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Lecture 14

HUMAN 1C Lecture Notes - Lecture 14: Reza Shah, Ashraf Pahlavi, Shahrokh Meskoob

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Rodrigo Lazo

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Lecture #14: Engendering a New National Imaginary
How was the memory of the Persian Empire interwoven with becoming modern?
On October 14, 1971 Mohammad Reza Shah’s twin sister, Ashraf Pahlavi, presented a replica
of the Cyrus Cylinder as an “ancient declaration of human rights”
The ruins of Persian Empire served as evidence of a great pre-Islamic civilization
The Shah’s sister held many different offices and showed female strength
This was a staging of Iranian identity for the Western world - this is Iran, with a history of
human rights
1)The celebration of Iran’s pre-Islamic past placed greater distance between Iran and its Islamic
2)Iran’s embrace of Islam in the 7th century was singled out as the reason for the nation lagging
behind the West
This is a bizarre conceptualization and conflation of time
Shahrokh Meskoob
“It was as if the back of the nation had broken beneath the load, especially because the
Sassanids’ collapse was linked to a military invasion by another people with an alien
religion, language and culture.”
This is referring to the Arabs and Islam, and is singling them out as what befell the
country. It was a military defeat, but a cultural and linguistic defeat as well.
But in reality, Iran did not adopt Arabic. Persian language underwent a transformation,
the Arabic alphabet and grammar was adopted in Persian. Iranians before Islam were
Zoroastrian, and afterwards were predominantly Muslim. The Parsees are Zoroastrians
who are believed to have been descendants of the original Zoroastrians that left Iran.
The introduction of Islam is the “beginning” of this period of decay. Therefore Iran had to
be modernized in order to recover.
Reforms to counteract this legacy had begun by the first Pahlavi Monarch, Reza Shah Pahlavi
He was not a member of the dynasty, but an ordinary man who used a coup to take
power. He was focused on modernization and cared about appearances, wearing
European clothing. He declared that all men needed to wear Western suits and clothing.
Turkey was going through similar reforms as well.
Sartorial Changes: Women’s Public Appearance
Chador (Literally Tent) and Rubandeh (Face Cover) which could then be lifted when they
were not in public. This is how women appeared in public. Reza Shah banned the
chador in 1936 and demanded they wear European style clothing.
It was illegal for women to appear in the streets with a headscarf or a chador. European
hats are permitted as a compromise. Why should a European hat be progressive and a
chador not be?
Badr ol-Moluk Bamdad was involved in the women’s movement in Iran and wrote a
book. “...into this great hall, cam the royal ladies, each a pioneer of women’s freedom
and each showing her face...some of the ladies among them, however, were visibly so
upset by the loss of facial cover that they stood almost the whole time, looking at the wall
perspiring with embarrassment…”. Bamdad celebrates the Shah and what he did for
women but still manages to capture the discomfort some women may have felt.
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