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In a broad-ranging, carefully written, and informative introduction, the author discusses the role of literature in providing a medium in which Iranian writers can express their attempts at self-definition. It provides an appropriate overview of the history of modern Iran, reviews the historic relationships between Arabs and Iranians, and examines the development of Iranian nationalism within a multiethnic state. The material presented is well documented with illustrative quotations from literary texts and interpretative and academic studies.
The three chapters that follow offer discussion of the clearly differing attitudes of the authors who are the object of this study. The initial chapter is entitled “Men’s Writings, Men’s Views.” The second analyses the writings and views of contemporary Iranian women authors. The third chapter presents a detailed study, in forty-eight pages (more than one-third of the whole book), of the publications of one specific author, Jalal Al-e Ahmad. He is shown to express a medial range of views, in contrast to the comparatively extreme positions taken by the writers previously introduced.
The author’s findings may be summarized as follows. The writers Mohammad Ali Jamalzadeh, Sadeq Hedayat, Sadeq Chubak, Mehdi Akhavan-e Sales, and Nader Naderpour all express to varying degrees attitudes that may be defined as racist, anti-Arab, and even anti-Islamic. Their works express the worst kind of negative stereotyping of Arabs and of their lifestyles and culture. These authors also glorify the ancient civilizations of Iran and depict the Islamic conquest of their country as a national disaster.
The women writers discussed are the poets Forugh Farrokhzad and Thereh Safarzadeh, and Simin Daneshvar, an author of prose fiction. This group is shown, in a relatively short chapter, to express little interest in the character or behavior of Arabs. Their works are read as devoid of those negative views of the Islamic conquests and of Islam so clearly present in the male writers reviewed. The works of these women express general support for Islam and affirm the view that Iranian [End Page 474] values embodied by the early convert and Companion of the Prophet, Salman the Persian, and expressed in the doctrines of Shi’ism, have had great influence in the development of Islam today.
This work’s third section, “A Man in the Middle,” shows how Al-e Ahmad centers his interest on emphasizing the powerful, and in his view appropriate, role played by Shi’i Islam in Iran, particularly in resisting and confronting what he sees as his nation’s chief enemy, the political and cultural influence of the West. While his works reiterate a reverence for the Arabic of the Qur’an, Al-e Ahmad is seen, as is the first group discussed, to be deeply prejudiced against Arabs, whom he depicts as dishonest, corrupt, stubborn, greedy, and ill-kempt. As in the case of the women writers, Al-e Ahmad is seen to credit Iranian culture with great influence in the development of Islam.
While the above arguments are presented clearly and with ample textual evidence, this work does not properly reflect the title it bears. Many of the writers represented do not, according to the author’s observation, express themselves specifically on the subject of “the Arabs”; the larger part of the discussion relates to their views on their perceived Indo-European ethnicity and to the ties that they do or do not have with the contemporary Islamic culture of their homeland. The content of this work would perhaps be better displayed by a title such as The Image of the Arabs and of Islam in Modern Persian Literature.
This book offers, then, valuable insights, through the literature quoted, into the ideological conflicts beneath the surface of Iranian nationalism today. Saad’s writing is generally careful and concise. There is, however, considerable repetition; the final ten-page conclusion essentially repeats what had been foretold in the introduction, and was established in the individual chapters. In one case, a whole paragraph of translated text is repeated verbatim on widely separated pages...