary. “Reading Lolita
in Tehran” is thus a very specific case that requires a different treatment and a far more critical attention. It should
not be allowed to crowd and cloud the character of far more innocent books in this genre.
HAMID DABASHI teaches world cinema, comparative
literature, and social and intellectual history
of Iran at Columbia University in New York,
where he is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of
Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature. His
forthcoming edited volume, “Dream of a Nation:
On Palestinian Cinema” is scheduled for publication
in September 2006 by Verso. His essay on
“Lipstick Jihadists” in this issue of Publio magazine
is part of a larger project on the emerging
transaesthetics of artists without borders, of which
he has published other essays in Spain, Germany,
France, Turkey and Japan.