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UFPPC (www.ufppc.org) Digging Deeper: May 29, 2006, 7:00 p.m.

Charles Kurzman, The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran (Cambridge, MA &
London: Harvard University Press, 2004).

“I have tried in this book to pull and the Shah; political explanations of
together all the evidence I could on the latter’s fall (12-15). Theda Skocpol
ordinary Iranians’ perceptions of the and “bringing the state back in” to
revolutionary movement . . . the explanations of revolution (15-17). Brief
relative lack of source material on non- liberalization phase in Iran in 1977 (17-
elites matters. . . . This book’s sole 21). Khomeini’s attitude (21-24). In late
prediction is that the emergence of 1977, “Khomeini’s followers clearly
such voices will confirm the confusion began to mobilize”; author has seen no
and unpredictability that are the focus order from Khomeini ordering this (24).
of the present analysis” (184-85). Premature death of Mostafa Khomeini,
Ruhollah’s eldest son & chief aide, in
Preface. As HS student, author Iraq, on Oct. 23, 1977, in his mid-40s,
ignorantly participated in anti-Iran leads to political opposition to shah (25-
demonstration outside Saudi-affiliated 30). Assertions that some threshold had
mosque (vii). “We can only guess at the been achieved, giving the movement
future. We cannot know how people will greater viability, seem more important
act in a situation of confusion until it is than the shah’s liberalization period (30-
upon them” (viii-ix). 32).

Ch. 1: Introduction. Oct. 27, 1978: Ch. 3: Mobilization of the Mosque
CIA says shah “is expected to remain Network: Organizational
actively in power over the next ten Explanations (Early 1978). Regime
years” (1-2). U.S. Ambassador to Iran insults Khomeini in article published Jan.
William Sullivan’s Nov. 9 memo, 7, 1978, leading to violent protests (33-
“Thinking the Unthinkable” (2). 37). The mosque network: 9,015
Khomeini’s conviction that the revolution mosques, enjoying a certain autonomy
would soon succeed (2-4). Revolution from the regime (37-40). State
poses general problems for “retroactive repression (40-42). Islamists not in
prediction” (4-5). “Anti-explanation” is an control of network (42-44). It was
attempt to incorporate anomaly and commandeered by them in 1978, but this
confusion, and to abandon “the mirage of was an effect more than a cause of the
retroactive predictability” (5-6). Political, revolution (44-48).
organizational, cultural, economic, and
military explanations are all inadequate Ch. 4: Shi‘i Appeals: Cultural
(6-7). Individuals are unpredictable (7-8). Explanations (Mid-1978). The 40-day
Confusion — “the recognition of mourning cycle, which set the crescendo-
deinstitutionalization” — is “the essence like rhythm of the revolutionary
of the revolutionary experience” (8-9). In movement (50-54). But the ending of
this situation, “preferences changed the cycle in Jun. 1978 weakens this
radically and quickly” (9-10). Judgments explanation; in fact, the cycle is more an
of viability are important factors (10). effect than a cause (54-56). Cultural
Social scientists can only “examine the explanations are rather weak, as
mindset of the moment” (11). contradictions in “the concept of social-
movement ‘framing’ . . . elaborated in
Ch. 2: The Emergence of Protest: the 1980s and 1990s by the sociologists
Political Explanations (1977). Carter David Snow, Robert Benford, and others”
show (56-58). July-Sept. 1978 revival of (131-33). But actors cannot predict their
movement (58-64). Weakness of own behavior: “I can’t” (133-35). “A
Islamism as ideology in 1978 (64-68). viable alternative is a movement that
Martyrdom as Shi‘i institution “is a red seems to have a realistic chance of
herring” as an explanation, as is shown success” (136). Analysis of Iranian case:
by actual events and comparison with “The critical mass moment began in Iran
other cultures (68-73). Martial law in late 1977, when Khomeini’s followers
declared Sept. 8, 1978; “Black Friday” started to mobilize against the shah”
crackdown (73-76). (136). “In late summer 1978, the
movement became ‘viable’ in the minds
Ch. 5: General Strike: Economic of many Iranians outside the
Explanations (Fall 1978). Strikes revolutionary circle” (137). “[V]ictory
spread across Iran in Sept. 1978 (77-79). may be dated to mid-November 1978”
Iran’s economic distress (79-83). (137). “Viability is non-predictive” (138).
Difficulties with economic explanations of “What is left when we part from
revolution (83-86). Effects of “the oil retroactive prediction? Understanding”
boom of 1973-1974” (86-90). Pattern of (138). Iranian culture of inner & outer
dashed expectations, inequality, and self limits national solidarity, but the
corruption “known in the economic revolution created solidarity (139-41).
literature as ‘the Dutch disease’ was not Khomeini’s prestige came not from
stronger in Iran than other countries, ideology but from his having created a
however (91-96). Macroeconomic data viable movement (142). The attitudes of
(96-99). Comparison of villagers, poor liberals (143-45), left opposition groups
urban migrants, bazaaris, and university (145-48), the “disorganized left”
students shows no correlation between centered in the student movement (148-
economics and revolutionary activism 50), feminists (150-52), all demonstrates
(99-104). the importance of viability. Non-
participation became dangerous (152-
Ch. 6: Failure of the Fist: Military 54). Analysis of the “stalemate” period
Explanations (Winter 1978-1979). from mid-Nov. 1978 to the collapse of the
Shah appoints military government in regime — due to an unplanned uprising
early Nov. 1978 (105-07). Explanations on Feb. 9-11, 1979 (154-62).
of its failure (107-11). “The problem for
the shah was that Iranians had stopped Ch. 8: Conclusion. “[E]xplanations of
obeying” (111-14). A period of great the Iranian Revolution are only partially
uncertainty (114-21). “It is almost valid” (163). Review of weaknesses
unheard of for a revolution to involve as (163-65). In general, explanations
much as 1 percent of a country’s “suffer an inversion of cause and effect”
population. . . . Yet in Iran, more than 10 (165). “The problem, I contend, is . . .
percent of the country marched in anti- with explanations in general” (166).
shah demonstrations on December 10 Advocates embracing “anti-explanation”:
and 11, 1978” (121-24). “recognizing and reconstructing the lived
experience of the moment,” including
Ch. 7: A Viable Movement: Anti- “confusion” (166). The objections to this
Explanation (Winter 1978-1979). approach also apply to objectivist social
Testimony of importance of estimations science explanations (166-68). The more
of viability (125-28). Social-science events break from routine, the less they
accounts of crowd psychology (128-31). are objectively explicable (168).
“[P]eople decide to protest based in large Individuals’ estimates of viability are
part on their expectation that others will crucial (169-71). This accords with
protest” (131). Critical mass theory “recent trends in social theory which
suggest that the reproduction of memoirs, oral history projects, and 2nd
practices from one moment to the next wave of analyses (180-81).
actually requires work and cannot be
taken for granted” (171). Notes. 51 pp.

About the Sources. Khomeini References. 36 documentary
encouraged documentation of collections, 47 periodicals, 591 books and
revolutionary movement (175). Early essays.
documentary collections valuable (176-
77). Early wave of explanatory accounts Acknowledgments. Neil Smelser on
based accounts of revolution on dubious dissertation committee.
journalistic sources (177-78). Islamists’
documentary collections (178-80). Élite Index. 5 pp.