The Tobacco Protest in Nineteenth-Century Iran: The View from a Provincial Town

in Journal of Persianate Studies
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This article adopts a microhistorical lens to study the social dynamics that accompanied the eruption of the 1891 protest in Qajar Iran. Utilizing spatial and temporal limits, and a historical narrative technique, it disentangles the often overlooked or confounding aspects of popular claim-making practices in what came to be known as the Tobacco Movement in Iranian and Middle Eastern historiography. In using a bottom-up approach, the article provides ample evidence for the historical agency of the local actors on the ground and several historiographical interventions in areas such as the key social groups that partook in the protest, the tactics and strategies used throughout the agitations, and the dynamics of the Iranian public sphere at this point in time. In showing how the southern city of Shiraz experienced the earliest popular unrest in the country, the paper makes use of new archival evidence to contend that it also articulated the Tobacco Movement’s principal strategy (that of collective strikes and embargoes). The protest leaders in Shiraz never operated in isolation. They were in regular contact with fellow agitators in other parts of the country and in the neighboring Ottoman Empire. In explaining these national and transnational connections, the article makes the case that the Tobacco Protest marks an important phase in the development and maturation of what eventually came to be known as activist or political Islam.

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17

Curzon 1892, I, 483. Besides those discussed below, there was another concession over the roads in Tehran, and those between the capital and its most important suburb in Shāh ‘Abd al-‘Azim which was given to the Russians. (Sayyah, 328) There was also another monopoly over all lotteries across Iran which was initially given to the Persian Minister in London Mirzā Malkom Khān in July 1889 but which was then sold in the London Market to a company that came to be known as the Persian Investment Corporation. This concession was canceled in December 1889 due to court intrigues and clerical opposition. (Taymuri 1953, 213-222)

21

Taymuri 1953, 223-236; Colonel Bell, 437-481; Curzon 1892, I, 488-490; idem 1890, 509-532; Issawi, 171-177.

29

Kennedy to Salisbury, 23 February 1891, no. 9, and Kennedy to Salisbury, 25 February 1891, no. 12, FO 881/6359.

38

Navvāb to Kennedy, 14 May 1891, FO 248/533; VI, 378; Kennedy to Salisbury, 27 April 1891, no. 17, FO 881/6359.

42

Navvāb to Kennedy, 14 May 1891, FO 248/533; VI, 378; Kennedy to Salisbury, 27 April 1891, no. 17, FO 881/6359. As Navvāb states in his letter, the plan seems to have included the arrest of some key individuals who were involved in the excitement.

46

Kennedy to Salisbury, 10 June 1891, no. 26, and Navvāb to Kennedy, no date, inclosure in Kennedy to Salisbury, 10 June 1891, no. 26, FO 881/6359.

47

Navvāb to Kennedy, 14 May 1891, FO 248/533; VI, 378. Kennedy to Salisbury, 27 April 1891, no. 17, FO 881/6359. Navvāb to Kennedy, 16 November 1891; same to same, 17 December 1891 in FO 248/534. Kennedy to Salisbury, 10 June 1891 in FO 60/553; Navvāb to Kennedy, 18 June 1891 in FO 248/532. See also Davies, 489. Kennedy to Salisbury, 10 June 1891, no. 26; Navvāb to Kennedy, no date, inclosure in Kennedy to Salisbury, 10 June 1891, no. 26, FO 881/6359. Same to same, 16 September 1891; same to same, 23 September 1891; same to same, 4 November 1891; and same to same, 11 November 1891 in FO 248/534. Kennedy to Salisbury, 10 June 1891 in FO 60/553; Navvāb to Kennedy, 29 April 1891 in FO 248/533; same to same, 15 February 1892 in FO 248/555. Same to same, 14 July 1891 in FO 248/533; same to same, with enclosure, 23 September 1891 in FO 248/534.

53

Kennedy to Salisbury, 10 June 1891, no. 26; Navvāb to Kennedy, no date, inclosure in no. 26, FO 881/6359.

60

Navvāb to Kennedy, 16 September 1891, FO 248/534.

61

Same to same, 16 September 1891, FO 248/534; same to same, 14 October 1891, FO 248/534; Mo‘tamed al-Dawla to Navvāb, no date, FO 248/534; same to same, no date, FO 248/534; Written Evidence Prepared by Binns, no date, FO 248/534; Mo‘tamed al-Dawla to Navvāb, no date, FO 248/534; Navvāb to Kennedy, 23 September 1891, FO 248/534.

68

Same to same, 11 November 1891, FO 248/534.

69

Same to same, 11 November 1891, FO 248/534; VI, 393.

73

Same to same, 11 November 1891, FO 248/534.

74

Same to same, 16 November 1891, FO 248/534; see also VI, 391-392.

79

Navvāb to Lascelles, 17 December 1891, FO 248/534; VI, 392-393. See also Keddie, 95-96. While by December the popular mood in Shiraz was in favor of upholding the alleged injunction, Navvāb and Mo‘tamed al-Dawla remained skeptical about the authenticity of the statement. When the governor approached the local clerics and asked for a copy of the original document, they denied having received any such message directly from Shirāzi. In fact, they denied having recommended believers in town to refrain from consuming tobacco.

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