by Hamid Algar
In the aftermath of the triumph of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, a glutinous flood of publications on Islam and politics began to submerge the academic and pseudo-academic book market in Europe and, more especially, America. After decades of declaring that "modernization" in the Middle East had pushed Islam to the verge of social and political irrelevancy, the horde of "Middle East experts" (it sometimes seems that in America there is one for every thousand head of the population) had suddenly to deal with an unwelcome but obstinate new reality. Before long, pontificating on Islamic "revivalism," "fundamentalism," "extremism," etc., had become a growth industry that first rivalled and then overshadowed the soon to be defunct Kremlinology. It goes without saying that the great majority of books resulting from this unexpected turn of events were hastily conceived, poorly researched, and sloppily written.
Hamid Enayat's Modern Islamic Political Thought, first published in 1982, at once distinguished itself from its mass of turgid competitors . It was the fruit not of a sudden adjustment of focus but of a longstanding interest, of prolonged reflection, rich and varied experience, and real erudition. The author was born in 1932 in Tehran to a traditionally religious family, and after primary and secondary education graduated in 1954 from the Faculty of Political Science at Tehran University first in his class. Two years later he went to England to continue his studies at the London School of Economics, where he wrote a master's thesis on British public opinion and the Iranian oil crisis of 1952-53. Such a choice of subject was perhaps unsurprising; even today, numerous are those Iranian students who coming to Western universities choose to write dissertations on topics concerning their homeland. One of the distinctive features of Enayat's work was, however, to be his concern with the broader Middle Eastern, and specifically Arab, context, first displayed in his 1962 doctoral dissertation concerning the impact of the West on Arab nationalism. It was no doubt in the course of writing this dissertation that he acquired the broad and confident acquaintance with the Arabic sources that is strong feature of Modern Islamic Political Thought. He next supplemented his textual acquaintance with the modern Arab world with a year as lecturer in political thought at the University of Khartoum before returning to Iran to take up an appointment at Tehran University.
It was, perhaps, ironic that it was in England that Enayat had first become interested in the Arab world (or at least first cultivated that interest at an academic level), and he was acutely conscious of the many complexities inherent in the cultural relations between the West and the Islamic world. Without casting himself as an intermediary between the two spheres-indeed, he was never an activist of any sort, with the exception of a relatively brief period of youthful involvement in the Tudeh Party-he was at pains at pains to make significant texts of Western political philosophy available in Persian while at the same time engaging in a rational and selective critique of what in his day still unabashedly called itself Orientalism. One of the secondary consequences of what his contemporary and compatriot, Jalal Al-i Ahmad, called "Occidentosis" (Gharbzadagi) was that many Iranian intellectuals came to admire only those aspects of their culture that were celebrated by the Orientalists, which meant effectively meant either the pre-Islamic culture of Iran or certain chauvinistic fashion, as distinctively and superlatively Iranian. Enayat rebelled against this habit, and insisted on the necessity of a comprehensive knowledge of the Islamic heritage. Nor was this a matter of mere historical concern; he was aware of the continued relevance, if not centrality, of Islam for Iranian society. The present writer recalls that when Enayat gave a lecture at Berkeley in the early 1970's he displayed in conversation an awareness of the continued popularity of Imam Khumayni in Iran among many classes of the population at a time when the Imam was still in exile and Western academics, together with a majority of their Iranian colleagues, were convinced that the Islamic movement had no future in Iran. (This makes it all the more remarkable that little substantial mention of the Imam occurs in Modern Islamic Political Thought; Enayat was perhaps waiting to see how Iran would fare in its inevitably tempestuous transition to being an Islamic Republic.
The readers of this book will discover its many strengths: the depth of the historical background it provides; its frequent comparisons between Iran and Arab countries, particularly Egypt; and its careful analyses, as for example, of the relationship between Islam and democracy. They may also encounter assertions that appear to them, as to this writer, questionable. However, it is not the purpose of this forward to provide a belated, comprehensive criticisms that the author, having passed away soon after its publication, is in no position to answer. We can regret only that his life and scholarly career were cut short, for Modern Islamic Political Thought, his sole book in English, suggests that he had much more to contribute.
(© Hamid Enayat, 1982)
(Cover & Foreword) Courtesy: IBT, Malyasia.
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