From the Moon to Television: A story of the Iranian Revolution of 1979

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Institutional Affiliation : 
Arizona State University
Academic Bio: 
I am a tenure track assistant professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Arizona State University. I received my bachelors in social cultural anthropology from University of California, Berkeley and my PhD from Columbia University, also in socio-cultural anthropology. My research revolves around questions of religion, state, revolution, violence, memory, mourning, funerary practices and commemoration. Intertwined with these issues, and central to my work are also the per-formative role of language, metaphor, and mass media in the formation of religious and political subjectivities. My ethnographic study and discursive analysis focuses on the historical, contextual and complex interrelationality of these phenomena, while paying a keen attention to the discourses and praxes of self-sacrifice and martyrdom in Iran from 1960 to present.


“How does one arrest a laugh, with the rustle of fallen leaves” (Weber, 1996: 35)
In late November of 1978, as millions of Iranians awaited for the return of Ayattullah Khomeini form exile, a rumor swept the country that his face could be seen in the moon.  In great excitement, many gathered on the rooftops to show one another what they “saw.”   Although the rumor was officially denied, it had had already acquired millions of legs, and thanks to technology, it soon reached almost every corner of the country.  It had taken a life of its own.  The emotional ambiance of that particular night of “seeing” was so immensely intense and the claim so unwaveringly firm that those who “could not see” said otherwise.  Obviously the woman who told me how she had had run to the basement of her house and in tears and whispered to her daughter that she had lied to the neighbors and that in fact she “could not see” him was not alone.  They were perhaps others who shared her concern about being a sinner for: “the neighbors say that only those with pure heart and strong belief may see him.” 
Yet I do not herein seek to discover whether people really saw the image or not.  I am rather interested in the implications and impacts of this rumor in and for the Revolution of 1979 and its aftermath.  Instead of perceiving the rumor as an indication of the anachronistic character of the revolution or the Iranian people, this paper argues that this fusion of the “old” and the “new” is an essentially modern phenomenon.  It traces the transformation of Khomeini’s role from that of a religious clergy and an opponent of the Shah’s Regime to an almost infallible saintly figure.  It analyzes the ways in which this face in the moon comes to capture the television and the manipulation of the images, symbols, and metaphors through the marriage of the media and public rumor.  It inquires about the metamorphisms of this image from the moon to the graves of hundreds of thousands of young men and women.  Journeying from this rumor to the grounds, this paper attempts to offer a glance into the dynamics of the 1979 Revolution and the transfiguration of the relationship between the people, Khomeini, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. 

Academic Discipline : 
Sociocultural Anthropology
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