Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic
Stanford Studies in Middle Eastern and Islamic Societies and Cultures
Published by: Stanford University Press
176 pages, 140.00 x 216.00 mm
- ISBN: 9781503610293
- Published: September 2019
An inside look at what it means to be pro-regime in Iran, and the debates around the future of the Islamic Republic.
More than half of Iran's citizens were not alive at the time of the 1979 Revolution. Now entering its fifth decade in power, the Iranian regime faces the paradox of any successful revolution: how to transmit the commitments of its political project to the next generation. New media ventures supported by the Islamic Republic attempt to win the hearts and minds of younger Iranians. Yet members of this new generation—whether dissidents or fundamentalists—are increasingly skeptical of these efforts.
Iran Reframed offers unprecedented access to those who wield power in Iran as they debate and define the future of the Republic. Over ten years, Narges Bajoghli met with men in Iran's Revolutionary Guard, Ansar Hezbollah, and Basij paramilitary organizations to investigate how their media producers developed strategies to court Iranian youth. Readers come to know these men—what the regime means to them and their anxieties about the future of their revolutionary project. Contestation over how to define the regime underlies all their efforts to communicate with the public. This book offers a multilayered story about what it means to be pro-regime in the Islamic Republic, challenging everything we think we know about Iran and revolution.
This chapter introduces the reader to the main themes and the key interlocutors of the book. It looks at issues of what the "regime" means in Iran, what such categories obfuscate rather than reveal, and raises questions about how one should study such subjects. The chapter also explores the methodology of the research and provides a brief history of the Iranian Revolution and aftermath.
This chapter explores the foundations of the Revolutionary Guard and Basij. It looks at how these organizations developed and how they have been altered due to generational changes. Specifically, the chapter undertakes an analysis of how these groups—and their class, generational and religious standing—affects the reception of their work today. Given Iran's huge demographic shift following the 1979 Revolution, most of the new cohort of regime filmmakers, as well as the audiences they target, came of age in the 1990s and have only heard of the revolution through their parents, school, popular culture, and state propaganda. What does it mean, therefore, for subsequent generations to establish what Mannheim called "fresh contact"?
This chapter looks at the vast web of regime cultural institutions in postrevolutionary Iran and the ways in which the "official" stories of the Islamic Republic have been propagated. Importantly, this chapter demonstrates how veterans disagree with the regime's foundational narratives of the war but must act "as if" they agree when they are in front of a camera. The chapter argues that despite extreme pressure, veterans are now at the forefront of challenging the official narrative of the Islamic Republic with their "real" stories. The chapter explores the constructed nature of Iran's war culture and the ways in which veterans today stage both private and public debates to rectify what they view as "lies" and "propaganda" of the 1980s and 1990s "sacred defense" media production.
This chapter explores the revolutionary divide between "us" and "them." Research on Iran's Islamic Republic runs the hazard of being overly preoccupied with religion in its narrowest sense, while obscuring other dynamics that might be understood through the lens of class and the distinctions that mark particular regimes of value. Specifically, this chapter explores the concepts of insider/outsider (khodi/gheyr-e khodi), which demarcate Iranian politics and notions of belonging in the Islamic Republic. This chapter unpacks the deeper themes that regime media makers develop in their films, from issues around opposition movements to the state to the Iran-Iraq War, while censoring independent filmmakers. In doing so, this chapter highlights the issues that regime cultural producers believe make for a good revolutionary citizen today. In the dichotomy of insider/outsider, this chapter asks about the constitution of a revolutionary "we" in the context of the Islamic Republic today.
Chapter 4 explores the ways in which regime media producers have responded to the 2009 Green Movement and attempt to garner new audiences. This chapter looks at how regime media producers use dissimulation to hide the fact that they are behind new films. It charts the new distribution strategies developed, from making regime films resemble underground/banned films to creating ad hoc film festivals in small towns and not showing their work on Tehran's state television channels in order to avoid criticism, while broadcasting openly on provincial channels.
This chapter looks at the increased use of a particular kind of nationalism at play in regime media work that simultaneously downplays religious themes. The emphasis on nationalism advances the notion that the Revolutionary Guard is an entity to defend all Iranians, not just the Islamic Republic, especially in the face of increased proxy wars in the region. Specifically, this chapter looks at the creation of a new war museum that is set against the older Martyrs Museums, and the increased production of music videos by regime cultural centers. The chapter also explores the rise in social media campaigns about the Revolutionary Guard, specifically Qassim Soleimani, as well as new strategies for public programming to attract younger audiences.
This chapter considers the role of internet television stations and the ways in which regime media producers use these stations to disseminate material without marking it as regime-produced. The chapter concludes the book by considering the main themes of the manuscript and offers ideas about how to think about the intersection of media and power beyond Iran.
"Iran Reframed offers marvelously original insight into one of the world's most misunderstood countries. Narges Bajoghli reflects on the success and failure of revolutions, the meaning of ideology, youth and aging, and the ways politics seeks to address deep human longings." ~Stephen Kinzer, author of All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror
"Iran Reframed is incomparable. A must-read on Iran's media landscape and paramount for anyone who wants to understand Iran as it really is. Gripping and provocative." ~Negar Mottahedeh, author of Whisper Tapes: Kate Millett in Iran
"In this beautifully written and extraordinarily rich book, Narges Bajoghli demonstrates a deep anxiety within the Iranian regime about how to transmit the ideology of the Revolution forty years on. With Iran Reframed, we come to understand the contradictions and frustrations behind the regime's justifications of its past, present, and imagined future." ~Sherine F. Hamdy, author of Our Bodies Belong to God: Organ Transplants, Islam, and the Struggle for Human Dignity in Egypt