Saturday, December 27, 2008

Education Jihad

These pictures taken in a village in the province of Fars (where Persepolis is).
These women (some younger, some old) are learning to read and write.

At the onset, Iran's revolutionary "Islamic Republic" prioritized three objectives (despite the Iran-Iraq imposed war)

Jihad-e Sazandegi (Development Jihad)
Jihad-e Keshavarzi ( Agriculture Jihad)
Jihad-e Amoozeshi (Educational Jihad)--which closed the university doors to 'cleanse' it ideologically, but also dispatched numerous literacy camps across the most rural areas in Iran !

These initiatives were in fact set in place by Shah's regime as facilitators of "modernization". Whereas the Shah has Sepahe Danesh (army of knowledge), Behdasht (health), Keshavarzi (agriculture) even Tarvije khane dari (house keeping), the Islamists replaced the word "Sepah" (army) with Jihad (which literally means 'trying hard', but connotes undeniable duty to God).

I wish to argue that Iran would not have reached the so called Shah-desired "Golden Gates of Modernization", unless under auspices of an "Islamic republic"! Iran is a traditional country which is not fanatic, but is deeply conservative.

I often ponder about my childhood memories of traveling with my mother to rural places where she would be setting up this or that "Sepah". My mother had studied Economics and she worked for the Department of Agriculture. Her job kept her away from home very often! She always boasted bout how she would be going to places where men didn't dare to go. And she took me along some times. I cannot say I am fond of memories of those uncomfortable Land Rover rides that would take me with mother to these dry and 'ugly' villages where I could not play with kids. Even if they were 'groomed' (precondition for me to be allowed to play--out of fear of contracting an illness), I didn't understand their language often! (Not everyone in Iran speaks Persian).

At that time, young men and women had to do a compulsory service in these various "Sepahs". Naturally girls would join these armies. I don't know the details of recruitment but if mother wasn't asleep now I would have asked her (i will add as I learn more from her or Father). From what I recall, there was a large number of 'city' girls, who were often disgruntled about having to "serve". I don't know why but my parents had a habit of taking me to work with them! It wasn't because they didn't have baby sitters as my Grandmother lived with us and she always had two workers in the house (young women from villages who would not eat with us, who would not know how to read and write, and whom my sweet little Papa drove to their houses on the weekends--and now i am refreshing my memories of how YOUNG I was when i learned what poverty looked like ...).

For me it was fun to go to Mother's office; as I got a lot of attention from these young colorful women whom I wished to grow up to look like. But, even at that young age I always wondered why there were SO MANY of them cluttering the corridors and roaming aimlessly ... whatever kind of a job was that?! I would fantasize that they were orphans and that my mother was housing them! (But it was Aunt who ran the orphanage and not Mother, and I knew that these women had to do with the "economy" which was mother's specialty!)

When revolution came, those 'pretty girls' disappeared. Their green shirts, curled hair, 70's Jeans turned into vague memories of Mother and Aunt talking about how X who would not be wearing but a mini skirt, had now turned into a vigilante, reminding my mother to cover her hair--which of course she (and Aunt) refused to do, as they refused to do a lot of other things to CONFORM into what they weren't--thus mother was fired and forced to retire at the age of 43 (but with only a fraction of her pension, as a PUNISHMENT for her non-Islamicism)! Aunt tried hard to get herself fired too, but she didn't succeed. So she just quit--having the luxury of being married to a surgeon ...

With urbanites like mother gone (or 'cleansed', as was the word for getting rid of non-revolutionaries), these modernizing functions fell in the hands of those whom at the beginning "we" (i.e. the non-revolutionary Taghooties) considered incompetent villagers! These villagers, however, were there for a cause ... were there to educate their own people, with whom they shared a far greater affinity. As sensitive as my 'royal' mother was to the 'cause' for her peasants (or someone else's), she would not have been authentic enough to be effective. Feudal arrogance is one of those personality traits that oozes out; it alienates. That arrogance is not replaced with the arrogance of the clergy--which is even more pompous than the feudal one--but because it operated under the umbrella of "godliness" it is not as alienating. (Keep in mind that in Iran there is often a large overlap between the Clergy and the Feudal!)

This is why when I see pictures like these, my heart fills with hope for a future that will not need another bloody revolution to 'set things right'. Way to go ...


betmo said...

naj- i thank you for these snapshots into iranian life. it shows me that there is no difference at all between americans and iranians- as people and social constructs. culturally- there are differences and the religion is somewhat different (but not all that much)- but the desire to help mixed with arrogance, etc. reminds me of working in human services here. the younger folks especially didn't understand how college educated white kids from surburban homes failed to connect with ragged, poor, uneducated families in the city. so, again, thanks. :) happy holidays.

goatman said...

Wasn't Persepolis the home of Darius and his clan at one time. Seems I have read of this.
(I am trying a translator called Babylon; let me know how it works if you get the chance??)

او که تخت جمشید در خانه داريوش و طايفه در يك زمان. به نظر می رسد و خوانده ام. (من يك مترجم به نام بابل, اجازه بدهید که چطوری است اگر از فرصت? ? )

RickB said...

Fascinating and insightful, if you take the London gig you will have to also find a literary agent, I want a Naj book!

Naj said...

Hi Betmo,

You're most welcome.

Yes humans are the same everywhere! But I really think Iranians and Americans resemble eachother in many ways. Incidentally, Iran has 9/72 million illiterates; and the US has 44/300 million .... even that ratio is similar :)


LOL, that translation is awful! :D
Yes Persepolis was built by the Achamenid's.


You mean I have to look for an editor to fix my AWFUL/SHAMEFUL grammar!?!!


David G said...

Ah, Naj, I fear that darkness is descending on the earth.

Iran is in the firing line of those whose love of violence and gold outweighs their capacity to love!

Please take care, my sister! The wolves are coming.

Gail said...

Hi Naj-
Once again, I could "ditto" what betmo said.
As one who serves a population that suffers from addiction, mental illness, homelessness, poverty, and isolation I ally with your worst fears and underlying hope. I humbly recognize my small part in the devastation, but a part all the same.
I am quite intrigued by your writings, actually a variety or emotions surface across the spectrum. "Thank you"

Love Gail,

goatman said...

Thanks for the feedback; it was too expensive anyway ($66 US) and I decided not to get the translator.
Just thought it would be nice to be able to communicate in another language without learning it. Lazy me!!! The best to you in the new year, may many pleasant surprises await.

MarcLord said...


What a breath-takingly open-minded and thought-provoking essay. Absolutely beautiful. Expansive. If the offspring of feudal arrogance is capable of such grace, it has redeeming qualities.

Recently, you described what it was like to witness or know about the post-revolutionary executions, the loss of your family's status. I didn't reply at the time, but later thought that losing a country was like a death, like the death of parents.

It would be remiss to not encourage you to write more about your childhood in Iran, your journey to this continent, your life. I know it would be personal, have a story to tell. It might not be Persepolis, but it's sure to have its own toughness and nuance.

Please clarify one point--this sentence is unclear to me:

"I wish to argue that Iran would not have reached the so called Shah-desired "Golden Gates of Modernization", unless under auspices of an "Islamic republic"!"

Did you really mean the Islamic Republic accomplished education the Shah wouldn't have?

Naj said...

Thank you Marc; this coming from my favorite story-teller is really important to me.

I have a good story to tell about my life; and i do it bit by bit ... my inspiration comes from a little something happening in the "now" triggering a memory of the past and contextualizing it for me at the same time.

Yes, the level of education acheved under Islamic republic is higher than Shah would have been able to achieve ... Shah forced "sophistication" down the throat of people; IRI has provided opportynity for a bottom up growth ... far more sustainable ... i will elaborate more if you like

nunya said...

That's really a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing it. :)