INTRODUCTION: Ideology and culture in Khatami's Iran

Michiel Beker

Could the achievements of the Iranian football team tell us something about ideological and cultural changes in Iran? Watching the enthusiastic crowds throughout the country celebrating the victory of the national team against the United States at the latest World Championship in France, the most salient phenomenon was that men and women together participated in the festivities. Half a year before that, football had also been the catalyst of a temporary breach of the Islamic state's rules intended to separate men and women in the public sphere - in this case, men and women crammed into Tehran's Azadi (Freedom) stadium where the team got a warm reception after their triumph against Australia in the qualification rounds. A translation of an account of the latter event in the women's magazine Zanan is included in this issue of MERA Journal.

Zanan also features prominently in the contribution by Elham Gheytanchi. The author shows that the magazine is the main representative of the Islamic feminist current in Iran. To some this may seem paradoxical; can one be attached to Islam (and live under an Islamist regime) and still be a feminist? The article offers insights into this paradox through it's discussion of women's movements and ideas in post-revolutionary Iran.

Mahmoud Alinejad follows a similar approach of looking to changes 'from within', that is, within the framework of Islamic thought which underpins the state's discourse, is followed by Mahmoud Alinejad. He states that the Islamic political culture prevailing since the revolution could offer possibilities to challenge official ideology and build new political 'imaginaries'. The article mainly analyses the ideas of the prominent philosopher Abdolkarim Soroush, whose 'Islamic secularism' - yet another paradox for the reader - confronts those in power with alternative discourses emanating from the civil society.

Afshin Matin-Asgari establishes a connection between the political struggle, which opposes the new president Ayatollah Mohammed Khatami with his conservative opponents, and cultural change. He shows the paradoxical and ironic results of the regime's policies and, in addition, discusses society's responses on issues such as Tehran's urban culture and the appearance of a serial killer.

All of the above mentioned contributions are more or less optimistic about the possibilities for change in post-revolutionary Iran. This optimism is however not grounded in unquestioned belief in the 'liberal' Khatami, but evolves from an analysis of philosophical, ideological, and cultural developments. Interestingly, these processes are taking place both on the streets and in circles close to the official ideological and political centers.

With this emphasis, the articles could appear to be too optimistic about the current situation in Iran. After all, the country is facing enormous problems and different factions within the state are involved in a power struggle the outcome of which is still uncertain. In this sense, the editors can only hope that the readers will be tempted to react to the contents of this Journal. The main point is not to narrow the view to the serves and volleys of politician against politician, but to look also whether the grassroots are strengthening and able to overgrow the ideological chalk-lines.


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