In 1979, after Iran’s then Shah was ousted from his throne, a new Islamic regime took over control. Only males were allowed to go to the schools. Like other females, Marjane Satrapi was forced to wear a veil, and the picture of the Shah was torn out of her textbook. Marji and her parents soon realised that the regime was not much better than the monarchy that preceded it.
In 1996, the Taliban took control of Kabul after killing the then president, Najibullah. In Afghanistan, the Taliban regime began in 1997. As soon as the Taliban came into power, it imposed misogynistic rules that forbade most women from working; banned girls from education; women were forced to wear a burqa; women could step out only with the escort of a male guardian; and they even carried out punishments including beatings, amputations and public executions.
Marjane Satrapi began writing Persepolis, a graphic novel set on the social-political scenario of 1976 to 1994, after finishing her university in France in 1994. Every frame of the graphic novel and historical occurrence illustrated as a monochrome cartoon are an uncannily precise representation of the trajectory of Afghanistan politics and cultural life of the past decades. The events that occurred around a young Marji leave their shadow on a subcontinent driven by religious polarisation, human rights violations, and economic strife.
Wherein Marji as a child had cognitive struggles to process complex political developments; as an adult incensed by the systematic dismantling of all individual and civil liberties under the Islamic regime.
Persepolis tells how the protagonist navigates with mute horror the depredations worked upon a troubled country by a regime that does not care about human rights.
Historical mirroring is established earlier when Marji’s communist uncle Anoosh had been imprisoned for his political beliefs. However, Anoosh is right to note that bigots don’t know how to govern a country and will inevitably come back to the empty edifices of faith to seek refuge. At present, his optimistic prognostication will not apply to the context of Afghanistan under the second regime of the Taliban, even though the Taliban assures women in Afghanistan will be free to work.
One of the first attacks initiated by hardline regimes is upon the education system. The best way to suppress voices for totalitarian politics is to indoctrinate the minds that can be a threat in the future. The easiest way to do so is by seizing control of education. Schools and educational institutes help to build the capacity of critical thinking and the spirit of inquiry.
Bilingual schools and universities were forced to shut down for two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Marji recalls a spokesperson of the Iranian Ministry of Education saying, “the education system and what is written in school books, at all levels, are decadent. Everything needs to be revised to ensure that our children are not led astray from the true path of Islam.” Parallels are evident in the overhauling of curricula in Afghanistan educational institutions.
Though the Taliban claimed to recognise their Islamic duty to offer education to both boys and girls, a decree was passed, banning girls’ education above the age of 8. The fundamentalist Islamic force wanted to have total control of Afghanistan before calling upon an Ulema body to determine the content of a new curriculum to replace the Islamic but unacceptable Mujahadin version.
There are many other similarities between the Shiite Iran of Maji’s youth and Afghanis’ lives under the Taliban rule. The suspected murder of the dissident Mohsen and the imprisonment of the communist Anoosh recall the numerous murders of innocent Kabul residents- in the past as well as today. On August 26, two powerful explosions outside the Kabul airport killed at least 20 people, hours after Western countries warned of an imminent terror threat. In contrast, thousands of people gathered, hoping for a flight to get out of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
We have seen the terrifying visuals of people being desperate to leave Afghanistan in fear of losing their lives, resulting in deaths. People cannot even elope the country as “Freedom has a price”, well said by Satrapi at the very end of her graphic novel.
We all know what prices Marjane’s Satrapi paid for her freedom each time she relocated to different countries and how she ended up there.
As Satrapi documented in her Persepolis, she could escape by changing base to another country, but in Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands do not have that privilege. So, what does the future hold for tens of thousands like her in Afghanistan under the Taliban Regime?