Monday, May 28, 2007

A while back I was doing a stint as an interpreter for a group of Americans visiting Iran as socially conscious tourists who were interested in checking out things for themselves.

One member of the group, an elderly man in his late seventies, had carefully read and highlighted Azadeh Moaveni's Lipstick Jihad in preparation for his trip. The trouble was, practically nothing he saw conformed to the image of Iran outlined in that book, and he kept on wondering if it was he, rather than the book, that was missing something. I assured him that the book was the problem, and while it may do a decent job of capturing the experiences of rich kids in the northern parts of Tehran, it is clearly an inadequate account of Iran more generally.

I was rather bitter at having to engage with the book on a daily basis because reading it in the first place had been torture enough. I really didn't need to relive the experience in the form of numerous discussions about its shortcomings and why it was probably not worth reading in the first place.

And just as I was beginning to put the whole thing behind me, Nazli sent me Moaveni's latest piece in the NY Times entitled "Seeking Signs of Literary Life in Iran."

I hate to be rude, but Moaveni is either blind, stupid, or straight up lying, because I can't imagine how else she would fail to find literary enthusiasts in Iran (which for her, like most other journalists, begins and ends in Tehran).

I have yet to leave Iran without paying extra for luggage that goes beyond the weight limits because I've stuffed my bags with so many books. And I know that I am not alone in often asking relatives and friends to send or bring me the latest titles being published there.

Long story short--and I'm sure you knew this was coming--I wrote an angry letter to the editor.

And before anyone tells me that I shouldn't get all bent out of shape over one article, I would respectfully like to remind you that we are not dealing with one stupid piece but an endless series of films, commentaries, articles, and experts who pocket fistfulls while producing harmful and false accounts of Iran.

So here is my letter:


While all of the superficial and inaccurate accounts of Iran that are printed on a daily basis in U.S. newspapers have raised most Iranians’ tolerance for shoddy journalism and analysis, Moaveni’s May 27th essay “Seeking Signs of Literary Life in Iran” manages to infuriate even the most hardened observer of U.S. media.

From the multi-story bookstores (dealing primarily in books) throughout cities in Iran to the street vendors hawking rare and banned books to the thriving book fairs, it is clear that Iran has a dynamic and diverse publishing industry. Nor is there a shortage of literary circles formed around discussing and critiquing books. Ms. Moaveni did not even need to leave her friends in northern Tehran to figure that one out: she could have merely checked the Internet to see the great number of Iran-based literary blogs.

Perhaps Ms. Moaveni should stick to making hackneyed observations about trends in women’s scarves’ patterns or the parties of privileged kids and leave assessments of Iran’s literary life to people with the minimum qualification of being able to see what is right in front of their faces.


Please write letters@nytimes.com if you are as irritated as I am.