Being Modern in Iran
by Fariba Adelkhah
Trans. from French by Jonathan Derrick. Columbia University Press, 2000. 190 pp. $25.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
Adelkhah, a researcher at the Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches Internationales in Paris, has written a particularly sophisticated and innovative study of contemporary Iranian life. As her title implies, the goal of her book is to show that life in the Islamic Republic is not medieval but modern—in its own way – and to explain its logic and implications. What that way is, she then explains through detailed examination of such unusual topics as the culture of giving and soccer mania. In many respects, Adelkhah finds continuity with the previous (and very despised) imperial regime. In others, she finds often surprising changes (Qur'anic verses, for example, were held in much higher esteem when they were a rarity; now they adorn newspaper mastheads and so the next day wrap fish.).
One example of her methodology: Adelkhah starts a chapter by noting the very low income the government receives from taxes and traces this back in part to the Iranian historical experience and in part to the raging Islamic debate over the legitimacy of levying taxes not specifically prescribed in the Qur'an (and which are very low by modern-day standards). She then segues into a discussion of how tax moneys are used and cites the example of Tehran under Mayor Gholamhussein Karbaschi, the popular reformist mayor who made his mark throughout the city by building parks and other public spaces. Karbaschi taxed the residents of his city mercilessly – making them pay extra for driving during business hours or putting up a electric sign on a store – but in return gave them a sense of engagement and participation that generally made the payments acceptable. Adelkhah sees this as a success story: "The public parks, watered every day by local taxes, are an essential element of consensus, conflict and movement within the 'democratic city.'"
Through such skillful research and theory, Being Modern in Iran lives up to Adelkhah's opening claim that "Plunging into the labyrinth of Iranian society means returning to some of the universal questions of our time."
Related Topics: Iran | Daniel Pipes | June 2000 MEQ
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free mef mailing list
This text may be reposted or forwarded so long as it is presented as an integral whole with complete and accurate information provided about its author, date, place of publication, and original URL.