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In the summer of 2007, I read a book called Infidel, a memoir by Aayaan Hirsi Ali. It is about her life, from her semi-strict Muslim upbringing to her flight from arranged marriages to Europe to her education, rise in politics and "conversion" to Atheism. She is currently being protected from Muslim extremists who want her dead for the things she has written about the religion and how it oppresses women, which are collected in a book called The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam. Between her memoir and these essays, she covers the recent history of Islam, specifically in the African countries where she spent most of her youth before fleeing to Europe, including political movements and other major events.

My plan for developing my paper is, after reading Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, to go back through Infidel and read The Caged Virgin, and look for parallels in experiences and attitudes. I also have a copy of The Koran that I can use for any references that might be made to it, and, if I have time, the works of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. At this point, that is purely extra and not what I plan to concentrate on, though her book Reconciliation, about how Islam might make itself less frightening to non-Muslims, might offer some useful bits of wisdom.

As I mentioned in my write up about the Graphic Narrative, which I realize no one will have read, one of my main interests in my college career has been looking at religion, particularly from a "revolutionary" point of view, which seems to be what I am getting from Persepolis. Also, as I mentioned in the Graphic Narrative write up, when ideas come to you and just feel right and generate new ideas, it is usually wise to run with them, and so that is why I am on this path.

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  1. Unknown User (wjs1)

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    Aaron,  I appreciate the explanation that you gave and the background literature that you hope to read in preparation for dealing with your topic. It would be extremely interesting to add into this project the works of Benzir Bhutto as well as excerpts from the Koran.

    Where I forsee problems will be in narrowing your focus down onto one particular aspect of interest, it seems as if you are interested in Muslim oppression of women's rights and if this is so then your extra materials will definitely add to your argument. However, if you are simply looking for parallels your search will most likely yeild too many parallels to make a concrete specific connection burdensome.

    Also, on a final note I'm interested to find out how the graphic narrative structure plays into all of this - are you planning on incorporating ideas about graphic narratives from a Muslim perspective...or are you focusing more intently on how women have been oppressed within Islam? Adding the unique structure of Persepolis(namely that it is a graphic novel) may be rewarding.

    Though your literature list is already impressive.

  2. Unknown User (eap6)


    I find one of the most interesting and telling pages in Persepolis that has to do with Satrapi's personal religious expression is on page 53, the last panel. Here we see God enveloping Marjane in his care, and for her it's the only comfort as she is overwhelmed with guilt and confusion. Satrapi's faith is presented less and less as the book goes on, returning, as I remember, only when Marjane's mother is shown sending Allah messages for her. It seems like Satrapi sees the role of religion as one of comfort in the face of uncertainty. That said, I wonder what you make of the fact that in the panel on pg 53, God is depicted as an old, bearded patriarch. I think this speaks to the question that Will posed above about how the graphic narrative structure plays into the expression of religion in this book. Does a character's graphic depiction of God unveil other aspects of the individual's ideology?

    I think this paper is bound to be quite interesting, and of course anything a student has developed an interest in is bound to yield a much more interesting paper than the contrary. However, I feel like the idea of "making Islam less frightening to non-Muslims" is a bit off-topic. Instead, I think maybe considering contemporary graphic representation of deities (both inside and outside of the comics world) might be an avenue of inspiration.

    Good luck!

  3. I'm in agreement with a lot of what Will and Emily say, paticularly their point about utilizing Satrapi's work -- its graphicness -- to narrow your undertaking in a productive way.  I haven't read Ali's books that you reference, but they look as though they'll really help to broaden your perspective.  I'm a little concerned, however, that they might be standing in for A LOT of other writing about Islam, both from "within" that community and without: see for example a number of the titles listed hereand here.  The second list in particular is a way of asking you whether the gender of the two writers you mention will be integral to your topic.  As I mentioned in class, you'll want to be careful about unconsciously assuming a paternalistic relation toward women in burkas; Satrapi deals w/ that right away in the film version of Persepolis -- as you'll recall, she and a "Western" woman are in a bathroom together, the latter pitying MJ for her headscarf while scrupulously applying lipstick to her own mask.  The other thing I'd mention is that you still need to clarify what you mean about looking at religion from a "revolutionary" perspective.  Do you mean atheistic?  Religions and their role in social revolutions (whether fundamentalist or otherwise)?  Or more in the sense of seeking a less-familiar vantage point that avoids the faith-or-not dichotomy?  I don't see a foregrounding of the graphic/visual/representational as being incompatible with any of those three perspectives.  And thinking of appearance, as such, lets you link up with "invisible women," "hidden world of Islamic women," etc. referenced in book titles.  To the extent that the Koran enters your essay -- the principle of hijab, etc. -- then you'll want to synthesize discourse about women and Islamic practicesand (feminist) critiques of women and "Western" practices.  Looks like a good start; it's easy to see Persepolis holding together the various other works....