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TITLEMutilated Body of the Modern Nation: Qurrat al-'Ayn's Unveiling and the Persian Massacre of the Bábís
AUTHOR 1Negar Mottahedeh
TITLE_PARENTComparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
ABSTRACTA Freudian interpretation of the extreme antipathy underlying common Iranian opposition to the Babis/Bahá'ís as being disruptive symbols of destabilizing modernism, with the stories of Qurratu'l-'Ayn's public unveiling a central element.   
NOTES Presented at the Interdisciplinary 19th Century Studies Conference, University of California at Berkeley, April 1997.

See also another version of this paper, Ruptured Spaces and Effective Histories: The Unveiling of the Bábí Poetess Qurrat al-'Ayn-Tahirih in the Gardens of Badasht.

TAGSBábí history; Badasht, Iran; Conference of Badasht (1848); Dawn-Breakers (book); Equality; Iran (documents); Tahirih; Veils; Women
CONTENT The Babi movement, established in 1844 in Persia by Siyyid Ali Muhammad, known as the Bab (the Gate), is considered in contemporary historiography as a messianic movement aimed at the transformation of a society conditioned by Twelver Shi'ism and governed by the corrupt despotic rule of the Qajar dynasty. Persisting a mere decade, owing in part to an extensive and comprehensive persecution of its membership by the Shi'ih clergy and the Qajar despot's representatives, the Babi movement affected varied sectors of Persian society. In contemporary historiography, the Babi movement is chiefly renowned for its egalitarianism and particularly for its impact on the status of women in Iran. This is perhaps because of the public visibility of one of the Babi movement's female leaders, the poetess Qurrat al-'Ayn Tahirih and her conspicuous unveiling at a Babi gathering popularly referred to as the Badasht Conference.

The vast majority of the Bab's early followers, including Qurrat al-'Ayn Tahirih, were learned scholars in Shi'ih Islamic jurisprudence and the Islamic traditions. 1 The Bab's followers, each in their own particular way, accepted his social and religious teachings and acknowledged his ultimate claim to be the return of the twelfth Imam -- a figure important to the constitution of Twelver Shi'ism in Islam. After the Bab's cruel public execution, most of the Babis who survived the ensuing fierce attacks by the clergy and the government forces, acknowledged the claims of the prophet-founder of the Bahá'í Faith -- Bahá'u'lláh --and recognized his leadership and successful establishment of a new religion. 2

Writing in 1863-64, Mirza Fath 'Ali Akhundzadah, one of the early spokesmen for Iranian reform dubiously promoted his book Kamal al-Dawla as an anti-Babi polemic intended to further the cause of Islam in Iran. In Kamal al-Dawla, Akhundzada celebrates the greatness of pre-Islamic Iran and aspires to recreate Iran's glory by drawing on the technology and the sciences of the West. He argues that "these objectives can never be achieved without destroying the foundations of religious beliefs, which obstruct people's vision and impede their progress in secular affairs." Although the Babis were perhaps the main source of resistance to the doctors of Islam,3 Akhundzada's main target of criticism, he calls the Babis, "the deceivers of the people" whose "absurd words" renewed "sedition and revolts".4 For Akhundzada 'the Babi threat', as perceived by most Persians in his time, was a way to deflect the attention of the priestly class from his antagonistic modernist rhetoric and his suggested reforms for the nation. (Sanjabi 50) 'The Babi threat' was for Akhundzada an alibi for, and a readily available popular target that could identify the symptoms of social ills from which Iranian society suffered.

The manner in which the term 'Babi' gained currency as a way to denote such negative notions of modernity in common parlance in late nineteenth century to early twentieth century Iran is worthy of note. For as derogatory as its resonance's were, they seem to be embedded, more often than not, within a context of sartorial innovation. The term 'Babi', as we shall see, was a stereotypic attachment to any gesture of resistance to traditional Islamic values. It was a simplification, of course, and like most stereotypes, an arrested and fixed type of representation that masqueraded in an untold carnival of images of foreignness, of modernist innovation, of nihilism and of irreligiosity. As such this stereotype was a fixed memory in miniature constructed on the basis of events that took place at a specific time in Iranian history while simultaneously detached, reformulated, and recovered to illuminate other times and places. One may speculate along with the social historian Huchang Chehabi on the role played by the Babi poetess Qurrat al-'Ayn Tahirih 's public unveiling in the association between sartorial innovation and heresy. (210)

This paper discusses the enforced society-wide participation of the Persian people in the extermination of the Babis. While recognizing the difficulties of reconciling psychoanalytic concepts with an historical endeavor, this project considers Sigmund Freud's discussion of the usefulness of an "intruder" for the constitution of a "communal love". The study outlines, through a series of historical images, the way in which the stereotypic term 'Babi' entered into a complex and ambivalent play of fetishism in modern Persian history. This 'play of fetishism', a concept which in its various formulations informs the analysis of race relations and national imagining in the work of postcolonial writers such as Homi Bhabha and Frantz Fanon, organizes around itself the ambivalences of the modern nation's self-relation and the traumatic experiences of self- annihilation in Iran between 1848 and 1852. This paper argues that this concept, although derived from Western models of subjectivity, may be useful in understanding how a stereotypic image such as 'the Babi' can inform an historical study of Persian modern subject-formation and the subject's relation to the problems of formulating a modern nation's sense of its own identity.

The famous Orientalist Edward Granville Browne's reflections on the clothes he had acquired for his travels from Yazd to Kirman in his travelogue dated 1887-1888 may suggest the possible relation and confusion of the 'Babi' term's stereotypic connotations and the notion of 'the Babi threat'.

The following anecdote relates a scene in which an abridged memory connected to the Babis is recalled, illuminating the present moment of Browne's vogue:

"I had arrayed myself in a new suit of clothes made by a Yezdi tailor, of white shawl-stuff, on the pattern of an English suit. These were cool, comfortable, and neat; and though they would probably have been regarded as somewhat eccentric in England, I reflected that no one at Yezd or Kirmán would doubt that they were the ordinary summer attire of an English gentleman. Haji Safar [Browne's young Persian assistant], indeed, laughingly remarked that people would say I had turned Bábí (I suppose because early Bábís were wont to wear white raiment), but otherwise expressed the fullest approval." (Browne, A Year 452)

The term 'Babi' in this anecdote is not only addressed to the eccentricity of the foreign other, but to the wearing of an extraordinary configuration of clothing, the color of which may connote an act of dissent. The anecdote represents not only what Browne as a British Orientalist associates with his suit, but fortuitously reveals an assumption about the Yazdi and Kirmani mind. Although Browne was extremely interested and driven to understand the Persians and moreover the Babis, he failed to grasp the historical connection (made by his travel companion) between what he was wearing and the perceived role of the Babi in innovating fashions in Iranian culture.

The unveiled Qajar princess, Taj al Saltanih's memoirs (1884-1914) also situate the connotative values of the term 'Babi' quite illustratively within the context of modern education, naturalism and irreligiosity. Speaking of the effects of her education on the development of her mature identity she writes:

"Right up to my eighteenth year, I had held beliefs taught to me by my nanny that the heavens were pulled by a chain in an angel's hand, or that when God's wrath was incurred, the sound of thunder came...As I progressed in my studies day by day, my irreligiosity grew until I was a complete naturalist myself. Since these ideas were new to me, I was eager to impart them to my mother, my relatives, and my children. As I would begin to talk, however, my mother would curse at me, 'You have turned Babi!' My relatives would invoke God's forgiveness and keep their distance, refusing to listen." (Amanat, Crowning 309)

Taj's memoir as a whole constructs clear connections between her modern education, her unveiling, women's liberation, and her desire and respect for European ideals as encountered by her in various French literatures and philosophies. Yet in this brief anecdote set in the chamber of familiarity the term 'Babi', and not 'Imperialism,' arises to effect the connection between her modern subjectivities and her alleged naturalism and irreligiosity.

Another literary reference to the derogatory term 'Babi' is found in a short story by Rasul Parvizi which humorously relates the effects of the panoptic enforcement of modern clothing policies under the Reza Shah (1925-41) in the young man's home town of Shiraz. As is well known Reza Shah's dynastic legacy in Iranian history falls within the realm of modernization in his enforcement of European clothing and the forced injunction to unveil Iranian women in the late nineteen thirties and early forties. Houchang Chehabi sketches this "progressive move" from the institution of the Pahlavi hat (similar to the French kepi ) as the official hat for all Iranian men in 1927 to the decree in 1935 that established the chapeaux in an effort to construe an Iranian Westernization. (Chehabi 212, 215) Chehabi notes the violent reproach by the general populace towards these new policies, which reluctantly moved them from a complex diversity of cultural practices in clothing towards the mobilization of a national front through the forced uniformity of dress. This done, the institution of new policies in the 1930's, and especially the injunction to unveil, introduced 'the people' into an international system of clothing and etiquettes that would ultimately distinguish them from others in bordering countries. 5

The panoptic enforcement of the rules of clothing through the active engagement of the police force, the school system, the traffic comptrollers, and even undercover agents in bathhouses to monitor compliance, especially with respect to the rule to appear unveiled in public places, strikes one as almost surreal.

The general reaction towards this totalized foreign mimicry enforced by the disciplinary institutions resonates in the young Shirazi's chant, in Rasoul Parvizi's story, as he walks around town knocking off people's Pahlavi hats and ripping them to pieces:

"We don't want a blue hanky,
We don't want a Babi guv'nor,
We don't want a foreign hat.
(Chehabi 230)

The survival of the stereotype 'Babi' in this piece of prose, three quarters of a century after the collapse of the Babi movement is remarkably linked not only to the enforced introduction of foreign values and internationalism, but to a variety of associations with a change of clothing.

The stereotypical denotation 'Babi' as a memory in miniature in these brief anecdotes ambivalently joins the two poles of outside appearance and personal identity - the traditional realms of the zaher and the baten in the ordinary and everyday speech of the Iranian people. Remarkably, it conflicts with the official attempts to dissociate the two realms during the reign of Reza Shah whose counter-imposition of the veil on prostitutes was meant to prevent "the association of unveiling with unwholesome mores." (Chehabi 219)

Historically organized around the problems of spatiality and vision, the concepts of external appearance and personal identity have a fundamental relation to Persian models of subject formation. By embracing a fluctating negative stereotype such as 'the Babi' in the act of formulating a modern identity, they play themselves out on the uncanny scene of fetishism. As such they are caught in the problematics of a 'scrambled' identity, associated with the pleasure and anxiety that the fetishized memory/image of 'the Babi' gives rise to. I use the term fetishim (or the stereotype as fetish) here to discuss the subject's desire for a pure origin which is threatened by a realization of difference. This understanding of fetishism is informed by the work of the postcolonial theorist Homi K. Bhabha who in rereading the work of Edward Said on "Orientalism" and Frantz Fanon on the problematics of representation in the colonial context, redefines the stereotype or fetish. Bhabha defines the fetish as a concept that gives "access to an 'identity' which is predicated as much on mastery and pleasure as it is on anxiety and defence." The fetish or stereotype, in Bhabha's reading, is a form of "multiple and contradictory beliefs in its recognition of difference and its disavowal of it." (75) Thus in light of Bhabha's discussion of fetishism, its role in the subject's reckoning with difference and its imbrication in the Foucauldian apparatus of knowledge and power, 6 I argue below that the stereotypic or fetishized image of 'the Babi', attached as it was to aspects of Persian modernity, complicates the modern subject's relation to him/herself and to the constitution of the modern nation as homogeneous and whole. The discussion of historical accounts of the Babi movement will elaborate and illustrate this claim further. But first, as the issue of fetishism bears on the problematics of sexuality and spatiality, let us pause to reflect on the ways in which sexuality and territoriality conflate in Islamic discourse.

We have come to learn that sexuality, in the context of Islam, is territorial (Mernissi, Beyond 81). Sexuality is mapped, as it were, unto the specific topology of the public and the private. In this context, female veiling is formulated as a way to ensure the purity of the public sphere, generally designated as male, and the protection of the female, in the same context, through a gesture of dissimulation. As such, this construction permits the definition of female identity, in the Muslim context, as split. On the one hand, in the context of the perception of her natural constitution, the female is seen as a distraction, an invasion or intervention to the male's formulation of his identity as pious or divine. Her presence as a sexual being in the public sphere, in other words, interferes with the Muslim man's relation to Allah. On the other hand, in the context of her cultural status in Muslim history and as the embodiment of the community's identity as such, the female is seen as weak, indeed in need of protection in the male domain. The veil thus covers over her constitutional split, creating a unified or whole subject that is both dangerous by nature and incapable to defend herself or the Muslim community's identity within the social domain.7 Without the veil this dual and dangerous quality is thought to come to the fore, unveiling a "scrambled" identity, dangerous and mutilated.

The unveiled woman in the Muslim public realm is perceived as naked. 8 Her unveiling, especially in the Irano-Islamic context, is a sure sign of her sexual promiscuity, her unleashed sexuality and transgression. 9 It is on the basis of this perception that I would propose a conjunction between the moment of Qurrat al-Ayn Tahirih's unveiling in a garden in Badasht, systematically signaled as the first act of public unveiling in Iranian history, and the psychoanalytic scene of fetishism. For the sake of clarity, let me reiterate the scene of fetishism before making the historical connection.

Freud's fable describes the scene of fetishism in very specific terms. It is set on the stage of maternal undressing where the boy discovers the absence of the penis. Recognizing the threat of castration (his own) in the form of the castrated mother, he creates a substitute. The terrifying sight of the castrated maternal figure forces the child to disavow what he has seen by masking it. In the act of disavowal, the boy transfers the importance of the penis onto another object - the substitute object or fetish. This conflict between the "weight of the perception" and the force of the "counter-wish" situates in the substitute-object the former pleasure in the penis as well as the horror of castration. Affective value is thus transferred onto the fetish. The mixture of horror and pleasure in the fetish renders it therefore ambivalent. Produced on the basis of recognition and disavowal, the object retains within itself, the affective pleasure of continued belief (that the mother actually has one), the unshakable horror of recognition (that she doesn't) and the anxiety of castration (that the father did it and may strike again!). The ambivalent fetish object serves to maintain the child's sense of wholeness. (Freud 154)

A glance at the various historical accounts of Qurrat al-Ayn' Tahirih's unveiling present us with a similar dynamic of historiographic recognition and disavowal. The historian Abbas Amanat's disparate discussions of various historiographic and autobiographical sources betrays an uncanny ambivalence in the affirmation of Qurrat al-Ayn Tahirih's unveiling, as if an 'act of nudity' is concomitant with an absolute and unremitting disavowal. According to Amanat's assertions, many sources claim that Qurrat al-Ayn Tahirih did indeed unveil in public. Most say, however, that she only did so in the gathering of "believers" (i.e. other Babis). And while most sources agree that she never unveiled publicly before the Badasht Conference in 1848, others even doubt that she did so on that occasion. (Amanat, Resurrection 295-316). A double disavowal takes place in the reconfiguration of these various narratives, wherein firstly none but the 'believers' are incriminated by this public violation and secondly, no one is whatsoever.

Historiography remains suspect and any search for the true origins of these narratives is doomed to failure. This is perhaps why Friedrich Nietzsche in his critical discussions of the historiographic venture pointed out that 'a monkey stands at the entrance'. (Nietzsche 49) But in the wildly hallucinatory account of the "moonfaced" Qurrat al-Ayn in the work of the Qajar Court chronicler Sipihr, known as 'The Tongue of the Kingdom', we can only imagine the extent to which her acts entered into popular imagination as moments of primal fantasy. From this chronicler's shamelessly sensual account of Qurrat al-Ayn, we can perhaps gather up the traces of her gestures (whether rhetorical or physical) which activated the processes of recognition and disavowal in the minds of those who believed her to be the reincarnation of Fatimih, the Prophet's daughter-- "a representation which guaranteed her sanctitude by lineage, marriage and motherly love." 10

Sipihr, the Qajar Court chronicler mustering the full force of his sobriety, reports that Qurrat al-Ayn Tahirih not only believed in the unveiling of women, but endorsed the marriage of one wife to nine husbands. For her public addresses, he says:

"She would decorate her assembly room like a bridal chamber and her body like a peacock of Paradise. Then she summoned the followers of the Bab and appeared unveiled in front of them. First she ascended a throne and like a pious preacher reminded them of Heaven and Hell and quoted amply from the Qur'an and the Traditions. She would tell them: "Whoever touches me, the intensity of Hell's fire would not affect him." The audience would then rise and come to her throne and kiss those lips of hers which put to shame the ruby of Ramman, and rub their faces against her breasts, which chagrined the pomegranates of the garden." (Amanat, Resurrection 321)

The dynamics of pleasure, fear, recognition and disavowal in the juxtaposition between this scene of fantasy, probably derived from the renowned Conference at Badasht, and the scene of utter horror described in the eyewitness records of that same Conference in Nabil's Narrative, (when at the sight of Qurrat al Ayn's unveiling an Isfahani zealot is said to have cut his own throat in an act of self- mutilation ) is an uncanny reactivation of the moment of terrifying recognition and phantasmagoric substitution in the psychoanalytic scene of fetishism. 11

The conjunction between the historical moment and the psychoanalytic one, however, gains more clarity as we go on to observe the ways in which the precursors and the consequences of this event are constituted in a variety of historiographic texts.

Most historical sources agree that the Badasht Conference took place in 1848, the summer of one of the main Babi uprisings in Iran. By 1852 it was clear that the Babi claim that a communal effort towards the reform of the nation was no longer imminent, but rather long overdue became too much to take for the majority of Iranians. A number of violent confrontations between the Babis, the Shaykhis (a heterodoxy of Shi'ih Islam), and the orthodox Shi'ite Muslims combined with scenes of stupefying and humiliating public torture reportedly drove many Babis to their wits end.

Qurrat al-'Ayn Tahirih's uncle, one of the leading Muslim scholars in the town of Qazvin, is said to have been humiliated by the rumors of his niece's immorality (her public unveiling among other things). (Amanat, Resurrection 322) These accusations, thought to bring ill repute to his house, added to his pronounced hatred for the Babis, thus aggravating the situation between the Babis and the Shi'ite Muslims all the more. One morning, while praying at his mosque, it is claimed that the well known religious leader was murdered by a Babi sympathizer. (ibid.) The most notable Babis of Qazvin, all suspected accomplices, were rounded up, charged with the murder of the Mulla Muhammad Taqi and dispensed with at will. Typical of later anti-Babi killings, the Qazvin executions were carried out by a mob. Most sources claim that they were incited by religious leaders who both promised rewards in the hereafter and encouraged the tortures as gestures in active defense of Shi'ih Islam. (Amanat Resurrection 324)

An undeniably potent space is set up in their religious rhetoric that calls up a conjunction between, if not a complete superimposition of, the scene of absolute terror and the fantastic space of the hereafter. The fear of humiliation (castration, if you will) is virtually displaced in the activation of a scene of bliss and pleasure -- the scene of paradise-- and transferred into the active 'body' of Shi'ih Islam. The site/sight of the mutilated Babi is disavowed and simultaneously retained through the appropriation of this discursive and palimpsestic space by the popular imaginary, permitting a fetishistic scene of phantasm as one figured in the Court Chronicler's narrative.

After these horrifying public executions, Qurrat al-'Ayn Tahirh, was also suspected of co-conspiracy in her uncle's assassination and was put under house arrest until after the suppression of the above mentioned uprisings. Various recollections assert that she was then sent to Tehran where she was brought to the court of Nasir al Din Shah. Upon inspecting her the Monarch reportedly exclaimed : "I like her looks: leave her, and let her be." (Browne, Traveler's 313)

One can only wonder what the Shah saw and heard, for he is said to have asked her for her hand should she stop expounding her beliefs. Her reply was a somewhat poetic, but a nonetheless defiant "No!":

"Kingdom, wealth and power to thee
Beggary, exile and loss for me
If the former be good, it's thine
If the latter is hard, its mine.
(qtd. in Milani 88)

One will search in vain for a record of this transaction in the Court Chronicler's recollections "whose ears," according to the orientalist E. G. Browne, "must hear what is pleasant rather than true and whose actions must be not only justified but extolled as models of wisdom and virtue." (Browne, Traveler's 187)

It was perhaps four years later, in August of 1852 according to most documents, that a conspiracy was masterminded by a Babi, Shaykh Ali Mirza --also known as Azim-- to murder the young dynast, Nasir al-Din Shah. The monarch was only wounded, but this act set the scene for massive arrests and a general massacre of all Babis. The 'Babi threat' reached its full force. "The Qajar officials, alarmed by the potential threat of the 'nihilists' and 'anarchists' devised 'Machiavellian means' for their extermination." (Browne, Traveler's 328) Convinced of the existence of wide-spread disaffection towards his four-year reign, the Shah agreed to instigate a widespread plan for the extermination of the Babis. Edward G. Browne describes the plan in these words:

"It was suggested that if the responsibility for the doom of the captives rested solely on the Shah, the Prime Minister, or the ordinary administrators of the law, these would become thereafter targets for the vengeance of the Babis. If, on the other hand, a partition of the prisoners were made amongst the different classes; if a representative body of each of these classes were made responsible for the execution of one or more Babis; and if it were further signified to the persons thus for ced to act the part of executioners, that the Shah would be able to estimate their loyalty to himself by the manner in which they disposed of their victims, then all classes, being equally exposed to the retaliation of the survivors, from whom they would therefore be effectually and permanently alienated, while at the same time the Shah himself would avoid incurring the odium of the massacre."
(Browne, Traveler's 328)

Many Babis were killed during this massacre including Qurrat al-'Ayn Tahirih herself. But in the involvement of representatives of every class in the massacre, the Shah managed to transfer his actual "fear of castration" (decapitation, in another register) onto his subjects. Masked in a rhetoric of nihilism and anarchism, this threat of ultimate mutilation was thus perpetuated by the agitation of representatives of every class, throughout the body of the Persian populace, allowing for numerous permutations.

The anecdotal examples (above) that enumerate the way in which the term 'Babi' was used to connect various instances of innovation and modernization in the modern period in Iran serve to remind us that the stereotypical image does not merely refer to the absent 'originary' act of sartorial innovation. Its point of reference is not, to quote contemporary psychological discourse, "the source memory". In its various permutations the image of 'the Babi' carries within it traces of fear and anxiety, or the affects associated with 'the Babi threat'. I have argued that it does so because of its entanglement in the dynamics of fetishism.

Freud remarks that the fetish object is instituted at the moment of traumatic amnesia, the stopping of memory at the moment of shock. (155) This shock, in historical terms, occurs at the moment when memory stops in reaction to the threat of the subject's own endangerment (castration by the father). In terms of the historical materials gathered here this endangerment is the threat of decapitation transferred to the masses from the endangered body of the king and the ulama and through the activation of the subject's own threatened identity in such accusations as nihilism and anarchism, both terms associated with the 'Babi threat'. 12 The subject in turn is encouraged to mutilate the Babis on behalf of the king/ulama and is thereby given the promise of his or her own preservation in the rhetoric of an imaginable here-after.

Neurologists argue that three things can occur to memories at moments of psychological stress, moments of fear, horror or endangerment. 1) The memory of the moment is repressed and lost. 2) It is repressed and retrieved in parts. 3) It is recovered with errors in the memory trace. Memories can also be implanted, constructed on site or in retrospect (hence the recent debates in Western popular culture around the False Memory Syndrome). From within the dynamics of Freudian fetishism, I have argued that at the sight/site of the mutilated body of a Babi, a memory in miniature is created in defense against the claims of the external reality ( the threat of the father/king/mulla). This substitute memory/image whether "implanted" or constructed is grasped by the subject as the relation that mutually defines the two spaces of externality -the mutilated and the sovereign bodies. As a fetishized image, it is used as a means to ensure the subject's continued wholeness.

This memory/image is reactivated at other times and places when the threat of the subject's disintegration occurs: in the introduction of foreign values and ideas, the threat of change and innovation, and in the loss of a secure identity in the absence of religion's stabilizing reassurance. Thus the "novel" statements of the unveiled princess Taj al- Saltaneh, as evidence of a scrambled body, pose a threat to her immediate family and relatives. Their reaction is to recall the fetishized image 'the Babi' and invoke "God's forgiveness" securing thereby the preservation and wholeness of their own identity.

This memory/image of 'the Babi' is fetishized as "the relation" that makes different spaces and times "interactively and precariously define one another." (Mowitt 175) The bliss of paradise, the evil of nihilism, and the parade of naturalism voluptuously erupt at the site/sight of the sybaritic carnival that is 'the Babi'. This memory, therefore is not only an ambivalent and charged image, it is also multiple and layered -- a palimpsest. Its various spaces cancel out time and inform one another through their superimposition. Any act of innovation or foreignness, then, instinctively recalls a history of unveiling, of perceived promiscuity, of heresy and of mass slaughter in a massive abridgment. This history is crystallized into a monadic image, which in Walter Benjamin's words, "flashes up at an instant when it can be recognized" in the guises of the foreign English gentleman's clothing or in the general injunction to unveil. 13 Browne's white suit retroactively defines the "originary" sartorial gesture by signaling the innovation as a change from veil to white clothing while the fetishized notion of a heresy simultaneously defines the very constitution of Browne's "foreign" gesture. 14

The recovered fetishized image, as an abridgment of history, introduces a conjunction between two different spaces and times each defining the other with uncanny reverberations. An instance such as this is perhaps best summed up in Sadeq Hedayat's haunting mirroring "that Khomeini" the prototype of modern Shiih Islam and Iranian politics, "was more than a little a Babi in his rhetoric and his slogans."(Fischer Abedi 245)


    * My thanks to Dr. William Garlington, Dr. Juan R. Cole and Dr. John Mowitt for their valuable suggestions to the first draft of this paper.

    1 They were part of the heterodoxy called the Shaykhi school in Iraq.
    2 For a detailed account of the life and writings of Bahá'u'lláh consult H.M. Balyuzi, Bahá'u'lláh, The King of Glory. Oxford: George Ronald 1980.
    3 Of course Akhundzadeh is not promoting the work to save Islam from Babism, but to save the civil state from 'the Babi threat'. He saw the Babis as just more Islam-type fanaticism.
    4 Letter to Shaykh Muhsin Khan dated February 1879, quoted in Sanjabi 50
    5 Chehabi remarks that despite the efforts to elucidate the intentions of the policy, "traditional Iranians saw it as an attempt to turn a virtue into a vice. "(219)
    6 For a review of this position see Foucault's chapter entitled "Panopticism" in Discipline and Punish and "The Confession of the Flesh" in his Power/Knowledge.
    7 The issue of women's incapability to secure the identity of the Muslim community is complicated and related to the early history of Islam and the context of the events that led to the Muslim Prophet's decision to veil the female members of his household. A thorough and engaging discussion of this can be found in Fatima Mernissi's The Veil and the Male Elite.
    8 For an excellent discussion of these issues consult Fatima Mernissi's discussion of unveiling in Beyond the Veil, 85.
    9 Farzaneh Milani discusses the perception of recent unveilings by female poets in these terms. See Veils and Words, 7-9 >
    10In Islamic history, Fatimih is known as the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad, the wife of Ali and the mother of Imam Hasan and Imam Husayn.
    11 For further reference see Amanat's discussion of the Badasht conference in Resurrection and Renewal, 325-326
    12 As Judith Butler points out in an extended discussion of the historical relevance of the psychoanalytic fable of fetishism in Bodies That Matter: "The failure to submit to castration appears capable of producing only its opposite, the spectral figure of the castrator Holophernes's head in hand." (102) For further elaboration on the thematics of 'the threat', see her chapter "Phantasmatic Identification and the Assumption of Sex"
    13 For further elaboration of history as image, refer to Walter Benjamin's "Theses on the Philosophy of History" in Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt New York: Schocken Books 1968
    14 I put forward the conjunction between the two moments in these particular terms, since no other historical document categorically confirms the Haji Safar's observation about the Babis' preference for white attire. One historical recollection documented by E. G. Browne claims that one of the key players of the movement always dressed himself in white, however.
Works Cited:
    Akhundzada, Mirza Fath Ali Kamal al-Dawla published as Maktubat ed. M. Subhdam (np. [Germany]: Mard Imruz (1985)
    Amanat, Abbas. Crowning Anguish: Memoirs of a Persian Princess from the Harem to Modernity. By Taj al-Saltana. Ed. Amanat, Abbas. Washington D.C: Mage Publishers, 1993.
    ---. Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Babi Movement in Iran 1844-1850 Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1989.
    Bhabha,Homi K. "The Other Question: Stereotype, discrimination and the discourse of colonialism in The Location of Culture London:Routledge, 1994
    Balyuzi, H.M. Bahá'u'lláh, The King of Glory. Oxford: Geroge Ronald 1980.
    Walter Benjamin's "Theses on the Philosophy of History" in Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt New York: Schocken Books 1968.
    Browne, Edward G. A Year Amongst the Persians 1887-1888. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1926.
    ---. Ed. Materials for the Study of the Bábí Religion. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 1961.
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