the important and the not-so-important, horribly conflated.

identity in iran

In books on July 30, 2009 at 11:24 pm


…is something outside of the dialectics (religion/secularism, east/west, nationalism/global-market-ism(?), culture/scripture) through which both iranians’ and the west’s images of the country have overlaid photos, videos, and headlines from this “troubled” country. i use “troubled” not in its usual, disdaining and clinical sense—iran is “troubled” in the same way a pebbled agitates a pond, each bending ripple revealing the imperfections, the differences hiding beneath and along the shore of the formerly homogenous, glass-like water.

iranians love poetry, roy mottahedeh writes in his excellent historical analysis of the ’78-79 revolution (and prescient descriptor of the underlying causes of this year’s events in iran), the mantle of the prophet. this makes sense: the poet’s work is to both create something undeniably personal and affecting… and to hide the evidence that they, themselves, created it. the revolution of ’79 (and ’09) are powerful moments precisely because, to many of their actors and viewers, the passion and emotions they recognize within themselves are both new and familiar; they are powerful historical moments because they neither fit perfectly into, nor can be discarded as chance anomalies from, the trace of iran’s written and psychological past.

mottahedeh’s work ends with a discussion between a deeply religious mullah and a university professor. this is iran: [The Mullah says,] “I defend the reasonableness of the law for the world in which the Koran was revealed. but i recognize the variety of human situations, and i want not just a principle that suspends the law when necessary for the general good—I have that already—I want a principle that allows us to seek the spirit and intention of the la and to apply it accordingly. this principle should be something that doesn’t destroy the Koran by allowing people to read into it whatever they want, as some of our young people do. It should be a principle that preserves the substance as well as the name of religion and also preserves everything good that centuries of careful study of the law have given to us. I haven’t found it.”

iran’s identity is “the strive”—that stretch for what was once thought unachievable. we should not castigate, but encourage iranians in this yearning to constantly question and reinvent their identity and history. their leader, and his ambitions, do not represent those of its “troubled,” but enlightened people. khamenei’s actions (and the global community’s inaction) are just troubling.


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