- Transnationalism in Iranian Political Thought: The Life and Times of Ahmad Fardid by Ali Mirsepassi, and: Beyond Shariati: Modernity, Cosmopolitanism, and Islam in Iranian Political Thought by Siavash Saffari
Cambridge University Press has recently published two books on two influential and controversial Iranian thinkers: Ahmad Fardid (1910–94)—known as Iran's "oral philosopher"—and a celebrated postcolonial and Muslim critical thinker, 'Ali Shari'ati (1933–77). The central arguments in both books are about the old and yet difficult questions of tradition and modernity, Islam and the West, local and global paradigms, and the particular and the universal in the Muslim/Islamicate context. Although both books are primarily concerned with the lives, legacies, thought, and times of their subjects, respectively, they also examine the impact of transnational dimensions of both Fardid's and Shari'ati's thoughts as well as the profound impact of their ideas in postrevolutionary Iran.
Transnationalism in Iranian Political Thought is the latest work of Ali Mirsepassi, a prominent Iranian sociologist. The book is divided into five parts and consists of nine chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion. In the introduction, "Islam after the Fall: Why Fardid Matters," Mirsepassi argues that Fardid is relevant because of his critique of Orientalism and traditional Shi'i Islam, his articulation of "Islamism as a 'revolutionary' alternative to [the] Marxist model of social change, his hostility toward 'secular liberalism' and rational materialism as beacons of the degenerating modern West," and, in sum, as an "important historical case study in understanding the anti-modern political and cultural critique" (p. 3). Mirsepassi also stresses the "transnational dimensions of Fardid's outlook," meaning his Heideggerian and romantic vision against the Western "materialist" secular and liberal capitalism, which creates a "qualitatively different society" based on a "pure and spiritually regenerated Shi'a Islamist world." Fardid became "the self-appointed stockperson" for the "Islamic Revolution of 1978" (pp. 3–4). Mirsepassi's book is, in sum, an attempt to "ascertain why Fardid rejected secular politics in favor of a 'spiritual politics.'" The book historicizes and contextualizes Fardid's life experience in the West and in Iran to demonstrate his "cosmic 'epiphany' surrounding the world's succumbing to the forces [and global process] of 'Westoxification'" (p. 4). He built the concept of Gharbzadegi (Westoxification) "by selectively utilizing resources from "tradition" (Islamic/Iranian gnosticism and spiritual [End Page 674] literature) and contemporary intellectual thought (Heideggerian philosophy) to create a new vision of Islamic transcendence" (p. 10). Fardid's project, Mirsepassi argues, is "Islam after Islam" because his "selective and arbitrary" reading of Islam ignores "philosophical tradition of Islam" (p. 21). It is "rhetorically" poetic, "philosophically dogmatic," and "politically" authoritarian (pp. 22–23).
Mirsepassi seeks to answer two questions: first, how a man with a modern secular education in elite Western universities transformed into "the leading intellectual and ideologue of an anti-modern, Islamist movement" (p. 8). The second question concerns the tension in Fardid's ideology, i.e. emphasizing "Eastern Spirituality" (known for nonviolence) and endorsing "the violent suppression of dissent after the revolution." The answers, Mirsepassi argues, lie in Fardid's "intellectual kindred spirit of [Martin] Heidegger." Moreover, Fardid's reading of spirituality "was a-historical" (pp. 8–9).
Chapter 1, "The Historical Context: The Intellectual's Modern Calling," highlights Muhammad Iqbal's modern, "elitist vision" of Islam, which privileges "mysticism over legalism" and later would define Fardid's intellectual approach (p. 33). Mirsepassi is mindful of the impact of "colonial modernity" on this intellectual trend. Chapter 2, "'Home' and the 'World': 'The Swallows Return to Their Nest'?" intends to illustrate that "Fardid was not alone in his rather eclectic and reality-omitting worldview" (p. 62). It also briefly examines the historical roots and broader cultural and political context that popularized and helped to foster Fardid's idea of "Westoxification"—a "utopian fantasy" that harbors "elements of national and Islamic...