Stirring a nation
Symbols of the 1979 revolution
September 3, 2001
Excerpt from the preface to "Staging
a Revolution : The Art of Persuasion in the Islamic Republic of Iran"
by Peter J. Chelkowski, Hamid Dabashi (1999, New York University Press).
Also see more than 40
images from the book.
The purpose of this book is to examine the massive orchestration of public
myths and collective symbols in the making of the Islamic Revolution of
1978-9 in Iran and the war with Iraq that followed it between 1980 and 1988.
The Islamic Revolution in Iran has been one of those remarkable occasions
in history when the power of words and images has successfully challenged
the military might of an established state. How exactly the plethora of
collectively constructed myths and symbols has been mobilized to stir a
nation into revolutionary trance is at the root of our understanding of
the whole revolutionary movement that occasioned it.
The mechanism of revolutionary build-up during the right-year-long bloody
war with Iraq, too, needs to be studied in terms of the crescendo of common
memories and shared sentiments conductive to sacrificial and martyrological
From the words of Ayatollah Khomeini, the charismatic leader of the Revolution,
transmitted to Iran through cassette tapes, to graffiti, slogans, and murals
on walls and bridge columns, to revolutionary posters and banners, to songs,
poems, declarations, and oratorical devices, to the creation of vivid and
compelling mental images from the shared sacred history, and avalanche of
public sentiments were mobilized by the leading figures of the revolutionary
Popular belief and rituals were converted into stamps, banknotes, and
chewing-gum wrappers, and directed towards mass mobilization for revolution
and war. To oppose the established authority of the state, this relentless
resuscitation of the shared sacred history was directed to delegitimate
the status quo.
Every genre of this mobilizing mechanisms, every mood of these systematic
orchestration of public sentiments, ought to be understood carefully, and
documented appropriately, before we can begin to comprehend both the semiological
and the dramaturgical dimensions of the Revolution.
28th of Mordad was a national holiday declared upon the Shah's triumphant
return to Iran (August 22, 1953) after five days of "enforced ecile".
This poster proclaims that day "National Reconstruction Day" and
links it eith another milestone in the Shah's vision of Iran: The "White
Revolution" which was approved in a "national referendum"
on the 6th of Bahman (January 26, 1963). Here the artist unrolls a panorama
of the "Great Civilization".
a Revolution : The Art of Persuasion in the Islamic Republic of Iran