Cultural Duality Among Iranians
The history of Iran extends over a two-thousand five hundred year period. This era brought about great achievements in the areas of science, the arts and letters, literature, philosophy, and law. Prior to the Islamic conversions of the seventh century AD, the Iranians practiced the Zoroastrian religion. It was during the Sasanian Dynasty in the latter part of the Seventh Century A.D. in which Islam was introduced in Iran. However, Shia Islam did not become the official religion of state until the period of the Safavid Kings in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries A. D. Indeed, by the nineteenth century as a result of colonial pressures, strict adherence to superstition, and inept leadership, Iranian society experienced a downward trend both economically and politically.
Iranians have a very strong sense of class structure. In the past they referred to their society as being divided into tiers, or tabagheh, which were identified by numbers: the first tier corresponded to the upper classes; the second, to the middle classes; and the third, to the lower classes. Under the influence of revolutionary ideology, society is now perceived as being divided into the wealthy; the middle classes; and the mostazafin, a term that literally means disinherited. In reality, Iranian society has always been more complex than a three-tier division, because each of the three broad classes is subdivided into several social groups. These divisions have existed in both urban and rural areas.
The post revolutionary upper classes consisted of some of the same elements as the old elite, such as large landowners, industrialists, financiers, and large-scale merchants. They remained part of the upper class by virtue of having stayed in Iran and having retained a considerable part of their wealth. For the most part, however, such persons no longer had any political influence, and in the future the absence of such influence could impede the acquisition of new wealth. The element of the upper classes with greatest political influence was a new group, the senior clergy. Wealth was apparently no longer an attribute of authority, as the example of Khomeini demonstrated. Religious expertise and piety became the major criteria for belonging to the new political elite. Thus, key government administrators held their positions because of their perceived commitment to Shia Islam. They were part of the new political elite, although not members of the old social elite.
After the Revolution of 1979, the composition of the middle class was no different from what it had been under the monarchy. There were several identifiable social groups, including entrepreneurs, bazaar merchants, professionals, managers of private and nationalized concerns, the higher grades of the civil service, teachers, medium-scale landowners, military officers, and the junior ranks of the Shia clergy. Some middle- class groups apparently had more access to political...