The Iranian


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Sehaty Foreign Exchange


November 2, 2000

Read the book

As an Iranian-American who just finished reading Persian Mirrors by Elaine Sciolino I have to say that I am very surprised and disappointed at the letters I have read regarding the book in The Iranian. It seems many have not read the book. For those who are commenting without having read the whole book, I encourage you to read it in its entirety first before commenting on it. The excerpt, "The twelve rules" is a very personal experience for the author and should not be used to judge the rest of the book. I personally found the rules to be accurate myself, whether they are human or Iranian characteristics, but again, this is personal.

Sciolino writes a fabulously sensitive and insightful book on her personal experiences with the country and with Iranians. The book, itself, is a glimpse of Iran through a fascinated, curious American eye who has enough contact with the country to form solid impressions. And no, we're not talking about a few parties in northern Tehran; the author's insights reveal a much deeper connection with the country. The book is not an attempt to define Iranian culture, history, or politics, but a brave and intelligent interpretation of each dynamic in our society. It is the best I have seen in a long time by a non-Iranian writer/observer, and such a job well done deserves praise.

Ali Parsa says it best, that outside views can only allow one to know oneself better and to improve oneself. The rest I believe is cliche.

Jamshid Entessari's diatribe is particularly disturbing and irrelevant. His is that time-honored tradition of criticizing for the sake of criticizing. People like him cannot offer anything of substance, but instead spend time perfecting a criticism. Entessari spends an enormous amount of time criticizing the author for simply choosing to write about her experiences and impressions on Iran, not dealing with the experiences and impressions themselves. Then, when he does get into content, his criticisms are unbelievably irrelevant. Sciolino clearly did not choose the book to be a forum for dead debates and political fingerpointing. Mr. Entessari, the author did not shoot down the Iran Air plane, she did not orchestrate the Mossadegh coup. She has addressed these and other events fairly in the book. Have you read the book?

Laleh Khalili's letter is even more cliche and uninformed. Her self-righteous and self-absorbed comments are pointless. Somehow she believes that she, or other Iranians, are the rightful owners or interpreters of Iranian culture. This is the most dangerous phenomenon of the Iranian mind. Ms. Khalili, what makes you think your version of reality is not an illusion? What gives you the right to interpret Iranian culture or Amerian culture and then call other interpretations and experiences an illusion? Your arrogant comments are baseless. You may disagree, but at least tell us what you disagree on, unless it's an illusion, of course. Wait, have you read the book?

Let me remind my fellow Iranians that Iranian culture and civilization is a highly sophisticated one, with centuries of overlapping history and tradition. It is not possible for anyone to absorb any culture fully, including us Iranians. The beauty of culture and society is that it's fluid; it's not a solid unmoving phenomenon, it's born from humans, and there is nothing sacred about it. Iranian society is as dynamic as ever. As Iranians, we shouldn't be intimidated by foreigners commenting on our society. We should not intimidate those who are fascinated by our culture and who want to write about it, and understand it better. These criticisms ring hollow to me; they have become a bad habit. We are good at criticising, but not at producing something positive. Is it because an Iranian or an Iranian-American failed to write such a book that makes some resentful? Write your own book.

I believe Sciolino offers something positive: an American woman's understanding of contemporary Iranian culture. We need that and we should want that. We should encourage study and analysis of our society by everyone, by foreigners and by Iranians, and then learn from it. Anything less reflects our own fear of knowing and learning.

I very much enjoyed reading Ms. Sciolino's book. It was funny, interesting, and a delightful read. It is a good addition to the body of American knowledge on Iran and Iranian society. I thank the author for writing it and for her deep appreciation for Iranian culture.

Mojdeh Mohseni


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