Iran, the 1980s and 1990s
War-torn to Shreds
Marjane characterizes Iran as a country that has existed through "2500 years of tyranny and submission." It's a country that has suffered almost continuous war. In the image accompanying this quote we see a king on a horse making people bow down, a whole cavalry of Arabs invading, Mongolians with bows and arrows, and the Europeans encroaching. Basically, the races and weapons have changed, but the conflicts have remained the same for millennia. They enforce a fundamentalist regime, forcing women to wear veils and full-body coverings because "you showed your opposition to the regime by letting a few strands of hair show" (10.23). Men don't totally escape this kind of oppression either—they have to grow out beards and wear long-sleeve shirts.
The outside world hates Iran. While on vacation in Western Europe, Marji and her family see a report about Iran on the TV: "The TV showed a map of Iran and a black cloud covering the country little by little" (10.39). Seeing that other countries view yours as evil is a blow to your self-esteem and self-respect. Iran is used to this though. One of their mottos is "When a big wave comes, lower your head and let it pass!" (13.8). They're used to being attacked and dealing with it.
Another thing Marji says is, "We Iranians are Olympic champions when it comes to gossip" (18.2). This might sound like an insult, but we don't think it is. After all, they have no way of getting the news without all the information first being filtered through the government. Talking to each other is their only way of spreading the word, even if the "word" is sometimes rumor.
"Their faith has nothing to do with ideology! A few bills were all they needed to forget the whole thing!!" (14.48) Marji's dad is able to bribe some soldiers to keep them from searching their home. It shows that money motivates the soldiers above anything else. Do you think that the same could be said about many other institutions—political, religious, educational?
Iran is a place where men and women in college have to take separate staircases or else the men might look at women's butts on the stairs and become overwhelmed with lust. Figure drawing class is done with people completely clothed. Women aren't even allowed to run because of the insanely sexy butt jiggle that inevitably accompanies it. (Marjane's sane response: "THEN DON'T LOOK AT MY ASS!" (35.20)) Sanity isn't par for the course in Iran, though; delusion is. It's like 1984 come to life.
In a country where half the population is illiterate you cannot unite the people around Marx. The only thing that can really unite them is nationalism or a religious ethic (9.2). This sounds eerily similar to what extreme right-wing politicians are trying to do in the United States: limit access to education and maximize blind patriotism and 100% adherence to Christianity. Politics and education don't seem to mix at all.