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Persian Studies

Dr. Asghar Seyed Gohrab

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Iraanse film kent lange traditie

Dr. Asghar Seyed-Gohrab, werkzaam bij het Leiden Institute for Area Studies en vice-voorzitter van De Jonge Akademie van KNAW, koos samen met buitenpromovendus filosofie Omid Toufighian de films voor de reeks uit. ‘Waarom Iraanse filmavonden?' Seyed legt uit. ‘Iran heeft een interessante filmgeschiedenis. Die is oud en gaat terug naar het begin van de vorige eeuw. Gezien het feit dat de eerste primitieve vorm van film ooit stamt uit 1888, was Iran er dus al snel bij. In de eerste decennia van de twintigste eeuw werd in Iran een aantal mooie films gemaakt, maar de Iraanse filmindustrie kwam echt tot bloei in de jaren ‘60 en '70. Tijdens deze twee decennia werden diverse thema's behandeld: het moderniseringsprogramma van de Sjah en de effecten daarvan op de stad en het platteland, nationalisme en de introductie van de westerse cultuur. Een ander thema is de Iraanse identiteit met nadruk op de glorieuze preïslamitische tijd waarin het Perzische Rijk zegevierde.' 

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Poetry and the justification of violence

14 april 2009, Annemarike Stremmelaar

Without the element of mysticism in his philosophy Khomeini would never have achieved a position of power.  Mystic concepts dating back to the Middle Ages play a significant role in 20th century Iranian politics. In his Vidi project, Asghar Seyed-Gohrab will investigate precisely what role that is. Seyed-Gohrab, Iran specialist and member of The Young Academy of the KNAW (the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences), has previously conducted research into enigmas and the concept of love in classical Persian poetry. He now wants to see how mystic and philosophical elements from this poetry have been used in the twentieth century to shape new political ideas.

 

Khomeini as mystic

According to Seyed-Gohrab, "Khomeini represents a good example of exploiting mystic images for political purposes." Seyed-Gohrab: "The Islamic revolution was actually not at all Islamic; it only became that later.  In the first instance many different parties, including left-wing groups, took part in the revolution.  It was only during the hostage crisis in the American Embassy that Khomeini came from Qom to Teheran and started to establish a position of power. On the television, he explained suras from the Koran, addressing the mystic significance of the verses.  He did this not only to communicate his political ideas, but also to convince Iranians that he was a good leader.  He presented himself as a mystic, as a person with spiritual aspirations, not interested in worldly power. When Khomeini was in exile, first in Iraq and then in France, he presented himself as an austere ascetic, who spent his time sitting on a mat under an apple tree and living on dry bread and milk." Seyed-Gohrab: "Later he perpetuated this image by such means as writing poetry. To lead the life of a mystic, you also have to be a poet, since poetry is a vehicle for communicating the body of mystic thoughts. Khomeini wrote poems throughout his life, but only published them in the eighties. There was some doubt about whether or not they were authentic."

Iran-Iraq war

During the Iran-Iraq war, according to Seyed-Gohrab,  Khomeini made use of mystic symbolism. Khomeini said for instance at the start of the war 'mobilisation is the school of love.' The 'school of love' in the middle Ages stood for the academy where the lover had to undergo training to be able to sacrifice himself to the object of his love, in other words God.  But Khomeini used this concept to incite people to violence.  

 

Evils of war

Mystic concepts not only served to mobilise people to war, they also served people's personal experience of the evils of war.  The war determined the lives of a whole generation of Iranians. Seyed-Gohrab: ‘This is the story of my whole generation. Many fled because of the war; there was no other way to build a normal life. You would go into military service for at least two years, but it was questionable whether you could come back in one piece. Sadam Hussein invaded Iran, but after a year and a half he wanted peace.  Khomeini, however, did not and the war went on and on, eventually lasting eight years.' martyrdom During the war, Khomeini managed to convince people to regard the war as a manifestation of love.  Metaphysical love of God and self-sacrifice in the name of love were interpreted as patriotic love and a willingness for self-sacrifice. ‘In the world of mysticism there is the image of the candle and the moth.  The moth is attracted to the candle, particularly to the flame. It ends up by being consumed by the flame,  becoming one with its 'lover'.  This was a metaphor for becoming one with God.  During the war the candle was seen as the Shiite holy places in Iraq, in Najaf and Kerbala, in the name of which the soldiers destroyed themselves like moths.  In fact, they even went beyond this metaphor.

"Our leader is that young boy of 12 who threw himself with a grenade under the enemy's tank, destroying it and drinking the sweet draft of martyrdom.'  (Ayatollah Khomeini) 

Source: C.J. Gruber, "The Message on the Wall: Mural Arts in Post-Revolutionary Iran" in Persica, 22, 2008, p. 31.

 

Contrasts

The holy cities in Iraq were seen as objects of love, for which adherents should sacrifice themselves.  These holy places were equated to the Kaaba, the house of God in Mecca.  In this way, Khomeini exploited different contrasts: that between orthodoxy and liberalism, Sunni and Shi'ite, Arab and Persian. Seyed-Gohrab: ‘He used these differences to the full.  For example, with such sayings as: 'If you want to get to Kerbala, you have to have blood; if you want to get to Kaaba, you have to have money', which is in fact a form of blasphemy. broad-support Khomeini deliberately exploited this cultural heritage felt across all strata of society. 'It is not the case that children in primary school analysed the poems - I never did that when I was in Iran - but you grow up with the poetry and the imagery it contains.  A poet such as Hafez is recited at every opportunity. His poems can be interpreted as both worldly and mystic.  Everyone knows this and each person can choose the interpretation which most suits him.  But  everyone knows that the mysticism and the worldly elements permeate one another.'

 

Selected titles

  • "Een pen als verliefde minnaar" in Hypothese: NWO-Blad voor Wetenschap, nr. 2, Jaargang 14, april 2007, pp. 20-22. lees hier het interview
  • "Als klein land meedoen op de hoogste niveaus" in Op onderzoek: wetenschap in Nederland, red. M. Senten et al, Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek, Amsterdam: Boom, 2007, p. 110.
  • Interview (/documentary) with Mr. M.H. Abdollahi about my NWO-project Of Poetry and Politics for the Iranian National Television, 6 October 2008;
  • Interview (/documentary) with Mr. Mansuri on Iranian Studies at Leiden University for the Iranian National Television, 8 December 2006;
  • De invloed van Perzische dichters op de Nederlandse literatuur: Meer dan gedichtjes lezen door Christiaan Weijts
  • "Perzische raadsels onderzocht" in Mare: Leids Universitair Weekblad, September 2002, p. 12;
  • "Wat gaat keer op keer in zee, maar wordt nooit nat?" by R. van Zoen, in Leidsch Dagblad, August 2002;
  • Knetterende Letteren, Betekenis van de klassieke Perzische poëzie, op NPS-radio, June 6, 2002;
  • Perzisch Romeo en Julia geanalyseerd
  • "De Parel en de Schelp," in the section "Science and Education" by Dirk van Delft, in NRC-Handelsblad, June 2, 2001, p. 45;
  • "In Onderzoek" by P. Groenendijk, in Leidsch Dagblad, May 16, 2001, p. 15;
  • "Het Onderzoek: Zuiderlicht (The romance Leyli and Majnun)," op VPRO-radio: June 26, 2001, 11.02;
  • Mare: Leids Universitair Weekblad, No. 17, 27 January 2000 by B. van Wayenburg, p. 6;
  • "Spektakel: Omar Khayyâm," by R. de Wilde op radio: Humanistische Omroep, July 29, 2000.