The Revolution and the Rural Poor
A short article of mine with this tile just came out in the latest issue of the Radical History Review (restricted access). This is an unlikely outlet for me, but then to say anything positive about Iran these days sounds radical. The problem that critics ignore is that, although policies matter greatly, all improvements in living standards, health and education are in the end the achievements of individuals, families, and communities. A rural girls who studies at night derives hope somewhere from a society that says to her you belong and if you work hard we will treat you fairly, but without parents who encourage her, she will probably not go to school.
The contrast between the approach to rural development during the Shah’s time and after the revolution that I draw in this article is not so much about who cared most about rural development as who was in a position to change the view of Iran’s underclass about themselves. This is not a distinction between good and bad regimes, but about the role of identity in development. (I highly recommend two books on this subject that have influenced my thinking: Amin Maaloof and Amartya Sen.)
This is very much at the heart of the debate in the US about nation building in Afghanistan. If local governments have limited influence then foreign governments are helpless even if well meaning. Many Americans thought that when a liberal, US educated leader such as Karzai is installed in Afghanistan that burqas will become a thing of the past and girls will flock to school. I wan in tears one night watching a 12 year-old girl on CNN saying is a soft voice that she has to wait for her father to go to sleep before she does her homework because he does not like her to study!
The question of what has enabled rural Iranian women to go to school and narrow the gap in years of schooling between men and women to about one year under after a revolution that started by emphasizing women’s role as home makers is a fascinating story that is yet to be told in a convincing way. Yes, rural electricity and schools for girls have been important, but it takes more than infrastructure to transform a country.