Category Archives: Dictatorships

Mona el-Tahawy on Lack of Women’s Progress and the Firestorm that followed

Here is an article that appeared in Foreign Policy, which sent Twitter, FB, and all forms of social media buzzing:,0 discussing “the real war on women.”

For an example of a response, see

A Subjective View of the Iranian Revolution in Dalia Sofer’s The Septembers of Shiraz

Dalia Sofer recreates her heartbreaking childhood story illustrating the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution in her novel, The Septembers of Shiraz. Sofer’s story is inspired by her own childhood story and takes place in the 1980’s in the United States, after her family emigrated from Iran. The Sofer’s story portrays the emotional torment and distress that the Iranian Revolution caused families during this time to undergo, as well as the consequences such distress had on relationships between family and friends. Isaac Amin, the father in the book that is inspired by Sofer’s father, is arrested and imprisoned after being falsely accused of being a spy. As a result of the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution and Amin being incorrectly incarcerated, Amin’s family encounters emotional torment and distress as they search for Isaac in an attempt to restore his status. The Iranian Revolution and the events that took place allowed the Sofer’s to show their true loyalty for each other.
        Farnaz is the first family member that illustrates her loyalty to her family. Isaac Amin is a Jewish rare-gem dealer in Tehran. After the fall of the Shah of Iran, many people are wrongly accused of pursuing activity that the government does not allow people to partake in. Although the armed workers of the prison beat Amin and his fellow inmates in order to get them to confess such activity, few inmates became willing to reveal anything. Unfortunately, Amin is caught between a rock and a hard place because he has nothing to confess. As Amin undergoes his own personal struggle while in prison, his wife, Farnaz, struggles with shielding the harsh truth from their children, showing the love and loyalty she has for them by keeping such sad news about their father from them. 
        Secondly, other family members also show the loyalty they have for their family. Being as The Septembers of Shiraz tells of the author’s own story, many things are revealed about Dalia Sofer throughout the text. Some of these aspects about Sofer include her exploration of loss and loyalty throughout the harsh situations that she and her family encounter on their journey. Although Farnaz attempts to keep the truth about Isaac Amin private from Shirin, the character who represents Sofer, she also has another son that lives away from home who struggles with what his father is experiencing. Each member of the family struggles with issues of loyalty because all they had throughout their struggle was each other. Much of the community stood their distance from them because of the accusations held against Amin, so they each had to stay loyal to one another and understand that Isaac did nothing wrong.
Specific situations that reveal characteristics of loyalty about Sofer and her family include when Farnaz goes to the prison in search of Isaac, and when Sharin attempts to save people who have been falsely accused by making their files “disappear”. As Farnaz and Habibeh enter the prison together to search for Isaac, they are nastily greeted by guards who are not very willing to release any information to her, including a guard with a “black beard so thick that it darkens the entire southern hemisphere of his face” and a “rifle hanging from his shoulder” (72). Despite the terrifying sight, Farnaz continues to ask questions in order to find out where Isaac really is, no matter the consequences. Typically, anyone that came to the prison searching for answers was immediately turned away, or imprisoned themselves. Farnaz was not imprisoned, and some of her questions were answered. The courage it took for Farnaz to enter such a terrifying place, knowing full well that she may not ever leave, shows the loyalty the Amin family had for each other during this hard time.
          A belief spoken of in the novel is that “if you withhold information in order to protect someone, God won’t punish you” (94). Sharin seems to constantly be thinking about this, especially when she goes into the armoire to make some of the files disappear. Sharin is aware that the men who are listed in the files are “destined to disappear” and her loyalty towards her father is reflected in her act of attempting to save as many people as she can (95). Sharin knows that even if she could only “make one file disappear; she could be saving one man’s life” (95).
        These instances portray the testament of loyalty that the Amin family exudes for each other in the story. I predict that by the end of the book, the family becomes closer from going through these struggles and is able to overcome even the most difficult of obstacles.

Lindsey Westphal

“Amreeka” Film Showing 4.18.2011

On Monday, April 18, 2011 the Ethnic Studies Program hosted a film showing of the film Amreeka. Amreeka is the story of an immigrant family’s journey to the US and their introduction to American culture. It also a continuation of their lesson in raw prejudice. Amreeka first deals with problems that many immigrants to US struggle with upon coming to America. Firstly, the audience sees the family, a mother and son, Muna and Fadi dealing with immigrating to America in a post-9/11 world. It is most important to understand that because living in and trying to get into a post 9/11 America is very difficult for most Americans and people of other countries, particularly those who were from the Middle East, were of the Muslim faith or were of Middle Eastern descent. However, the scene where they and their goods are being examined should be regarded with caution. It is easy to say that they are being questioned and searched because they are not only foreigners but also Middle Eastern. However, the counterargument to that is that they being searched because they are foreigners entering the US and that their particular race and presumed religious ideologies have nothing to do with their examination. In fact, as we later learn, the family is actually Christian. Not Muslim. In the beginning of the film, when the mother and son are finally settled into the home of their family, they must immediately deal with money problems. Unbeknownst to him, Fadi allowed the airport security to take away a tin of cookies containing $2,500 dollars, all the money his mother had. Fortunately, her brother, had given Fadi $200 dollars, so they at least had some money with them. Also, Fadi and Muna deal with American culture. Another family member takes stock of Fadi’s clothes and notes that he wears particular clothing, he will be considered “F.O.B.” or “Fresh Off the Boat”, meaning it will become immediately obvious that he is an immigrant because of his older attire. Quickly, Muna and Fadi attempt to ameliorate their attire. Also, Muna experiences feelings of discomfort with her body type. Fadi deals with being a new school and the education system of the US. Also, Fadi is bullied by members of his class, who are not accepting of him because of his Middle Eastern heritage. Also, it is noted that these boys have family members in the military who are in Iraq. During the setting of this movie, the U.S. invasion of Iraq has just begun. The family also deals with discrimination in finding jobs because Muna’s ethnicity, even though she is not Muslim. She is well educated with 10 years of work experience in a bank but she is forced to take a job at a White Castle restaurant. This is a point of humiliation for her, being both a proud immigrant and an educated woman. Also, Muna and Fadi deal with language barriers as they navigate American culture. Colloquialisms are difficult for them to understand. Also, Fadi tries smoking “Mary Jane” and gets into a fight with a classmate over causing his mother’s slip and fall at work and is later arrested, briefly detained and unrealistically released after some bargaining with a Jewish principal who befriends them despite the “serious allegations” against him. Muna also gets suckered into trying raise money for herself with one of America’s many weight loss scam products, “HerbalLose”. Not only is Muna dealing with being an immigrant, she is also dealing with being a divorcee. At the end of the novel, it is clear that Muna and the Jewish principal may have chemistry between the two of them. As Muna notes “We are a minority there (Christians) and a minority here (Middle Easterners).”

This movie is far from being the best movie to handle such an intense and thick debate but it works because it’s easy to follow and sends to message to audience. It does however reinforce and create new stereotypes as it crushes others. For instance, the whites in the film are racist. Members of the military (or at least their family members) have problems with Muslims, Middle Easterners and others not like them and they are so ignorant they cannot even spell names of terrorist organizations correctly. Also, the black boy who is in a relationship with Fadi’s outspoken female cousin, dresses in “ghetto” or “gangsta” clothing, smokes weed, listens to rap, and skips school and seems generally disinterested in school. This movie also has a nice, clean and “happy” ending with a Jewish man and a Middle Eastern family coming together and having dinner together. While not entirely unrealistic, it was certainly corny. The same is true with the husband’s medical practice failing because of uncomfortable patients changing to practices without Middle Eastern doctors. Also, Muna decides that she does not need to diet and is happy with her body. Again, while not unrealistic, that conclusion is much to neat and sudden for film, where even the pre-America scenes showed Muna unhappy with her body type and yet suddenly, in the last minutes of the film she expresses a love of her body.

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