Heroes to Hostages: US—Iran Diplomacy through Race Relations and Human Rights (English)

Recorded: May 20, 2024
Event: Bilingual Lecture Series

by Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet (University of Pennsylvania)

This presentation appraises US-Iranian diplomacy through race relations and human rights. Intellectuals of the post-Mosaddeq era gave voice to an anti-colonial rhetoric that burst wide open during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Many writers, some with socialist leanings, watched with interest political happenings in formerly colonized states. These conflicts were often rooted in experiences of racial discrimination and social inequality. At the same time, the Iranian state also engaged with some of these themes and expanded its diplomatic relations with a range of countries in the Global South. Although state-to-state ties between Iran and America were strengthened during the two decades preceding the 1979 revolution, social dissent also grew strident. The debate on human rights gave voice to these concerns as Iran’s politicians and writers reflected on the legacy of human rights and reassessed the country’s ties to the United States and the West. Race relations provided an unanticipated and often missed opportunity for collaboration.

About the Speaker 

Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet received her B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she was a Morehead Scholar. She completed her Ph.D. in history at Yale University. Dr. Kashani-Sabet’s first book, Frontier Fictions: Shaping the Iranian Nation, 1804-1946, analyzes the significance of land and border disputes to the process of identity and nation formation, as well as to cultural production, in Iran and its borderlands. She has worked extensively on the histories of disease, science, and reproductive politics. She has also published articles on disability, hygiene, humanism, and quarantines in the context of the Persianate world. Her new book, Heroes to Hostages: America and Iran, 1800-1988 (Cambridge University Press) analyzes the ties between America and Iran not only through international diplomacy, but also through cultural and social history, with a focus on race, gender, and ethnic relations. It draws on a wide array of sources in Persian and English.