"and we all know about Iran
The other week I attended a debate on the Freedom of Speech in Britain, put forward by members of PEN, the international organisation of writers who stand for freedom of speech and campain, amongst other things, for the freedom of writers who have been imprisoned for holding view deemed politically dangerous in their countries of origin.
The debate was engaging and provoked much response and questioning from the audience. What the members of PEN seemed to be putting forward was relatively simple: there should be absolute free speech to the point that it is possible. Obviously there will always be restrictions, but their case was for allowing controvercial diologues to be had so that the public can see the extremism of dangerous group, such as the BNP, challenged and deduce their own moral judgements.
Anyway, the subject of this blog entry is not so much about the freedom of speech. It is to make an example of a quote from one of the speakers, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. This quote can be used to perfectly express why it is that I feel the need, or rather the deep want, to write about Iran. Yasmin was talking about art and how there is a conception of Muslims that they have no understanding or tolerance for art. To enlighten the audience on how artistic the Islamic culture is, she used an exmple from a recent bbc documentary on Islamic art which examined frescoes on the walls of Iranian mosques depicting beautiful unveiled girls dancing and drinking wine. It was not the fact that she pointed this out that struck me, because she was quite right to do so, but the way in which she introduced it: 'In Iran, and we all know about Iran…' I suddenly had a wave of defensiveness at the sarcasm of the comment because I knew that at that point everyone in the audience would be thinking of the veiled Isamicised Iran portrayed in our media, shocked at how such a place could host such controvercial art. This was Yasmin's point, but the fact that she was sarcastically suggesting that everyone in the audience knew all there is to know about Iran, when really they knew relatively nothing but the modern politics of the country, made me realise how important it is for me to write about Iran wholistically.
I want to write about Iran so that maybe, one day, Iran's name will be mentioned and people, even if it is only one person whose perception has changed, will think of it's diverse and intelligent people, it's phenomenal historical monuments and rich cultural heritage – not some idiot in an over-sized cleric's gown preaching that Israel should be wiped off the map.