Sunday, September 16, 2007

From absurd to surreal?

I, too, love Lakshmi [Jaya]’s Ionesco awards for absurd policies. So much so that I can’t resist following up on her awarding the prize to the Governor of Ulyanovsk for his decree giving couples the day off to make babies to increase Russia's declining population, with Iran’s surreal (at least 3 women painters of note, including Frida Kahlo, at left; numerous women writers) program encouraging couples to enjoy marital sex but discouraging political dissent. Appearing in this week’s New York Times supplement to Le Monde (also here), the program is part of Iran’s effort to forge a national identity that blends revolutionary ideology and Shiite Islamic teachings. This involves overcoming conflicts between those teachings, among others, and “pleasure-loving Persian culture and traditions”. The article points out that sex education isn’t new, but the emphasis on pleasure certainly is, and it indicates that something’s rotten in Iran. In a land where daily life is highly stressful, the government is hoping that families that enjoy together, stay together – and accept autocratic limits on other basic freedoms. Thus, classes required for all engaged couples teach women and men that “women should enjoy themselves as much as men” (patience guys, women take longer to be aroused). Also surreal is the NYT supplement’s juxtaposition of this article on the front page just above an article on a Utah polygamist sect’s banishment of boys. Yes, in a perverse twist, teenage girls are much more valuable than boys in this community where men must take at least 3 wives to attain eternal salvation and short sleeves, looking too hard at girls (nevermind dating), as well as TV and the Web are banned as immodest or wicked. So we have the sect’s “prophet” Warren S. Jeffs awaiting trial as an accomplice to rape for having forced a 14-yr-old girl to marry her cousin, while boys as young as 15 are forced out for going to the movies. Others choose to leave but in all cases, they need help transitioning into life outside: most have construction skills, but no more than a junior-high school education. After learning 4 years ago that there were hundreds of these boys on their own and in distress, Utah officials began working with state and private agencies to provide help. A residence has just opened in the nearby town where many end up. There they’ll receive psychological counseling and learn basic modern-life skills like check writing and asking girls out politely.

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