The city of Persepolis was founded by Persian Emperor Darius I in 518 B.C. as a religious center and the capital of the Achaemenid Empire. The Persian Empire was defeated by Alexander the Great and Greek armies about 330 B.C. and the city was burned. Today its ruins are located in southwestern Iran and are considered one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites.

Persepolis lived again in the graphic arts book Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Pantheon Graphic Library 2004) by Marjane Satrapi. Satrapi was born in Iran and grew up in the current capital city, Tehran. Her parents were leftwing political activists and after the 1979 Islamic revolution they arranged for her to move to Vienna, Austria when she was fourteen. She later returned to Iran where she studied Visual Communication and earned a Master’s Degree from Islamic Azad University in Tehran. At the age of 24, Satrapi left Iran to live in France.

Her black-and-white 341-page graphic novel Persepolis is autobiographical and recounts Satrapi’s experiences from age six to fourteen, including surviving a missile attack and learning about torture. The New York Times named it a Notable Book and Time Magazine called it the “Best Comix of the Year” for 2004.

Because the book includes a realistic pictorial depiction of torture and as part of the new rightwing assault on multiculturalism and anything that even suggests association with critical race theory, Persepolis is under attack and its educational supporters are threatened with retribution. At a recent Commack, New York school board meeting high school students and alumni protested against the removal of the book from 11th grade English classes. It has been an assigned text for more than a decade. Students from Islamic and South Asian backgrounds pointed out that it is the only place that someone like them appears in the entire 7-12 English Language Arts curriculum. Speakers who were also attacking Critical Race Theory demanded that Persepolis be dropped as “pornographic.”

District officials quickly caved to the rightwing protest. When the Commack school district director of English Charles Schulz defended assigning Persepolis and protested against its removal from the district’s required reading list, the Commack Board of Education abolished his job and reassigned to a made-up position as  “district-wide associate principal.” Schulz is now suing the district for violating his civil rights and other rights under New York State education law because of his “outspokenness” and “perceived lack of loyalty.” Schulz is a Commack high school graduate who has been a teacher and administrator in the district for 16 years. A Go Fund Me page was set up by Schulz’s supporters to help finance his legal response to being “reassigned.”

Since it was published in 2004, Persepolis has sold 3 million copies, including over have a million to schools and libraries. Michiko Clark, a spokesperson for Pantheon, the book’s publisher, responded to the book banning, “We do not believe any school district should be discouraging students from reading this landmark work.”

Marjane Satrapi calls the attacks on Persepolis “shameful” and “cannot believe something like this can happen in the United States of America.” The book does not contain photographs of torture; there is only one frame in the book (see above) and it is a drawing. After Chicago withdraw the book from the recommended lists for middle school students, Satrapi responded “I don’t think American kids of seventh grade have not seen any signs of violence. Seventh graders have brains and they see all kinds of things on cinema and the Internet. It’s a black and white drawing and I’m not showing something extremely horrible. That’s a false argument. They have to give a better explanation.”

Ironically, Iran is notorious for book banning. Banned authors include Salman Rushdie, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Dan Brown, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Marjane Satrapi. Commack and Chicago now join Iran, China, apartheid South Africa, and Nazi Germany on the list of countries and communities that do not trust their citizens to read.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.



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