Aristotle believed speech separates humans from animals. Recently, however, humans have forgotten to utilize their innate abilities to stand up for what they believe, instead submitting to what others believe. Marina Nemat, in her memoir, captivates her listeners by reminding them that they have voices, and thus the ability to construct concepts, think critically, and consider the voices of others; more importantly, absolutely nothing can take our voices away from us: Marina is living proof of that. Furthermore, reading her memoir makes me aware, not only of my own voice, but that there are many voices, from many different cultures. Coincidentally, there exist mutual standings on many aspects of life, despite stemming from different cultures and beliefs, but the slight variations can cause enormous arguments. For this reason, her book and life inspire me to search for the objective truth: the things humanity shares and values and loves. It has instilled within me the will to help others in their searches.
Nemat’s book also contributes to Mankind by making him understand that views differ depending on which part of the earth he stands on. If Marina intends to remind us of anything besides utilizing our voices, it is that the sky is not the same color everywhere. She shows it is entirely possible that two cultures believe in extreme opposites, believe they are both right—yet both are wrong. This is ultimately why it is important to be tolerant, and aware, that varying opinions and worldviews exist, but we should not be scared of them. Instead of being scared, we should embrace the diversity, for it is natural, and the moment a view imposes on another, voices shall be used—not violence. Our voices will make us aware, and awareness leads to knowledge, which in turn leads to responsibility.
Primarily, it is simply important to be aware. We must be exposed to what happens around us in our lives and in the lives of others, no matter if those lives are next-door or across the ocean. When Marina chose to write her memoir, she took the ultimate step: responsibility. In doing so, she made her readers culturally aware. Her readers became exposed to how other cultures (specifically the mainly Islamic Iran) define justice, express emotions, and run their government. Merely being aware that these things are different from the way they are in my hometown makes me question if the way we do it is the “correct” way. For example, while many American females think they should be free to express themselves by using make-up, tattoos, piercings, dyes, or eclectic styles of dress, some Islamic Iranian females actually enjoy wearing their hijab, claiming it brings them freedom; furthermore, they strongly justify their claims: to them, restricting make-up and how they wear their hair, showing only their true faces, allows them to find themselves and show their friends and family the “truth,” and not some girl hidden behind make-up. To them, the process can be liberating. So which culture is correct? Beginning to question ideas like these have made me aware and led me on a search for knowledge.
According to Socrates, men do evil out of ignorance. Marina agrees that intolerance and hatred arise from fear of what people do not know. Even her family refuses to know what happened in the prison. “Why doesn’t anyone ask me anything about the last two years?” Marina asks. “The answer is very simple. We’re afraid to ask because we’re afraid of knowing,” her godmother responds. The government fears Nemat because they were aware of her beliefs, but not knowledgeable in them. In Nemat’s memoir, she questions her calculus teacher, rudely interrupting the class to ask if they can keep politics and religion out of class. In this particular situation, the teacher did not know how to deal with Marina and her “followers.” Later on, out of fear that Marina would rebel, the government aims guns at her face and arrests her, yet they never bothered to ask why Marina did what she did before torturing her; instead they exercised their power over her, fearing she was a potential threat to their comfortable lifestyles, never acknowledging that they threatened her lifestyle. This is why, out of becoming aware that these different lifestyles exist, we must inform ourselves about how they work before making assumptions. It is important to be cautious and wary, but to assume every single thing is a threat without evidence is the refusal of knowledge. In my own search for knowledge, Nemat’s book encouraged me to not be afraid of anything without first studying it—to not just believe, but to know.
Lastly, being aware and searching for knowledge leads to becoming responsible. How is it possible, that after being aware of life and knowledgeable about what is beneficial to all mankind, that one can choose to do evil? This is why evil stems from ignorance. Like Marina, at some point we have to give an answer. Would we accept the whip when it is our turn to become the torturer? Or are we informed enough to say “no,” realizing that if we accepted the whip, we would continue an endless cycle? Reading Marina’s book reminded me that I have a voice, and a responsibility to use it for good. Now, I am aware, looking to know, and assume full responsibility for my actions. I long to find the truth, and make our separated voices into one powerful force of goodness.
As for being aware, we must realize that because a hijab exists does not mean everyone should wear it; similarily, because make-up exists does not mean everyone has to wear it. No one should be condemned for what they choose to do. As for being knowledgeable, we must acknowledge that sometimes discovering the truth is painful, but liberating; difficult, but worthwhile. We must know that if someone chooses to wear the hijab, they have a reason: it shows their true selves; we must also know that is someone chooses to wear make-up, they have a reason: it expresses their true selves. No one should be condemned for having a reason and arriving at it through knowledge. As for being responsible, we must utilize our voices. If we do not communicate our reasons for doing what we do, people will instinctually assume the worst. Whether God gave us the ability to formulate concepts and communicate ideas or we evolved to be able to formulate concepts and communicate ideas, we still fail to do so, the very thing Nemat is against. From now on, I do not fear other cultures or regard them as wrong or misguided. I think we are too similar to war over small differences, so I will instead embrace the diversity and choices we have, and ensure that I am always teaching, and always learning, no matter what part of the earth I stand on.
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