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Writing War in Contemporary Iran

The Case of Esmāʻil Fasih’s Zemestān-e 62

Saeedeh Shahnahpur

Writing War in Contemporary Iran offers a complete account of Esmā’il Fasih’s life, works, and position in contemporary Iranian literature. This book uses a text-based analysis of Fasih’s wartime novel Zemestān-e 62 (The Winter of ‘83, 1985) as a case study, and illustrates how the book set a precedent for anti-war novels that appeared in the period following the Iran–Iraq War. Unlike the many one-dimensional novels of the time which focused only on state ideology, Fasih’s novel grapples with broader issues, such as the state’s war rhetoric and the socio-political realities of life in wartime, including the impact of the War of the Cities on the daily lives of Iranians, government policies and their enactment, and the contribution of the upper class to war efforts. In this vein, The Winter of ‘83 was the first Persian anti-war novel that was different in that it did not present a glorified or heroic vision of the war and its participants. Furthermore, the book deals with the analysis of Fasih’s postwar novels, which emphasized the roles and sacrifices of Iranian women during the war—a neglected theme in Persian war novels—marking him as one of the most culturally important war writers in contemporary Iran.

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The Iran–Iraq War: An Overview

The Iran–Iraq War began on September 22, 1980, when Iraqi armed forces invaded western Iran along their shared border, and ended on August 20, 1988 with bilateral acceptance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 598. The Iraqi leader of a predominantly secular state, Saddam Hussein (1937–2006) saw the 1979 Iranian Revolution, led by Ayatollah Khomeini (1902–1989), as a major threat to Iraq as well as to other Arab states in the Persian Gulf region. He was worried that this Shiite revolution might provoke the Shiites of Iraq, who had for a long time perceived themselves as an “oppressed majority” within Iraq. In the eyes of the Iraqi president, therefore, the only way to neutralize that threat would be to initiate a war and destroy the Islamic Republic of Iran.1 The war between Iran and Iraq was tragic, especially with regard to the physical destruction of landscape and its death toll, which led the conflict to become one of the longest, bloodiest, and costliest since the Second World War (1939–1945).2

Iran and Iraq perceived the breakout of war very differently. From early on, Iranian political leaders conceptualized the war by merging “its religious pedigree with its nationalistic claims.”3 Ayatollah Khomeini interpreted the ← 1 | 2 → war within an Islamic ideology, referring to it as the only option between “Islam and blasphemy,” and argued that the Iraqi president sought to destroy Islam, the Quran, and...

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