As millions of ordinary Iranians took their political protests into the streets and on to the World Wide Web via cell phones, YouTube and Twitter, much of the world was getting its first unvarnished look at a complex and diverse society that may be quite different than the one often painted by Western news media, suggests an Iranian-American scholar at Washington University in St. Louis.
“Sometimes it is hard for people to admit that there are good, ordinary, sane Muslims living in Iran, because it feels as though they are supporting the actions of the government,” said Fatemeh Keshavarz, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages and Literatures in Arts & Sciences.
“But I think we have to overcome that. There are good Muslims — ordinary, peace-loving people — out there, and we have to let them come into the picture.”
Keshavarz, professor of Persian and of comparative literature and the author of a recent book on women in Iranian society, has been posting daily updates on election-related turmoil in Iran as part of her long-running electronic newsletter on cultural, political and social issues in Iran.
Her postings, filled with cell phone videos and firsthand anecdotes from friends and academic contacts within Iran, are available at the Windows on Iran Web site: http://windowsoniran.wordpress.com.
In her most recent posting about what she has referred to as “a peaceful movement that is seeking a repeat of the election in Iran,” she writes on June 22: “There seems to have been relative calm in Iran today. If there were clashes, they have remained unreported. All my personal attempts to dial numbers in Iran remained unsuccessful. The general mood seems to be that of waiting and reevaluating the situation among the people.”
However, the scene was quite different the night before when she wrote:
If you believe in praying, it is time to pray for Iran. Things are getting worse and worse.
* Riot police has blocked all the streets to the Azadi Square. People are being arrested in large numbers.
* After dark, shotguns and cries of Allaho Akbar from the rooftops are heard.
* On the streets, the chants have now changed to ‘Down with Khamenei.'”
Keshavarz is available for media interviews on the day-to-day news reports she’s receiving from contacts within Iran and for broader discussions of the cultural context of these events, including the role of women, art and literature in modern Iranian society and the unique ways that this protest is being shaped by the use of cell phones, instant messaging and other online social media.
Countering negative images
Raised in Shiraz, Iran, Keshavarz earned a bachelor’s in Persian language and literature and a master’s in library, archive and information studies from Shiraz University and a master of arts and a doctorate in Near Eastern studies from the University of London.
She also takes interest in the broader implications of cultural education for world peace, and in May 2007, she spoke on this topic to the United Nations General Assembly.
Keshavarz has not resided in Iran since leaving for college abroad just prior to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, but she returns to her homeland for long visits almost every summer.
Although she continues to wear a headscarf on these annual trips, she strongly favors freedom of choice for women in the way they dress.
Her most recent book, “Jasmine and Stars: Reading More Than Lolita in Tehran,” offers warm stories about ordinary, peace-loving Iranians who share the hopes and aspirations of us all, a perspective intended to counter the negative image of Iranian society that is so often portrayed in Western news coverage and in popular books, such as Azar Nafisi’s “Reading Lolita in Tehran.”
Americans don’t know this side of Iran, she says — and don’t realize that it still exists today.