I am starting this blog today of all days because I have just today begun the arduous process of applying for a visa to Iran. After having “officially” decided to go a few months back, today I have actually set the wheels in motion.
Over the past few years I have developed more than an interest in contemporary Persian politics and culture; what started as curiosity (which started when I read Azar Nafisi’s famous “Reading Lolita in Tehran” while living in Shanghai) has turned into a passion that I am looking to express journalistically and artistically in the Islamic Republic. By the end of next year I hope to have gone to Iran twice; once early in 2011 to get an idea of life on the ground, as a foreigner in Tehran; and again for a protracted period of time to work on a documentary film or to write for an English language publication. I know this is not a very concrete plan, but considering the state of affairs between the United States and the Islamic Republic, it is probably the most sensible course of action in light of what I want to achieve.
At this time, foreign journalists are hard to come by in Iran, especially those hailing from America, which is not viewed in the highest of regards by Iranian clerics (their views are mostly not shared by the general public). Friends have suggested I look for scholarships or grants, or that I turn to Fullbright to send me to Iran, which is an unfortunate impossibility (Fullbright will not send scholars to Iran as a general rule, along with Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, Belarus, and any other country that the State Department considers legitimately or even moderately threatening). So I will work with the system in order to get out of it what I want. And mostly try not to get arrested, as most of my friends have suggested I will, in the process.
However, such is my general attitude towards things. I have never wanted to settle for the norm or what was easy. I remember as a freshman in high school that my parents were horrified when I decided to take Mandarin instead of Latin (in addition to AP French Literature, mind you). The decision to study Mandarin for four years brought me to Beijing to visit my best friend, a trip that changed my life and reaffirmed my passion for China and its culture. Upon my return, my film school studies seemed incomplete and I threw in a degree in Chinese, completing some of that study in Shanghai, another trying yet rewarding experience that changed the course of my life and studies but also my personal nature and approach to everything. I am hoping that my decision to wiggle my way into journalism through a ballsy attempt to reveal a younger cultural look at Iran will turn into a similarly successful endeavor, and that retrospectively my parents will regard my decision as the wise combination of one of my passions and a (hopefully) fruitful career shift. While I seek their approval, I will settle for their support.
So for now this blog serves as a sort of diary for my experience in the Islamic Republic (whenever it happens), and in the meantime, it serves as a written collage of my intellectual interactions with all things Iran and many things relating to the Middle East and gender politics in Islam, two areas in which my extensive study has proved to inform, broaden and fuel many of the thoughts and questions I have about the Islamic Republic of Iran.
That is all for now, though I’m sure this topic will come up again in the future.
I would like to address the title of this blog, J’Adore Chador, a play on Christian Dior’s famous ad campaign, J’Adore Dior. The chador is a symbol of female Islamic dress in Iran, and it is often confused with hijab, abaya, burqa, niqab, and countless other names for the Islamic veil. The chador is found exclusively in Iran (unlike the burqa, the more extreme form of full body covering), and is the safest way a woman can cover herself; it really doesn’t get any more Islamic than a chador. They are worn by the most pious of women and any woman employed by the government, an institution, or any elevated position. The chador is always black and covers everything but the face and hands, it is basically a circular piece of fabric with a hole for the face that is draped over the body and must be held in the most cumbersome fashion under one’s chin. The intention of using this phrase for the title of my blog is not to proclaim my love for the chador (I do not actually support the chador, as I will discuss in later postings relating to veiling), but its basically just supposed to be ironic and funny. Mostly it is meant to juxtapose the mullah’s disdain for the west with Iranian women’s resilience and defiance in a society which sometimes seems eager to silence them in every way possible. The women under the chadors or hijabs are smart individuals, often with a killer sense of style and even stronger sense of self.