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The State of Resistance: Politics, Culture, and Identity in Modern Iran, Assal Rad

Reviewed by Menahem Merhavy
 

Research on modern Iranian identity and nationalism has grown and developed in recent years, but despite the different aspects of these topics, they seem to revolve around two components: national/ethnic versus Islamic/Shii identity. Most scholars debate and argue about the right weight that should be given each of them or the relations between them. The scholarly debate thus reflects the debate among Iranian politicians, thinkers (both religious and secular), and artists, as well as their audiences. In her new book, Assal Rad demonstrates this dual observation of the undercurrents of the identity discourse (in its widest sense) Iranians have been grappling with for the past hundred years, on both the state level (from above) as well as on the grassroots level (from below).

The theoretical and political debate surveyed in the first chapters of the book give the familiar developments of modern Iranian history in this regard. It also seems at times to bypass theoretical inconsistencies; for example, when the author cites Eric Hobsbawm, a well-known authority on nationalism, when trying to make a case for the primacy and centrality of the state in creating the nation (5-6). The overthrow of the Pahlavi state, however, seems to contradict Hobsbawm’s modernist approach when taking into account the survival of Iranian national cohesion and identity despite this

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