Representing the Unpresentable: Historical Images of National Reform--From the Qajars to the Islamic Republic of Iran
Syracuse University Press, 2008. 237p. $29.95. ISBN: 0815631790.
It is best to begin with a conclusion about this book first. This book should be placed on the reading list of the next United States president and on the reading lists of the leaderships all of Iran's friends, partners, competitors, allies and enemies. It develops a theme of profound internal torment of identity that is resolved through one woman's total break with tradition and her role in the eventual establishment of a new and liberal religious movement whose adherents have suffered quietly for a century and half in their native country while finding a large measure of acceptance outside it within the realm of the West. Any serious student of Iran would find the current leadership there a great deal more comprehensible in terms of its discourse and use of language after reading this book. It also outlines the deep torment that Iran has not yet recovered from concerning its encounter with modernity and its attempts to create and generate differentiation, when for all intents and purposes, Iran has become an element of the modern world.
Oil wealth as well as a systematic treatment of the ideology of Khomeini are also missing in the work. Oil allowed Iran to rent some aspects of modernity and it had an immense impact on the social structures of the country. Cinema, pistachios and carpets are Iran's main exports--as if the oil fields do not exist. We are given some hints that Khomeini was "more than a little Babi," but there is no systematic comparison that shows how the Ayatollah was drinking from the same springs as the Bab, although departing on a somewhat different journey. [Sayyid Mohammed Rida Al-Shirazi, also know as the "Bab", or "the gate", was the founder of a radical reformist religious movement in 19th Century Iran, who was executed for heresy.] In addition, we are given clues concerning the Islamic Republic's treatment of judgment day and how it relates to Babi notions of the same, but we are not given a systematic comparison on the points where the differences and similarities begin and end. This sort of analysis is essential for isolating the location of the inner other, in this case the Babi, in Iran's national culture. While this is a failure using purely academic standards, it...