The Islamic revolution in Iran at the closing decades of the twentieth century was a shocking, unexpected phenomenon in the context of modern history. Its religious emblem, the presence of the Shiite clerics as it's mobilizing motor for mass demonstrations and, eventually, the bizarre composition of Islam and revolution—an amalgam of two conceptually alien elements, with unprecedented ideological claims— created a new peculiar model of state and statecraft. The substitution of a fundamentalist regime for a semisecular monarchy replaced the crown with the turban as the paramount symbol of the Iranian national sovereignty, under the fundamentalist formulation of the “governance of the canonist” (velayat-e faqih). This new state manifesting itself through specific signs, symbols, slogans, discourses, and behaviors, as well as by appropriation of modern means of ideological propaganda, the use of revolutionary violence, and organized terror, embodied in the very structure of a state, addressed itself to the world as a new militant ideological and political power aiming, once again, to change the world. How could this extremely unexpected event happen? Explanations are various and they focus either on the dictatorial manners and erroneous actions of the shah, alongside the role played by the Western powers, specifically the United States, or on the presence and the political role of Shiism and its clergy in Iranian history. However, a few fundamental questions remain unanswered. How could a radically traditionalist religious establishment, which was normally marked by modern revolutionaries as reactionary, merge with the most radical revolutionary groups and views? What are the universal results of such a “chemical” composition for both the otherworldly religionism and secular revolutionism? How do they essentially differ in action and discourse from what they had been previously? What were the innermost historical forces that made possible this seemingly impossible phenomenon?
Skip Nav Destination
Daryoush Ashouri; Creeping Secularism. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 1 May 2011; 31 (1): 46–52. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-2010-051
Download citation file: