- A Network of Inconsistencies in Iran's Nationalism
Afshin Marashi's Exile and the Nation: The Parsi Community of India and the Making of Modern Iran is a groundbreaking book that bridges several otherwise separate areas of study and disciplines, thus expanding our historical understanding of Iranian nationalism. Through the lens of Indian-Parsi and Iranian exchanges and networks, Marashi traces the life and work of five towering figures in the making of twentieth-century Iran. Skillfully researched and narrated, the book is organized into five copious chapters, roughly advancing in chronological order yet cross-pollinating in various ways to show the network of individuals, ideologies, scholarships, and print culture that underpinned the unity of this "neoclassical" (p. 12) revival.
In explaining the neoclassical revival, Marashi complicates the existing literature by looking at the Parsi encounter with Iranian nationalism. The chapters revolve around five men—the Zoroastrian parliamentarian Arbab Kaykhosrow Shahrokh (1874–1940), the Parsi lawyer-scholar Dinshah Jijibhoy Irani (1881–1938), the Hindu poet Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941), the Shia Iranian scholar Ebrahim Purdavud (1886–1968), and the Shia Iranian journalist Abdulrahman Saif Azad (1884–1971)—through whose lives and careers Marashi explores a deep-seated tension in the project of Iranian nationalism and modernization. The juxtaposition of the histories of these men exposes not only the broader intellectual network that gave rise to state ideology but also the allure of the Zoroastrian revival discourse that transcended linguistic, national, religious, and class boundaries. Marashi shifts the parameters of the methodologies of both Weberian and Saidian paradigms of knowledge-production in rethinking the long-term impact of the Zoroastrian revival in the first half of the century. This, in turn, is reinforced by the method of converging on Iranian and Indian reformers in producing an Iranian-Parsi and nation-diaspora centered history that pushes to the foreground the active agency of the local in the making of global modernity.
The Parsi maneuvering of notions of the nation, the homeland, and exile is revealed, not only in the minority community's engagement with its coreligious Zoroastrians of Qajar and Pahlavi Iran, but also on how Parsi revival intellectuals took on a civilizational mission that shaped a brand of modernity in the British Raj and beyond. Parsis, who increasingly cast their modern identity as ethnically Persian exilic diasporas in the British Empire, began to gain significant economic power through their wholehearted participation in the imperial system. Rapidly they became [End Page 99] the model minority in the British Raj that excelled in such industries as shipbuilding, commercial agriculture, textile, banking, and opium. Economic prosperity paired with religious charitable obligations rendered the Parsis the advocates and protectors of the impoverished Zoroastrian minority in Iran.1 In the age of science and empire, Parsi charity and philanthropy evolved rapidly into a civilizational mission of reviving the mighty power of the Achaemenids and the central state of the Sassanians. Negating the Orientalist theory on the passivity of the native, Marashi's "dialogical" (p. 13) method brings to light a prolific and "heterotopic" (p. 7) network of active intellectual and cultural activities among non-Western players—Zoroastrian, Muslim, and Hindu. This Indo-Iranian exchange was premised on the long-existing epistemic attitudes of the Mughal court and the "Persianate cosmopolis" (p. 13); the accelerated circulation of people and ideas in the Indian Ocean world owing to the introduction of the steamship and the print industry further helped shape the turn-of-the-century Indo-Iranian encounters. Marashi carefully foregrounds and reconstructs the particularities of local exchanges, local methods, and local politics to reveal the nature of the Indo-Iranian intellectual world on the ground, be they in Tehran or Bombay, Berlin, Paris, or London, and while of course they had always been there, they are relegated to the supporting position as both a form of a postcolonial method but also a historical corrective—the native was never passive.
The book's methodology mirrors its research and disciplinary strategies. A result of a...