A friend of mine has been saying for years now that she will not allow her daughter to leave for college without reading Not Without My Daughter
. Never having read it or seen the movie myself, I checked it out of the library recently. How I missed this powerful tale of oppression and adventure, I’m not sure, but I think I’ll follow my friend’s lead and have my daughter read it before she leaves home.
For those of you not familiar with the story, in 1977, Betty Mahmoody had married an Iranian doctor practicing medicine in the United States. He was loving and kind during their courtship and even during the early part of their marriage. He was also apparently not a devout Muslim.
Then the revolution overturned the shah’s rule in Iran. Suddenly, Moody, as she called him, became increasingly interested in Iranian-American politics and critical of the United States of which he almost became a citizen. His interest in and practice of Islam increased wildly.
A few years later in 1984, one of Moody’s relations arrived for an extended visit. Shortly after his departure, Moody decided that they needed to go on a two week visit to visit his family in Tehran. Moody swore on the Koran that they would come right back after their trip. The two weeks were miserable for Betty and her little girl, Mahtob. Moody’s family was unfriendly toward Betty and unsanitary. Betty and Mahtob counted down the days; soon it was time to leave. However, at that time, Moody and his family announced that they would not be returning to the United States after all. Thus Betty’s life was reduced to separation from her sons and aging parents in America, beatings, imprisonment, and separation from her daughter for a time as a punishment, all at the hands of her “loving” husband.
Some of Moody’s female relatives eventually felt bad about his treatment of Betty, but there was nothing they could do to intervene. No one would defend her when Moody beat her. No one would help her escape when he imprisoned her for various lengths of time. One relative said she was sorry about what she was going through but not to feel bad because all men were like that.
In addition, Betty met Ellen, another American woman to whom a similar thing had happened, but who had finally accepted her fate. Betty initially felt a kinship with Ellen upon meeting her at a class as they were from the same state in the U.S. Ellen’s husband had been an engineer in the U.S. and was very Americanized when they had met, but he changed drastically when they moved to Iran. He beat her into submission and imprisoned her for a year. Ellen finally converted to Islam and accepted her oppressed role. Betty never did.
Although Moody had beaten Betty at their daughter’s school in front of all the teachers and the principal, they would not go to the police for her. Even if she had gone to the police, there was little they would or could do. The Iranian constitution gave no real rights to her, a woman.
While the extremists argued that hyper-modesty would protect women, it somehow failed to prevent sexual abuses against them. Daily, girls and women were raped in Tehran, sometimes murdered. Not only did women have to completely cover themselves to avoid immodesty and inciting men to lust, but they couldn’t travel alone safely anymore in Tehran even when covered. To be alone was to be at risk. Betty herself was accosted twice but managed to get away both times. Funny but even a chador revealing only a small part of a woman’s face was not enough to quell the lust in some men’s hearts. Could it be that women’s modesty or lack thereof wasn’t the problem?
Betty did manage clandestinely to make contacts with people in the underground, who also wanted out of Iran. She snuck such meetings into her shopping schedule when she was able to move about. The Swiss Embassy and a few other people, both Iranian and American, wanted to assist her out of the country. Her escape could have been accomplished fairly easily if she had been willing to leave without her child, but she refused. Several times Helen of the Swiss Embassy strongly suggested she just forget about her daughter and they could get her out. Those of Iranian background, such as Helen, could not understand her refusal as in their worldview the children belonged to the man.
Under pressure from friends, Moody finally agreed to let Betty go back to visit her dying father but refused to allow their daughter to accompany her. First he told her that she would need to sell off all their assets in the States and send the money to him before she would be allowed to return, then he slipped his master plan to her that she would never see her daughter again. With the situation now more desperate than ever, one of her secret friends pulled all his favors to execute a dangerous cloak and dagger plan to hide Betty and her daughter and shepherd them out of the country.
Most striking to me in reading Not Without My Daughter
was the consistent witness of the oppression of women in Islamic societies. Reading Lolita in Tehran
both corroborate Mahmoody’s tale. Reading Lolita in Tehran
obviously focused on oppression in Iran following the revolution thereby confirming Mahmoody’s eyewitness account while Infidel
demonstrated the dire circumstances of women’s lives in several countries. In Saudi Arabia in particular, the author related how every night she and her family would hear the cries of women beaten by their husbands in homes close to theirs. Everyone heard, and everyone could recognize the voices, but no one talked about it or did anything. Brutality against women was just a fact of daily life.
Certainly violence against women occurs in the United States as well. I’ve known many women who have shared details of their nightmarish lives before their escapes with me. Yet the law was on their side, and the culture as a whole backed them in their desire to live free from familial harm. Such violence is not brushed off as "just part of life" or "all men are like that". Spousal abuse is deviant behavior.
Therefore, it is a mystery to me how a religion of peace can brush off this kind of oppression against women. It is a mystery to me how Westernized men can so quickly return to brutality against women they supposedly loved, once they return home. It is a mystery to me how people anywhere can witness violence and oppression and not intervene and how “law” can side with the guilty. And it is a mystery to me how anyone claiming a faith in God can justify to himself violence against women and children. But no one seems to have any answers, and I remain mystified.
Labels: book review, books, Iran, Islam, women, women's issues