Lighting a Candle for Khomeini: How the Human Rights Movement Transformed the Islamist Movement in the Long 1970s

Friday, April 14, 2023
12:30 pm - 2:00 pm
Konover Auditorium
The Dodd Center for Human Rights

*UConn HRI: It has come to our attention that the title and purpose of this lecture with Professor Timothy Nunan has been misinterpreted as supportive of the Khomeini regime. This event was neither a “candle lighting” nor an endorsement of the Iranian leadership of the 1970s. In fact, this lecture addresses the Islamic Revolution’s appropriation and exploitation of human rights language. Watch here.

About This Event:

Were there any other ideological currents that changed the course of the 1970s more than human rights and Islamism? Diplomatic initiatives like the Helsinki Accords, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Amnesty International, and the election of Jimmy Carter to the White House turned human rights into a central issue for international politics. Near the end of the decade, the Iranian religious opposition around the Ayatollah Ruhollah contributed to the overthrow of the Shah and established the Islamic Republic of Iran, while the Afghan mujahidin’s struggle against the Soviet Union inspired volunteers from around the world to join their cause. Yet, the relationship between these two central currents of the 1970s and 1980s is poorly understood.

In this lecture, Dr. Nunan shows that Islamist actors were keen observers of the rise of human rights discourses in international politics. When they struggled against regimes like the Shah’s, they consciously sought to take advantage of human rights discourses whilst themselves embracing Third Worldist discourses of armed struggle. And yet the journey of human rights discourses among Islamist groups is more than one of cynical appropriation, mimicry, and hypocrisy. As Islamist movements outside of Iran struggled to replicate the success of the Iranian breakthrough, they turned to human rights discourses themselves to speak to Western publics that had themselves long since abandoned visions of international revolution and armed struggle.

Associated Workshop – 10:00 AM

For UConn Faculty and Graduate Students

Join Professor Nunan for an interactive workshop earlier in the day.

Friday, April 14, 2023
10:00 am - 12:00 pm
The Dodd Center for Human Rights, Room 162

Interested in joining us for the workshop? Please confirm your attendance with Prof. Sara Silverstein.

Timothy Nunan

About Timothy Nunan:

Timothy Nunan is the Professor of Transregional Cultures of Knowledge in the Department for Interdisciplinary and Multiscalar Area Studies at the University of Regensburg. Prior to holding this position, he was Acting Chair in the Department of Global History at the Free University of Berlin. There, he also led a Volkswagen Foundation Freigeist Research Group devoted to the history of Islamism during the Cold War. His research focuses on international history, Russian and Soviet history, and the history of the modern Middle East.

His first book, Humanitarian Invasion: Global Development in Cold War Afghanistan, examined the history of international development in Afghanistan during the Cold War, looking in particular at the role of the Soviet Union and Western humanitarian NGOs. His current book project explores Islamist internationalism from the 1950s to the 1980s. Prior to his positions in Germany, Dr. Nunan was a Harvard Academy Scholar and received his D.Phil. in History from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

Dr. Nunan is the visiting 2023 Magnet Scholar of the Research Program on Humanitarianism at UConn's Gladstein Family Human Rights Institute.

Hosted by the Gladstein Family Human Rights Institute's Research Program on Humanitarianism and the History of Human Rights and Humanitarianism Collective