Session Abstracts - MEICON-BC 2014

Session 1                     Media and Popular Culture in Historical and Contemporary Contexts

  • ‘Taziyeh’: Iran’s Political Drama

Melissa Friday, BA Student, International Studies, Simon Fraser University


This paper argues that Shi’ite passion plays, or tazieyh, have come to be an effective political tool because of the ideas they represent and the emotions they evoke. Such plays are used to depict the martyrdom of the Imam Hussein by the forces of the Sunni caliph, Yazd. This portrayal emphasizes radical ideas such as martyrdom and sacrifice that emerged in this pivotal moment of Shi’ite faith.  For these reasons, taziyeh has been an important factor in cementing Shi’ite identity. It has also been used to evoke strong emotions that can be used for political means. I will argue that the portrayal of such a pivotal moment in Shi’ite history allows believers to reaffirm their faith and form a strong collective memory with regards to the martyrdom of the Imam Hussein. This aids in the construction of a uniquely Shi’ite identity. The strong sense of honour that is constructed into the act of martyrdom, through taziyeh, allows the audience to create a vast emotive connection to the concept of martyrdom. These collective, powerful emotions that arise from passion plays are what allows the audiences to be harnessed as a political tool. In their emotional state, ideas of oppression and martyrdom may begin to show themselves in the current state of affairs of the audience. These ideas of martyrdom and relation to the everyday life are what give taziyeh its revolutionary potential. This will be discussed within the example of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, where images and rhetoric were used to illustrate the modern day version of Hussein and Yazd as Khomeini and the Shah, respectively.

  • Emerging Media Markets in the Arab Middle East

Nate Christiansen, BA Student, Western Washington University


Emerging Media Markets in the Arab Middle East is a paper that I prepared for my senior writing class at Western Washington University. The topic of this paper is the role information and communication technologies have played in the recent social history of the Middle East. The social upheavals of the last years have clearly demonstrated the rising pressures afflicting Arab societies. The goal of my paper was to study new information and communication technologies as a factor of social change in the Middle East. This perspective has allowed me to discuss the role technology has played in recent years, while also acknowledging the agency of human actors who find themselves embroiled in the changing fabric of Middle Eastern societies. All told, the proliferation of new information and communication technologies has facilitated some forms of public expression. However, technology holds no expressive monopoly, nor has it made public expression a completely safe activity. In preparing my paper I sought out a variety of sources. Due to the focus I had placed on the role of media technology, it was very important to me that I find the opinions of people involved in the development, production and use of technology. To this end, along with scholarly reports, I collected and examined writings produced by journalists and reporters who have been involved in the Middle East. I also examined demographic data produced by the United Nations, and a very informative survey about media consumption habits in the Middle East that was produced by Northwestern University in Qatar.

  • Female Masculinity in Iranian Cinema: A Historical Review

Roghiyeh Razmaray-Shargh, MA, Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, Simon Fraser University


Within the practice of film criticism in today's Iran the task of providing comprehensive views on the social, cultural, and religious factors, which contribute to particular cinematographic representations of gender and sexuality, has rarely been examined, and the concept of female masculinity has just been recently represented and practiced in Iranian cinema and never studied adequately. For an examination of audiovisual products from such a perspective, we must challenge the everyday notions of femininity, masculinity, gender stereotypes, and socio-cultural definitions of each category. Based on the traditional, cultural, and religious interpretations, expectations, and definitions of gender within Iranian society, in this article femininity and masculinity will be used as terms for the description of being a proper woman and man that are constructed and are attributed to women and men in society. And for the purpose of this essay, female masculinity will be used as a term for the presentation and description of a woman who deviates from gender specific roles and mannerisms and refuses to go along with the socially constructed definitions of femininity and womanhood. She is independent, powerful, assertive, and dominant, not necessarily married and/or unemployed, financially stable, violent when necessary, and persuasive. Therefore, with the definitions of the above-mentioned concepts, I am searching to find answers to the questions of how women have been manifested and portrayed in the works of Iranian filmmakers in different historical periods in general as well as to examine the representation of female masculinity in particular by looking at four distinctive scio-political phrases of Iranian cinema 1- the pre-revolution era, 2- the post-revolution era (which can also be classified as the war era), 3- the reform era, 4- the post-reform era.


Session 2                     The Local and the Global in Islamic Movements

  • The Islamism of Sayyid Qutb: A Vision of Islamic Resurgence and its Impact on Global Conflict

Emerson Sortun, Department of History, Western Washington University


The subject of my research is Sayyid Qutb, a noted Egyptian political and religious writer and activist whose influence still grips the world today, nearly half a century after his death. The paper deals with the content of Qutb’s work concerning Islamism, placing it in a context that accounts for its influence on Al-Qaeda and other groups that invoke him as part of their ideological make-up. I try to offer an outline of which elements of Qutb’s philosophy are dangerous, which ones are uplifting (as some undoubtedly are), and which have either lost their relevance or been transformed being what he intended to suit the goals of present-day extremists. I argue mainly that the Islamist philosophies of Qutb directly influenced the doctrines of terrorist groups, but also that proper contextualization of required in order to form a complete picture of Qutb that does not reduce him to being seen merely as an inspiration to terrorists. The primary sources for the paper are Qutb’s own books, notably Social Justice in Islam and Milestones, among others. Secondary sources that helped form a more complete picture of Qutb’s place in relation to world politics and conflict were biographies by John Calvert, James Toth and Sayed Khatab, among others. The paper is the result of three months of reading, writing and editing and represents the culmination of my work as an undergraduate in the history program here at Western. Thank you for your consideration.

  • Islamic Finance and Banking: An Alternative to Global Financial Crises

Margaret Vetterling, BA Student, Minor in Arabic and Islamic Studies, Western Washington University


It is undeniable that a growing global economy has created a mountain of economic achievement, immeasurable wealth, growth, and privilege. However, this mountain has cast a dark shadow characterized by unimaginable inequality, and financial uncertainty. The financial crises of 2007 and subsequent widespread unemployment, economic stagnation, and severe economic fluctuations has called into question, the stability and reliability of the current financial models through which much of the western world and abroad conducts their financial operations. Often disregarded for its association with Islamic fundamentalism and Islamic law, Islamic finance and banking, provides an alternative to the commercial and universal financial models used around the world. Though Islamic finance is first and foremast a financial model which adheres to Islamic law, its principle functions may be applicable to any society, Islamic or otherwise. Largely characterized by its prohibition on interest, Islamic banking requires a financial system of profit-and-loss-sharing which, statistical evidence suggests, may lead to a more equitable distribution of income. Furthermore, economists Munawar Iqbal and Philip Molyneux have concluded that the collection of interest actually acts as a positive feedback mechanism which exacerbates the effects of the business cycle, deeming an Islamic financial system to be far more stable and equitable based on their own statistical analysis. It is my personal belief that if we can overcome the hesitation towards any and all institutions association with Islam or Islamism that seems to have become almost instinctual in light of the events of September 11th, our current financial system could benefit greatly from an understanding of the costs and benefits of alternative financial structures such as that of an Islamic financial system. As such, my paper “Islamic Finance and Banking: An Alternative to Global Financial Crises,” explores this alternative structure, and the insight it offers to the current global financial model.

  • Ma‘ṣūm ‘Alī Shāh; the Indian Reviver of the Persian Ni‘matullāhī Sufi order

Reza Tabandeh, PhD, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, U.K.


The fundamental question I have tried to answer in this thesis is how the Ni‘matullāhī masters were successful in reviving Ni‘matullāhī Sufism in Shi‘ite Persia during the early nineteenth century. This study investigates the revival of the Ni‘matullāhī Sufi order in Persia during the spiritual mission of Ma‘ṣūm ‘Alī Shāh (d. 1797). The Ni‘matullāhī Sufi order flourished as a Persian Sufi order in fourteenth century. During the Safavid era, most of the Sufi orders in Persia became inactive or systematically suppressed. With the advent of the Safavids, the Ni‘matullāhī order moved to Hyderabad in India, and gradually became less important in the mystical milieu of Persia. After the fall of the Safavids, the revival movement of the Ni‘matullāhī order began with the arrival of the enthusiastic Indian Sufi master Ma‘ṣūm ‘Alī Shāh during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Ma‘ṣūm ‘Alī Shāh and his disciples soon spread their mystical and ecstatic beliefs all over Persia. They succeeded in converting a large mass of Persians to Sufi teachings despite the opposition and persecution they faced from Shi‘ite clerics, who were politically and socially the most influential class in Persia. The clerics were able to turn the political powers against the Sufis to a certain extent, such that Āqā Muḥammad ‘Alī Bihbihānī, principal champion of this oppression, largely succeeded in his persecution of Ma‘ṣūm ‘Alī Shāh and his disciples. However, Ma‘ṣūm’s ability to train strong and elite group of disciples among Shi‘ite clerics is evaluated in this research. The conclusion is reached that although Ma‘ṣūm and number of his disciples were persecuted by exclusivist Shi‘ite Uṣūlī clerics, their mystical heritage continued through the elite class of society, who were able to consolidate the social and theological role of the Ni‘matullāhī order by reinterpreting and articulating classical Sufi teachings in the light of Persian Shi‎‘ite mystical theology.

  • The “Social Laboratory” of British India: Jamal al-Din al-Afghani’s South Asian Experience

Ardalan Rezamand, PhD Student, Department of History, Simon Fraser University


In postcolonial theory, the term “social laboratory” has a specific meaning. It holds that the colony served as a site for the experimentation and refinement of civic practices and institutions that were selectively transplanted to the metropole. Moreover, they became part of the colonial framework that carried into postcolonial history. Often, Indigenous intellectuals’ response to colonialism manifested through socio-religious reform. The Islamic revivalist and reform movements of nineteenth century British India serve as an example. More specifically, Indian Muslim intellectuals grappled with three issues: the absence or decline of political power, a return to “true” Islamic principles and the incorporation of Western knowledge. There was no consensus on how to resolve these issues bearing fractious consequences that would lead to sectarianism. Thus, this social laboratory had two operatives, a stronger imperial directive dictating against a weaker indigenous reform and resistance response.  Neither British nor Indian, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani witnessed this dialectic socio-political process during his prolonged visits to India. On the eve of the 1857 “mutiny,” Afghani arrived in Bombay, quickly being submerged into this social laboratory at its most critical moment. Over the course of the next decade, British India’s socio-political milieu influenced Afghani’s anti-British sentiments, while the Islamic revivalist thought of Muslim reformers informed his religious outlook. During his later visits to British India, he observed and experimented with ideologies that he propagated while in the Middle East and Europe. Scholars have undervalued the significance and contributions of British India to Afghani’s ideological development, as well as to nineteenth century Islamic reform movements.  Having a longer experience with European imperialism, with the largest and wealthiest Muslim population of any state, and already engaged in a plurality of counter-colonial reform and resistance practices, I argue that British India was the perfect social laboratory for an intellectual traveller to absorb and later disseminate, selectively, its intellectual capital.


Session 3                     Literature, Art, and Representations in the Muslim World

  • Contemporary Arab and Muslim America through the ‘Lens of The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf’:  Are We Witnessing Huntington’s Inter-civilizational Clash in Action?

Adam Yaghi, PhD Candidate, Contemporary American Literature, Sessional Lecturer and a Graduate Fellow at the Centre for Studies in Religion and Society, University of Victoria


Nori Gana rightly argues that the “post-9/11 intensification or racism against Muslim and Arab Americans reflects the protean forms and shifts in focus and locus of racism from ethnic and colour lines to religious and cultural affiliations or differentials.”*  There has been a growing interest in Samuel P. Huntington’s inter-civilizational clash hypothesis by a wide array of American and European cultural conservatives roughly since the 9/11 attacks. American cultural conservatives of Arab or Muslim descent reproduce Huntington’s clash thesis in the form of what I tentatively call memoirs-cum-political-manifestos. Theirs are semi-memoirs infused with fundamentalist religiopolitical advocacy aimed particularly at Americans of Arab and Muslim descent. Mohja Kahf directly engages the Huntingtonian paradigm in The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf. Her alternative narrative mocks Huntington’s thesis, disrupts narratives by American cultural conservatives of Arab or Muslim descent, and should be read as a critique of the post-9/11 re-emerging civilization clash discourse. The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, I argue, targets the foundational assumptions upon which the clash-of-civilizations discourse rests through utilizing a set of strategies.  It brings attention to the local; yet, it still understands the local in a global context. It upsets the so-called homogenous conformist Islam as the definitive cultural marker of Muslim and Arab identity. Above all, Kahf seems to caution against the excessive contemporary concern with identitarian difference, a fixation Walter Benn Michaels compellingly unpacks in The Shape of the Signifier. The novel takes issues with the overwhelming contemporary emphasis on identarianism, a tactic American cultural conservatives manipulate to present Arab and Muslim Americans as a dysfunctional out-group, and consequently give credence to the so-called existential clash of cultures. 

* Gana, Nori. “Introduction: Race, Islam, and the Task of Muslim and Arab American Writers.”PMLA 123.5 (Oct. 2008), pp. 1573-1580.

  • Changing Tastes: The Concept of Beauty in Illustrations of Manuscripts and Single Page Paintings of the Seventeenth Century Iran

Behrang Nabavi Nejad, PhD Candidate, Department of History in Art, University of Victoria


The visual language and pictorial traditions of the medieval Iran, from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, had been traditionally shaped by the tastes of the royal patrons and their elite, and through their direct involvement in artistic productions at the royal workshops. This pattern, however, had changed around 1600AD with the enthronement of Shah Abbas I, the great patron of arts who, with introducing new policies and ideologies, changed the shape of the country in both political and artistic realms. As a result of a change in the system of art patronage, the production of illustrated manuscripts at the royal workshops commissioned by the royalties was gradually replaced by single page paintings, devoid of any text, executed by independent artists, and sold to the individuals of the court or in the market. In this presentation, I will examine how the subjectivity of the royal patron, Shah Abbas I, and the changes in the system of patronage created by him, as well as tendencies in the Safavi Society towards Islamic mystic philosophy and practices transformed the concept of beauty formerly delineated in crowded manuscript illustrations with extraordinary attention on details into single images of thoughtful individuals, covering the full page, with minimum emphasize on the surroundings. This new aesthetic approach dominated the Iranian painting from the beginning of the seventeenth century on, and gradually pushed the illustrated manuscripts to a secondary position after three hundred years in Iranian painting.  For the visual evidence, I will bring in examples from the works of a leading artist, Riza Abbasi, who although contributed to courtly illustrated manuscript productions, his single page portraits of idealized men and women define the new visual language of the seventeenth century Iran, as I argue, in response to the socio-ideological changes of his time.

  • Textile-Weaving and the Problem of Craft in Safavid Iran

Fahimeh Ghorbani, MA Student, Department of History in Art, University of Victoria


In my project, I will focus on the theories and thoughts on traditional practice of crafts in early modern -Safavid- Iran. The widespread view is that practice of crafts in Safavid Iran was non-theoretical and based on empirical practice. I found this problematic. In this paper I will argue that in traditional practice of crafts in Medieval/Early Modern Iran theories and practice went hand in hand. Indeed, craftsmen had strong theories in mind about their practice. The most informative sources for this study are ‘treatise on crafts’. These are unexplored texts which provide first-hand information on the organization and activities of craft guilds, as well as a picture of the presence of futuwwa tradition within them. According to these texts, the learning of ethics of work and honourable conduct in one's both professional and personal dealings was an essential part of a craftsman's education and one which could be acquired only through the strict system of instruction provided by the guild. As my case study, I will analyze the content of one of these texts: “Futuwwat name-yi Bafandegan” (treatise on the textile-weaving’). My specific questions are: how these theories were practically applied by the craftsmen and to what extent they were influential in the textile weaving workshops? How the textile guilds interacted with the Safavid social institutions among them Sufism circles and futuwwa groups? In search for the answer of these questions I will do an art historical analysis, archival research on primary documents and library research on secondary documents. Moreover, I will examine the oral history and will track the traces of the tradition by doing some interviews with those still-active traditional textile-weavers.

  • Collecting and Compiling Humanity: Parviz Tanavoli’s Oh Persepolis II as a Collection of Miniatures

Jenelle M Pasiechnik, MA Student, Department of History in Art, University of Victoria


The purpose of my research is to investigate the sculpture, Oh Persepolis II, by Parviz Tanavoli, as a collection of miniature objects. Created over a long period of time and through many studies in ceramic and metal, the sculpture is influenced by the ancient walls of Iran, specifically the tomb site of Persepolis.  This study will bring to light what the miniatures represent individually and as a collection, where the inspiration for their making originated, and how they are a microcosmic representation of humanity. I will employ a framework that interrogates the materiality of the objects within the collection using Tim Ingold’s work. I also question the meaning of the object as collection and souvenir as defined by Susan Stewart. Parviz Tanavoli’s Oh Persepolis II is a collection of miniatures that represent a microcosm of the types of fundamental characteristics expressed universally by humans. Creativity and desire are consistently treated as artistic themes because they are innately human; this artist revisits these themes through the objects and associations that form his own Iranian cultural memory. Beginning from specific objects of cultural memory and transcending to themes of universal human experience the collection has the unexpected ability to exist beyond temporality through its allusions to materiality, place and human concern.  


Session 4                     Representation, Politics, and Conflicts in the Middle East

  • Lebanon: Separating Myth from Fact in the Labyrinth of Sectarian Politics

Nova Garside, BA Student, Political Science and Psychology, University of Victoria


While Lebanon is often viewed as one of the most complex political arenas in the Middle East, many of these conceptions stem from a normative understanding of history that fails to appreciate the critical role of regional events that have contributed to shaping Lebanon’s outcomes. This paper seeks to unpack the so called “sectarian divisions” within Lebanon as well as the historical impact of the formation and policies of the Israeli state have had on Lebanon. My aim is to provide a comprehensive overview of the historical context in which Lebanon’s sectarian divisions were exacerbated; particularly the way in which these factors hastened the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War and the rise of Hezbollah. I argue that the very basic aspect of Lebanon’s historical backdrop is often overlooked in much of contemporary Western discourse, and is crucial to understanding present-day Lebanese politics. This includes scrutinizing the events that sparked the civil war, as well as examining Israel’s motives for invading Lebanon in 1982 and understanding the way in which this influenced Hezbollah’s outlook and that of it supporters. By providing a broad historical framework through which to understand the Lebanese state, I aim to provide a narrative that considers Lebanon and Hezbollah’s respective political developments in relation to this context. Understanding developments in Lebanon within its historical setting is crucial to shedding light on the seemingly intractable divisions within Lebanese society, and their frequent mischaracterization by Western societies.

  • The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: The One-State and Two-State Solutions

Raied Haj Yahya, BA Student, School for International Studies, Simon Fraser University


In 1948, the state of Israel was created and declared independent, on 78% of the land of Mandatory Palestine, previously inhabited by Palestinians. Since its beginning, the Palestinian Israeli conflict has been a centre of significant international political and academic attention, and a variety of proposals for solving it have emerged. This paper explores the two main proposals: the one-state and the two-state solutions. The paper argues that the dominant and internationally endorsed two-state solution is increasingly receding, and that current political conditions in Israel and Palestine are rendering the one-state solution as the only achievable solution. The paper explores recent and contemporary political developments in Israel and Palestine to support this assertion. In 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, referred to as the Palestinian Territories, and since then, has been implanting Israeli settlements in an effort to establish Israeli control and domination over the Palestinian Territories. The domination Israel created is both economic and territorial, and it constitutes a hindrance to the two-state solution by limiting Palestinian economic development and sabotaging the contiguity of the Palestinian Territories that are projected to form the future Palestinian state in a two-state solution. Israel’s policy toward the conflict reflects a significant paradox: on the one hand, the state of Israel publicly supports the two-state solution, while on the other hand, it is expanding its control over the Palestinian Territories which demolishes the conditions conducive for an independent Palestinian state on those territories. The paper contends that the creation of one, ethnically neutral, democratic state, is not only increasingly desirable, but may be inevitable, and could enhance Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation as well as contribute to the stability of the region.

  • The Process of Othering in the Guide to the Holy Land by Meistermann

Robin Bunton, BA Honours Student, Department of History, University of British Columbia


In 1923, Father Barnabus Meistermann, a Catholic missionary, authored a second edition of his Guide to the Holy Land. Broadly speaking, Meistermann’s work was an attempt to communicate to Western pilgrims the vast geographical, political, and transportational changes undergone by Palestine and Syria as a consequence of the First World War. This paper will begin by focusing primarily upon Father Meistermann’s moral ascendancy over alternative forms of religious worship, his discussion of the process of Europeanization, and his arbitrary classification of ‘races’, in relation to the mid-20th century methodology of Edward W. Said’s Orientalism, and with brief reference to Said’s Culture and Imperialism. By employing the theoretical framework established by Said I will argue that in Guide to the Holy Land, Meistermann heavily involves a process of ‘othering’, which he then uses to provide justification for French and British involvement in the East. I will further expand upon this central argument, with a demonstration of how Said would interpret Meistermann’s Euro-centric definition of the ‘other’, and will explore the ways in which Said might understand the missionary’s imperialist rationalizations, as being implicated in the broader theoretical construction of the Orient. Because the majority of Guide to the Holy Land is fundamentally invested in a technical description of the Catholic pilgrim experience, Meistemann’s introduction will be analyzed in isolation from the remainder of the text, as it is most conducive to the interpretive framework of Said. This paper will conclude with a discussion of Edward W. Said’s methodological approaches to and analysis of Oriental and Occidental relations, and an evaluation of his contribution to post-colonial and Humanist studies, more broadly. As Said played a foundational (albeit, slightly problematic) role in the development of Middle Eastern scholarship, I believe that this paper will benefit a modern reader’s understanding of how the region has been perceived, internalized, and responded to by academia in two different historical periods. Whether referred to as the ‘Holy Land’, the ‘Orient’, or the ‘Middle East’, each of the authors’ perspectives offers historiographical insight into the linguistic and discursive progress which has been established over time within the discipline.


Session 5                     Conceptualizing Architecture in Iranian and Persiante Context

  • Ismaili Castles in Their Environmental Context: A Case Study of the Alamut Region                                                                                                                           

Seyedhamed Yeganehfarzand, Department of History in Art, University of Victoria


In 1090 Hasan-i Sabbah, the mysterious leader of Nizari Ismailis, obtained the control of one of the major existing castles in the north part of Iran, Alamut, and reinforced it as the headquarters of his activities against the central government. They gradually became a very influential community on the political and intellectual history of the Islamic world until fall of Alamut in 1256. During this period, the Ismailis under the leadership of Hasan-i Sabbah and his successors, succeeded in capturing, reinforcing and erecting more than 200 large and small fortresses in different regions of Iran and Syria (including Rudbar, Alamut, Taleghan, Qumes, Qainat, Qohistan, Arrajan, and Jabal Al-Bahra) and created one of the most powerful networks of fortifications in the Middle Islamic period (1000-1500 A.D).In fact the key strategy which helped them to resist against their enemies and survive in a hostile environment was this network of castles within inaccessible regions. This paper deals with the Ismaili castles in the Alamut region and discusses the interaction of the castles with their geographical environment, and the influential environmental factors on the location of the castles. Furthermore the relationship between castles as a network of defensive structures in Alamut region will be analyzed by examination of the distribution of Ismaili fortifications in this region.

  • Symbolism in Architecture: Some Considerations Regarding the Tomb of Jam Nizam al-Din in Makli Necropolis

Munazzah Akhtar, PhD Candidate, Department of History in Art, University of Victoria


This paper focuses on the architectural and decorative characteristics of the Tomb of Jam Nizam al-Din (c. 1509), which stands with all its glory and magnificence towards the northern end of Makli necropolis. Makli is a UNESCO world heritage site located in the historic city Thatta of the province Sindh, in present day Pakistan. It remains the largest pre-modern necropolis in the world, spread over a hilly area of six square miles. Makli contains thousands of artifacts and monumental structures, both religious and secular. The Samma dynasty of Sindh (1351-1524) established Makli as a cultural center and royal cemetery in the fourteenth century. Samma Jams (Sultans) promoted wider contacts with neighbouring countries and during their reign, many Sufi scholars, artisans and men of the noble, educated class migrated from different parts of Persia, Central Asia and the Indian sub-continent to Thatta. The immigration of skilled artisans led to a cross-pollination of artistic ideas, resulting in the unique culturally hybrid architecture at Makli. The earliest Samma monuments demonstrate the evolution of this hybrid style, which reached its zenith in the early sixteenth century when the Tomb of Jam Nizam al-Din was built. This tomb is a perfect reflection of the multi-faith and multi-cultural population of medieval Thatta. It shares architectural elements with Hindu Temples; modular units with Persian and Central Asian structures; iconography with Buddhist and Hindu mythological art; and building techniques with Sindhi and Gujarati traditions. This paper will first briefly discuss the development of Makli necropolis by Samma Jams and then explore the historic events, which led to the creation of the Tomb of Jam Nizam al-Din. Later, the paper will discuss in detail the symbolic significance of the tomb and its various architectural and decorative elements.

  • History from Above: The Applications of Aerial Images in Understanding the Historic Cities and Landscapes

Atri Hatef Naiemi, MA Student, Department of History in Art, University of Victoria


Aerial images are valuable documents which could be applied in examining the physical and functional qualities of historic cities. Aerial photos illuminate the evolution process of historic sites over the last few decades. They are considerable sources in understanding the original state of these sites before modern urban interventions and changes. This paper will be focusing on the role of these images in the study of historic cities and landscapes and tries to clarify the type of usable information which could be recovered through the examination and comparison of aerial photos provided in different time periods. In 1955 aerial photography began in Iran in order to provide accurate photos of all the provinces. Most of these photos show the urban fabrics at the beginning of modern period when new construction started to remove numerous buildings to make way for wider streets. Nevertheless the integrated fabric of cities including houses, squares (Meidan) and public buildings like bathhouses, mosques and schools are still recognizable. The existing aerial photos show how the large areas of the historical centers of cities have been destroyed, the integrated urban fabrics have been separated and the gardens have been replaced with urban lands. The importance of aerial images in examining the changes of both external and internal structures of cities will be discussed in this paper. To clarify the problem, two complexes have been chosen for this research: the historic center of the city of Semnan and the residential compound of Shahrasb, both sites are located in Iran. In these two cases we will draw a comparison between the oldest existing photo of the site and the most recent one and argue about the most important changes which have happened in these two complexes. The importance of this study is not only the recognition of the historical status and evolution process of a particular site, but understanding its existing conditions.  

  • The Shift Towards Monumental Architecture in Iran

Khash Hemmati, MA Student, Department of History, Simon Fraser University


The historiography of twentieth-century Iranian architecture remains an understudied field and the history of architecture provides a new ground for interpreting modern Iranian history. This paper will address, themes of Iranian architecture in light of the process of Iran’s modernization during the Pahlavi period (1925-79). I will make distinctions between the Pahlavi architectural styles, demonstrating not only diversity amongst, but also continuities and discontinuities in architectural styles from the Reza Shah era to that of his successor Muhammad Reza Shah.  Distinctions will be made between the departure from distinctive aesthetic approach in architecture from the early 1930s to the shift towards monumental architecture representative of state power in the later half of the Pahlavi era. This paper will use the Shahyad monument, which marked the 2500th anniversary of the Persian Empire in 1971, to demonstrate this shift. By particularly focusing on Shahyad monument in the second half of this presentation will place the Pahlavi architectural culture in its broad political, historical, and ideological context, demonstrating the Pahlavi architectural legacy.


Session 6                     Education, Language, and Identity Construction in Iran

  • Iranian Education and the Intellectual Classes: Higher Education Reform in the Pahlavi Period

Alli Cano, BA Honours, International Studies in the Security and Conflict, Simon Fraser University


Speaking of the education reforms of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s regime, Roy Mottahedeh remarked in The Mantle of the Prophet, “if education was the rare child born of the shared enthusiasm of the intellectuals and the regime, it was a child that in many ways defeated the hopes of both parents.” The reforms pervaded every level of education (in both religious and secular spheres), and the socio-political effects were monumental.  The aim of this paper is to connect specific educational reform policies in higher education (both in secular and religious institutions) with general trends of political activism among the intellectuals and intelligentsia.  This paper offers a snapshot of the emerging trends in intellectual ideologies and political activism framed within the context of the drastic reforms in higher education in Iran, focusing specifically on the modernization policies of both Pahlavi shahs, with an emphasis on the educational reforms under Mohammed Reza shah. Within this structure, I argue that throughout the span of these regimes, the government created a system whereby the entire modernization scheme was dependent on the new class of university graduates, professional, and intellectuals.  At the same time, the political climate, economic conditions, and nature of the reforms alienated this same class and drove them to increased political activism, feeding the fire of a rising secular intellectual class and intelligentsia that was vocally against the regime, despite brutal suppression.  Concurrently, state reforms that limited the ulama's monopoly on education and encroached on their authority to administer religious instruction served to force the clergy into developing para-educational institutions while simultaneously integrating into the new secular educational sphere. This gave birth to a new class of "lay religious intellectuals" who were hugely influential in shaping intellectual discourse and championed a strong alternative to secular political activism.

  • Language Dominance and Potential Identity Challenges at a Middle Eastern Educational Context

Naghmeh Babaee, PhD, Second Language Education, Faculty of Education, University of Manitoba


Many studies on identity have tended to focus on the process of ethnic identity formation in immigrant children (for example, Tse, 1998). Few recent studies such as Chiu’s (2011) have investigated the potential impacts of textbooks on immigrant students’ ethnic identity construction. However, little research has been conducted on the impacts of textbooks on the ethnic identity construction of regional minority students. Regional minorities include those who speak a non-official language in a country, excluding immigrants, such as Kurds who are originally from Iran and speak Kurdish, a non-official language in Iran. Due to the role of textbooks in transmitting dominant values in society (Apple, 1992) and in constructing ideal citizens (Chiu, 2011), further analysis of textbooks taught at public schools and their impacts on regional minority children’s ethnic identity construction are called for. In an attempt to bridge this gap, this paper drew on the notions of discourse, Discourse and identity to analyze a Grade 1 textbook taught at public schools in Iran, where Farsi is the language of instruction in Farsi and non-Farsi speaking provinces. Critical discourse analysis revealed that the ideal Iranian citizen constructed in the textbook was a middle-class, Farsi-speaking, Muslim, and urban. Potential ethnic identity formation challenges the textbook poses for regional minority students such as Kurds were discussed and implications for public school teachers to facilitate ethnic identity formation for these students were offered in the end.

  • The Iranian Revolution, 1979: Memory, Desire, and a Search for Identity

Jessica Singh, BA Student, Departments of History and Political Science, University of Victoria


Numerous contemporary representations of the Iranian Revolution, 1979 inadvertently suggest that the Islamic Republic of Iran emerged from a “drive for an ‘Islamic’ economic and social order.” A close analysis of the intrinsic logic of the Revolution, however, reveals that the Republic was founded through a convergence of several distinct ideologies. Many of the individual actors who had united under Khomeini’s “anti-imperialist” and “anti-Western” umbrella sought an Iran in which one could simultaneously be “Iranian, Muslim, and modern.” Thus, motivations for the Revolution were not solely political, economic, or religious; rather, in addition to a collective desire for a legitimate state authority, many Iranians were driven towards Khomeini’s revolutionary cause through a conflicting search for their own individual identity. In this way, the Iranian Revolution, 1979 is an eminent example of how the fusing together of different political, cultural, and ethnic identities with religion, by virtue of the overarching banner of a particular “national identity,” creates “anti-regime” attitudes that are far beyond the reaches of resolution even to this day.


Session 7                     Politics, Identity, and Nation-Building in the Middle East

  • The Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan: Excluding Jordanians through a Transjordanian Identity

Ezra Karmel, MA student, History Department, University of Victoria


Influenced by the events of the “Arab Awakening” elsewhere in the region, Jordanians flooded into streets across their country in the spring of 2011. Conspicuously absent from the Jordanian protests, however, were Jordanians of Palestinians origin (Palestinian-Jordanians). The dearth of Palestinian-Jordanian participation, this presentation will show, was a function of the growing politico-juridical precariousness of Palestinian-Jordanians in the Hashemite Kingdom. Indeed, despite the fact that Palestinian-Jordanians remain technically equal to East Bank Jordanians, they are increasingly being denied equal legal and political rights within the kingdom. The presentation will discuss how Palestinian-Jordanian have gradually lost their rights since the 1970 civil war. It will argue that the growing precariousness of Palestinian-Jordanians is a result of three factors: the regime’s tactics of “defensive democratization,” its sporadic revoking of Palestinian-Jordanian citizenship, and its construction of an exclusionary identity. I will focus on the last, emphasizing how the regime has marginalized Palestinian-Jordanians through nation building campaigns that focus on Transjordanian, rather than Jordanian, culture. I will show how an association with pre-independence Transjordanian culture has become more important for national identity than a Jordanian’s residence or passport. In this context, I will then demonstrate how a failure to prove a connection with Transjordanian culture renders Palestinian-Jordanians unable to participate in political life in Jordan.

  • The Emergence, Activities, and the Fall of the Kurdistan Republic in Iran (1946)

Nasser Jahani Asl, PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology, University of Victoria


In 1941, Iran was occupied by the Soviet Union and Britain. Kurdistan and Azerbaijan were under the influence of the Red Army. Due to this influence and the expansion of urbanization and education, the Kurdish nationalism entered in a new stage of its development. The educated middle class people of the cities were participating in conducting the Kurdish nationalist movement. The formation of the Komala-y Zhianava-y Kurd (Association for Resurrection of the Kurds), or Komala in September 1942 was the most significant sign of the new movement. Komala’s ultimate goal was the creation of an independent Kurdish state which unites all Kurdish lands; however, its other strategic goal was obtaining autonomy for Kurdish people in Iran. On August 16, 1945 Komala replaced by the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which was established under the leadership of Qazi Muhammad in Mahabad. The basis of KDP was Komala’s organization and politics. The KDP was the leading Kurdish nationalistic movement in Iran. This movement was formed in the occupied territory of the Soviet Red Army and received help from the Soviet for its formation. Under the KDP, the Kurdistan Republic or Mahabad Republic was established in January 22, 1946. This movement was democratic and initiated progressive programs. The Republic wanted self-determination in the framework of Iran. On December 15, 1946 the Iranian army entered Mahabad. “Qazi Muhammad, Hussein Saifi Qazi and Sadri Qazi were all judged by a military court-martial in Mahabad and were hung on March 31, 1947 in Mahabad”. In order to abolish all traces of the Qazi’s regime in Kurdistan, the Iranian regime launched a program by which “The Kurdish printing press was closed, the teaching of Kurdish was prohibited, and all books in Kurdish were publicly burned”. This paper analyses the emergence of the Kurdistan Republic in Iran, its main activities, and the reasons for its fall in 1946.

  • What if: The Implication of the ‘Peel Commission’ for Palestine

Preet Dhaliwal, BA Student, Department of History, University of Victoria


The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as a whole, can be broken down into a family dispute. Two brothers fighting over ancestral land, all the while the uncle, who oversteps his, limits all the time, and then claims to put the fighting to the end by taking over the responsibilities for a time. Britain, the uncle, was very keen on partitioning the land of Palestine, into Palestine and Israel, by dividing the territory around the settlements. No one was happy with this decision, and therefore it was scrapped. Hypothetically, many have wondered, David Ben-Gurion himself concluded,1 that if the Peel Commission was accepted, would those 6 million Jews have survived, or would they have the same fate?2 I cannot give an answer to this question, as the whole state of the conflict is a what-if scenario from the first thought of granting land from mandated Palestine to the Jews, so they could create homes in proper settlements on what they claimed to be the ancestral land to today, when there is still a constant bitterness between the Israelis and Palestinians. Except, no matter where you look on this matter, no matter how many books are written and read, debates on articles, or bombs on busses, the central question to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is; would the Peel Commission succeeded had it been passed in 1937?

  • The Evolving Attitudes of Turkish Scholars on the Kurdish Issue

Lauren Trapp, BA Student, Department of History, Western Washington University


At this year’s sixth annual Meicon Conference I will present my research paper entitled The Evolving Attitudes of Turkish Scholars on the Kurdish Issue, which analyzes the changing opinions  of Turkish academics toward the Kurdish minority in Turkey from the nations’ founding. Through an extensive volume of secondary and some primary sources I have detailed and assessed academic attitudes concerning the Kurdish minority by beginning with Ottomanist scholarship in the years immediately preceding the foundation of modern Turkey and how such opinions both influenced and shifted the Kurdish image. Through my research I have discovered that World War One and various nationalist uprisings throughout Europe had a profound effect on the development of Turkish nationalism. The Turkey that emerged after the First World War was one that was bound to unification, especially unification based on a common language, culture and ethnicity; namely the Turkish culture, Turkish language and Turkish ethnicity. In contrast the Kurds did not perceive of themselves as Turkish, had their own distinct culture and many were opposed to a distinctly secular Turkey as envisioned by Kemal Ataturk. The Ottoman Empire consisted of millions of peoples of varying ethnic, cultural and even religious backgrounds. For centuries these people had been governed under the millet system, a system which placed the greatest emphasis on religion and as fellow Muslims the Kurds had maintained high status. However, with a turn toward secularism and Turkish nationalism Kurds were increasingly pressured to conform. Kurds were fully accepted into Turkish society as long as they denied a unique identity and conformed to a Turkish one. People’s houses and chambers were developed under government orders to train Kurds to become Turkish. Scholars refused to acknowledge that Kurds were in fact different than Turks. Official government discourse and academic opinion was that the Kurds did not exist but that they were Turks who had merely forgotten their heritage. But with each Kurdish uprising and with a minority that refused to conform Kurds were increasingly denigrated. A consciousness developed in scholarly writings that the Kurds different but with this consciousness intolerance toward Kurdish culture was only solidified. My paper will show in a succinct fashion that through the decades scholarly attitudes have both shaped and been shaped by nationalist structures in Turkey; and the crucial role Turkish scholars have played in the past and will play in the future toward the dissolution of the Kurdish problem.