Contemporary Relevance


US/Middle Eastern Politics


Noor tells her daughter Lily not to tell people at school or in America that she is Iranian for fear that people may mistake her for a “terrorist.” The US has had a complicated relationship with middle eastern countries and Islamic people ever since we were attacked on 9/11. Many people make rash judgements about people based on looks, religion, or country of origin leading to immigrants from the middle east being labelled as terrorists and having a hard time adapting to US society due to this prejudice. Because Lily is only half Iranian, her mother hides her culture behind the Mexican heritage of Lily’s father Nelson and tells her that if anyone asks to say that her mother is “Italian”. Fear of terrorism in Iran and Iraq lead to the US beginning the gulf wars in the Middle East. The US still does not have diplomatic relations with Iran and the post-revolution government still holds very anti-American ideals.


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Executive Orders 13769 and 13780 or “The Muslim Travel Ban”


Starting on January 27, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that prevented citizens from a few Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, from entering the United States. Many families had relatives stranded at airports and many legal immigrants were denied access. This all took place right before the publication of The Last Days of Cafe Leila. Given that the book was inspired by Bijan’s return to Iran, her birthplace, and given the current administration’s relationship with the country, that pilgrimage may not have been possible within just a few months of the book’s publication. This travel ban is a reality for modern Iranian-Americans and their families who are trying to visit each other or immigrate to the United States to build a better life. It also may not be possible for immigration like the kind that Noor and Mehrdad did to be possible in modern times.


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The Treatment of Women in Fundamentalist Islamic Nations


In the book, Ferry is attacked with acid after she denies the marriage proposal of an unwanted suitor. Women who were allowed to sunbathe in bikinis one day were suddenly required to be covered head to toe. Pari is thrown into jail for next to nothing and tortured for years until her death. Lily opposes these restrictions by going swimming during the men-only time in disguise as a young boy. All of these rules are real and are the reality for many women in Islamist countries. Women aren’t allowed to drive cars, own businesses, or in other ways be financially independent. This is very limiting to women who do not want husbands or whose husbands beat them or die. These women are denied basic human rights. Acid attacks are still happening to young women in Iran when the refuse potential suitors or do other things to upset the patriarchal balance in the country. However, Iran was a place where women were treated fairly well before the Islamist Regime took over and many of these women grew up with rights they no longer have, making the absence of those rights even more tragic.


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Jess Jenkins ’19

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