Iran and the Challenge of Diversity: Islamic Fundamentalism, Aryanist Racism, and Democratic Struggles

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Palgrave Macmillan, May 15, 2007 - Political Science - 249 pages
4 Reviews
This book interrogates the racist construction of Arya/Aria and Aryanism in an Iranian context, arguing that a racialized interpretation of these concepts has given the Indo-European speaking Persian ethnic group an advantage over Iran's non-Persian nationalities and communities.  Based on multidisciplinary research drawing on history, sociology, literature, politics, anthropology and cultural studies, Alireza Asgharzadeh critiques the privileged place of Farsi and the Persian ethnic group in contemporary Iran. The book highlights difference and diversity as major socio-political issues that will determine the future course of social, cultural, and political developments in Iran. Pointing to the increasing inadequacy of Islamic fundamentalism in functioning as a grand narrative, Asgharzadeh explores the racist approach of the current Islamic government to issues of difference and diversity in the country, and shows how these issues are challenging the very existence of the Islamic regime in Iran.

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I think those who are interested in the historical, social, cultural, and linguistic issues relating to Iran should try to read this and similar books with an open mind and ignore most of the reviews. This is because the bulk of these reviews are written by people who make comments like the following:
"The author is an intellectual lightweight who has been highly criticized for inaccuracy, falsifications, and an unscholarly approach - you're basically throwing your money away".
the above review uses nothing but weasel words (i.e. who criticizes this author for inaccuracy, falsification, etc.? What are their credentials? Do they have solid evidence or do they resort to this-is-wrong-becuase-I-say-so arguments?).
I am an Iranian myself and unfortunately I have to admit that many Iranians are too happy to ignore truths just because it conflicts with their prejudices or the half-truths they have been brought up with. Dr. Asgharzadeh touches some really sensitive issues and the only logical way to approach such issues is to be open to possibilities and the truth. Those who approach such issues by relying on ad hominem, appealing to authority, weasel words, prejudice, and so on only exacerbate the anti-intellectual atmosphere of today's Iran.
(Disclaimer: I do not wish to endorse all the contents of this book. However, many of the arguments reflect the true nature of Iran's society, especially the parts which are related to linguicism and linguistic and cultural human rights. By the way, I have an MA in applied linguistics :D).

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The Iranian society suffers a number of fundamental attitudes and one of these often neglected is racism inherited in the Iranian society. Therefore, the title of the book is very appealing and it is so unfortunate that when the reader goes through the book, he/she finds out that the author is so biased in his “Anti-Racist” views that he goes far from being fair and critiquing the situation as it really is.
The origin of modern racism goes back to early 20th century with the rise of Reza shah to power. Then after more than a millennium, the Persian entity regained power in Iran. It might be argued that after the Arab invasion of the seventh century, Iranian nationality went out of the power of state and only survived within the spirit of the nation and with great works such as Shahnameh, the pre-Islamic book of Iranian kings and epics concerning patriotism. In Essence, the sense of nationality which might also be related to ethnicity has a deep root in history. Yet, this nationalism was deprived of power in the Islamic millennium of Iranian history. The kings and rulers of Iran in general and local rulers in particular were needed only to be Muslim and not Iranian or Persian. The Safavids united Iran with two major elements of Shia Islam and sense o nationalism mostly depicted via Shahnameh. Although Not Persian, but Iranian, the Safavids proved their sense of nationalism.
The newly came Pahlavi dynasty sought to glorify the ancient Iranian kingship and sense of nationalism. A very subtle point that must be remembered in reading this book that nearly all Iranians regard themselves as Iranians in its ethnic sense and probably Aryans, a word mistakenly used for racism of Nazi Germany. The word Aryan which rooted in the Iranian and Indian scriptures of far past, defines a nationality of their own, not related to Nordic race of Europe. Aside from linguistic affinities, there can be found little evidence of a united people under the title of Indo-European. Yet, the type of racism the author talks about under the title of Aryanism does not exist in Iran, as nearly all Iranians, except Turkmens or Arabs are considered to be Aryans and he merely falsify the reality of overall Aryan racisim as a Persian entity, not Iranian in general. The problem the author is so hurtful of, arises in the national movement of Pahlavi Era is the thirst of assimilation of all Iranians to symbols of authentic Aryanism and Iranian-ness. In this regard, linguistic differences were in conflict with the Pahlavi nationalist project. It was assumed that why Aryans of Azerbaijan (or properly named, Azarbadgan) should speak a non Aryan language or even other Aryan dialects were disregarded in favor of Persian as a proper Iranian language. Brought with it, sense of discrimination arose that is alive to this day. Moreover, the author, coming from a linguistic minority, tends to refute all sense and symbols of Iranian nationalism and tries to disregard and even disprove the Iranian history by referring to such reactionary biased writers as Poorpirar and Zehtabi who tried to falsify the history in favor of their separatist views and went so wrong in historical facts to claim what he wants to present in the book. Such notions and citations depicted in the book, undermines the credit of the book as a research outcome fortunately, the means for fair and unbiased research in history is open to anyone who is willing to seek truth and the author can buy his refutations only to those who are not familiar with Iranian history.
As the author pointed out, the modern view of defining a nation is in terms of citizenry, accepting all kinds of diversities of people living in a countries border, such as linguistic and ethnic diversities. Yet this modern definition of nationality should come to peace with the long existing sense of linguistic and ethnic definition of nationality that has been intrinsic in the Iranian culture and then promoted, albeit in a wrong way, in the Pahlavi Era.

About the author (2007)

Alireza Asgharzadeh completed a Ph.D. program in the Department of Sociology and Equity Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. Currently, he teaches the sociology of knowledge, the sociology of education, and comparative educational systems  in the Department of Sociology at York University.  His areas of concentration and research include Iranian Studies, Middle Eastern Cultures and Societies, Social Theory, the Sociology of Education, and Social Inequality.  Asgharzadeh's work has been published in various journals, including: Canadian and International Education, Language and Education, Journal of Educational Thought, Journal of Post-Colonial Education, Journal of African Studies, and Anthropology and Education Quarterly.  His most recent book is Schooling and Difference in Africa: Democratic Challenges in a Contemporary Context, co-authored with George Dei, Sharon Bahador, and Riyad Shahjahan (2006). He is also co-editor of Diasporic Ruptures: Globality, Migrancy,  and Expressions of Identity (publishing in 2007).

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