A List of Selected Articles

Critical theory, authoritarianism, and the politics of lipstick from the Weimar Republic to the contemporary Middle East

This article was published in Critical Research on Religion, December 13, 2018
Co-authored with Roger Friedland

In 2012–13, we signed up for Facebook in seven Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries and used Facebook advertisements to encourage young people to participate in our survey. Nearly 18,000 individuals responded. Some of the questions in our survey dealing with attitudes about women’s work and cosmetics were adopted from a survey conducted by the Frankfurt School in 1929 in Germany. The German survey had shown that a great number of men, irrespective of their political affiliation harbored highly authoritarian attitudes toward women and that one sign of authoritarianism was men’s attitude toward cosmetics and women’s employment. We wanted to know if the same was true of the contemporary MENA. Our results suggest that lipstick and makeups as well as women’s employment are not just vehicles for sexual objectification of women. In much of MENA world a married woman’s desire to work outside the house, and her pursuit of the accoutrement of beauty and sexual attractiveness, are forms of gender politics, of women’s empowerment, but also of antiauthoritarianism and liberal politics. Our results also suggest that piety among Muslims per se is not an indicator of authoritarianism and that there is a marked gender difference in authoritarianism. Women, it seems, are living a different Islam than men.

Iran’s 1907 Constitution and its Sources: A Critical Comparison

This article was published in British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, January 2018
Co-authored with Eric Massie

Scholars of Iranian constitutional history have long recognized the influence of the Belgian and Bulgarian constitutions on the Iranian 1907 constitution. The exact character and extent of these and other constitutional influences have remained unclear, however. This article provides an analytical comparison of the 1907 Supplementary Fundamental Laws with the 1831 Belgian, 1876 Ottoman and 1879 Bulgarian constitutions that served as models and sources of inspiration. We also provide an easily navigable annotated version of relevant constitutional provisions in the footnotes for scholars interested in tracing models for particular provisions and have provided a complete version of the 1907 Supplementary Fundamental Laws and its sources on our website. In doing so, this article and the accompanying materials hope to clarify where these influences begin and end, where they have been modified or ignored, and where Iran’s constitutionalists innovated by introducing more stringent separation of powers or new institutions. It is thereby demonstrated that Iran’s constitutionalists critically engaged with previous constitutional traditions, rather than merely copying provisions from earlier models. Thus, Iran’s 1907 Supplementary Fundamental Laws should be regarded as an organic engagement with and global extension of the European liberal tradition, rather than as a merely peripheral or derivative development.

Digital Romance: The Sources of Online Love in the Muslim World

This article was published in Media, Culture & Society, 2017, Vol. 39(3) 429 – 439, April 2017
Co-authored with Ramina Sotoudeh, Roger Friedland

Social media creates new virtual public spaces where young women and men living in socially conservative non-Western societies can communicate in order to meet and engage in forbidden intimacies. In this essay, using survey data on thousands of Facebook users from Muslim-majority countries, we look at the relationship between romance in public physical spaces and cyberspaces. To what extent do Facebook users make use of the Internet to pursue romance? And what are the attributes of individuals who use it in this way?

The Rhetoric and Performance of the Trickster Nasreddin

This article was published in Iran Namag, Volume 2, Number 1, Spring 2017
Co-authored with Kamran Afary

The legendary Nasreddin is the most popular folk character in the lore of the Middle East, Central Asia, the Balkans, Southern Russia, and Transcaucasia. There are some regional variations on his name. The Turks, Greeks, Serbs, Croatians, and Albanians call him Nasreddin Hoçâ (pronounced “Hoja”). In Iran and the modernday republics of Azerbaijan and Georgia, he is called Mullâ Nasreddin. Some of the puns attributed to Nasreddin originated in the Arab world, where the trickster is called Johâ (Djohâ). In Central Asia, Nasreddin is known as Ependi (Effendi).

Love in the Middle East: The Contradictions of Romance in the Facebook World

This article was published in Critical Research on Religion 2016, Vol. 4(3) 229–258, December 2016
Co-authored with Roger Friedland, Paolo Gardinali, Cambria Naslund

Romantic love is a social fact in the Muslim world. It is also a gender politics impinging on religious and patriarchal understandings of female modesty and agency. This paper analyzes the rise of love as a basis of mate selection in a number of Muslim-majority countries: Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Palestine, Tunisia, and Turkey where we have conductedWeb-based anonymous surveys of Facebook users. Young people increasingly want love in their married lives, but they and the communities in which they live remain uncomfortable with the mating practices through which such love has traditionally been achieved in the Western world. The paper explores the religious contradictions and the gender politics of modern heterosexual love.

The Place of Shi’i Clerics in the first Iranian Constitution

This article was published in Critical Research on Religion 2013 1: 327, December 2013

F1.mediumDespite their regional, ethnic, and linguistic differences, the recent social and political upheavals of the Middle East have shared one basic concern. From the 2009 Green Movement in Iran to the 2011 Tunisian revolts which ignited the Arab Uprisings, and from the first Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt in 2012 to the protests in Turkey’s Taksim Square in 2013, a central issue has been how to establish a democratic state with a modern constitution while adhering to many shari’a rules and regulations. This debate is not a new one in the Middle East and, as this article will demonstrate, it has been a central theme of Iranian politics ever since the Constitutional Revolution of 1906. At the time of that first Iranian revolution, Iran was ruled by two sets of laws, shari’a religious law and ‘urf customary law. Shi’i clerics, with their elaborate institutional hierarchy, controlled shari’a law, which was considered the more important law of the land, whereas the monarch and local rulers were nominal guardians of ‘urf laws. Soon the novel discourses of the Constitutional Revolution would create a paradigm shift in Iranian society.1 Constitutionalist clerics had assumed that a new political order reformed ‘urf rulings, leaving shari’a laws more or less intact. They were stunned by the realization that a constitutional order revamped both legal systems and overturned sacrosanct social and religious hierarchies. Many clerics resisted these reforms. The result was a bifurcated set of laws that institutionalized clerical authority, while also placing limits on clerics in legislative and judicial branches of the government.

When Women Fear to Tread: Sexual Violence and the Egyptian Revolution

This article was published in Huffington Post, February 13, 2013
Co-authored with Roger Friedland

Italian Translation
Persian Translation

The body politic is at risk in Egypt. On the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution — Jan. 25 — in a demonstration in Tahrir Square, a woman protester was violently set upon by a mob of men who grabbed at her private parts, pulling and pushing her from person to person until she was finally and with great difficulty rescued by teams of anti-harassment male activists. The roiling crowd circling around its prey was captured on video.

She was not the only victim that night: Eighteen other incidents were also reported. And this was not the first time women protesters — and reporters — have been attacked by crowds of men in such demonstrations, their clothing ripped off, men’s fingers reaching inside their underwear.


Where Will the Power Lie in Iran? The Role of Gender Politics

This article was published in New York Times, Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The presence of Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of Mir Hussein Moussavi, was a significant factor in the election. Mr. Moussavi, who is not a very charismatic speaker and had left politics nearly 20 years ago, saw his prospects for victory increase when his wife joined him in the campaign. The well-publicized picture of them holding hands was not merely symbolic.


Iran's Hopeful First Lady and her Husband Embrace Women's Rights

This article was published in ZNet, June 9, 2009

In the upcoming June 12 presidential elections in Iran what has excited voters the most is Zahra Rahnavard, the outspoken and accomplished spouse of one of the candidates, Mir Hussein Mousavi, so much so that she has been dubbed “Iran’s Michelle Obama.” The frontrunners are the hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the reformist Mir Hussein Moussavi. Moussavi, who was an important leader in the early years of the Islamic revolution, was the nation’s prime minister under President Ali Khamenei (the present Supreme Religious Leader) for a time during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.


Recreating virginity in Iran

This article was published in Guardian, May 12th, 2009

Many women in Iran opt for hymen repair to satisfy a culture that insists on bridal virginity. Now they have a cleric’s backing. Hymenoplasty, the operation through which a woman’s virginity is restored, is a surprisingly hot topic on Iranian weblogs. Vaginal reconstruction is a popular operation throughout the Middle East and among expatriate Middle Easterners of all religious backgrounds.


Is the Islamic Republic of Iran Headed for a Sexual Revolution?

This article was published in UCLA International Institute

In February there were two celebrations in Tehran – an official commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution and an unofficial and more light-hearted celebration of Valentine’s Day. Young people held hands in the streets and cafes despite warnings by the morality police. Shops did brisk business selling heart-shaped cards, chocolate, flowers, balloons, and jewelry. Husbands and wives took ads in popular Islamist journals expressing their passionate love, while Persian blogs were inundated with V-Day messages. Judging from these messages Valentine’s Day is not only a celebration of personal love, but also a way of expressing sentiments like “Make love not war.”


Tehran, city of love

This article was published in Guardian, March 5, 2009

Could the Islamic republic be heading towards a sexual revolution?

Last month there were two celebrations in Tehran, an official commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution and an unofficial and more light-hearted celebration of Valentine’s Day. Young people held hands in the streets and cafes despite warnings by the morality police. Shops did brisk business selling heart-shaped cards, chocolate, flowers, balloons, and jewellery. Husbands and wives took ads in popular Islamist journals expressing their passionate love, while Persian blogs were inundated with V-Day messages. Judging from these messages Valentine’s Day is not only a celebration of personal love but also a way of expressing sentiments like “make love not war”.


مدرنیسم، جنسیت و انقلاب در ایران: فوکوعلیه فوکو

This article was published in Sarpich (transcript of an interview), March 1, 2009

ژانت آفاري را در ايران بيشتر با کتاب نسبتا حجيمش يعني «انقلاب مشروطه» مي شناسند که در واقع پايان نامه وي به شمار مي‌آيد. از او مقالات بسياري در نشريات داخلي و خارجي به چاپ رسيده است. از دو کتاب آخر وي که توجهات بسياري را به خود جلب کرده است يکي با عنوان «فوکو و انقلاب ايران» است که آن را مشترکا با کوين اندرسون به نگارش در آورده است و به نقد نظرات فوکو در خصوص انقلاب ايران مي پردازد. هم چنين براي نخستين بار در اين کتاب مقالاتي که فوکو در بحبوحه انقلاب ايران در نشريات فرانسه در ارتباط با آن رخداد به نگارش درآورده نيز به زبان انگليسي ترجمه شده است. آخرين کتاب وي با عنوان «سياست‌هاي جنسيتي در ايران» به بررسي مناسبات حاکم بر ساختار خانواده و تغيير و تحولات آن از اواخر قرن نوزده تا به امروز مي پردازد. آفاري از همان اولين کارهاي خود به وضوح در نوشته هايش نشان مي دهد که تحولات اجتماعي در ايران چيزي نيست که به يک باره بروز کرده باشد و بتوان بي بازگشت به گذشته به تحليل آن ها پرداخت. از اين رو است که او انقلاب مشروطه را به عنوان رخدادي که سرآغاز ورود تفکر مدرن در پوششي فرهنگي است نقطه شروع کارهاي خويش قرار مي دهد. آفاري با تمرکز بر جنبش هاي زنان و نقشي که ايشان در تحولات سياسي و اجتماعي و فرهنگي ايران معاصر بازي مي کنند مي کوشد تا روند مطالبات اين جنبش و چرايي افول خواسته هاي ايشان را تشريح کند. در کتاب «سياست هاي جنسيتي در ايران» او به ارائه طرحي از مناسبات جنسيتي در ايران مي پردازد که خلاف برداشت هاي رايج و عام گرايانه از سير تحولات اجتماعي و فرهنگي ايران معاصر است

The Sexual Economy of the Islamic Republic

This article was published in Journal of the International Society for Iranian Studies, Volume 42, No. 1, February 2009

This article examines the gender and sexual policies of the Islamic Republic and their ramifications. It argues that the policies if the Islamist government cannot easily be categorized as “puritanical” or “moralistic.” Rather we can argue that various functions within the state actively deployed a new s”sexual economy” for the population. Sometimes, the Islamist state privileged patriarchal interpretations of the gender norms over modern ones. At other times, it adopted modern projects such as family planing alongside a discourse that presented them as practices rooted in traditional Islam. In all cases, the state used modern institutions to disseminate and enforce these practices.

Romanian Translation (PDF)

آزادي هاي مدني و نخستين قانون اساسي ايران

This article was published in ايران نامه, Vol. XXIII, Issues 3-4, 2007

‌اين روزها سخن از روش هاي تاريخي اي مي رود که به تدریج اسطوره صفت شده اند. نه تنها انقلاب هاي سياسي، که در سرشت خويش عقل و دل ربا و پر از تناقض اند، که حتي متن ها و سندهاي سياسي اي که در گيرو دار دگرگوني هاي بزرگ اجتماعي پديد مي آيند آماج خوانشها و تفسيرهاي گوناگون اند. نسل هاي پي در پي مردم ایالات متحده امريکا در خط خط بيانيۀ استقلال 1776 نشان غرور و افتخار ملّي خوانده اند و در عباراتی چون: «آدميان همگي برابر آفريده شده اند، و حق هاي ناستاندني از جمله حق زندگي، آزادي و نیل به شادمانی» دارند به ديدۀ ستايشگري نگريسته اند. با اين حال هنوز جاي سخن هاي بسيار در چند و چون فرآيندهائي باقي است که به تدوین اين بيانيه انجاميده اند. اين واقعيت نيز که بيانيه سال 1776 به آساني با قانون اساسي سال 1787 که برده داري را روا مي داشت سازگار نمي افتد همچنان محل گفتگو است. نخستین قانون اساسي ايران (7-1906) و متمم آن نيز کمابيش دچار چنين سرنوشتي بوده است

The Iranian Impasse

This article was published in The Nation (35-40), July 16, 2007
Co-authored with Kevin B. Anderson

During a visit to Tehran in the spring of 2005, we were impressed by the degree of intellectual freedom Iranians had carved out within the Islamic Republic. The numerous bookstores on Enqelab Avenue across from Tehran University carried an array of newly translated books by Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault, among others. A lecture on “Foucault and Feminism” at Alzahra Women’s University elicited enthusiastic responses, including one from a high university official clad from head to toe in a black chador. A visit to the literary editors of the country’s most prestigious newspaper, Shargh (daily circulation 100,000), led to a conversation that ranged easily from religion and politics to Continental philosophers like Foucault, Theodor Adorno and Giorgio Agamben.

Civil Liberties and the Making of Iran’s First Constitution

This article was published in Comparative Stidies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, Duke U. Press, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2005

Retrospectives on the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, 1905-1909.

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.

The Human Rights of Middle Eastern & Muslim Women: A Project for the 21st Century

This article was published in Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 26, no. 1, pp. 106-125, February 2004

This article first explores the state of human rights of Middle Eastern/Muslim Women in a selection of North African, Central Asian, and Middle Eastern countries. It then contrasts this present state of oppression with the emerging legal reforms and attempts made by a new generation of women’s rights activists. These activists are building new institutions in their homelands despite numerous obstacles and great personal and political risk, creating the need for a new dialogue and approach to human rights in the Middle East.

(Persian Translation)
(Polish Translation)

Shi'i Naratives of Karbala and Christian Rite of Penance: Michel Foucault and the Culture of Iranian Revolution, 1978-1979

This article was published in Radical History Review, Issue 86, pp. 7-35, Spring 2003

In 1978-79, in the course of a massive urban revolution with several million participants, the Iranian people toppled the government of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi (r. 1941-79), who had pursued an authoritarian program of nationalism as well as economic and cultural modernization. By late 1978, the Islamist faction had come to dominate the antishah protests, in which secular nationalists and leftists also participated. The struggle against the shah was now cast as a reenactment of the historic battle between Hussain (grandson of the prophet Muhammad) and his opponent Yazid in the month of Muharram in 680 C.E. in the desert of Karbal (Iraq). Soon, in the name of national unity, the secular, nationalist, and leftist demands of the demonstrators were articulated in religious garb and through rituals commemorating the death of Hussain. The Islamists controlled the revolutionary slogans and demanded that the more secular women protesters don the veil as an expression of solidarity with the more traditional women.