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All About... Azadeh Moaveni

Our cheat sheet for the Middle East correspondent unpacking the complex stereotype of the ISIS bride 

Georgia McKay

Azadeh Moaveni is an American-Iranian journalist, author and academic who has covered the Middle East for nearly two decades. Born and raised in California, her parents left Iran in 1976 and were prevented from returning after the revolution.

Her career began in Egypt in 1999 while on a Fulbright fellowship to the American University in Cairo. She subsequently based herself in Tehran and reported throughout the region as Middle East correspondent for Time magazine, also covering Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq.

Love and resilience in the Middle East

Her first book, Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran formed part of a growing movement of female writers within the Iranian diaspora, including Marjane Satrapi, Firoozeh Dumas, Nahid Rachlin, and Azar Nafis.

Her follow-up, Honeymoon in Tehran, Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran, details her romance with the son of an Iranian textile tycoon and her relationship with Mr X, an Islamic Republic intelligence agent assigned to shadow her movements as a Time reporter. The New York Times described it as “a glimpse of a society locked away by geopolitics from the gaze of most Westerners”.

Iran from a different perspective - Azadeh Moaveni - TEDxLecce | TEDxTalks

Documenting Iran’s greatest women

Moaveni also co-authored Iran Awakening, the memoir of Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, the first Iranian and first Muslim woman to receive the prize. Also Iran’s first female judge, Ebadi participated in the 1979 Iranian Revolution, only for criminal penalties and gender relations to be set back 1,400 years when the country's new Islamic penal code was adopted in 1980. Ebadi went on to shoulder some of the country’s most intractable human rights cases pro bono.

The 1979 Iran Revolution: How It Happened | Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

The complicated story about the ‘brides of ISIS’

In November 2015, Moaveni published a front-page article in The New York Times on ISIS women defectors that was a Pulitzer Prize finalist as part of the Times’ ISIS coverage.

Her most recent book, Guest House for Young Widows – nominated for The Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction – is a gripping account of the inner lives and motivations of thirteen young women – Tunisian, British, Syrian, and German – who joined, endured, and in some cases, escaped life in the Islamic State. The “guest house” from which the book takes its title is an actual place “of such deliberate inhabitability that few women could stay long without going mad”. The worse the conditions in this limbo between marriages, the more likely the widows are to accept whichever husband they are told to marry next. Moaveni unpack the circumstances that gave rise to the group’s female adherents with nuance and compassion.

The 'First Lady of ISIS' | The Atlantic

The New York Times reviewed it as “a powerful, indispensable book on a challenging subject… an illuminating, much-needed corrective to stock narratives, not only about the group that deliberately and deftly terrified officials and publics across the world, but also about the larger ‘war on terror’ and the often ineffective, even counterproductive policies of Western and Middle Eastern governments.”

Moaveni teaches journalism at NYU in London and is a senior gender analyst at the International Crisis Group.

See Azadeh speak at The women of ISIS at All About Women, Sunday 8 March.

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