Book Launch: Lipstick Jihad
Azadeh Moaveni, journalist and author, discussed some of the main points from her book, Lipstick Jihad, which is based on her experiences as an Iranian-American young woman journalist working in Iran. Moaveni left Iran as a child and grew up in California. In her presentation she said these are exciting times to be writing about Iran. There is much curiosity in the United States about the country, and in Iran, there appears to be some domestic shifting after a period of stagnation.
In her book, Moaveni focuses on Iran's younger generation between her first visits to Iran in 1998 and her move to the country in 2000; during that period she observed meaningful changes in the everyday behavior of Iranian youth. Whereas in 1998 Iranians were extremely mindful of any action that could bring harsh punishment from the morality police, in 2000 she found youth to be more likely to push the limits. While neither the regime nor the laws have changed, Moaveni found people's day-to-day lives changing. Through small actions, she explained, Iranian youth are making things acceptable that were not just a short time ago. Significant costs remain for youth, even though the state is not imposing as harsh repercussions as before. Moaveni did not exclude that the Iranian youth who are challenging social restrictions are not immune to punishment by the Moral Police.
Moaveni noted that the policies of the Iranian regime have been counterintuitive and have served to push Iranians, especially the younger generation, away from its intended objectives. She depicted a desire to turn to spirituality untainted by the rigidity of the state, thus the increasing popularity of yoga as evidence that Iranians are turned off by the state's dogmatism. To that end, Moaveni noticed a growing trend towards secularism and a desire for separation of mosque and state in Iran, which differed sharply from her experience in Cairo where people were becoming more Islamic.
With regards to the current status of young Iranian women, she found many university-educated women who now feel frustrated, having gained both skills and expectations for the future, but face few opportunities to utilize them. There exists a shortage of jobs for both young men and women. She characterized this as a "partial emancipation for women."
Moaveni said Iranian youth are enamored with Americans, and see the U.S. as a symbol of social freedom and economic opportunity. Furthermore, they use this as a small sign of discontent with their government. She explained that because the Iranian regime so vehemently opposes the United States, any small sign such as wearing jeans can register disaffection for the regime, though it will not invoke serious repercussions.
Overall, however, Moaveni felt Iranian youth have become apathetic--they do not feel that things can change in a meaningful way in a time period that is relevant to their lives. Thus, she concluded the missing ingredient for serious change in Iran is the opportunity for political behavior that will lead to something meaningful without huge costs for the people.
Drafted by Sherri Haas