World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


IRANIAN POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT -I- Debates around Identity in Iran (122) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: TUE, 2.30 - 4.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description:

Chair: Alireza Korangy (University of Virginia)

Paper discussant: Sonja Brentjes (Researcher, University of Sevilla, Spain)

Paper presenter: Aleksandra Dzisiów-Szuszczykiewicz (Ph. Candidate, University of Warsaw and National Security Bureau, Poland), “The importance of mythology for the Iranian identity exemplified by the Iranian leftist organizations' songs”
The role of the mythology in shaping the identity of Iranians is undeniable. Mythology, legends and history have been shared by people living on the land of Iran. Evolving for centuries these common historical experiences and cultural tradition had (and still have) a huge impact on the consciousness of Iranians. Attitudes and behaviors of mythical heroes like Rostam, Kaveh, Fereydoun or Bijen told in the immortal writings of Firdausi “Shahnameh” The Epic of Kings have been patterns and models for many Iranians through the centuries. Shahnameh, being a repository of values and attitudes, encloses also very important set of rules (like respect for wisdom, justice and happiness): perceived as the elements of identity, that were never rejected by Iranians. All Iranians, religious ones, monarchists, conservatives and left-wingers, know Shahnameh, its heroes and negative characters and have been deriving from the epic’s wisdom up to this day. That is the reason why the authors of the songs published in the book entitled “Anthology of folk and progressive songs” used so many symbols related to the Iranian mythology and were referring to Shahname’s characters. After translating and analyzing songs from the anthology I found that these kinds of symbols and references constitute the majority of literary instruments used by the authors. There is a bigger amount of these means than symbols and references related to communist and socialist ideology and related to Islam. That can be surprising, bearing in mind that the authors of anthology were sympathizers or members of the leftist and Islamic-socialist organizations like The People’s Mojahedin Organisation of Iran (known as the Mujahedin-e Khalq), Iranian People’s Fedai Guerillas or Tudeh Party. The aim of this Paper is to outline these symbols and references, showing also the role and the meaning of two other groups of literary instruments creating the reality. I would like to refer to arguments for the propaganda usage of these symbols. And on the basis of the aforementioned songs, I would like to present and prove the importance of mythology in creating the shape of Iranian consciousness.

Paper presenter: Alireza Korangy (Assistant Professor, University of Virginia, USA), “Epic Religiosity and Fundamentals of Nationalism in the Islamic Republic of Iran”
The use of the term epic religiosity in regard to today’s Iran points to a phenomenon that combines a sense of national pride with a strong fervor and remembrance of the Shiite doctrines; especially capitalizing on the tragic events of Karbala and the murder of Hussein b. Ali in the seventh century. Historical precedents of Iran, have by no means been devoid of heroic and nationalistic movements' and the one figure in particular that has captured the minds of all Iranians throughout their Islamic history is Firdawsi’s Rustam. This paper aims to first draw the parallels necessary to show how legitimization of nationhood through conflict is so very prevalent and highlighted in the events that occurred leading to Hussein’s demise and also some of the events in the narrative of the Shahnama, with Rustam as its central figure. Having created a historical paradigm based on popular religion and epic literature of Iran, the historical - and especially the contemporary - nature of the legitimacy through conflict in Iran will be analyzed. The unceasing nature of conflict until ‘victory’ for the sake of nation and nationhood will be shown to have been not a sudden idea in today’s Iran and the Persian-speaking world of past. It will be seen how the drawn-out war between Iran and Iraq finds its historical prelude in the Nizam al-Mulk’s Siyasatnama, which alludes to the history of the Saffarids’ Ya’qub Layth Saffari (d. 8th c.), who opposed al-Mu’tamid in Baghdad and almost achieved victory against Iran’s Arab oppressors. It highlights the courage and perseverance he displayed in resisting Baghdad. In his last stand near Baghdad, Layth is told of the forthcoming forgiveness of al-Mu’tamid (d.892) and he replies: ‘I have acquired my title, my armies, and my treasures by means of courage and bravery; nothing of mine has been acquired through paternal inheritance, nor through you. My determination will not subside until your decapitated head is sent on a platter to Mahdi yya and house brought down, or failing that, I go back to my barley bread and daily fish.’ In accordance with this example, Iran’s continual refusal to come to terms with the West is better understood. Therefore, conflict will be understood to be not only a heroic task against an unrelenting enemy, but a mystical function, within which an under-dog passion-paly persists. The religious counterpart to this historical narrative is Hussein’s insistence upon conflict as the means to an end for legitimacy. In conveying these images and these narratives, it will be shown the all-too-powerful triangle of religion, literature, and history, deems conflict as a duty in today’s Iran, whether consciously (propaganda) and or unconsciously.

Paper presenter: Rouzbeh Parsi (Research Fellow, EU Institute for Security Studies, Paris, France), “Recycling visions of modernity in 20th & 21st century Iranian politics”
This paper explores the political-philosophical discourse of modernity and nationalism in Iran during the 20th century. By comparing the discussions and debates after World War I in public discourse (primarily journals) in Iran and Europe, with the on going debate in Iran in the last 15 years the aim is to identify the unique and repetitive elements of Iranian political discourse. The approach uses R. Koselleck’s work on conceptual change in order to dissect the discursive frameworks of modernity and nationalism in Iran with particular focus on the notion of belonging, religion and gender. These are themes very much part of the intellectual and political project of modernising Iran at the outset of the Pahlavi dynasty and as salient in the discussion on the meaning and ambitions of the revolution in 1979 and the direction of the Islamic republic today. In both cases the participants in the debates are students, journalists, intellectuals and politicians that for various reasons argue their case from inside the country as well as exile. This geographic dispersement has an effect on their positions, ability to voice open dissent, as well as being able to appraise the political situation in Iran. In their attempts to argue for a specific vision for a future Iran they both elaborate on an analysis of their past and present as well as reveal how and to what extent they want to reconfigure the way in which belonging to the nation is understood, the role religion is to play in society, and last but not least the gendered role assignment of the new model citizens. Particularly the last dimension has an ability to remain constant in terms of importance and end result in both the time periods analysed here. This in turn relates to the varying acceptance and meaning given to the notion of popular sovereignty. Thus the paper aims to show the on going nature of the project of modernity in Iran and how different groups, regardless of their self-descriptions (secular, religious, nativist), have consciously and inadvertently relied on its basic precepts when mapping out their visions for Iran and have continuously contested its meaning.