The Seductions of Islamism: Revisiting Foucault and the Iranian Revolution

This article was published in New Politics, Vol. X, No. 1, Summer 2004
Co-authored with Kevin B. Anderson

FEBRUARY 2004 MARKED THE TWENTY-FIFTH ANNIVERSARY of the Iranian Revolution. From September 1978 to February 1979, in the course of a massive urban revolution with millions of participants, the Iranian people toppled the regime of Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (1941-1979), which had pursued a highly authoritarian program of economic and cultural modernization. By late 1978, the Islamist faction led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had come to dominate the antiregime uprising, in which secular nationalists, democrats, and leftists also participated. The Islamists controlled the slogans and the organization of the protests, which meant that many secular women protesters were pressured into donning the veil (chador) as an expression of solidarity with the more traditional Iranian Muslims. By February 1979, the shah had left the country and Khomeini returned from exile to take power. The next month, he sponsored a national referendum that declared Iran an Islamic republic by an overwhelming majority. Soon after, as Khomeini began to assume nearly absolute power, a reign of terror ensued.