Occidentosis: A Plague From the West

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Author(s): Jalal Al-i Ahmad

Publisher: Mizan Press

Published on: Ramadan, 1404 1984-06

ISBN: 0-933782-12-8

No. of Pages: 160


by Hamid Algar

Jalal Al-i Ahmad was born in 1923 into a family of strong religious traditions that traced its descent back to Imam Muhammad al-Baqir, fifth Imam of the Shi'a, by way of thirty intermediaries.1 Jalal's father, Shaykh Ahmad, was an 'alim, and an elder brother (Muhammad Taqi), two brothers- in-law, and a cousin are also members of the clerical class.2 Furthermore, the illustrious Ayatullah Mahmud Taleghani (d. 1979) was a paternal uncle of Jalal, and he maintained sporadic but important contact with him throughout his life.3

The family came originally from the village of Aurazan in the Taliqan district bordering Mazandaran in northern Iran, and in due time Jalal was to travel there, exerting himself actively for the welfare of the villagers and devoting to them the first of his anthropological monographs. Jalal's childhood was spent, however, in the Pachinar district of south Tehran, where his father functioned as prayer leader at a local mosque. The family was relatively prosperous until 1932, when 'Ali Akbar Davar, Reza Shah's minister of justice, deprived the clerical class of its notarial function and the income they derived from it. It was decided that Jalal should not continue his education beyond primary school but instead go to work, both in order to supplement the family's income and in order to save up enough money for the day when he might follow in his father's footsteps by studying the religious sciences. His intentions and preferences were, however, quite different. While working as a watchmaker and electrician, he secretly enrolled in night classes at the Dar al-Funun in Tehran and obtained his high school diploma in 1943. One year later, he made a complete break with religion by joining the Tudeh party, the most powerful Marxist organization in Iran.4

It has been suggested, somewhat apologetically, that his father's dry and unimaginative pietism was responsible for this abandonment of Islam and that, if Jalal had made early acquaintance with "true Islam," he would have been spared the political and ideological wanderings that marked his intellectual career.5 Taleghani, for example, recalls that Shaykh Ahmad would take Jalal regularly to the shrine of Shah 'Abd al-'Azim to the south of Tehran for a forced recitation of the Prayer of Kumayl, that well-known text of Shi'i piety.6 Jalal's widow, the novelist Simin Danishvar, paints a somewhat different picture: that of a young man genuinely devout, to the point of regularly offering the supererogatory night prayer, who gradua lly fell away from religion under the influence of intellectual and political currents hostile to Islam.7 Al-I Ahmad himself recalls that his literary diet at the time of his break with Islam consisted chiefly of the writings of the nationalist, anti-Shi'i ideologue, Ahmad Kasravi; the scabrous novels of Muhammad Mas'ud Dihati depicting low life and poverty in Tehran; and, most importantly, such publications of the Tudeh party as the periodical Dunya.8

As a preliminary to his activity in the Tudeh party, Al-i Ahmad founded a literary association called the Anjuman-i Islah (The Reform Society) in the Amiriya section of Tehran which offered free instruction in French, Arabic, and oratory. At his suggestion, the members of this association joined the Tudeh party en bloc. Al- i Ahmad's rise within the party was swift: within four years, he became a member of the central committee of the party for Tehran and a delegate to its national congress. He wrote prolifically for such party publications as Mardum and Rahbar, and, in 1946, he was appointed director of the party publishing house and entrusted with launching a new monthly, Mahana-yi Mardum.9

Al- i Ahmad's career as a teacher and, more importantly, as a writer of fiction also began in the immediate postwar period. In 1946, he graduated from the Teachers' Training College in Tehran; thereafter he exercised the profession of teacher for much of the rest of his life, albeit intermittently. His teaching experiences were to furnish material for a number of novels, especially Mudir-I Madrasa (The school principal), and the deficiencies and problems of the Iranian educational system became one of his lasting concerns. His first essays in fiction, Did va Bazdid (Visits exchanged), published in 1945, drew, however, on his immediate past and the milieu of his family in south Tehran. The stories in this book depict religious customs and beliefs with the serene ridicule and implicit equation of religion with superstition that were typical for the Iranian secular intelligentsia of the day. The book was in some measure the literary consecration of Al-i Ahmad's break with Islam and his father, and many years were to pass before he was reconciled with both.10

Did va Bazdid was followed in 1947 by Az Ranji ki Mibarim (On account of our troubles), a collection of short stories conceived in the spirit of socialist realism and printed at the publishing house of the Tudeh party. But the very same year, the party was beset with a crisis when it insisted on defending the Soviet Union's refusal to save the communist-dominated autonomous government of Azarbayjan from overthrow by the Iranian army. Critical of this as well as other instances of Tudeh submissiveness to the Soviet Union, a group of activists led by Khalil Maliki left the party. Jalal Al-i Ahmad was among them.11

Whatever the intrinsic merits of Al- i Ahmad's motives for quitting the Tudeh party may have been, it is impossible not to see in the episode one instance of his deeply felt need for constant and abrupt change of direction, a need that his widow has called - without any pejorative intention - hadisaju'i (a search for happenings or events).12 Al- i Ahmad's political and intellectual commitments had an unstable, restless quality that touched all he wrote: as a thinker, he often appears to be unsystematic and, as a stylist, to be careless. But at the same time, the unmistakable force, sincerity, and originality of his writings must also be traced to the same source-a consistent refusal of stability.

After leaving the Tudeh party, Al-i Ahmad retained his links with Khalil Maliki but devoted his energies more to literary than to political activities. He made numerous translations from contemporary French literature (insofar as any European influence is visible in his work, it is that of modern French writers); wrote another collection of short stories, Seh Tar (Sitar), antireligious in its tone, like Did va Bazdid; and entered with Simin Danishvar in an association that was a literary partnership as well as a marriage.

He returned to political activity with the beginning of Dr. Musaddiq's campaign for the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry. The group that had left the Tudeh party with Khalil Maliki entered into an alliance with Muzaffar Baqa'i's Hizb-i Zahmatkashan (Toilers' party), one of the parties supporting Musaddiq in the Majlis. Like most of the alignments that succeeded each other in Iranian politics in the period from 1941 to 1953, the alliance between Maliki and Baqa'i was short- lived. In mid-1952, Baqa'i decided to withdraw his support from Musaddiq, and Maliki abrogated his alliance with Baqa'i in protest. Maliki formed a new party, known as Niru-yi Sivvum (Third force), socialist in orientation without being either Stalinist or social democratic. Al-i Ahmad served the new party in a variety of capacities, ranging from renovating a building that was to serve as party headquarters to writing articles for its publications, such as 'Ilm va Zindagi (Science and life) and Niru-yi Sivvum. But his sojourn in this organization, too, was not to last long. In 1953, not long before the American-royalist coup that overthrew Musaddiq and brought the fugitive Shah back to his throne, Al-I Ahmad left the Niru-yi Sivvum in protest against the expulsion from it of his friend, Nasir Vusuqi, and what he perceived as the dishonest tactics of the leadership.13

The conditions created by the coup of August 1953 had, in any event, made organized political activity virtually impossible. Al-i Ahmad turned again to literary pursuits with undivided energy. He translated Gide's Retour de 1' URSS as a gesture of protest against the failings of the Tudeh party and its sponsor, the Soviet Union; wrote another piece of sociocritical fiction, Zan-i Ziyadi (The superfluous woman); and began to take an interest in modernist Persian poetry (the school of Nima Yushij) and to dabble in painting.14 More significantly for his intellectual development and his ultimate return to Islam as a source of national if not personal identity was another new interest, one in anthropological research. He traveled to his ancestral village of Aurazan and recorded his impressions of the people and their customs in a monograph (Aurazan, 1954). Aurazan was followed four years later by Taknishinha-yi Buluk-i Zahra, a study of a cluster of villages near Takistan in northwest Iran, and in 1960 by Jazira-yi Kharg, a monograph on the Persian Gulf island of Kharg.

The appearance of these works led to an invitation by the Institute of Social Research at the University of Tehran to edit a series of anthropological monographs. Al- i Ahmad accepted, and five books appeared under his editorship, including Ilkhchi, the study of an Azarbayjani village by a fellow writer, Ghulam Husayn Sa'idi. Al-i Ahmad's involvement with the project did not last long, however, both because of his innate hadisaju'i and also because his concept of anthropology differed from that of his academic sponsors: "I saw they wanted to make the monographs into something worthy of being presented to Westerners, i.e., inevitably written according to Western criteria. I wasn't suited for this task. What I was aiming at was gaining renewed acquaintance with our selves [az nau shinakhtan-i khish], a new evaluation of our native environment in accordance with criteria of our own."15

This new evaluation resulted in a realization of "the fundamental contradiction between the traditional social structures of the Iranians and all that is dragging our country toward colonial status, in the name of progress and development but in fact as a result of political and economic subordination to Europe and America."16 Al-i Ahmad had discovered the disease of gharbzadagi, "occidentosis." This discovery not only gave him the title and idea for his best-known and most influential book but also was, in his own words, "a turning point" in his intellectual life.17 It was the most important development for him since he had joined the Tudeh party almost twenty years earlier, for, unlike the political vicissitudes he had undergone in the meantime, it involved a fundamental reorientation that set him apart from the quasitotality of the Iranian intelligentsia. As we shall see, it cannot be said that Gharbzadagi represents a simple "return to Islam," and Al- i Ahmad's final intellectual destination was certainly not identical with his point of departure. But after the publication of Gharbzadagi, almost all that he wrote was dominated by an awareness of the historical and contemporary opposition of the West and the Islamic world, by a concern for the rescue of an Iranian cultural authenticity and autonomy at the heart of which lay Shi'i Islam, and by a critical stance toward those of his fellow intellectuals who were carriers of the disease of occidentosis.

Part of Gharbzadagi was published in a monthly periodical, but the censorship intervened to prevent its continuation, and Al-i Ahmad entered on a new period of compulsory silence. By way of compensation, he undertook a series of extensive foreign travels: to Europe in early 1963, to survey textbook publicatio n on behalf of the Ministry of Education; to the Soviet Union in 1964, to participate in the Seventh International Congress of Anthropologists; and to the United States in 1965, in response to an invitation from Harvard University. The most important of his journeys abroad was his performance of the hajj in 1964: it yielded a vivid trave logue published two years later under the title Khassi dar Miqat (Lost in the crowd) and marked a further stage in his journey toward Islam.18

In the remaining years of his life, Al-i Ahmad accomplished two other important pieces of work: the novel, Nafrin-i Zamin (The curse of the land), published in 1967, a depiction of the disruptions wrought in the Iranian countryside by the so-called Land Reform, seen through the eyes of a rural teacher, and Dar Khidmat va Khiyanat-i Raushanfikran (Concerning the service and disservice of the intellectuals). This was a more careful and detailed consideration of issues raised somewhat fleetingly and impressionistically in Gharbzadagi, particularly the issue of the social role of the intellectual. Although it was never published in toto in the author's lifetime, he circulated three successive drafts of the work among friends and took their comments and criticisms into account in improving the work. Its posthumous publication dur ing the Revolution was an appropriate memorial: the last word of one whose life had been dedicated to restless change and discovery finally became audible thanks to the greatest transformation that had taken place in Iran for a millenium.

Jalal Al-i Ahmad died on September 9, 1969, in a village in Gilan, weakened by years of constant strain. He was buried near the Firuzabadi mosque at Shahr-I Ray, to the south of Tehran.19

* * *

When reading Gharbzadagi, it is important to remember that its author was neither a historian nor an ideologue. He was a man who after two decades of thought and experimentation had dis covered an important and fundamental truth concerning his society- its disastrous subordination to the West in all areas-and was in a hurry to communicate this discovery to others. He had neither the time nor the patience to engage in careful historical research, and at some points in the book he even enjoins his readers to dig up the historical evidence for a given assertion.20 As for drawing conclusions and elaborating solutions, this too was a task he assigned to his readers, although clearly a road was sketched out before them.21

The chapters of the book that purport to analyze the historical roots of occidentosis contain a number of errors, some of them significant enough to undermine his argument.22 Despite Al- i Ahmad's unreliability as a historian, it is worth recalling that marshaling historical evidence to prove a significant thesis was something of a novelty in Iran at the time. Historiography consisted largely of the antiquarian recording of historical minutiae, with no higher purpose than the glorification of the past or, on the contrary, showing what advances had been made under the exalted auspices of the Pahlavis. To make a connection, as Al-I Ahmad did, between history, even remote history, and present reality was an innova tion and a considerable achievement.

In chapters 8, 9, and 10, Al-i Ahmad is on very firm ground and his powers of analysis are at their strongest. His superb psychological sketch of the occidentotic elite of prerevolutionary Iran combines the skills of a novelist with those of an acute observer of social behavior. His discussion of education, a field with which he was closely involved throughout his life, his depiction of the incoherence of Iranian society, his demonstration of the manifold ways in which the West had reduced Iran to a state of comprehensive dependence, his comments on the dichotomy between the "secret government of religion" and the national government of Shah, army, and Majlis all clearly attest to Al- i Ahmad's ability to grasp the essential in a manner unique among his contemporaries.

Much of what Al- i Ahmad describes and analyzes is not, of course, unique to Iran and might be encountered almost anywhere imperialism has imposed itself in Asia or Africa (although Al- i Ahmad rightly makes the case that the conflict between Islam and the West has unique aspects). Parts of Gharbzadagi are therefore reminiscent of other works of cultural self-analysis by the victims of imperialism: the writings of Frantz Fanon and an important book in Turkish, Mehmet Dogan's Batililasma Ihaneti (The treachery that is Westernization), which has gone through five editions since its first publication in 1975 but remains regrettably unknown outside Turkey. Some of the theses of Gharbzadagi also anticipate with remarkable precision points made by Edward Said in his Orientalism (1978): the generally invisible but significant links between orientalist scholarship and imperialist politics; the meaningless claim of orientalism to constitute a specialization in itself, without further definition; and the orientalist's assumption that the Muslim East is at bottom static and passive material for analysis by superior minds. Common to Gharbzadagi and Orientalism is even a denunciation of the Encyclopaedia of Islam.

The chief interest of Gharbzadagi, however, is the degree to which it has both influenced and exemplified intellectual currents in contemporary Iran. Al-I Ahmad's remark in the preface that the book was for many years "the object more of gossip than of dis cussion" may well be true, and probably the most lasting and obvious legacy of the book has been its title, which has now passed irrevocably into common Iranian usage. Although, as Al-i Ahmad acknowledges, Ahmad Fardid coined the word, it would probably have lapsed into obscurity were it not for this book. But beyond the word there are also a number of themes first evoked by Al-i Ahmad that recurred with increasing insistence in later years and all point to a reevaluation both of history and of national identity.

He initiated, for example, a critical reevaluation of the Safavid dynasty and the circumstances of Iran's adherence to Shi'ism (not the adherence itself), portraying the Safavids as traitors to Islamic solidarity whose policies were based on the slaughter of Sunnis and complicity with the Christian powers of Europe.23 As for the religious scholars of the Safavid period, men such as Mir Damad and Mulla Muhammad Baqir Majlisi, they are shown as more worthy of condemnation for their ties to the court than of praise for their erudition.24 This devaluing of the Safavids has as its corollary some appreciation, however hesitant and reserved, for the historic role of the Ottomans as the chief bastion of Islamic power in the face of the European onslaught. Such an adjustment of historical perspective, deriving in large part from a wish to overcome the Safavid legacy of sectarian division and play an active and even leading part in the Islamic world, has become increasingly common since the publication of Gharbzadagi and may be said now, after the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, to be standard.

As for more recent history, Al- i Ahmad was probably the first member of the intelligentsia to evaluate critically the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1909 and to lament the killing of Shaykh Fazlullah Nuri, the chief opponent of Western-style constitutionalism.25 Nuri had been for long the bete noire of most Iranian historians of the Constitutional Revolution, but with the favorable mention he earned in Gharbzadagi he began a process of rehabilitation that was completed after the Revolution.

Also important for the influence of Gharbzadagi was the global context of shared suffering and exploitation into which Al- i Ahmad set Iran, foreshadowing the solidarity with the oppressed-the mustaz'afin-that has been one of the chief ideological slogans of the Revolution.

In all of these respects, as well as several others, Al-i Ahmad appears as the precursor of the lecturer, writer, sociologist, and ideologue, 'Ali Shari'ati (1933-1977), who bears a closer resemblance to him than any other member of Iran's literary intelligentsia. The two men are known to have met at least twice, in 1968, and to have felt great sympathy for each other. One meeting took place in Tajrish, to the north of Tehran; Shari'ati reminisced to Al- i Ahmad about his days in Paris with Fanon, and Al- i Ahmad told him of his work on Dar Khidmat va Khiyanat-I Raushanfikran.26 The other took place in Mashhad; the two men discussed the alienation to which Iranian intellectuals had fallen prey as a result of their occidentosis, and afterwards Al-i Ahmad noted: "I am happy that we travel the same road with respect to these matters. "27 Themes such as cultural authenticity, the role of the socially committed intellectual, the problems posed by the presence of the machine in a traditional society, discussed cursorily, even impressionistically, by Al-i Ahmad, were taken up in much greater detail by Shari'ati and made the subject of a series of lectures and books.28

But for all the similarities between the two men, there were also important differences. First is the fact that Shari'ati was much more influential than Al-I Ahmad, partly, no doubt, because the intellectual climate of Iran had matured by the early 197Os to a point of greater receptivity for critical ideas. More significant in explaining Shari'ati's greater appeal is the fact that he was primarily a lecturer, even an orator, and only secondarily a writer, whereas Al-i Ahmad was above all a man of the pen. In a country of limited literacy, where contemporary literature had followed a path largely divergent from popular taste and concern, it was only natural that an orator should wield more influence than a litterateur.29 The second important difference was that, although Al-i Ahmad's life was marked by a long series of intellectual and spiritual peregrinations, Shari'ati never abandoned Islam in order to be faced with the necessity of rediscovering it. Certainly, he came under the influence of European concepts and ideologies while studying in Paris; he attempted to apply what he had learned to understanding and interpreting Islam, sometimes plausibly, sometimes implausibly; and on his return to Iran, he formulated received doctrine in ways that were highly controversial within the religious community. But he never lost sight of Islam as point of both personal and national orientation. The case of Jalal Al- i Ahmad is quite different. Not only did he abandon Islam in his youth, but the sense in which he rediscovered Islam after the writing of Gharbzadagi requires careful definition; it is certainly not a straightforward return to guidance of one formerly erring but now penitent.

In Gharbzadagi, Islam is presented above all as the essential and defining attribute of a civilizational sphere, to which Iran belongs, that has been at war with the West for more than a millennium. Within the context of this fundamental contradiction, Islam is seen to be the ultimate defense against the encroachments of occidentosis. Such a view of things doubtless commended

itself to believing Muslims in Iran. But Al-i Ahmad's remarks concerning the "origins" of Islam are hardly those of a believer; in fact, they have something in common with analyses made by Western scholars, although Al-i Ahmad's conclusions are quite different from theirs. He suggests that Islam is a kind of delayed response to "the call of Mani and Mazdak" or, alternatively, "a new call based on the needs of the urban populations of the Euphrates region and Syria." That the Prophet was able to elaborate such a call, Al- i Ahmad allusively claims, is due to his childhood encounter with Christian monks in Syria. There is also an unmistakably nationalist color to Al-i Ahmad's proud claim that Salman Farsi, the Iranian companion of the Prophet, played a role in "the creation of Islam unrivaled by any the astrologer Magi had in the creation of Christianity." Similarly, his assertion that Islam "became Islam when it reached the settled lands between the Tigris and the Euphrates, until then being the Arabs' primitiveness and jahiliyya," leads inescapably to the conclusion that, in the time of the Prophet, Islam was nothing more than a modified form of Arab jahiliyya, its transformation into a civilization and world religion coming only when it reached lands impregnated by Iranian influence.30

It is, perhaps, a mistake to look for signs of the recovery of personal faith in Gharbzadagi, which is fundamentally a sociohis torical critique. Khassi dar Miqat, however, is a different matter, being an account of the hajj, a key experience in the life of every believing Muslim. If Jalal Al-i Ahmad had experienced a return to Islam as belief and personal practice, there would surely be evidence of it in this work. Such evidence is not entirely lacking. For example, when he visited the tomb of the Prophet in Medina, he was profoundly moved: "In the morning when I said, 'peace be upon you, o Prophet,' I was suddenly moved. The railing surrounding the tomb was directly in front of me and I could see the people circumambulating the tomb.... I wept and fled from the mosque."31 But such passages are rare in Khassi dar Miqat, and it may even be significant that Al-i Ahmad fled from the mosque of the Prophet at the onset of religious emotion, almost as if he were in fear of it. For the most part, Khassi dar Miqat is marked by the same attention to detail in the author's human and material surroundings that characterizes his works of fiction. The impression that Jalal Al-i Ahmad leaves is that of a meticulous and generally sympathetic observer of the pilgrims, not that of an enthusiastic participant in the pilgrimage, one distracted from the shortcomings of his fellows by the intensity of his own experience.

It was nonetheless remarkable that a member of the Iranian literary intelligentsia had thought fit to go on the hajj, and Khassi dar Miqat can be regarded as the record of a step forward on a path that might have taken Al-I Ahmad to a more complete identification with Islam. During the last years of his life, he began attending lectures on the exegesis of the Qur'an taught by his uncle, Ayatullah Taleghani, at the Himmat mosque in Shimiran, causing Taleghani to remark of him: "Jalal was very good toward the end of his life; he had become very interested in Islamic tradition."32 But the process of comprehensive return to Islam as personal belief as well as sociocultural resource- if we are correct in assuming that such a process was under way-was never completed. To quote Simin Danishvar, the final impression with which Jalal Al- i Ahmad leaves us is that of a "relative return to religion and the Occulted Imam, both as a means of preserving national identity and as a path leading to human dignity, mercy, justice, reason, and virtue."33

Despite the ambiguities surrounding Al- i Ahmad's "return to Islam," it has been suggested, in the aftermath of the Islamic Revo lution, that Al-i Ahmad was in some measure a herald of that movement.34 Insofar as numerous hitherto secular intellectuals ranged themselves under the banner of Islam, at least in certain stages of the movement, and the cultural policies of the Islamic Republic have been aimed at the extirpation of all forms of occidentosis, the suggestion is reasonable. An important consideration in this respect is, however, the attitude discernible in the works of Al-i Ahmad toward the 'ulama, who have played the leading role both in the gestation of the Revolution and the administration of the new order that has emerged from it.

Al- i Ahmad was probably alone among the literary intelligentsia of Iran in correctly perceiving the uprising of 15 Khurdad 1342/6 June 1963 as inaugurating a new and decisive stage in the struggle between the "secret government of religion" and the Iranian state.35 He even went to visit Imam Khomeini after the event and left a favorable impression upon him.36 There is laudatory mention of the Imam in Al- i Ahmad's last major work, Dar Khidmat va Khiyanat-i Raushanfikran, which includes among its appendices the full text of his historic speech of 4 Aban 1343/27 October 1964, denouncing the granting of capitulatory rights to the United States.37 But there is no clear sign that Al-i Ahmad foresaw, or would have supported, a revolution led and directed by the 'ulama. In fact, his failure to take into account such a possibility may be regarded as a lingering vestige of the isolation from the masses that characterized the Iranian literary intelligentsia.

When remarking on the new period of intensified struggle between 'ulama and state that began with 15 Khurdad, Al-i Ahmad even suggested that the outcome of the struggle would be determined by the intelligentsia's choice of sides.38 Gharbzadagi is not sparing in its criticisms of what the author perceives as the rigidity and formalism of the 'ulama. Likewise, in Dar Khidmat va Khiyanat-I Raushanfikran, Al- i Ahmad castigates them for attachment to religious tradition [sunnat], which he seems to associate in an exclusive and debilitating sense with the past.39 It appears, too, from the same work, that he regards the vast legal corpus of Islam as determined by historical conditions that have long since disappeared.40 The enactment of Islamic law now seen in Iran would, then, hardly have won his approval.

The question of how Al-i Ahmad would have regarded the Islamic Republic is, ultimately, of course, unanswerable, although it is inevitable that it should be posed. Those close to him who have survived down to the present have adopted differing attitudes. His widow, Simin Danishvar, signed a letter in June 1981 that protested the alleged lack of cultural and intellectual freedom in the Islamic Republic, a letter signed by most of the well-known literary intellectuals of Iran.41 By contrast, one of his brothers, Shams Al- i Ahmad, enthusiastically welcomed the new order, taking on a variety of positions in the press and the Council for the Cultural Revolution. He has also suggested that Jalal would have thrown himself into constructive labor for the sake of the Islamic Republic if he had lived to see it.42

To summarize, Gharbzadagi cannot be presented as a decisive and pioneering work of revolutionary thought, fully in tune with the historical forces that were to bring about revolution. Nonetheless, it has a solid if modest claim to lasting attention, as the record of an eloquent diagnosis of the major ill of Iranian society by one whose life was devoted to constant, sincere, and solicitous reflection on the state of his countrymen and who contributed to a partial reorientation of the Iranian intelligentsia.

Hamid Algar
1 Day 1361/22 December 1982


1. The full genealogy is given in Jalal Al-i Ahmad, Aurazan, Tehran, 1333/1954, p.15.

2. Jalal Al-i Ahmad, "Masalan Sharh-i Ahvalat," in Yek Chah au Dau Chala, Tehran, n.d., p.47.

3. See statement of Taleghani to Kayhan, 14 Shahrivar 1358/

4 September 1979, reproduced in Taleghani, Az Azadi ta Shahadat, Tehran, 1358/1979, p.291.

4. "Masalan Sharh-i Ahvalat," p. 48.

5. See, for example, the article by Qasim 'Ali Firasat in the commemorative supplement to Jumhuri-yi Islami, 20 Shahrivar 1359/12 Oc tober 1980, p.11.

6. Az Azadi ta Shahadat, p. 291.

7. Simin Danishvar, "Shauhar-i man Jalal," in Andisha va Hunar, vol. 4 (Mihr 1343/September-October 1964), p. 345.

8. "Masalan Sharh-i Ahvalat," p.48.

9. Ibid., p.49-50.

10.Jalal Al-i Ahmad's tensions with his father were exacerbated by his marriage to Simin Danishvar because she did not observe the Islamic criteria of dress. See "Shauhar-i man Jalal," p.348.

11."Masalan Sharh-i Ahvalat," p. 50.

12."Shauhar-i man Jalal," p.344.

13."Masalan Sharh-i Ahvalat," p. 51. Despite this break with Khalil Maliki, it has been said that Al-i Ahmad was active for a time in the post-1953 continuation of the Niru-yi Sivvum, known as the Jami'at-i Susyalistha-yi Nihzat-i Milli (League of Socialists of the Popular Movement); see article by Muhammad Mahdi Ja'fari in commemorative supplement of Jumhuri-yi Islami, p.8. For a full account by Al-i Ahmad of his involvement both with the Tudeh party and with Khalil Maliki, see Dar Khidmat va Khiyanat-i Raushanfikran, Tehran, 1357/1958, pp.332-378. His outwardly historical novel, Nun va'l-Qalam (The letter nun and the pen), published in 1340/1961, was also intended by him to serve as "analysis of the reasons for the failure of contemporary leftist movements" ("MasaIan Sharh-i Ahvalat," p.54).

14. See Al-i Ahmad's obituary of Nima Yushij, "Pir-i Mard Chishm-i Ma bud," in his Arzyabi-yi Shitabzada, Tabriz, 1344/1965, pp.37-53, translated by Thomas A. Picks under the title "The Old Man Was Our Eyes" in The Literary Review, vol. 18, no. 1 (Fall 1974), pp.115-128.

15."Masalan Sharh-i Ahvalat," p.52.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid., p.53.

18. Ibid., pp.53-54.

19.Writing in 1964, five years before his death, Danishvar remarks that Al-i Ahmad looks much older than his age ("Shauhar-i man Jalal," p.345).

20.See p.61.

21.See p. 79.

22.See notes 8, 19, 23, 26, 31, 42, 45, 46, and 49 at the end of this book.

23. See p.52.

24.See p.45.

25.See pp.56-57.

26.See article by Ghulam Riza Imami in commemorative supplement to Jumhuri-yi Islami, p.6.

27.Dar Khidmat va Khiyanat-i Raushanfikran, pp.51-52. During the same meeting, Al-I Ahmad related to Shari'ati, with some pride how he had once been mistaken for a villager. But the way in which Al-i Ahmad responded to the incident represented, in Shari'ati's view, an imperfect identification with the masses, and he reproached him accordingly. See Shari'ati, Insan va Islam, Tehran, n.d., pp.236-237.

28.See above all Bazgasht (Majmu'a-yi Asar, Tehran, n.d., 4); Mashin dar Asarat-I Mashinism, n.p., n.d.; and Risalat-i Raushanfikr barayi Sakhtan-i Jami'a, n.p., n.d.

29.Al-i Ahmad addressed himself to the problem of the social isola tion of the contemporary writer in Iran in his essay, "Chand Nukta dar bara-yi Mushakhkhasat-i Kulli-yi Adabiyat-i Mu'asir," Arzyabi-yi Shitabzada, pp.54-66.

30.Al-i Ahmad seems to have harbored persistently ambivalent feelings toward the Arabs, expressed even in works written after Gharbzadagi, such as the critique of Israel entitled "Vilayat-i Isra'il" published in Andisha va Hunar, vol.4, pp. 380-386, on the eve of his departure for Mecca.

31.Khassi dar Miqat, Tehran, 1345/1966, p.74.

32.Taleghani, Az Azadi ta Shahadat, p.291. See also the remarks of Abu '1-Hasan Taleghani in the commemorative supplement to Jumhuri-yi Islami, p. 8.

33.Danishvar, Ghurub-i Jalal, Tehran, 1361/1982, p.30.

34.This is, for example, the unspoken implication of much of the commemorative supplement to Jumhuri-yi Islami to which reference has been made in these notes.

35.See p.74.

36.The Imam is quoted as saying: "I once saw Jalal Al-i Ahmad for a quarter of an hour. It was in the early part of our movement. I saw someone sitting opposite me, and the book Gharbzadagi was lying near me. He asked, 'How did you come by this nonsense?' and I realized it was Al-i Ahmad. Unfortunately, I never saw him again. May he enjoy the mercy of God." Commemorative supplement to Jumhuri-yi Islami, p.10.

37.Dar Khidmat va Khiyanat-i Raushanfikran, pp. 1-17 of the supplementary volume.

38.See p.74.

39.Dar Khidmat va Khiyanat-i Raushanfikran, pp.255-256.

40.Ibid., p. 257.

41.For the English text, see the New York Review of Books, June 11, 1981.

42.See the collected essays and addresses of Shams Al-i Ahmad published in two volumes under the title Hadis-i Inqilab (Tehran, 1360/ 1981) and the interview with Shams Al-I Ahmad in the commemorative supplement to Jumhuri-yi Islami, p.6.

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