Mythology of Rage: Representations of the Self and the Other in Revolutionary Iran

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Abstract

In a series of studies exploring the history of madness, illness, crime and sexuality, the French philosopher Michel Foucault engaged in historical critiques of the discourses of various modern scientific disciplines. Discerning ways in which people participate in their own assujettissement (subjectification) by exercising power over themselves -- "tying themselves to scientific or moral definitions of who they are"(1) -- Foucault brought a historical indictment against modernity, specifically against such modern disciplines as medicine, psychiatry, criminology, sociology, and so on. He showed that the prevalent definitions of rationality, perversion, appropriate codes of sexual behavior, and delinquency were all formulated through the subjugation of an "Other" -- the "madman," the "deviant," the "born criminal," the "delinquent" and the "hermaphrodite" -- through which the "Self" is constituted and affirmed. "Discipline makes individuals," Foucault asserts; "it is the specific technique of a power that regards individuals both as objects and as instruments of its exercise."(2)
A most typical pattern discernible throughout the Iran-Iraq war was the insistent call on Iranian combatants to display a "Husaynlike spirit of martyrdom" as the only means of gaining victory in the war. The combatants were urged to exhibit an unflinching aspiration to become martyrs. They were to be willing to be "slain with no apprehension in the field of sacrifice and jihad"; they should "gratuitously shed their own blood for the removal of the curtains of darkness and oppression," and persist in their desire to become martyrs "for the country of the revolution and for the land of Islam."(41) Should their thirst for the "elixir of martyrdom" remain unquenched, they should "cry," "shed tears" and "implore" their superior officers to take them along to this or that operation so that they may become martyrs.(42)
Extensive portions of soldiers' last wills and testaments were regularly reproduced in Iranian newspapers (and recited in the weekly Friday congregational prayers across the country) with a view to substantiating the troops' determination to emulate their martyred Imam. The following last will -- reportedly drafted in October 1980 just before the soldier's final battle -- should illustrate the thrust of most of them: the martyr-to-be begins by imploring his mother to accept "with an understanding heart" his decision to meet death. His martyrdom, the soldier writes, should be easily accepted since he would suffer it "in the way of God, for religion and for the homeland." The soldier then expresses his hope that his quest for martyrdom would be crowned with success. Indeed, he writes, "I was close" to attaining this goal "many a time," but to no avail. "Perhaps I am not worthy of being a martyr," he exclaims, "because a martyr has an exalted and sublime position," while "I am sinful and despised." The soldier then declares that he will proceed to the front "not for revenge, but for the revival of my faith and the advancement of my revolution." He signs his will by asserting that his own pain would be "sweeter than honey."(43)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-87
Number of pages22
JournalHistory and Memory
Volume8
StatePublished - 1996

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