Politics of Resistance
by Shabnam J. Holliday
I almost stopped reading this book after a few pages. Like most academic treatments of sociopolitical issues, the author begins with a dizzying array of definitions and terminology, sometimes weaving seemingly simple concepts into undecipherable webs of words. Witness the following passage from the middle paragraph on p. 4:
“The dynamic of the Iranian national identity being constructed in relation to both an internal ‘other’ and an external ‘other’ and the politics of resistance embedded in these complex relationships can be understood in terms of a hegemonic and counter-hegemonic dynamic of discourses and counter-discourses of Iranian national identity. Some of these are or have been dominant or top-down. The ultimate aim is to illustrate that indeed Iranian national identity in the Khatami period is contested and that this is evident in the multiple discourses and counter-discourses. Analysing the articulation of national identity in terms of discourses allows the concurrent constructions of national identity to be examined in terms of a hegemonic and counter-hegemonic relationship.”
Gulp! As an engineer, I crave simplicity in oral and written communications and prefer the use of more-readily absorbed charts and tables in lieu of long, unstructured textual passages. If I were to write this book, I would start with the following diagram that shows the two components of the Iranian national identity according to the author: Iranianism (Iraniyat) and Islamism (Islamiyat). Different political personalities and groups can be placed on this coordinate system according to the relative weights they attach to Islamism and Iranianism in defining the national identity. I problably would have added a third dimension to the diagram that corresponds to democracy, with its value being higher near the middle of the diagram and virtually zero at both endpoints of Pahlavi and Khomeini. The democracy dimension is self-explanatory. What remains, then, is to define Iranianism and Islamism, with their various tints and interpretations.
Thanks for your comment. Here is the correct version of the diagram. I am still awaiting instructions on how to modify it in the body of the review.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Iranianism
| * Pahlavi
| * Mousavi/Karoubi
| * Khatami
| * Rafsanjani
| * Khomeini/Khamenei
Iranianism does not have a single interpretation. Pahlavi’s version was based on the ancient Achaemenid era, with its grand civilization, often symbolized by Cyrus and Darius and given the geographic moniker “Persia.” Competing with the interpretation above is the Sassanid era “Iranshar” or “Iranzamin” (empire/land of the Aryans, roots of the modern name “Iran”), just prior to the Arab invasion. The latter interpretation represents a less grandiose, and more historically accessible, picture of an era when Iranians were already monotheistic under Zoroastrianism. To complicate the matter, some Islamists do appeal to Iranianism, but their notion of Iranianism is nothing but Islamism. For example, Khamenei is quoted as saying, “Today, the Iranian nation is proud of the fact that after the passage of fourteen centuries its culture, language and customs and practices are part of our culture and in this regard, being national is tantamount to being Islamic.” [p. 78]
Symmetrically, Islamism also has two flavors (at least): the strict conservative interpretation and the modern interpretation, as exemplified by Al-e Ahmad’s resistance to Westoxification (gharb-zadegi) and Shariati’s return-to-our-roots paradigm. Islamists with the two views agree on external enemies (West, Zionism/Israel, East) and one internal enemy (the former Shah and his current royalist followers), but each group views the other as the second internal enemy (“deviants” and “stone-ageists,” respectively). This is, of course, a highly simplified view, but bear with me a bit longer. Al-e Ahmad talked about urban Islam and dismissed the early tribal version. This is evident from his claim that Islam “became Islam when it reached the settled lands between the Tigris and the Euphrates.” Conservative clerics, on the other hand, emphasize the Islam practiced in Prophet Mohammad’s days.
From the discussion above, and despite all the simplifications made, we see the complexities inherent in coming to an agreement on an Iranian national identity that would be acceptable to all the arguing parties. We have the Iranianism/Islamism spectrum, represented in the diagram above, along with at least two interpretations each of Iranianism and Islamism, combined with various shades of democracy and Iran’s place in the world order.
I learned quite a bit from this book, and its references, perhaps because I went in with a rather limited knowledge of Iranianism and Islamism. I hope that my engineering-oriented summary above contributes to the understanding of the ongoing dialog about social and political issues of our motherland.
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