Promoting the Culture of Sacred Defense

By Annie Tracy Samuel
Submitted to Session P4907 (Contested Cultures of Revolution: Cultural Production in the Islamic Republic of Iran, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries; Cultural Studies; Historiography; Iranian Studies; Media; Middle East/Near East Studies; Modern;
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This paper examines how state and societal institutions in Iran have engaged in cultural production to document and commemorate the Iran-Iraq War and, at the same time, to forge a particular socio-historical consciousness. It focuses particularly on the Center for Holy (Sacred) Defense Documentation and Research (Markaz-i Asn?d-i va Ta?q?q?t-i Dif?’-i Muqaddas) (hereafter: the Center), which was established and is still run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). While analyzing the work of the Center, the paper also examines the significance of the Iran-Iraq War in Iranian society, and how Iranian actors have sought to shape that significance.

The Center is one of the most active and prolific research and publication institutions in Iran that focuses specifically on preserving and disseminating the history of the Iran-Iraq War, which is also known as the Holy/Sacred Defense. The work of the Center, however, has largely been overlooked by scholars writing in English, and its significance has therefore remained understudied and underappreciated. Yet, as this paper argues, the work and publications of the Center are of immense value for understanding the importance of both the Iran-Iraq War and the promotion of a particular historical narrative of that conflict. As the critical analysis of the Center’s work presented in the paper reveals, rigorous historical documentation and cultural value promotion are integrated in a manner that reflects the Center’s dual mission and that defies the accepted partition between historical account and cultural narrative.

As this paper will also explore, one of the central themes and purposes of the Center’s work is the promotion of a “culture of Sacred (or Holy) Defense” (farhang-i dif?’i muqaddas). In the view of the Center and Iranian leaders, Iran’s ability to survive the eight years of war was an achievement of immense proportions, and one whose lessons should be studied and taught so that they can be applied in the present and future. A key lesson, according to these leaders, was that Iran’s survival depended in large part on the willingness of the Iranian people to defend and become martyrs for the country that was made possible by a combination of revolutionary fervor, religious devotion, and ideological cohesion—by a culture of Sacred Defense. Since the war’s end, promoting this culture has accordingly become critical for ensuring the strength and security of both the state and society.