City of Lies
Ramita Navai is a bit of a Social Justice Warrior, traveling the world and telling you what's wrong with it, including Iran.
Ramita tells a few vignettes of different people’s lives in Iran (Tehran): the drug and alcohol abusers, the porn star and prostitutes, the terrorist, the gays, and so on. How do they feel, and what are their lives like in a city where they’re living in a theocracy of hypocrisy.
It isn’t a very balanced set of stories, but I don't think balance wasn’t her intent. It was more how a westerner leftist, (who is not a fan of the religious, traditions, or in some ways, even the culture), might proselytize on how unfair and unjust that world is. But it is fascinating, with well paced glimpses and stories that are worth hearing (or can skip to the next one).
It reads like “This American Life” on NPR (fascinating human interest stories), but in Tehran, and focusing on mostly the folks that are poorer, or doing things that risk their lives or consequences — and with many of their tales ending badly. She wanted to leave the westerners feeling lucky or superior? Or just wake us up to the injustices of the world? I’m not sure.
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If you understand the culture a bit, the stories are fascinating. If you don’t, they’re still fascinating, but you could walk away with the wrong perceptions of what it means (or how THEY feel about it).
Many will get things they might not have imagined:
- a bustling fairly modern city — with Valiasr street (a historic road through Tehran), and how the rich live in the North, the rest live in the South, and how there’s all this complex hypocrisies
- The segregation of men and women
- Mullah’s that visit prostitutes by giving them temporary marriages (for days or a few hours)
- Girls that save their virginity by having anal sex (claiming it is the anal sex capital of the world)
- How the punishments for being gay varies depending on if you’re the bugger (100 lashes) or the buggered (death), yet gay sex is not that hard to find (even risking death). Few are put to death, but the threat/intimidation is real
- How everyone gets nose jobs or rich girls get their hymens repaired for marriage, while still claiming modesty and avoiding western ways
- How everyone has bootleg CD’s of Western Music, illegal alcohol, and Satellite dishes to watch western shows
- Even their justice is somewhat random and shifting: like if you’re rich, you can often pay a beggar to take your lashes for you (someone must be punished, but it might not have to be you)
So I thought it was a fascinating read (or listen, as I do a lot books on tape while I walk). But she’s not a sociologist, or someone that seems to either get or care about the nuances of culture, or the history of tradition, or even their cultural perspectives. (She focuses on the individual perspective from an ethnocentric point of view, without the context). So you get stories, fed to westerners, from a western point of view, without offering the tools and nuances to understand why these behaviors are normal, or how THEY think about them.
|For example, Japan and Iran have this element of their culture about the public and private faces of things (separate lives), so of COURSE getting caught doing something in public that everyone does in private is understood to be just deserts. And they know the rules and nuances that will get you in trouble or not. (So it’s not as hypocritical to them, as it seems to us). So there’s lots of rules that she’s sort of pointing out the irony of, without the backstory. Don’t get caught drunk in public, but party hearty behind the garden walls. Imagine other cultures dealing with Americans that say “I’ll call you some time”, when you don’t really mean it. Why would you say that and not mean it? Some things just don’t mean what you think they mean, and you have to get into the head of the culture, to get it.|
Conclusion[edit | edit source]
So you get interesting stories, but sometimes lacking context. You do get a glimpses of what life is like for the most oppressed (or those that didn't follow the rules). It's one side of the coin -- but it's also important that you remember anyone could write a similar book about an American businessman whose livelihood was destroyed by some anti-smoking or environmental regulation or water policy change in California. Valid and interesting stories, lacking the larger contexts. But if you're more curious than judgy, it'll be great. If you're judgy, it'll be confirmation bias on everything that's wrong with everyone else.
Videos/City of Lies • [3 items]
|City of Lies|
Ramita Navai talks for an hour at the Jaipur Literature Festival
|City of Lies|
|Jon Steward joked that liberals are good and educated and our poor, religious are uneducated as well: missing his ignorant bigotry in the mirror or the ethnocentricity in not recognizing things don't map well across cultures. |
Ironically, the Iranian revolution was actually started and fueled by the Social Justice Warriors (liberal college kids), and how the Mullah’s and the Revolution would be considered a leftist religious movement. But Jon and his audience aren't in on the irony.
Jon Stewart interviewed her (09.02.2014) but video is no longer available.
|City of Lies|
Ramita Navai talks about life in Tehran with RT
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