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Author urges students to form identity, work toward unity
Award-winning author and civil rights activist Azar Nafisi spoke to an Alumni Hall audience of about 450 students and teachers on Oct. 5 about her views and past experiences.
Nafisi, the author of “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” was born in Iran. She attended a boarding school in Lancaster, England, before attending the University of Oklahoma. She returned to Iran in 1979, only to find that Islamic fundamentalists had taken over the south Asian nation in a coup. Still, she continued to teach English and literature at the University of Tehran until 1995. There, she began secretly meeting with seven female students, teaching them about great classics of Western literature, which is the subject of her book.
Nafisi started her speech by addressing the students in the crowd, talking about her views on education and involvement.
“It is not enough to go in front of the White House to be for or against something, nor is it enough to go to the polls every four years,” she said. She then turned her attention to the multitude of QU 101 students in the crowd, and stressed to them the importance of the identity and community aspects taught in the class.
“For identity, you need to have a core,” she said. “Something that government or even parents can take away from you.”
Next, Nafisi discussed the current situation in the Middle East, and the impact the mass media has on the Western perception of it. She started out making light jokes about American pop culture, but soon became very serious.
“In the kind of world we live in, where the information you get about a country like Iraq and Iran comes from a hooded man beheading people and sending out tapes, where women and children are executed for wearing the wrong clothing,” she said, “we need this republic of imagination.”
She went on to state that one must be ready and willing to learn.
Nafisi is hopeful for relations between the West and the Middle East. However, she feels that ordinary citizens, not government officials, are the key to amending relations.
“I have much more faith in people than in governments,” she said. “It is from within a society that change will come.”
Additionally, Nafisi stated that she believes that the United States still needs to support changes in those societies, as well as changes in American society, and that the doctrine of political correctness plays a major role in the way that society works today.
“We are living in a politically correct world, and someone is always being insulted,” Nafisi said. “But no amount of political correctness can make us empathize with a woman in Afghanistan who is taken to a stadium and executed for not wearing the proper clothing.”
Student reaction to Nafisi’s speech was very positive. “She was very interesting, and she had a lot of good points,” said freshman Heather Lopes.
Stef Kruzick, a fellow freshman, echoed that sentiment. “She was very intelligent; I think she was a good speaker,” she said.
After her lecture, Nafisi signed copies of her book “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” which has been on “The New York Times” best-seller list for 100 straight weeks, and has been translated into 32 languages.
Nafisi concluded by stating that “it is up to people to break the barriers.”
She further urged students not to “accept any ready-made formulas,” and to establish their own identity.
Nafisi is speaking at colleges and universities throughout the United States as part of her promoting her book.