How Persepolis Challenges Common Perceptions of Iran

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In the years since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the country of Iran has built up some very negative reputations in the West. The actions of certain extremists cause the world to associate Iran with terrorism, corruption, and production of deadly weapons. This is represented in President George W. Bush’s 2002 State of the Union Address, when he classified Iran as part of the “axis of evil”. However, the vast majority of the Iranian people are not evil terrorists. They are real people who also oppose the views of their country’s leaders. This is highlighted in the graphic memoir Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi writes about her experience of living in Tehran during and after the Iranian Revolution as a means to confront certain stereotypes about her country. Persepolis aims to show the world that Iran is not an axis of evil, but rather a country of good people masked by the actions of those in charge. In Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi challenges the West’s common perceptions of Iran as a country of terrorism and chaos by highlighting events from the Iranian revolution and how they affected the common citizen. She uses her own life story to defy certain misconceptions about Iran while increasing the reader’s knowledge about Iranian culture.

Countries all across the world express unfavorable views of Iran. The Pew Research Center conducted a survey in 2013, titled “Global Views of Iran Overwhelmingly Negative”, regarding citizen’s around the globe and their opinion on Iran. According to the survey, the country’s image worldwide is strongly negative. For example, 88% in France and 59% in Britain claim to have negative feelings toward Iran. North America is not much different, as roughly 70% in the U.S. and Canada express an unfavorable opinion on Iran. There are a variety of reasons why these countries have unfavorable views towards Iran, one specific reason highlighted in the survey shows that many believe that the government of Iran does not respect the personal freedoms of its people. Satrapi was a victim of this mistreatment, as the Western ways of her family caused her to seek safety in Austria in 1984. Other reasons come from the association of Iran with terrorism and pursuit of nuclear weapons. Since the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the government of Iran has supported certain terrorist groups, “seeing them as a form of power projection and a way to undermine enemies as well as a way to help like-minded groups become stronger” . As their support for terrorist groups offer benefits within their own country, these militant groups oppose many foreign nations, especially the United States. Their dependence on terrorism creates an image of Iran as a threat in the eyes of the rest of the world.

What tends to go unnoticed is not Iran’s support for terrorist groups, but their efforts to fight against terrorism. Across the world, much emphasis is consistently placed on Iran’s involvement in terrorism, yet the country has also done much to fight against a variety of terrorist groups. As a result of Iran’s many problems with terrorism, they have learned to develop sophisticated counterterrorism mechanisms. Tehran’s counterterrorism organizations have been vital in combatting some of the most dangerous terrorist groups, such as ISIS. This helps Satrapi’s argument in Persepolis proving that not all Iranian citizens are evil and corrupt as the world perceives them to be.

Much of this negative thought towards Iran stems from the words of President George W. Bush. Iran’s linkage to terrorism prompted President Bush to classify the country into an “axis of evil”. President Bush’s ethos strongly influenced public perceptions of Iran and the Eastern world. He used this metaphor in his 2002 State of the Union Address, which took place in the year following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Following these attacks, counterterrorism became a primary concern to the United States government. Therefore, all countries associated with terrorism were a potential threat. In the article “What the Axis of Evil Metaphor Did to Iran”, Daniel Heradstveit and G. Matthew Bonham explain the impact of the axis of evil metaphor on Iranian self-image, as well as how people have understood the metaphor. This metaphor changed the way the West views Iran, but also changed the way Iranians view themselves. A problem with this metaphor is that it refers to entire countries, rather than just their leaders. The innocent people of Iran did not want to be viewed as evil, yet the metaphor refers to them in the same context of the extremists. The world is pressured to believe that Iranians are inherently evil, although this is not the case for a majority of the country. Marjane Satrapi is a prime example of a citizen who is affected by these stereotypes. Recognizing the growing disapproval of her country, Satrapi writes the memoir Persepolis to contest these common perceptions.

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The use of a memoir helps Satrapi to bring credibility to her story. Memoirs are “the closest we can get to living another person’s real story”. Therefore, the reader can better understand the culture of Iran from the stories of people who lived in it. In contrast of news and television, Persepolis shows the reality of life in Iran from a primary source. Information found in the media sometimes contains bias or omits certain details, whereas Persepolis is a story of truth. Satrapi depicts her life in Iran with much detail and authenticity. She uses her memory of certain traumatic, as well as peaceful, events to give the reader a sense of what it was like living through the Iranian Revolution. Persepolis helps the reader grasp the dynamic of the culture in Iran and how it differs from common public opinion around the world.

The author of Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi, wrote the memoir partly to show the world that Iran is not what it is made out to be on the news and in the media. Satrapi was born in Rasht, Iran, in 1969. She lived in Tehran for years under Islamic extremist leaders such as Reza Shah and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. As a child, she witnessed the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the terror that went along with it. As a victim of the repressive regimes, she has a story to tell about living in Iran at that time. She claims that while living in France in 1994 she would see news about Iran, but it never represented her experience of living there. Satrapi had to justify why it is not negative to be Iranian for almost twenty years prior to writing Persepolis. However, she recognizes that if she based her knowledge solely on news stories, she would also believe that everyone was evil. This was her motivation to write Persepolis, to show that there is good and evil everywhere. As an Iranian, Satrapi recognizes that the image of Iran across the globe is not entirely accurate. She has sympathy for the innocent people of Iran who have lost their lives or have suffered under these regimes, as she states that “an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists”. That being said, Persepolis is a tool that offers a different perspective of Iran than what is commonly portrayed. Much can be learned about the people of Iran and their culture from Satrapi’s experiences.

There are many instances throughout Persepolis that challenge the common view of Iran in the Western world. The government of Iran is strongly criticized, yet the people and culture are represented positively. Satrapi grew up in a family that was “very modern and avant-garde”. She was taught from a young age to think freely, and to speak her mind even when her thoughts go against social norms. Her parents also opposed the Shah’s regime, as her mother would protest in the streets against the veil. They continued to protest leading up to the revolution, especially after the fire at the Rex Cinema in Abadan. In this catastrophic event, nearly 400 people were burned alive. They tried to escape, yet the doors were locked from the outside. Reports after the incident made the Iranian people suspicious that it was the Shah’s regime that was responsible. This event is depicted in Persepolis on page 15, and Satrapi is sure that it was the Shah who caused this disaster. She includes this event in Persepolis to portray a time when the Iranian government became violent against their own citizens. The innocent people of Iran are not evil, they are victims of evil. The event caused the Iranian people to become angry towards the Shah’s regime. Satrapi’s parents, along with many other citizens, began to demonstrate protests every day against the Shah. It is evident that the Iranian people have had enough violence and corruption in their own country, and they want change. This shows us that the citizens of Iran are against the evil of their leaders, as is the rest of the world.

Like every country, Iran contains bad people as well as good people. Later in Satrapi’s life, after her return to Iran from living in Austria, she began to make connections with like-minded classmates. These people became friends to Satrapi, as they would visit each other frequently. Satrapi became close with these people, and as time passed, she “became conscious of the contrast between the official representation of [her] country and the real life of the people”. She recognizes that the evil of Iran’s leaders is not represented in the country’s citizens. They did not choose to be born in a country of terrorism and evil, so they have no choice but to fight against the unfair regimes. As Satrapi had fun with her friends and partied frequently, they had to be aware of the guardians of the revolution. Even in their own homes, they were not safe. They quickly got used to frequent invasions of their parties, but they were constantly forced to pay fines. In order to simply have fun, Iranian citizens must be secretive. This secrecy causes the people of Iran to be shielded from the rest of the world. These citizens may be good people that can make a difference, yet they spend their lives in fear of their leaders. From the perspective of an American, it is hard to imagine living in a country where the people’s rights are limited. Persepolis shows the world that the Iranian people are not responsible for the country’s evil, it is the ones with power that cause the problems.

Iran has been viewed negatively across the world for many years. This is due to a variety of reasons, mostly because of the oppressive regimes during and after the Iranian Revolution. Since the revolution, Iran’s leaders have cemented Iran as a country of terrorism and evil. The Western world is scared of Iran and views them as a threat to their freedom. What tends to go unnoticed is the backlash that this terror has on the citizens of Iran. Marjane Satrapi notices the public opinion of Iran and wants to show the world that the country is not what it is made out to be on the news. She has lived through the terror of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and does not want to be classified along with the leaders that caused that terror. Therefore, she wrote Persepolis as a means to show the struggles of Iran’s people and hopefully change the minds of its readers. The memoir complicates a vision of Iran as an “axis of evil” by describing the country from a different perspective. In the future, we should not simply believe what we hear on the media, we should seek to understand an issue fully before making our assumptions.

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How Persepolis Challenges Common Perceptions of Iran. (2022, November 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/how-persepolis-challenges-common-perceptions-of-iran/
“How Persepolis Challenges Common Perceptions of Iran.” Edubirdie, 25 Nov. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/how-persepolis-challenges-common-perceptions-of-iran/
How Persepolis Challenges Common Perceptions of Iran. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/how-persepolis-challenges-common-perceptions-of-iran/> [Accessed 18 Apr. 2024].
How Persepolis Challenges Common Perceptions of Iran [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Nov 25 [cited 2024 Apr 18]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/how-persepolis-challenges-common-perceptions-of-iran/
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