Religious Minorities in Iran

Religious Minorities in Iran

Religious Minorities in Iran

Religious Minorities in Iran

Synopsis

Eliz Sanasarian's book explores the political and ideological relationship between non-Muslim religious minorities in Iran and the state during the formative years of the Islamic Republic to the present day. Her analysis is based on a detailed examination of the history and experiences of the Armenians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Jews, Zoroastrians, Bahais and Iranian Christians, and describes how these communities have responded to state policies regarding minorities. Many of her findings are constructed out of personal interviews with members of these communities. While the book is essentially an empirical study, it also highlights more general questions associated with exclusion and marginalisation and the role of the state in defining these boundaries. This is an important and original book which will make a significant contribution to the literature on minorities and to the workings of the Islamic Republic.

Excerpt

The genesis of this book goes back to an incident at the University of California, Berkeley, in April 1986. I was lecturing on women's political participation in the Islamic Republic of Iran at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies when I noticed a young woman who was leaning against the door listening with great intensity. In the audience were three women in their fifties who were whispering uninterruptedly and were clearly disturbed by something. During the question-and-answer period, one of them expressed her displeasure with me. My comments had appeared to her as a defense of the Islamic government; she severely criticized the clerical regime and Ayatollah Khomeini. Seeing her difficulty in communicating in English, I asked her to speak in Persian; she refused. She was determined to prove to the audience that I was a backer of the Islamic forces in Iran. Her strong pro-monarchical sentiments were not lost on anyone; in those days facing this kind of misreading of one's talk was a common occurrence. I would have forgotten the incident except for what happened next.

When the lecture was over, the young woman who had been leaning against the door approached me. “Do you remember me?, ” she asked. I did not. “We entered Pahlavi [Shiraz] University together. We were classmates. Even then you were always with the Muslims. You never learn. ” I was intrigued. Later, surrounded by Iranian students, most with some leftist affiliation, we sat for coffee. Her anger burst out: “I read your book [referring to my first book on Iranian women]. What is this attraction you feel for these prejudiced people? Why should you as an Armenian write about them? Haven't they harmed and offended us enough?” Bewildered, I asked if she was an Armenian. “I am an Assyrian. For them, all of us are the same. We are those dirty Christians. I left Iran a long time ago determined to have no communication with Iranians. Then, today, I came to hear you, thinking perhaps things have changed. Maybe now that so many of the expatriates have experienced oppression at the hands of fundamentalists their biases have disappeared. Maybe those who have fled Khomeini are more civilized. But I was wrong; they will never change.

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