Talebi’s essay emerges at the intersection of the state’s appropriation of martyrdom and the subject’s ethos and act of self-sacrifice, which exceed and transform that appropriation. Through a close reading of two letters sent from the front during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), it contemplates the complex desire of its authors to be simultaneously engaged political subjects and martyrs. The analysis attempts to illuminate the dynamic relationship within the official discourse and that which is reproduced through subjects’ interpretations and practices of shahādat. These interpretations are closely tied to the political and existential context of the aftermath of the 1979 Revolution, which despite the harsh political suppression allows for an appropriation of the official views of martyrdom and their evasion, elaboration, or extension. It reveals how a pious citizen utilizes the voice of a martyr to subtly criticize the very state that endorses his views. It also exposes the complex relationships between citizens and state in the Islamic Republic as manifested in the key metaphor of martyrdom. The appearance of the same passage in another letter by another combatant unravels a disjuncture that provides insight into the subjectivity of those who fought and the shared and contested meanings of martyrdom in Iran after the revolution. The essay attempts to offer an interpretation of martyrdom that recognizes the dynamism and complexity of the subjects of the shahid and shahādat instead of reducing them to pathological figures.

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