Anti-Baha’ism and Islamism in Iran, 1941-1955


Dr Tavakoli-TaraqiEditor’s Note:  Prof. Mohammad Tavakoli-Targhi’s seminal study was published in translation in The Baha’is of Iran: Socio-historical studies, 2008, New York, NY: Routledge.  An abstract of this paper appears below with the link to the full paper in Persian.

As genuinely Iranian intellectual and religious movements, Babism and Baha’ism have encountered relentless repression and their founders and adherents have been accused as the internal agents of competing foreign powers. In its formative phase, the scapegoating of Babis was actively promoted by the Qajar state at a time when it faced a serious crisis of legitimacy. To win over the Shiite seminarians and ulama, the Qajar statesmen initiated a well-orchestrated public anti-Babi campaign. By concurrently “othering” Babis and stressing some national religious traditions such as the celebration of the births of Ali and Fatimah and sponsoring official lamentation of the martyrdom of Hussein, the Qajar state actively promoted Shiism as the core of modern Iranian identity. Instead of encountering the Babis in a seminarian style of dialogue and debate, and thus fostering the formation of a national democratic public sphere, the Shi’a hierarchy opted for a violently repressive mode of encounter with Babis and Baha’is. Furthermore, Babism was utilized as an effective instrument for silencing the voices of dissent in the formative phase of modern Iranian polity. Making the physical elimination of Babis as a joint state-clergy project, the Shiite clerics served as the co-architects of a repressive and authoritarian political structure. 

The growth of Baha’ism in diaspora and in Iran, rather than its anticipated disappearance, led the Qajar state and its clerical allies to deploy a xenophobic strategy of labeling their persistent protagonists as agents of Russian, Ottoman, and British empires, successively. However, the survival of Baha’is as a distinct community engendered a national sense of collective paranoia that attributed primary agency to imperial and colonial forces rather than to self-motivated Iranian subjects. The predominance of conspiracy theories in contemporary Iranian political discourse, which first emerged as the counterinsurgent label used against the Babis and Baha’is, is grounded on an uncompromising refusal to accept the antagonists’ unyielding subjectivity as well as their agency. This undemocratic projection of agency to the imperial and Farangi-Other can not be overcome without an honest exploration of the scapegoating of the Baha’is as Iran’s internal Other in the 1940’s and beyond.

Read the paper in Persian here


7 Responses

  1. Glenn Franco Simmons

    July 27, 2009 2:42 pm

    For future scholarly articles, it would be nice if Babism and Bahaism could be dropped, as Bahais officially do not use either, and isms have a very, very negative conntation in this world, where such isms have brought such monumental suffering and persecution to so many, from communism to Nazism and pick your choice among other isms.

    This is my personal view and does should not reflect on any one else.

  2. Admin

    July 27, 2009 3:12 pm

    It might help to note that Prof Tavakoli is not a Baha’i and not bound by Baha’i conventions. His research is groundbreaking, his analysis precise and laser-sharp, and his article is published in an academic journal that adheres to the highest scholarly standards.

    Most items posted on IPW are by Iranian intellectuals or those not affiliated with the Baha’i community. One of our missions is to provide a platform for publication of such studies by academics, journalists, and others interested in studying the Baha’i community.

  3. Rochan MAVADDAT

    July 28, 2009 9:57 am

    Dear Editor,
    It seems to me that it would be useful to specify in the Editor’s Note that Prof. Mohammad TAVAKOLI is not Bahá’i.
    Warm Regards.

  4. Afshin

    July 28, 2009 1:08 pm

    It is good you emphasized that Professor Tavakoli-Targhi is NOT a Baha’i. In the past this allegation has been made by the IRI agents in order to threaten any body who might want to conduct unbiased research on the history of anti-Baha’ism, or better to say any body who does not attack Baha’is. You either have to attack Baha’is and tell all the lies that IRI wants to propagate against them, or you will be called a Baha’i so that all your life is in danger.

    Professor Tavakoli-Targhi is and has been a Shi’a Muslim.

  5. Admin

    July 28, 2009 2:54 pm

    Dear Afshin,

    While in general Iran Press Watch does not comment on, nor is concerned with, author’s religion, it should be noted that the vast majority of authors translated or cited on this site are not Baha’is. In fact, this site started with the specific mission of providing an academic platform for Iranian intellectuals who wish to write about the Baha’i Faith — and of course our objective has expanded since then.
    The only reason that we broke with our practice and commented on Prof Tavakoli’s religion was to address a criticism about his use of “Baha’ism”.


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