The Emergence of Iranian Nationalism: Race and the Politics of Dislocation

May 28, 2019
Speaker: Reza Zia-Ebrahimi

Reza Zia-Ebrahimi discusses the origins of racial forms of Iranian nationalism by revisiting the work of Fath’ali Akhundzadeh and Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani, two Qajar-era intellectuals. In their efforts to make sense of Iran’s shortcomings in the nineteenth century, these thinkers advanced an ideology Zia-Ebrahimi terms as “dislocative nationalism,” in which pre-Islamic Iran is cast as a golden age, Islam is reinterpreted as an alien religion, and Arabs are represented as implacable others. Dislodging Iran from its empirical reality and tying it to Europe and the Aryan race, this ideology remains the most politically potent form of identity in Iran. Zia-Ebrahimi highlights Akhundzadeh and Kermani’s nationalist reading of Iranian history that has been drilled into the minds of Iranians since its adoption by the Pahlavi state in the early twentieth century.

Reza Zia-Ebrahimi is Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in History at King’s College London. He was born in Iran and grew up in Switzerland before being naturalized a Londoner. He completed his doctorate at the University of Oxford (St. Antony’s College) in what is still nostalgically called ‘Oriental Studies’. His research lies at the intersection of modern world history and ethnic studies, and he has widely published on Iranian articulations of nationalism. He currently works on a diachronic history of modern antisemitism and Islamophobia in Western Europe, with particular focus on the interlinkages between conspiracy theories and ideas of race.

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