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Book Review: PERSEPOLIS, VOLUME 1 by MARJANE SATRAPI

persepolisGuest book review by Dana R. Casey

The graphic novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi has become ubiquitous in America’s classrooms. Aside from the lowering of standards that is represented by the use of a graphic novel in a high school English classroom, this “novel” should raise some red flags for parents.

The novel shows the Iranian Islamic Revolution from the point of view of Marji, a preteen at the start of the revolution. The story opens with the hijab (veil) being imposed on Marji and her classmates for the first time. They are too young to understand the implications of the hijab and treat them as an irritating imposition or a toy to be used as a jump rope or horsey reins.

From the beginning, Marji gets an “education” from her family about the historical events that led up to the revolution. Her family, excited about the revolution at first because they are anti-shah communist intellectuals, soon realizes that the revolution has been usurped by Islamic radicals. As the plot develops, Marji comes of age as she watches her world become more limited and dangerous for everyone in general and for women in particular. Marji is finally sent to live in Austria at the end of the novel, not knowing if she will ever see her family again. There is a part two to answer that question, but that is for the next review. Be aware that both part one and part two are sometimes combined into one novel.

One of my first concerns with Persepolis, is its overtly positive presentation of communism and leftism. Marji’s parents, in trying to help her understand the revolution which they support at first, provide books and literature for her to read. The texts are about Castro, Palestine, Marxism, Hamid Ashraf, Iranian leftist would-be guerrilla revolutionary, and the evil Americans killing young Vietnamese communists. These texts “enlighten” her and she becomes fascinated with Karl Marx, who replaces her earlier fascination with God.

In a chapter called “The Heroes” Marji discusses two of the political prisoners released after the revolution. Both are communists, both are friends of the family, and both were imprisoned by the evil shah (the propaganda on the shah will be examined later) and would later be re-imprisoned and executed by the Islamic regime.

Her Uncle Anoosh who was also imprisoned by the shah, first supported Marji’s great Uncle Fereydoon who “elected himself Minister of Justice” in the Iranian province of Azerbaijan, which he and his revolutionary friends “declared” independent. He was eventually arrested and executed by the shah, but Anoosh escaped to the Soviet Union where he received a PhD. in Marxism-Leninism. After returning to Iran, he is arrested by the shah, but freed just before the revolution. Marji hangs on every word of her uncle, admiring his revolutionary sacrifices. Anoosh, becoming disappointed in the apparent religious turn of the revolution, declares, “But the religious don’t know how to govern. They will return to their mosques. The proletariat shall rule! It’s inevitable!!!That’s just what Lenin explained in ‘The State and the Revolution.’” Anoosh is ultimately also arrested and executed by the Islamic regime.

My second concern was the revisionist history. I nearly threw the book across the room when Marji’s grandmother says, “You know, my child, since the dawn of time dynasties have succeeded each other, but the kings always kept their promises. The shah kept none…” What really bothered me about this statement are the absolutes: kings always kept their promises; the shah kept NONE! Which kings have kept all of their promises? I would like to have one king revealed to me who kept all of his promises, a king from any country, anywhere, at any point in time.

The shah was certainly no angel by American standards, but by Middle Eastern standards, he was the most modern leader of his time. Under his rule, more Iranians were educated; class lines blurred; freedoms expanded; highways, railroads and universities were constructed; women had the full rights of women in western countries and were government leaders, university professors, lawyers, and doctors; Tehran was a cosmopolitan city. Did the shah imprison and torture revolutionaries and communists? Yep, but if we evaluate him against Middle Eastern standards, his actions paled compared to those in countries around him and, let’s face it, he was fighting communists and Islamists who were trying to take over the country. There is no doubt that the average, non-revolutionary citizen lived a freer life under the shah than under the ayatollah.

In fact, “Amnesty International … finally concluded in late 1978 that there were less than 2,400 political prisoners in the shah’s jails.” Under the Ayatollah “Amnesty International estimates the total number of deaths between 4,500 and 5,000, [and] … as many as 30,000 political prisoners, including children as young as 13…” These inconvenient facts were suspiciously absent from the materials provided to me in the curriculum supplied with this novel by my school system. These materials included several articles that took a positive stance on the hijab and none against.

Ironically, one issue that raises its head repeatedly is Marji’s education. Her parents are determined that she receive a French education. She is in a French school at the beginning the novel, her parents struggle to keep her in French schools throughout all of the difficulties of the post-revolution. They finally send her out of the country to a friend in Austria where she will again study at a French school. I am left to wonder why such a dedicated communist family would not send their daughter to Moscow to study. Apparently a Western education is superior.

Much of the rest of the book deals with the realities of life under an Islamic totalitarian regime. There are constant jabs against the West throughout, but having known several refugees from Iran, much of the oppression of the Islamic regime rings true. Of course Satrapi fails to realize that life under a communist totalitarian regime would have been just as oppressive to any citizen who dared oppose them.

One additional concern is the graphic elements in the novel, both in pictures and in language. Four letter words are scattered throughout. One of the more brutal lines comes from the mother when she is stranded after her car breaks down. She is approached by two fundamentalist thugs who say to her as she reports, “Women like me [unveiled] should be pushed up against the wall and fucked and then thrown in the garbage.” Does this truthfully reveal life in Islamic Iran? No doubt. Does it belong in a book being given to 7th, 8th, & 9th graders? Absolutely not!

There are offensive visual elements too. A man who has been tortured is on the ground while a guard urinates on his whip-marked back. The guard’s penis is clearly drawn. Another man is shown being burned with an iron. A third man is cut into pieces.

One of the most disturbing examples of the brutal contents in this novel is the discussion about Marji’s friend, only 12 years old too, who is executed. Before she is executed, she is raped, because it is illegal to execute virgins. The rapist then sends the family a symbolic bride price. I do not think that such graphic images and human cruelty should be given to young teens. The School Library Journal omits any mention of these elements which, as a resource for making book choices used by schools and school libraries, is a serious omission.

Finally, I have to say that I do not like Marji. She is arrogant, obnoxious, defiant, and difficult to deal with on many levels. Of course, this could be said of many teens. She smokes, she cuts school, she back-talks her teachers, and she actually punches a principal in the face (though that woman may have had it coming). But many of my students love Marji and are surprised to see an Iranian teen go through some of the same challenges and confusions that they face. In fact, my students love this novel completely which is why we should be concerned about the propaganda and leftism presented in the tale. American students are absorbing this misinformation in an appealing package. They receive no counter-balancing perspective and so they will walk away from this book sympathetic to leftists and communists.

Dana R. Casey is a veteran high school English teacher of more than two decades in an East-coast urban system.  She is a life-long student of theology, philosophy, and politics, dedicated to the true Liberalism of the Enlightenment, as defined by our Founders and enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

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Can America Survive the Arrogant, Elitist Imbeciles of Academia?

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Universities are supposed to be places where genuine learning occurs, where the atmosphere of academic freedom abounds for intellectual stimulation, experimentation, inquiry, debate and speculation. In other words, universities are supposed to be portals to the universe of truth, knowledge and wisdom. We are not speaking here of the professional training one may get in, say, law, medicine, or one of the hard sciences. We are speaking here of the undergraduate university where one is supposed to ponder the central problems of philosophy and ethics, where one absorbs the quintessential and seminal lessons from the purely academic study of history, literature, mathematics, and the social and physical sciences, as distinct from professional and technical subjects, in other words, the Liberal Arts and Humanities.  These are the basis of all true education and without them there can be no serious level of learning.

There used to be a reasonable correlation between a degree from a famous educational institution and an excellent education. But correlation is not causation, as one saying goes. An Ivy League degree may be handsome, but, as another saying goes, Handsome is as handsome does. It may be true that a degree from a major institution makes it easier to find high paying jobs, but it is now questionable whether the actual education one obtains there is real.

The purpose of a university education is to provide the tools for an intellectual life, for an ongoing process of thought, ideation and self-learning, for constant and relentless inquiry and expansion of experience and knowledge. Indeed, these are bound to continue beyond a single lifespan, by virtue of the fact that one’s participation in the process contributes to a vast and ready repository of knowledge and wisdom as it is passed on to future generations and is ever added to by them.

A university is NOT supposed to be a place where someone stuffs your head with propaganda and tells you not to examine it further or warns you not to crash its boundaries by questioning its highly questionable premises. But there is a danger that when the core disciplines are taught by professors whose minds and ideas are imbued with a bias, what they teach will also be biased, thus the student absorbs only one side of an argument.

Noam Chomsky has often called the US a terrorist country, which it clearly is not, despite what he presents as his “research.” Cornell West has preached an afro-centric line of academic-sounding racist drivel for years, attacking black Conservatives as “playing a dangerous game.” Thomas Sowell, Ward Connerly, Michael Steele, Condoleeza Rice and J.C. Watts are not playing any kind of game, but Cornell West certainly is. He plays the “dangerous game” of social-liberal politics, while masquerading as an enlightened intellectual. Bill Ayers, who supported Barack Obama and helped engineer his Alinsky-inspired Marxism, said at various times, “Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that’s where it’s really at” and “I don’t regret setting bombs.”Ward Churchill said, “There is no consensus, there is no homogeneity, there is no truth.” How does a student learn to pursue the truth when he is told that it does not exist? It may be unfair to compare Ayers with Chomsky and West, or even Churchill. Ayers came of age in a time when it was chic for well-to-do young people to declare themselves members of the counterculture, counter to that culture in which they were raised, often as children of privilege. And, so far as I know, neither Chomsky, Churchill nor west, ever bombed a building to protest  the America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. But Ayers did these things not merely to protest, but to defeat his own avowed enemy, the US, because he was a declared Communist at the time. Nonetheless, Chomsky, West, Churchill and Ayers are academics who, at one time or other, have been or continue to be affiliated with universities of high reputation. Not every university student comes under one the of these particular academics, of course, but the erosive mindset they represent too often replaces objective debate and the fostering of truly enlightened opinion on far too many US university campuses.

Further, the objectivity necessary to academic freedom is impossible when political correctness, an exclusive tool of the political left, is used to quash objective debate or challenge to its entrenched viewpoint, and no other interpretation of philosophic issues, social issues, or even lessons of history are tolerated. In a June 2013 article entitled “Political Correctness is About to Get Even Worse on College Campuses,” author David Masciotra put it plainly. “Higher educational institutions should function as fertilizers for the free exchange of ideas. Instead they are transforming into bloodless and boring breeding grounds for sensitivity captains who think the world’s biggest problems are flirtatious comments, jokes about cleavage, and books with pictures of scary people on the cover, and it is all done in the name of liberalism…” If a university atmosphere is heavily left-liberal, it is certain that the education provided at that university will also be left-liberal. And if political correctness is employed to stifle challenges to left-liberal thinking and curtail intellectual freedom, there will be a guarantee that graduates from such schools will carry on a left-liberal tradition born of intellectual brainwashing. Under this kind of doctrinaire intellectual repression, truth and its quest will die.

So why does this condition of tyrannical social-liberalism prevail on so many university campuses? Is it naivete in the face of an overwhelming mountain of evidence that social-liberalism is insanity? Or is it that so many university campuses are populated by promoters of an insane ideology because they are insane themselves? It is a given that generational inbreeding leads to insanity and mental retardation with almost calculable certainty. This is as true with intellectual and academic inbreeding as it is with genetic inbreeding.

The current situation on university campuses seems to prove this out with a vengeance. What is defined as liberalism pervades with pandemic virulence the so-called institutions of higher learning. It is certain that decades of teaching and learning the same leftist rot has created a massive number of academics and intellectuals who are incapable of any reaction to the philosophy of individual rights and liberty that is not knee-jerk (I would add, angrily, with emphasis on the jerk part).

The title of “Professor” credits one for being highly intelligent and association with the Ivory Tower of Academe has always carried with it a level of arrogance, presumably earned by ones intellectual achievements. But this can be deceptive in the case of social liberals. For, how can the promulgation of tired, old, failed notions prove ones intelligence? The greatest ideas on the planet that have been tested and proven to be gloriously successful are the very ones on which this nation was founded. They grew out of what was called “The Enlightenment” and were fashioned into the finest, most intelligently constructed set of documents that have ever existed in the history of mankind. Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and Madison were far seeing in a way that Karl Marx and those that pushed his ideology were not.

It is a fact that the ideas of our nation’s Founding Fathers, which espouse free enterprise and individual liberty, have led to the highest level of political, economic and social prosperity ever known in human history, while ideas that espouse collectivism and its concomitants of socialism, communism and social-liberalism, have led to political, economic and social degeneracy. If anyone earned the right to arrogance, it was the Founders of our republic and not the “professors” who disparage it and them.

It is sadly ironic that Social Liberalism as a philosophy is nothing more than the dilution of the Founders’ philosophy with elements of socialism, serving only to weaken the Founders’ extraordinary success. Thus, social-liberals take a perfectly workable set of premises and weaken them with unworkable elements. They use freedom to impede freedom. Is this ironic or tragic? Is it brilliant or just stupid? Socialism in all its forms has proven to be an abject failure, thus it is clearly NOT enlightened. So why not throw it out and accept the one philosophy that is truly enlightened? Only the mentally retarded or insane would do such a thing and only the mentally retarded and insane would praise doing it.

Yet studies in recent years have shown that college faculties by large percentages continue to be staunchly and stubbornly liberal in their thinking and support political correctness to enforce their views. Free speech seems to be a dying animal on college campuses and the promise of a true education is dying with it. In a 2005 article in the Washington Post, Howard Kurtz states, “By their own description, 72 percent of those teaching at American universities and colleges are liberal and 15 percent are conservative.”

In another article on the same subject entitled “Should we care that US universities are ‘too liberal’” the author says, “America’s top universities seem to offer everything except conservative views. That’s not healthy for political debate.”

In an article from October of 2012 entitled “Moving Further to the Left,” author Scott Laschik states, “Academics, on average, lean to the left. A survey being released today suggests that they are moving even more in that direction. Among full-time faculty members at four-year colleges and universities, the percentage identifying as ‘far left’ or liberal has increased notably in the last three years, while the percentage identifying in three other political categories has declined.’”

These represent only a small section of commentary on the situation. Leftist propaganda is so rampant in politics that it sometimes makes one’s senses dull to it. When yet another TV news clip appears with Charles Schumer on it, I change the channel in the hope of finding something more entertaining or enriching. This is at times amusing. But when we realize that the same degenerate propaganda spewed by Schumer and his ilk also forms the philosophic premises on which our children are being taught, it hits close enough to home that it ought to alarm us, every one. I should add that the use of the term “Philosophic” in reference to Charles Schumer is itself a ridiculous irony. He is nothing more than an opportunist politician and if I have accused him of having the brains to grasp the destructive nature of the very philosophy he embraces, I truly apologize to Mr. Schumer. Possessing an enlightened intellect is the last thing I’d accuse him of.

The destructive ideas of Leftist Social Liberalism come from somewhere and it is not directly from the politicians. Despite the repeated proven failure of Socialism over the better part of a century, its idea is being kept alive, like a brain floating in a jar of murky fluid, on university campuses, and the white coated “mad scientists” who are keeping its defunct cells alive are members of Leftist university faculties. Why? Because they themselves have been infected with the disease of social-liberalism and in the degenerate structure of their minds, the ghost still haunts, like the fumes of a corpse that will not lie down and die properly.

In my opinion, this makes questionable whether one should expose one’s children to such an atmosphere. Would it be better just to buy many, many books and encourage them to read the lessons of history on their own? No, of course it wouldn’t. Higher education needs instruction and it is incumbent upon parents to find a way to keep their children from the infection of bad ideas. Moreover, the need of a university to keep its endowments full in order to remain viable comes before its desire to enable the Noam Chomskys, the Bill Ayerses and Cornell Wests to infect our children with their ideas. If that were their sole purpose, then universities would provide little or no hope for a true education and would eventually be forced to close their doors.

Is it possible, then, for all this to change and for a new flowering of true education on college campuses that is without the taint of a social-liberal slant and the pernicious tyranny of political correctness? Of course there is, because there has to be. Universities will have to find a way out of the present situation, because, if they don’t release themselves from the stranglehold of modern social liberalism and replace it with true academic and intellectual freedom, a new Dark Ages will descend. And a nation can die when its intellectual and academic roots rot. Social-liberalism is dying already, anyway. It is eroding from within and will eventually collapse from its own decay and the universities will have to be ready for that eventuality. They may believe that they are safe for the moment, so long as the truth is not recognized by the public at large and an outcry against them does not develop. But the public is losing interest, at least in one way that may be difficult for universities to follow.

The proliferation of private and online schools, calling themselves universities and offering short-term, practical courses of study in business, the technical fields, education and the law are drawing large enrollments of students who have little or no interest in struggling through a four-year Liberal Arts program. But the shorter, more convenient approach they provide may not be the only reason they are becoming hugely popular. The atmosphere on university campuses may be too hostile for students for whom the term “education” equates more with practical immediacy and less with struggle and the spectre of political correctness. There is no sensitivity training required of accountants and computer specialists, at least not at University of Phoenix or DeVry University, and ITT does not offer a Black, Womens or Gay Studies major.

To be sure, Liberal Arts education is not dead, but it may be less and less inviting when the choice of a job is juxtaposed with what passes today for a university education. Universities will eventually realize that doctrinaire academics discourage the enthusiasm many people feel for paying enormous sums for the privilege of being indoctrinated. A degree from Harvard, Yale or Princeton is hardly necessary to get a job in teaching, finance or even law nowadays. Mostly, they are good for becoming yet another academic professor, and if the prevailing need seems to be for Social Liberal academic professors, then there will continue to be a market for their credentials, but market trends change even for university professors. Eventually, professors may have to jettison their leftist bent and then what will they do when this is the basis of all their thinking?

Such change can be difficult and slow. It may take decades, but it will come with an outcry from the rational elements of the population demanding that their children be educated in an open environment, free of forced ideologies and without the imposition of political correctness, where free speech and free exchanges of ideas takes place without restriction. But whether or not this promises to happen in our lifetime remains open to question.

FJ Rocca is an independent, conservative writer/blogger of fiction and non-fiction, most interested in the philosophy of American conservatism. Clarity is more important than eloquence, but truth is vital to human discourse.

 

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College Students Chant ‘Karl Marx’ ‘Socialism’ At Obama Victory Rally

Useful idiots…

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