Iran: Intellectuals and the State in Iran: Politics, Discourse, and the Dilemma of Authenticity

By Siavoshi, Sussan | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Iran: Intellectuals and the State in Iran: Politics, Discourse, and the Dilemma of Authenticity


Siavoshi, Sussan, The Middle East Journal


Intellectuals and the State in Iran: Politics, Discourse, and the Dilemma of Authenticity, by Negin Nabavi. Gainesville and Tallahassee, FL: University Press of Florida, 2003. ix + 149 pages. Appends, to p. 155. Bibl. to. 204. Index to p. 22. $55.

By all accounts, the Iranian revolution of 1977-79 had a powerful cultural overtone, and if culture could partly be understood as an arena in which construction of authoritative and, at times, competing bodies of meaning occurs, then it should come as no surprise that a large number of publications on Iran would be devoted to intellectuals, who are among the most influential creators of meanings.

One recent book on this subject is Negin Nabavi's Intellectuals and the State in Iran: Politics, Discourse, and the Dilemma of Authenticity, which investigates the often-asked question of "why... secular, left leaning intellectuals, had ever supported a movement increasingly characterized by religious symbolism" (p. vii). In the author's judgment, the secular intellectuals' support for the 1979 revolution, as opposed to their hesitancy/inactivity in the 1963 uprising, also led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was an anomaly, and, thus requires an explanation. Nabavi's own explanation is based on an ideational approach. She traces the transformation of the discourse of a number of secular left-oriented intellectuals from a modernist, westernist one to first an anti-imperialist third-worldist, and ultimately to a religiously colored discourse. In their soul-searching journey the seculars, despite an aspiration for authenticity (whose attributes for the majority of them remained opaque), were for the most part imitative and unoriginal. And here lies the reason for the seculars' ultimate defeat during the 1977-79 revolution. The intellectuals lost out in the year that followed the revolution, accord to Nabavi, because they lacked an alternative vision and thus were unable to take a stand against the emerging religious political order (p. 149).

Nabavi's study is methodical and judicious. The reader will obtain an appreciation of when and how this intellectual transformation took place. Nabavi allows her chosen secular intellectuals to speak for themselves. (However, she omits some of the truly engaged intellectuals, such as Samad Behrangi.) Her use of direct quotes, both in the text and the endnotes, is quite extensive. Her writing is clear and lucid, and her analysis is unpretentious. One of the major premises of Nabavi's argument is the anomaly of seculars' cooperation with the religious forces. …

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