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Stirring a nation
Symbols of the 1979 revolution

September 3, 2001
The Iranian

Excerpt from the preface to "Staging a Revolution : The Art of Persuasion in the Islamic Republic of Iran" by Peter J. Chelkowski, Hamid Dabashi (1999, New York University Press). Also see more than 40 images from the book.

The purpose of this book is to examine the massive orchestration of public myths and collective symbols in the making of the Islamic Revolution of 1978-9 in Iran and the war with Iraq that followed it between 1980 and 1988.

The Islamic Revolution in Iran has been one of those remarkable occasions in history when the power of words and images has successfully challenged the military might of an established state. How exactly the plethora of collectively constructed myths and symbols has been mobilized to stir a nation into revolutionary trance is at the root of our understanding of the whole revolutionary movement that occasioned it.

The mechanism of revolutionary build-up during the right-year-long bloody war with Iraq, too, needs to be studied in terms of the crescendo of common memories and shared sentiments conductive to sacrificial and martyrological dispositions.

From the words of Ayatollah Khomeini, the charismatic leader of the Revolution, transmitted to Iran through cassette tapes, to graffiti, slogans, and murals on walls and bridge columns, to revolutionary posters and banners, to songs, poems, declarations, and oratorical devices, to the creation of vivid and compelling mental images from the shared sacred history, and avalanche of public sentiments were mobilized by the leading figures of the revolutionary movement.

Popular belief and rituals were converted into stamps, banknotes, and chewing-gum wrappers, and directed towards mass mobilization for revolution and war. To oppose the established authority of the state, this relentless resuscitation of the shared sacred history was directed to delegitimate the status quo.

Every genre of this mobilizing mechanisms, every mood of these systematic orchestration of public sentiments, ought to be understood carefully, and documented appropriately, before we can begin to comprehend both the semiological and the dramaturgical dimensions of the Revolution.


28th of Mordad was a national holiday declared upon the Shah's triumphant return to Iran (August 22, 1953) after five days of "enforced ecile". This poster proclaims that day "National Reconstruction Day" and links it eith another milestone in the Shah's vision of Iran: The "White Revolution" which was approved in a "national referendum" on the 6th of Bahman (January 26, 1963). Here the artist unrolls a panorama of the "Great Civilization".


From Staging a Revolution : The Art of Persuasion in the Islamic Republic of Iran

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