Zagros Mountains, 1970. Photo: User "yundb" on Flickr. Accessed   20 November 2023.
Zagros Mountains, 1970. Photo: User "yundb" on Flickr. Accessed 20 November 2023.

This text was commissioned and edited by Adania Shibli, Decolonial Hacker’s inaugural Guest Editor.

DOUR / دور

Colonialism starts with language. What the colonizers steal first, are mothers’ concepts.

I grew up as Bakhtiari—an Indigenous people of the Zagros mountains in South Western Iran. I was sent to school in the closest big city. The Tehrani-centric education system was based on modern Western “scientific” dogmas and canons. From the age of seven, I was told that what I had learned before that age was outdated and backwards, which made me believe that my mother was an ignorant person because, unlike what my urban teachers had taught me, she used only one word for both “lateness” and “distance.”

My mother, like other Bakhtiaris, used the word dour for both spatial and temporal distance. Bakhtiaris have mainly lived in the Zagros mountains. Known as one of the largest nomadic pastoralist groups in Iran, Bakhtiaris use the intersection of time and space as a basic dimension for their social navigations in everyday life. When talking about a specific date, it is always related to place: “the year of big flooding,” “the locusts’ year,” “the year no frogs were seen.”

Bakhtiaris use the same word for distance and lateness because of an old knowledge that time is inseparable from space. Time indeed is shaped by space: what we know as the calendar system divides time into days, months, years, and is formed through the earth’s rotation within the solar system.

Geography, which is a knowledge about our relations to places and spaces, is a social construction materialized through cartography, borders, calculations, and the measurement of distances. Time is also a social construction. When my state-centric education separated time from space, time became sorted, abstract, emptied.

Colonization does not only turn space into empty space; as unpeopled space. It also turns time into void time. When the Indigenous people of Zagros were forced into the national project of modernization, time became linear, chronological, and centralized. Accordingly, their time turned into days, weeks, and months; emptied from mountains, valleys, rivers, forests, locusts, and frogs.

Schools, alongside state-run television and popular culture, replaced mothers’ and grandmothers’ storytelling. We had to learn the national history from which we are excluded; placed in the “waiting room of history.”1 Modern notions of history had been created with us outside of it. We were told that we had arrived “too late.”2 Temporal segregation and disorientation are crucial in order to segregate and displace people spatially. Our belatedness was registered with labels. We have been named as a “tribe”—first by European anthropologists and then by the Iranian authorities. “Tribe” is rooted in a racial ideology which hierarchizes different communities according to a social evolutionist typology. Within the imaginary of linear time, tribes belong to the past. A backward people. A delayed human being.

“Where are you from?” is not a question about geography but rather about time.

To which part of the history of progression do you belong?

“Are you from the now, contemporary to us?”


“Are you from the past? Backward? Contemporary with our ancestors?”

Temporal asynchronism leads to asymmetrical spatial power relations. If a people are belated, then their land is assumed uninhabited. A vacant territory, open to be occupied. Particularly if it has vast oil reserves, like the land of the Bakhtiaris. The stealing of land and its wealth was not possible without the stealing of mothers’ concepts, without systematically turning their knowledge into non-knowledge, their words into non-words.

HEIRAN / حيران

It took several decades to realize it was me who was ignorant, not my mother. I first came to this realization after learning from Indigenous peoples from other continents how the epistemology of coloniality functions. A coloniality of power that constructs what Miranda Fricker calls “epistemic injustice.”3 Epistemic injustice means to systematically discredit the colonized person’s capacity as a knower. The state-centric education I received made mothers’ knowledge classified as non-knowledge. It was through interacting with Indigenous peoples from North America, Sweden, Taiwan, and South America, that I realized we are Indigenous peoples and not tribes. While the latter refers to differences and partition, the former indicates a networked history of dispossession and state violence.

This insight came late. To realize that the core tenets of my education—its schools of belief and hierarchies of knowledge—had been a tool of oppression against myself and people like myself, and that as a scholar, I was using methodologies which possessed such a history, was shocking. That I practiced and taught the same methodologies and theories which had harmed and dismantled my own people made me heiran.

Heiran means astonished and anxious. Heiran refers to a mood, a frame of mind, marked by confusion and fear. However, heiran is also a moment of revelation. To let the self into the realm of heiran is an intellectual adventure. It is to step into an unknown road with no sign or signal. It is to leave the safe and well-traveled “main road” with a clear destination, and instead enter a byroad shrouded in fog. You know you are not safe, that you might walk along the edge of the abyss. You also know that on the main road, you were already at the bottom of the abyss.4

To walk on the main road is what Jean-Paul Sartre called “the bad faith,”5 to live another person’s life. This bad faith denies your freedom as a knower. Bad faith is to think and act without freedom. Bad faith is when you hear your own mother’s voice not as speech but as noise. To exit the main road is to reclaim your freedom as a knower. Colonial epistemologies fortify differences through the description of differences. Scientific, objective, reliable, calculative methodologies naturalize and depoliticize differences and thereby confirm certain images of the “other.” The depoliticized description of difference reproduces mechanisms that confirm and reinforce practices against the racialized and “poor” other, where they are pushed to live other lives: the lives of “tribes,” of “migrants,” of “refugees,” of the “stateless.” The landscape of heiran is a ruinous landscape. Heiran emerges from ruination and loss at the same time, though it carries an intellectual curiosity and is therefore oriented towards hope. Ruination and hope are two aspects of heiran. Heiran refuses but also takes up refusal in generative ways, always meaning to open up alternative ways of knowing.

What is to be done, the methodology, when being heiran?

If heiran is a state of wonderment, then its conjugation is to wonder. To wonder is synonymous with to speculate. The method of heiran is “speculating the impossible,” which is an attempt to understand the past and the present when all you have are methodologies, concepts, and archives that have been constructed against you. Saidiya Hartman shows us how this speculative method manifests when one writes history from below. She coined the term “critical fabulation”6 to describe her tools of making productive sense of the gaps and silences in official archives and narratives. Critical fabulation is an attempt at seizing fleeting images of the past in a present moment of colonial denial.7 Inspired by the approach of working “from below” in Black feminism, the methodology of heiran combines research with speculative narratives in order to actualize hidden historical moments to unsettle the official narratives and to make whole what has been smashed.

MONQALEB / منقلب

While on the byroad of heiran—the condition of bewilderment and anxiety, of fear and confusion—one’s consciousness turns upwards only to have it fall down, making them monqaleb. Derived from the Arabic word inqilab, Iranians use enqelab for revolution. While the etymology of revolution stems from a “rolling back” (re-volve), enqelab is about mutation. Enqelab results in becoming monqaleb; that is, an inner transformation. While the promises of revolution can be stolen and result in the return of despotism (like Iran in 1979), enqelab and one’s becoming monqaleb engenders new subjectivities, and creates the conditions where it is possible to speculate the impossible; to imagine life beyond the ruins of nation-state systems. If we regard politics as a battle over the imagination, then it is the only battle we have a chance at winning. The battle itself, the rebellion, is the moment of liberation.

Freedom is already won during the struggle for it.

Only during rebellion can the heiran move from confusion to a state of consciousness, from fear to clarity, from isolation to solidarity. The urgent question is how to bring the heiran—with all their individual experiences—together and turn them into a collective, accumulated, historical experience of heiran. This relationality turns an I into a we. The characters in Albert Camus’s works are heiran; faced with the absurdity of the world, they have only one way out: rebellion. As he writes in The Rebel (1951), “I revolt, therefore we are.”8

ZAMAN / زمان

Zaman translates to time and era, though it also means a critical moment. A moment of opening. A moment of change. It is the quality of time, or as the Ancient Greeks named it, Kairos (in opposition to the quantified time, Chronos). Zaman is the time of change.

When the revolutionaries of 1830 took over the streets of Paris, they fired their weapons at the clock towers. This anti-clock revolutionary action was a symbolic protest against capitalist ideas of “progress.”

In 2020, refugees burnt down Moria, their camp in Lesvos, Greece. This was a refusal of the spatio-temporal partitioning the camp had imposed upon them. To burn down a camp is to refuse camp temporality, the temporality of refugee-ness. Protests against anti-Black racism in the United States or anti-migrant racism in Europe are protests against temporal segregation, against justice being constantly delayed, against the stealing of their time. When Iranian women began burning their compulsory veils during the Woman, Life, Freedom movement in fall 2022, they burned the symbol of a state which had delayed their access to education, the labor market, and citizenship rights. They burned the symbol of a temporal border that dispossessed them of time.

Fire the clocks!

Stop the time!

Burn down the capitalist temporality!

A temporality that is against the poor,

the Indigenous people

that is against birds, frogs, the earth!

To burn down racist and sexist temporalities is to create better futures for all. When a young woman screamed at the Budapest International Airport before she was forced onto an airplane, deported to Kabul, nobody heard what she said. Or rather no one wanted to hear; a willful act. But her words remain: “One day you will be refugees, too, like me, and on that day you will remember this day.”

Her words trigger uncanniness because they unearth and unmask a possible future we do not want to imagine. Her words are unsettling as they force us to confront the fact that her past and our future are dialectically interrelated.

Ten years after the end of World War II, Aimé Césaire implied that at the end of the colonial project was Hitler. What Nazism did in Europe was what colonialism had done for centuries outside of Europe. The outcome of colonial racism was Hitler.9 The dehumanization of the colonized led to dehumanization of the colonizer.

If, at the end of the colonial project was Hitler, who is waiting for us at the end of the border project?

TAVAKOL / توكل

When I stepped onto the byroad, with neither a sign nor signal, walking in the fog, I realized I needed other concepts, different from what my Tehrani and Swedish education had given me. I need new concepts to reconnect with my mother and her history. I need to steal back the concepts that had been stolen from me. I have to recollect concepts as a performative practice, not as a collection of isolated fragments from a completed past, but rather, as a collection of concepts in a past which is incomplete and always in a state of becoming. I need my mother’s concepts as tools that can link different experiences across time and space: from colonial practices and bordering practices to fossil capitalism.

This final concept I bring forward is tavakol. Tavakol ala allah, an Islamic concept, which means to trust in God. Tavakol was another concept my mother insisted upon when talking to me, but I never took her words seriously. She tried to help me not lose hope in a hopeless world. My mind, shaped by a European academic education, rejected this concept. But now I want to reclaim it, though differently. Tavakol, for me, is part of a secular struggle for justice. Tavakol means to hope when there is no hope. It means to trust in solidarity and rebellion. Tavakol in dreaming and in recalling stolen knowledge. Tavakol in thinking beyond spatial and temporal bordering, in imagining a future otherwise, and a day beyond the day which has come.

A Stolen Lexicon
00:00 - 00:00
18 January 2024
Essay by Shahram Khosravi

Shahram Khosravi is a former taxi driver and currently an accidental Professor of Anthropology at Stockholm University.

DOUR / دور
...history.” [1]
Chakrabarty, Dipesh. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.
...late.” [2]
Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press, 1967.
HEIRAN / حيران
...injustice.” [3]
Fricker, Miranda. Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
...abyss. [4]
After writing this essay, I discovered that Ocean Vuong, the Vietnamese-American poet, had a similar experience. See:,” [5]
Sartre, Jean-Paul. Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology. New York: Washington Square Press, 1992. First published in French in 1943 by Éditions Gallimard.
...fabulation” [6]
Hartman, Saidiya. “Venus in Two Acts.” Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 12, no. 2 (2008): 1–14.
...denial. [7]
Benjamin, Walter. “Theses on the Philosophy of History” [1942] in Illuminations, New York: Schocken Books, 1969.
MONQALEB / منقلب
...are.” [8]
Camus, Albert. The Rebel. United Kingdom: Penguin Books Limited, 2013. First published in French in 1951 by Éditions Gallimard.
ZAMAN / زمان
...Hitler. [9]
Césaire, Aimé. Discourse on Colonialism. United States of America: Monthly Review Press, 2001. First published in French in 1950 by Éditions Réclame.
TAVAKOL / توكل