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Azar Nafisi is best known as the author of the national bestseller Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, which electrified its readers with a compassionate and often harrowing[…]

Nafisi is puzzled by the simplification and self-righteousness she encounters in America.

Azar Nafisi: There are two things. Obviously I have far more freedoms in any . . . in every way – the way I look; the way I act; the books I write; the fact that I go around saying anything I want, which is usually not favorable a lot of times. What surprised me when I came back was the degree of politicization and polarization. That was one thing that was amazing to me. It was almost like being in a . . . somewhere in Iran where people, because of lack of political freedoms, become polarize you know? And the simplifications which come with the sort of polarization . . . the self-righteousness. It is not just the administration who says if you’re with . . . if you’re not with us, you’re against us. A lot of people who opposed the administration used the same form of language. So it’s a self-righteousness when you think . . . I mean others are wrong. And as President Bush likes to say, evil does exist in the world. But that doesn’t make us all good. And that idea that we are good against evil is very frightening to me. One thing that I’ve become very involved in and very, very worried about is because of this sound bite culture and the simplifications, so little attention is being paid to things that are the cornerstones of every democratic society, which is humanities. Where I work . . . I mean at the universities you see . . . I’m not talking about Hopkins specifically. I’m talking about the trend, because individual universities okay. NYU has a wonderful humanities department. I was at Yale last week, and I was telling them you guys, you’re living in a paradise. You don’t understand what is going on. But as a whole, humanities is dropping. Funding for it is dropping. Students are being told that if you take philosophy or English you’ll get nowhere, you know? So science is being separated from that renaissance idea of knowledge. Science is not technology. Science used to be genuine knowledge. It had thought and ideas behind it. This worship of things that are crassly pragmatic . . . I think that we should . . . We need a march on Washington on these issues. I think we need a town hall meeting in every city. Worrying about where this is going to take our culture, you know. So these are some of the things . . . My students in Iran know far more about ..., or Mark Twain than my American . . . than some of my American students. This lack of attention to thought and imagination, at least for someone in my field, is the most terrifying thing.

Recorded on: 2/22/08