The Legacy of the Constitutional Revolution in Iran: A Hundred Years of Struggle For Democracy
Lecture Series - Abstracts/Biographies
9-23 May 2006
School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Russell Square, London
A lecture series that looks at the ever-present tensions between religiosity and secularism, and between despotism and democracy in Iran's quest for modernity during the last 100 years.
Abstracts and biographies below shown alphabetically by surnames
The modern, nationalistic reading of the Iranian past represents it as a monolithic continuity, covering one of the longest histories in the world. This ideological approach, charged by ideas borrowed from modern nationalism and racism, claims that the essential qualities of the "Persian spirit" have maintained a fundamental stability - despite the tremendous upheavals that foreign invasions have brought throughout Iranian history. However, the introduction of Islam into the Iranian world was a formidable rupture that ended forever the dominant integral ethnic identity of the Persian Empire and its culture. Yet the retention of some elements of their original ethnic identity - mainly the Persian language and a memory of their pre-Islamic history through a national epic - have nourished the modern nationalism of the Iranians, and encouraged them to consider Islam as an element alien to the "pure" Persian culture. This lecture discusses the incompatibility of the modern nationalistic conception of Iranian history, especially as the state ideology of the Pahlavi dynasty, with the presence of Islam as popular religion, and how this incompatibility has caused a fateful ideological clash. Among other effects, this has been a crucial obstacle to the full realization of the project of the modern Iranian nation-state, which was the basic impetus for the Constitutional Revolution.
Daryoush Ashouri was born in Tehran in 1938. He studied at the Faculty of Law, Political Sciences and Economics of the University of Tehran, and has been visiting professor at the universities of Tehran, Oxford and Tokyo. He has worked as essayist, translator, encyclopedist, and lexicographer, and is the author, compiler and translator of about 25 books. His intellectual interests cover a wide interdisciplinary range, including political sciences, literature, philosophy and linguistics. His main interest is in the cultural and linguistic affairs of his native country, Iran, as a third world country encountering modernity. He has made important contributions to the development of Persian vocabulary in the domains of human sciences and philosophy, compiled in the Farhang-e 'olum-e ensani (A Dictionary of Human Sciences). Among his major works is a hermeneutical, intertextual study of the Divan of Hafiz (Erfan va Rendi dar She'r-e Hafiz). He has translated the works of Nietzsche, Machiavelli, Shakespeare and others into Persian. Since 1979 he has been living in France with his wife and three children.
In the days and months when the constitutional movement was developing, from eleven years before the movement bore its fruit and the constitutional decree was signed, and Iran joined the countries with constitutions, the most frequent medium of communication, after the pulpit (manbar) which was in the hands of the clergy, was night-pamphlets (shabnameh). They were the father of the independent media in Iran that were nobody's monopoly and reflected nothing but the people's demands and aspirations.
These few independent publications that exist today, these weblogs and internet sites and other media, are the children of those night-pamphlets, which were produced during the constitutional movement by anonymous individuals and appeared in the morning on the doors and walls of the cities. The police tore them down to prevent people from reading them and knowing about the problems, but an hour later they would reappear. Probably it was the love of reading these night-pamphlets that made some people literate.
One hundred years of the history of constitutionalism - one hundred years of struggle for freedom and modernity - have witnessed the sacrifice and heroism of journalists. Four generations of night-pamphlet writers and journalists have written this part of Iran's history - which is only a segment of the thousands of years of Iran's written history - so that the future will know what has happened in this sacred battle over the development and freedom of the country. In the centenary of Iranian constitutionalism, the memory of the night-pamphlet writers and the first generation of journalists must be kept alive.
Massoud Behnoud is a prominent Iranian journalist and writer. Born 1947 in Tehran, he started his work as a journalist at the age of 14, and founded more than 20 newspapers and magazines, none of them are currently in publication. Between 1971-79 he was the chief editor of the most influential and popular daily in Iran Ayandegan. In 1985 he was one of the founders of Adineh, the most prominent social and literary monthly in Iran and for more than 13 years he was one of the leading members of the editorial board. In 1997 he joined a host of other journalists to publish the Teheran daily Jame'eh, and then the other newly found dailies Tous, Neshat, Asr-e Azadegan and Bonyan, all of which were closed down. He is a keen student of the modern history of Iran. His thirteen books, and his articles and commentaries, have been received with a great deal of public interest. After the crackdown on the Iranian newspapers, Behnoud together with other well known journalists like Mashallah Shamsolvaezin, Akbar Ganji, Emadeddin Baqi and Ebrahim Nabavi was imprisoned for a total of 23 months. Since 2003 he has been based in London, working with Roozonline and the BBC Persian Service.
In 1909, at the height of the Constitutional Movement, Ayatollah Na'ini, a high ranking cleric in Najaf, wrote an important book (Tanbih al-Ummah wa Tanzih al-Millah, Admonition of the Public and Refinement of the People), in which he provided religious arguments in support of constitutionalism and against despotism. This book offers a clear and broadly coherent political theory within the framework of traditional Shi'a thought. This lecture will critically examine Na'ini's ideas, exploring their potential and their limitations on both religious and political grounds, as well as their validity and relevance in the continuing struggle for the democratization of religion, politics and society in Iran.
Hasan Yousefi Eshkevari is a religious intellectual and a critic of current theocratic government in Iran. Having studied in the Qom seminaries, he became a political activist and an ardent disciple of Dr. Ali Shariati in the 1970s. He was elected as an independent member of the first post-revolutionary Majles, but after 1984, disillusioned with the course taken by the Islamic Republic, he devoted himself to academic, intellectual and cultural activities. Eshkevari has taught at Allameh Tabataba'i University and published 15 books and numerous articles in Iranian journals and newspapers. In 1996 he founded the 'Dr Ali Shariati Cultural Research Centre'. In July 2000, following a speech delivered at the Berlin Conference in April, he was arrested and condemned to death for 'apostasy' and 'war against Islam'. The sentence was later commuted to 7 years in prison. After four and a half year in Evin, he was released in February 2005. Ehskevari's research focuses on Islamic theology and the history of Islam; he is currently working a manuscript on history of Iran and Islam, exploring the relationship between religion and political power.
Iran's politics, culture and international relations today are shaped by two broad contexts, that of the modern Middle East and modern international system within which Iran operates, and that of the legacy of over two millennia of Iranian history. While arguing that the inherited past cannot, in any direct way, explain contemporary Iran, this lecture will examine persistent and recurrent factors that shape Iran and its relation to the outside world. In particular, attention will be paid to four dimensions of Iranian politics and culture: forms of state, social movements, ideologies, including nationalism, and relations with the major international powers.
Fred Halliday studied at the universities of Oxford and London. Since 1985 he has been Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and since 2002 a Fellow of the British Academy. His books on the Middle East include works on Iran, the Arabian Peninsula, nationalism, and the Cold War. Five of his works have been published in Persian. He first visited Iran in 1965. His most recent books are The Middle East in International Relations and 100 Myths About the Middle East.
Ziba Mir-Hosseini is Research Associate at the London Middle Eastern Institute, SOAS, University of London. An independent consultant, researcher and writer on Middle Eastern issues, specializing in society, gender, family relations, Islamic law and development, she obtained her BA in Sociology from Tehran University and her PhD in Social Anthropology from University of Cambridge. She has held numerous research fellowships and visiting professorships, most recently: 2004-5 Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin; 2002, 2004, 2006, Hauser Global Law Visiting Professor at the School of Law, New York University. Her publications include the monographs Marriage on Trial: A Study of Islamic Family Law in Iran and Morocco, Islam and Gender: The Religious Debate in Contemporary Iran, and (with Richard Tapper) Islam and Democracy in Iran: Eshkevari and the Quest for Reform. She has also directed (with Kim Longinotto) two award-winning feature-length documentary films on contemporary issues in Iran: Divorce Iranian Style and Runaway.