Bita Mousavi

Neutralizing Dissent: The Case of the Iran-Iraq War
Spring 2017

I am interested in charting the characteristics of social control in the Islamic Republic of Iran by analyzing the internal consequences of the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) on Iranian cultural production. The Islamic Republic attempted to galvanize public support for the war by representing it as a battle to defend Shi‘i lands against Sunni Muslims, but eight years of combat and hundreds of thousands of casualties left many Iranians wary of state rhetoric. Public disenchantment found its home in film and literature. These mediums were transformed into sites of discursive struggle between state portrayals, which promoted the war as a “sacred defense,” and alternative narratives that alleged a less just reality. To publicize its narrative of the war, the Islamic Republic established the Farabi Foundation in 1983, an organization which commissioned filmmakers to record the war’s destruction. Armed with state funding, Iranian directors chose instead to critique the war through film. Yet the Islamic Republic has today recuperated wartime cultural production as documentary evidence of Iranian suffering at Iraqi hands. It is in the tension between critique and co-optation that my research question lies. How did the Islamic Republic assimilate dissident art and literature into Iranian national memory? To what extent was this rehabilitation, when measured against independent-domestic and international reception, successful? What are the politics of artistic critique and where, in turn, does this situate Iran in what Nikolas Kompridis has called “the aesthetic turn in political thought?”