IRAN: Between Warrior Brother and Veiled Sister: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Politics of Patriarchy in Iran

By Kian-Thiébaut, Azadeh | The Middle East Journal, Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

IRAN: Between Warrior Brother and Veiled Sister: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Politics of Patriarchy in Iran


Kian-Thiébaut, Azadeh, The Middle East Journal


Between Warrior Brother and Veiled Sister: Islamic Fundamentalism and the Politics of Patriarchy in Iran, by Minoo Moallem. Berkeley, Los Angeles, CA and London, UK: University of California Press, 2005. ix+ 187 pages. Gloss to p. 195. Notes to p. 223. Bibl to p. 247. Index to p. 269. $24.95.

Through a postmodern and transnational feminist framework, Minoo Moallem analyzes the overlapping of gender and fudamentalism in Iran. She considers Islamic fundamentalism as a by-product of colonial modernity and the process of modernization and Westernization, and sees it as a crisis of modernity, rationality, and gender rather than that of tradition. She further argues that representational practices of "othering" and the identitarian claims of "weness" are inseparable from the modern history of race, gender, religion, and nation (p. 9).

The book is divided into five chapters followed by a postscript. The chapters rely on secondary textual sources, and visual materials, especially films. In the first chapter, the author uses a few European travel writings that depict 19th century Persia as absolutist and barbaric, thereby legitimizing European intervention. The Orientalist concept of a "Persian character" was used by the West to justify Western intervention in the Iranian political sphere (p. 40). She also contends that the construction of an Iranian nation cannot be separated from the construction of Persian character by travelers, missionaries, or officers. This is also reflected in the writings of the modernizing and modernized local Iranian elites and their discursive constructions of a Persian character in need of civilization (p. 57). The author further shows that, in Western discourse, racialization of Muslims and the representation of gender relations work hand in hand. The condition of women thus serves to define the boundaries between the "civilized" world of Europe and the "barbaric" world of Islam. Moallem contends that the racist, colonialist image of Muslim women as eternal victims, characterized by ignorance and passivity, has become Westerners' most comforting cliché (p. 60), despite the decoding of such spaces of representation and their historicization by Third World and Middle Eastern feminists.

Comparing pre- and post-revolutionary predominant discourses in chapter 2, the author, relying on Michel Foucault, maintains that they both created new feminized subjects and required them to assume heterosexuality. The aim, she argues, is to facilitate modern disciplinary control of the body and to create national and transnational gendered citizenship (p. 82).

Chapter 3 elaborates on the reinvention of traditions in the context of political and social oppression. Moallem argues that the Iranian revolution challenged the discourses of modernity through moving beyond the division between mind on one hand, and emotion and body on the other. It also challenged the cultural order of modernity by integrating high and popular culture, and questioned the dichotomy between secular and religious. …

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