Endangered Stories: CPS, Persepolis, and Iran

Satrapis depiction of Iranian women engaged in both pro and anti-hijab protests in the 1980s

Satrapi’s depiction of Iranian women engaged in both pro and anti-hijab protests in the 1980s

Arunima Chaudhary, Staff Writer


Satrapi's depiction of Iranian women engaged in both pro and anti-hijab protests in the 1980s
Satrapi’s depiction of Iranian women engaged in both pro and anti-hijab protests in the 1980s

In addition to its status as a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants, last month Mayor Lori Lightfoot declared Chicago a sanctuary for endangered stories. This means that, amidst a nation where book bans are reaching record highs, Chicago’s public libraries are committed to protecting and providing banned and challenged books. Banned and challenged books are those that have either been removed or attempted to have been removed from school curriculums, school libraries, or public libraries due to disapproval of their content. But disapproval of content has a broad range, and banned or challenged stories are disproportionately written by and about marginalized communities.

Yet contrary to its message today, Chicago has not always been welcoming to every book. In 2013, Chicago Public Schools banned the graphic novel Persepolis for classrooms below eighth grade citing graphic images and language. The award-winning autobiography is about author Marjane Satrapi’s childhood experiences growing up during the Islamic Revolution. Throughout the book, Satrapi details her family’s life in Iran, and during the Iran-Iraq war. In the opening chapter of the book, titled “The Veil”, Satrapi illustrates the abrupt imposition of the mandatory wearing of hijabs to her and her female classmates a year after the Islamic Revolution. Later, she talks about the end of her family’s participation in protests after participating in an anti-fundamentalist meeting which erupts in violence after the arrival of pro-fundamentalist soldiers. 

But the last month has shown that the issues outlined in Satrapi’s book are still pressing for Iranian women today. The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody, who had been detained for violating the country’s mandatory hijab law, has triggered nationwide protests. These protests include a large number of women who are revolting against Iran’s authoritarian laws that have made them second-class citizens. The hijab, whose visibility allows it to be strictly enforced, has seemingly become a symbol of the protests. Leaving the house bare-headed, shaving hair, and burning hijabs have all been present in demonstrations throughout the country. In response to the protests, Iran’s government has fired, used water cannons, and beat protesters, evidence of which has been seen in videos uploaded to social media. According to human rights organization Hengaw, which  primarily reports on western Iran, the last five days have seen the arrest of more than 600 protesters in the Kurdistan Province. 

But, in addition to highlighting the struggles of Iranian women, the Mahsa Amini protests have as a result unintentionally and surprisingly also made liberal Chicago the perfect example of book banning’s adverse effects. When CPS banned Persepolis, they took away an important educational resource about the Islamic Revolution that could be easily understood by students , leaving them less aware of current events today. CPS not only banned a book, but also removed the opportunity for class discussion, further reading, and critical thinking about the hardest – and arguably most important – parts of the book. In response to the ban, Satrapi stated that “They think kids are stupid. They are not babies. Children are not dumb.” In Persepolis, Satrapi illustrates moments in her life when she observes and is subjected to scenes of torture and suffering at an age that, in a Chicago school, she would have not been allowed to read about. But it is Lina Sun, in her research about using graphic novels to teach peace education, who perfectly sums up the significance of Persepolis, stating, “Persepolis aims not only to teach readers how to think about the Middle East, broadly, and Iran specifically, but also how to feel about it. Most students are unaware of the changes associated with the events during that time, but the repercussions of the revolution are still being felt throughout the world.”