Iran: Resources

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A list of links, books, and films to deepen your understanding of past and present issues within Iran

General

Understanding Islam


Books

Academic Books:

Confronting Iran: The Failure of American Foreign Policy and the Next Great Crisis in the Middle East
By: Ali M. Ansari (Basic Books 2006)

Ali M. Ansari provides a concise yet comprehensive analysis of the brewing crisis, its origins, and its potential consequences. Ansari places current developments within a historical and cultural context. He describes the myths and prejudices which have developed on both sides over the course of centuries and which have shaped policy and public opinion for decades.

The Turban for the Crown: The Islamic Revolution in Iran
By: Said Amir Arjomand ((Oxford University Press 1988)

Sociologist Arjomand explains the social and political eruption in Iran in 1979 and its far-ranging implications. He argues that Iran's tradition is closely tied to Shi'te Islam, which emphasizes legitimacy of political authority and succession. As secular control of Iran increased during the 20th century, competition emerged between the Shi'te hierocracy and the Shah. As the Shah accumulated power in an attempt to counter the control of religious forces, authority became personified. Hence, with the departure of the Shah from Iran, the internal state structure disintegrated and was replaced by revolutionary religious elements.

Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution
By Nikki R. Keddie (Yale University Press 2003)

In this substantially revised and expanded version of Nikki Keddie's classic work Roots of Revolution, the author brings the story of modern Iran to the present day, exploring the political, cultural, and social changes of the past quarter century. Keddie provides insightful commentary on the Iran-Iraq war, the Persian Gulf War, and the effects of 9/11 and Iran's strategic relationship with the U.S. She also discusses developments in education, health care, the arts, and the role of women.

The Iranian Revolution - Its Global Impact
By: John L. Esposito (University Press of Florida 1990)

John L. Esposito introduces The Iranian Revolution with an explanation of why the present is a turning point for Iran. He isolates the export of Islamic revolution as central to the Republic's character. A concise description of the complexities of that issue is followed by a discussion of its effects within and outside Iran, with the majority of the collection then devoted to insightful analyses of the Republic's impact throughout the Islamic world. International experts from Iran, Europe, Africa, and the United States assess worldwide impact of the Iranian Revolution on other Muslim societies and give us a remarkable analysis of the status of Islamic revivalism in a far-flung array of Islamic statues and societies—Lebanon, Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria, Turkey, the USSR, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Iraq.

Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope
By: Shirin Ebadi and Azadeh Moaveni (Random House 2006)

Millions of Iranian women were sidelined by Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, but few fought back the way Shirin Ebadi did. She had become Iran's foremost woman jurist by the 1970s, but Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's theocracy stripped her of her judgeship in 1980. Her steely tenacity enabled her to take on a new role as a human rights lawyer battling for justice in Iran's revolutionary courts -- a fight that won her the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize and brought her face to face with the terror her clients confronted.

Reinventing Khomeini The Struggle for Reform in Iran
By: Daniel Brumberg (University of Chicago Press 2001)

Reinventing Khomeini offers a new interpretation of the political battles that paved the way for reform in Iran. Brumberg argues that these conflicts did not result from a sudden ideological shift; nor did the election of President Mohammad Khatami in 1997 really defy the core principles of the Islamic Revolution. To the contrary, the struggle for a more democratic Iran can be traced to the revolution itself, and to the contradictory agendas of the revolution's founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Democracy in Iran: History and the Quest for Liberty
By: Ali Gheissari, Vali Nasr (Oxford University Press 2006)

Few countries today appear so erratic and unknowable as Iran, where Islamist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's increasingly militant pronouncements keep leaders awake at night from Washington to Paris. Despite President Bush's assertion that the spread of democracy will sweep away intolerance in the Muslim world, Ahmadinejad's ascent represented a sharp popular rebuke to the republic's clerical establishment. Gheissari, a history professor, and Nasr, a professor of Middle East and South Asian politics, both of whom have written widely about Iran, attempt to determine the boundaries of Tehran's democratic culture and institutions in this political and intellectual history. Their project is only partly successful, however, given the authors' persistent blind spots. They assert that "in many regards, there is more progress toward democracy in Iran than in any other country in the Middle East, perhaps with the exception of Turkey," which would be highly suspect even if one accepted the Iranian position that Israel does not exist. In their detailed dissection of Ahmadinejad's election, they make little of the fact that reformers and liberals largely boycotted the vote. Despite its flaws, Gheissari and Nasr's book offers a revealing glimpse into the paths that democratic ideas have traveled there both before and after the 1979 revolution.

Non-Academic Books:

We Are Iran: The Persian Blogs
By: Nasrin Alavi (Soft Skull Press November 2005)

In September 2001, a young Iranian journalist, Hossein Derakhshan, created one of the first weblogs in Farsi. When he also devised a simple how-to-blog guide for Iranians, it unleashed a torrent of hitherto unheard opinions. There are now 64,000 blogs in Farsi, and Nasrin Alavi has painstakingly reviewed them all, weaving the most powerful and provocative into a striking picture of the flowering of dissent in Iran. From one blogger’s blasting of the Supreme Leader as a "pimp" to another’s mourning for an identity crushed by the stifling protection of her male relatives, this collection functions not only as an archive of Iranians’ thoughts on their country, culture, religion, and the rest of the world, but also as an alternative recent history of Iran.

Lipstick Jihad: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America And American in Iran
By: Azadeh Moaveni (PublicAffairs 2006)

Time reporter Moaveni, the American-born child of Iranian exiles, spent two years (2000–2001) working in Tehran. Although she reports on the overall tumult and repression felt by Iranians between the 1999 pro-democracy student demonstrations and the 2002 "Axis of Evil" declaration, the book's dominant story is more intimate. Moaveni was on a personal search "to figure out my relationship" to Iran. Neither her adolescent ethnic identity conundrums nor her idyllic memories of a childhood visit prepared her for the realities she confronted as she navigated Iran, learning its rules, restrictions and taboos—and how to evade and even exploit them like a local.

My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes: Uncensored Iranian Voices
By: Lila Azam Zanganeh (Beacon Press 2006)

A seemingly devout cleaning lady sweeps a client's living room while pornography plays on the TV. A comp-lit class analyzes Milan Kundera's Identity (1998) in a translation deleting two major components, sex and gender equality. Women's clothing mannequins gradually lose their femininity, including their faces, replaced by cardboard disks, and their hands, replaced by cylinders. Of such is life in Iran's capital, Tehran, home, at least originally, of most of the artists and intellectuals contributing to this collection. Together, they raise the flag of hope for a freer culture, though the only basis they show for that hope is their and their peers' talent and integrity. Reza Aslan, author of No god but God (2005), ruefully acknowledges that, despite Tehranians' disdain for the mullahs--a taxi is as likely to run one down as pick him up, he says--many more Iranians want the "mullahcracy." Other imaginative and provocative voices herein include filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, Oscar-nominated actress Shohbeh Aghdashloo, and graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, 2003)

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
By: Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon 2004)

Adult/High School-Marji tells of her life in Iran from the age of 10, when the Islamic revolution of 1979 reintroduced a religious state, through the age of 14 when the Iran-Iraq war forced her parents to send her to Europe for safety. This story, told in graphic format with simple, but expressive, black-and-white illustrations, combines the normal rebelliousness of an intelligent adolescent with the horrors of war and totalitarianism. Marji's parents, especially her freethinking mother, modeled a strong belief in freedom and equality, while her French education gave her a strong faith in God. Her Marxist-inclined family initially favored the overthrow of the Shah, but soon realized that the new regime was more restrictive and unfair than the last. The girl's independence, which made her parents both proud and fearful, caused them to send her to Austria. With bold lines and deceptively uncomplicated scenes, Satrapi conveys her story.

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return
By: Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon 2005)

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return details Marjane Satrapi's experiences as a young Iranian woman cast abroad by political turmoil in her native country. Older, if not exactly wiser, Marjane reconciles her upbringing in war-shattered Tehran with new surroundings and friends in Austria. Whether living in the company of nuns or as the sole female in a house of eight gay men, she creates a niche for herself with friends and acquaintances who feel equally uneasy with their place in the world.

Let Me Tell You Where I Have Been
By: Persis M. Karim(University of Arkansas Press 2006)

The diversity of voices represented in this stunning collection of poetry, fiction and nonfiction by women of Iranian descent shatters their narrow image in the U.S. Though none are well known, most of the 53 authors live in the U.S. and 15 have been published in journals if not books. One writes about a woman's relationship with her chador. Another remembers her desire, as a young girl, to distance herself from the "old-world values" espoused by her parents. A woman who sought refuge in Germany conveys the longing she felt to return to her birthplace by detailing a market scene and how the taste of raw walnuts made her feel at home again. Like other émigrés, the women who fled Iran after the 1979 revolution have continued to feel strong ties with their homeland. Many of those now living in the U.S., Canada or the U.K. have grappled with such feelings in an era when cars in the U.S. were emblazoned with bumper stickers reading "Iranians Go Home" and "We Play Cowboys and Iranians." Though many contributions avoid politics, several writers illustrate heartbreaking incidents of stereotyping that reveal the struggle of facing pervasive social suspicion. Touching on universal themes of love and loss, exile and longing, politics and war, this collection derives its cumulative power from its authors' subtle, uniquely female perceptions.

Searching for Hassan: An American Family's Journey Home to Iran
By: Terence Ward (Anchor 2003)

The unique culture of Iran and the sweep of its history are revealed in this evocative travelogue of an American family searching for a lost friend in the country of their youth. Growing up in Tehran in the 1960s, Terence Ward and his brothers were watched over by Hassan, the family’s cook, housekeeper, and cultural guide. After an absence of forty years, Ward embarked on a pilgrimage with his family in search of Hassan. Taking us across the landscape of Iran, he plumbs its unimaginably rich past, explores its deep conflicts with its Arab neighbors, and anticipates the new “Great Game” now being played out in central Asia. Insightful, informative, and moving, Searching for Hassan enhances our understanding of the Middle East with the story of a family who came to love and admire Iran through their deep affection for its people.


 

Films

International film festivals celebrate contemporary Iranian cinema as one of the most interesting and fascinating cinemas worldwide. Because of their high artistic quality and their passionate humanism Iranian movies have won more than 300 awards in the past decade.

Documentaries:

Iran is Not the Problem (2008)
Director: Aaron Newman

Iran (is not the problem), is a feature length film responding to the American mass media's failure to provide the American public with accurate information about the standoff between the US and Iran. It looks at the struggle for democracy inside Iran, the consequences of the current escalation and the potential US and/or Israeli attack, and suggests some alternatives to consider. Visit the film's website here.


Iranian Cinema:

The Cow (1974)
Director: Dariush Mehrjui

Masht Hassan owns the only cow in a remote and desolate village. He treats the cow as his own child. When he is away, his cow dies. Knowing the relationship between Masht Hassan and his cow, the villagers hastily dispose the corpse, and when Masht Hassan comes back, they tell him that his cow ran away. Masht Hassan is devastated, he starts to spend all his time in the barn, eating hay, and slowly believes that he is the cow.

Bashu the little Stranger (1986)
Director: Bahram Bayzai

This touching, thought-provoking Iranian children's drama, from 1989 has a simple story, but complex undertones as it is simultaneously a quiet plea for peace and tolerance, an entertaining story and a sly, metaphorical criticism of Moslem fundamentalist thinking. It also presents a view of Iranian rural life seldom seen by Westerners.

Close Up (1990)
Director: Abbas Kiarostami

In this 1990 masterpiece of ironic reflexivity, Kiarostami's clear, self-possessed vision reveals the dogma of others while conveying none of its own, besides a faith in the power of the cinema itself to expose the artifice on which it depends. If religion is the suppression of the evidence of the eye through the dictate of the word, such calmly unwavering images, with their wry humor and generous sympathy, have the force of a quiet, steadfast resistance.

Once Upon a Time Cinema (1992)
Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf

Makhmalbaf's tenth feature and first comedy is set during the Qajar dynasty. It tells the story of the cinematographer who introduces the magic of the movies of the Persian court. The Shah, who has 84 wives and 200 children, is initially opposed to the new medium, but after a screening he falls desperately in love with the film's heroine.

Two Women (1998)
Director: Tahmineh Milani

Country girl Fereshteh and city girl Roya, schoolmates at Tehran University in the early '80s, become fri ends when the former tutors the latter to pay her way through architectural school. Their friendship and innocent fun are clouded only by the presence of a young man who stalks the pretty Fereshteh, demanding she marry him. She br ushes him off and the girls feel strong enough to disregard his advances, until one day he throws a bottle of acid at Fereshteh's cousin, mistaking him for her boyfriend. Blaming her for brining disgrace onto the family, Fereshteh's father forces her to return home from university, which has been closed due to the turmoil following the Islamic revolution anyway.

The Silence (1998)
Director: Mohsen Makhmalbaf

From one of Iran’s most celebrated filmmakers, comes The Silence, a hypnotic symphony of visual and aural rhythms. The Silence follows the life of Khorshid, a blind 10-year old boy who experiences the world through sound. Living with his mother in a small village in Tajikistan, Khorshid earns money tuning musical instruments.

The taste of Cherry (1998)
Director: Abbas Kiarostami

Winner of the top prize at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival, Taste of Cherry is an existential fable of weight and clarity from director Abbas Kiarostami. An Iranian man, Mr. Badii, is determined to commit suicide at nightfall, but seeks a living assistant to check his hand-dug grave the following morning. If Badii is dead, the person will fill the grave with dirt; if not, he will help Badii out of the hole -in either event receiving a handsome reward for the task. Badii scours the hills outside Tehran in his Range Rover, explaining the proposition to his passengers one by one. The candidates -- among them a soldier, a seminarian and taxidermist -- react differently to Badi's strange, forbidden request. Each lends new perspective on what it is that makes life worth living.

Children of Heaven (1999)
Director:Majid Majidi

Majid Majidi celebrates the immediacy and essence of childhood in this delightful tale of a brother and sister who share a pair of shoes when the boy (though no fault of his own) loses his sister's only pair. Since their parents are too poor to afford a new pair, they keep it a secret, trading them off every day in a mad rush, jumping gutters and navigating the twisting lanes to their schools and back. Then the boy hatches a plan: the third-place prize in a student footrace is a new pair of shoes, and he's determined to take it. The plot may smack of a Disney film, but the direction couldn't be more different. The family scenes are delicately observed, and Majidi captures the spirit of the children perfectly: proud, emotional, petulant, sweet, and disarmingly sincere. The film has a Western-friendly framework without losing the naturalistic eye and lolling rhythm that gives the best Iranian films their richness. Even as he builds to the climactic footrace (quite unexpectedly turned into a nail-biting contest) the film continues to reveal a wealth of discreet surprises, culminating in a conclusion all the more resonant for its sublime delicacy. His efforts earned the film the honor of becoming the first Iranian feature to earn an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film.

The Circle (2000)
Director: Jafar Panahi

Anonymous women on the streets of Tehran crouch alongside cars to avoid police, dart down alleys, and flee from dangerous places with black chadors held over their heads, as if flying under dark wings. At first, we may be puzzled by the frenetic rushing about-the women, seen one or two at a time, don't seem to have any clear goal. But after a while, we realize that this is exactly the point. They have either spent time in prison or are heading straight there, and they are looking for a place to hide in a society in which single women have no more than provisional legitimacy as citizens. The director, Jafar Panahi, offers echoes of the Italian neorealist cinema in the general forlornness and pained humanism of his approach, but he's created aesthetic strategies all his own. Despite a longueur here and there, the cumulative power of "The Circle" is extraordinary.

Crimson Gold (2001)
Director: Jafar Panahi

For Hussein, a pizza delivery driver, the imbalance of the social system is thrown in his face wherever he turns. One day when his friend, Ali, shows him the contents of a lost purse, Hussein discovers a receipt of payment and cannot believe the large sum of money someone spent to purchase an expensive necklace. He knows that his pitiful salary will never be enough to afford such luxury. Hussein receives yet another blow when he and Ali are denied entry to an uptown jewelry store because of their appearance. His job allows him a full view of the contrast between rich and poor. He motorbikes every evening to neighborhoods he will never live in, for a closer look at what goes on behind closed doors. But one night, Hussein tastes the luxurious life, before his deep feelings of humiliation push him over the edge.

Women’s Prison (2002)
Director: Manijeh Hekmat

Banned in Iran, this taboo-breaking film uses the claustrophobic life of women behind bars as a metaphor for Iranian society since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Mitra, in prison for killing her violent stepfather, confronts new warden Tahereh on the eve of a riot, fearlessly challenging her dogmatic views - which, over time, began to change.

Ten (2002)
Director: Abbas Kiarostami

In this revelatory film, Kiarostami reverses course and fixes his camera to the dashboard of a car driven by an unnamed, beautiful divorcée (Mania Akbari), as she navigates the streets of Tehran. (The camera faces inward.) It's a postmodern gesture, a movie seemingly without a director, a drama that's also a documentary. The streets are real, but the conversations are scripted. The talk centers on the corseted lives of women in modern Iran and the cross-cultural similarities can be striking: take away the headscarves and these women could be Connecticut housewives. There are many piercing moments, and Kiarostami's minimalist methods enhance a palpable sense of lives choked with frustration. Ironically, for a film about hidden women, the natural performance by Amin (Amin Maher), the ten-year-old son of the divorcée, reveals the most about their situation. He rants and whines, directing precocious, cutting insults at his mother, unaware of the punches he's landing.

Turtles Can Fly (2004)
Director: Bahman Ghobadi

Set in Ghobadi's native Kurdistan, close to the Turkey-Iran border. Soran is a 13-year-old boy who orders other children around as he installs an antenna for villagers keen to hear of Saddam's fall. Eventually, he falls for Agrin but is disturbed by her brother Henkov, who was left armless after he stepped on a landmine and who can now seemingly predict the future.

Offside (2006)
Director: Jafar Panahi

Who is that strange boy sitting quietly in the corner of a bus full of screaming fans going to the football match? In fact, this shy boy is a girl in disguise. She is not alone; women also love football in Iran. Before the game begins, she is arrested at the checkpoint and put into a holding pen by the stadium with a band of other women all dressed up as men. They will be handed over to the vice squad after the match. But before this, they will be tortured -- they must endure every cheer, every shout of a game they cannot see. Worse yet, they must listen to the play-by-play account of a soldier who knows nothing about football. Yet, these young girls just won’t give up. They use every trick in the book to see the match.