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The Subversive Power of Literature as Activism - Live with Azar Nafisi 🌺

A great many of you may have grown up Reading Lolita in Tehran 🇮🇷

The brilliant and most captivating author, Azar Nafisi, joins SAHR live to discuss what it means to Read Dangerously. This dialogue comes at a time of great pain given the crisis in Iran, Afghanistan and other places. What does reading dangerously mean for our work as activists and advocates?

🫶🏽 Join us for a heart 🤍 full dialogue


The death in custody of 22-year old Mahsa Amini for failing to wear her hejab correctly, sparked a worldwide movement against the Iranian regime.

"Women, Life, Freedom", they chanted and men joined them too.

Similarly in Afghanistan, after the tragic fall of the country to the Taliban, it was the young women who took to the streets, chest against guns, their eyes standing wide against the Taliban. Their demands were no different. Women, Life, Freedom.

By their protest, the women in Afghanistan and Iran are exposing the regime's "noble lie", a word described in Plato's Republic as a fiction propagated by an elite to advance a noble agenda.

World over, political regimes have monopolised Islam and turned it into an ideology unrecognisable to most Muslims. Under the "noble lie", people need to be ruled over to enter a sort of or literal paradise - and those who disagree are discriminated against, censored, disappeared, imprisoned and often, killed.

Extremism come in various political packages and extremism in religious or secularist rule has more in common with each other than the common humanity of its people - because it thrives on the dehumanisation of the 'other' - be they women, ethnic minorities or political dissidents.

In these times, Nafisi calls us to return to fiction and not surrender to the excitement of absolutist ideas. Literature by its structure, Nafisi says, is democratic as its multi-vocal and even, "the villain has a voice". By its nature it is democratic. Reading literature is thus a resistance in itself.

Reading sharpens our imagination. It portals us to the worlds of others, and this is where empathy for the experiences of 'the other' become possible. Good literature humanises 'the other', creating space for understanding even those we despise and hate.

Reading is also an act of self-determination. This is how we become conscious of the ways we have been discriminated against, and, the ways we have participated in discriminating others. It is through stories where the humanity of 'the other' can emerge, away from and distant from the politics of identity. Literature becomes a place where we don't feel we have to choose between community or self, religion or feminism, west or east, us or them. Instead, we know its not black and white. We become comfortable with plurality, as it is in plurality, that alternatives exist.

As activists, wherever our interventions are - USA, Afghanistan or Iran - our power lies in our moral courage, to stand for and advocate for what is right. But there is power too in finding the humanity in your "enemy", whichever and however way that is possible.

War is over when one side wins. But peace is only had when both sides reconcile.


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