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Circling around the really Real in Iran

Ethnography of Muharram laments among Shi'i volunteer militants in the Middle East

Younes Saramifar


Iranian Shi'i believers claim that capturing sorrow and lamentation in their fullest sense falls beyond language and reason. They constantly refer to their inability to articulate in order to explain martyrdom and highlight a form of unsaid that explains all that appears impalpable for them. I undertake a journey among Iranian Shi'i youth to trace the unarticulated and the sense of wonder generated via religious experiences. By way of an ethnography of Muharram lamentation ceremonies, this article highlights how the unarticulated and the unsaid are socially and politically used in service of Shi'i militancy. I explore those uncharted terrains in the darkness of the Lacanian Real and in terms of how the Real is authenticated in order to address how realities are crafted and religious subjectivities are enacted in the realm of militancy.

Open access

Militancy and Martyrs’ Ghostly Whispers

Disbelieving History and Challenges of Inordinate Knowledge in Iran

Younes Saramifar

Abstract: The so-called Iranian revolutionary youth’s aspirations for martyrdom are not based merely on Islamist doctrines or Islamic ideologies. They readily place all fallen combatants in a ‘martyrdom box’, linking them to Islamic sacrality and claiming they feel martyrs via martyrs’ ghostly whispers. Through ethnographic journeys in Iran, Lebanon and Iraq, I unpack how they craft the ‘martyrdom box’ and communicate with the ghostly whispers. I argue that the Iranian revolutionary youth’s perceptions of martyrdom and militant subjectivities emerge in relation to disbelieving histories that contest the state’s narratives and their mystical relationships with martyrs. This article takes Iranian revolutionary youth as exemplars to explain how individuals implicated in political violence craft acts of ‘knowing’ and render death and dead ‘knowable’. In other words, instead of asking what is known, I proceed by unpacking how what is known becomes real and how the act of knowing contributes to the emergence of reality.

Résumé : En Iran les aspirations de la soi-disant jeunesse révolutionnaire pour le martyre ne sont pas basées simplement sur les doctrines islamistes ou les idéologies islamiques. Ces aspirations visent à mettre toutes les personnes qui sont mort au combat dans une “boîte de martyre” afin de les unir au sacré islamique. La jeunesse prétend pouvoir ressentir la présence des martyrs grâce au chuchotement-fantôme. À travers des voyages d’ethnographie en Iran, en Liban, et en Iraq, j’étudie leurs façons de construire la “boîte de martyre” et de communiquer avec le chuchotement-fantôme. L’idée que les jeunes révolutionnaires iraniennes se font de martyre et de militantisme émerge dans le contexte du scepticisme face à l’histoire, ayant comme but de contester les récits de l’état et les relations mystiques avec des martyres. Cet article montre que la jeunesse révolutionnaire en Iran pourrait servir comme modèle pour expliquer comment des individus qui sont impliqués dans des violences politiques se présentent comme artisans-créateurs des “connaissances”. Ils essayent de se rapprocher des morts et de rendre la mort compréhensible. Mon objectif c’est de mettre de côté le questionnement sur la connaissance elle-même, afin d’établir comment la possession des connaissances contribue à l’apparition de la réalité.