Social Change in Iran: An Eyewitness Account of Dissent, Defiance, and New Movements for Rights

By Ghamari-Tabrizi, Behrooz | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2002 | Go to article overview
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Social Change in Iran: An Eyewitness Account of Dissent, Defiance, and New Movements for Rights


Ghamari-Tabrizi, Behrooz, The Middle East Journal


Ervand Abrahamian teaches in the City University of New York

Social Change in Iran: An Eyewitness Account of Dissent, Defiance, and New Movements for Rights, by Behzad Yaghmaian. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2002. x + 232 pages. Notes to p. 261. Bibl. to p. 266. Index to p. 269. $62.50 cloth; $20.95 paper.

Olivier Roy predicted that one of the reasons for which Muslim fundamentalists will ultimately fail is that they have no vision of "Islamic leisure activities." He asked, "what will imposition of the shari'a mean? Hypocrisy."1 Social Change in Iran shows that the new generation of Iranians are leaving this hypocrisy behind and asserting themselves in the public sphere. They intend to end the cultural schizophrenia of decadent homes and puritan streets.

The main focus of Social Change in Iran is the cultural conflict between the new generation of Iranian youth and the fundamentalist ideology of post-revolutionary state-building and Orwellian social control. Through a lively narrative, the book demonstrates the failure of the Islamic regime's cultural project of creating a homo islamicus. Behzad Yaghmaian shows how a "movement for joy" has undermined the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic. Social Change in Iran is primarily based on the author's encounters with people on the streets during his year-long visit in 1998. One year after the first term election of President Khatami, Yaghmaian's residence in Iran coincided with a burgeoning of a new free press, the emergence of new student movements, and a robust public debate on civil society and political development. In the first part of the book, Yaghmaian's eyewitness account offers the reader a rare opportunity to look into the processes of social change, as they are articulated in the everyday lives of Iranian youth - in their weekend excursions to Tehran mountains, in their hanging out in the parks, on university campuses, and in their homes. He tells us the story of the children of revolution who long for Western pop culture and consumerism, a "movement shaped by the desire to `sin'" (p. 48), a movement which embraces all that is considered to be decadent and forbidden by the Islamic Regime. Yaghmaian weaves numerous vignettes of real life situations into a general discourse of social and political change advocated by Muslim reformists.

The second part of the book renders a sketchy picture of the Iranian economic crisis put in the context of the international division of labor and the processes of globalization. The Islamic regime, Yaghmaian reminds his readers, came to power with a strong program of social justice, manifested by the establishment of a quasi-Keynesian welfare state. This happened at a time when the world economic order was being transformed by the neoliberal ideology of international financial institutions (IFIs), such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The emerging new international division of labor made it impossible for the Islamic republic to reintegrate into the world economy without compromising its large welfare state apparatus.

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