Sovereignty without nationalism,Islam without God A critical study of the works of Jalal Al-e Ahmad

  • Author / Creator
  • Jalal Al-e Ahmad (1923-1969) is widely perceived, particularly in Iran, as the leading social critic in Iran’s post-Mosaddeq, pre Khomayni era (1953-1978) and also as an inspirational figure for Iran’s 1978-1979 revolution. His concept of “occidentosis” (Gharbzadeghi in Persian), or “Westernization,” as the main or even the only cause of Iran’s political, economic, and social problems, seemed to many Iranians to accurately diagnose their country’s ills. More importantly, his “cure” for the “disease” of occidentosis was his ringing call for Iranians to return to their authentic (Perso-Islamic) “self” and to use a rejuvenated Islam as a defense against Western imperialism. This call galvanized many Iranians, particularly among the Leftist intellectuals and Muslim clerics, and made Al-e Ahmad a revered figure following Iran’s successful revolution. This thesis argues that a close reading of a selection of Al-e Ahmad’s fiction, Occidentosis (1961), and autobiographical writing does not support the popular perception of him. The thesis’s title - - “Sovereignty without Nationalism, Islam without God” - - refers to the double paradox at the heart of his writing and thought: he called for Iran’s sovereignty in the face of Western imperialism, but felt no sense of community with his fellow Iranians, and he called for a “return to Islam,” but has no personal faith in either this or any other religion. In this thesis, some of the principles of the New Critics’ close reading and of Jacques Derrida’s deconstructionism are used to analyze Al-e Ahmad’s texts and uncover their many internal contradictions. The analysis of five of his short stories and his two best-known novels, The School Principle (1958) and By the Pen (1961), reveals that he was relentlessly critical of Iranian society, felt no sense of empathy for or affinity with Iran’s oppressed classes, and believed that revolutions merely replace one form of tyranny with another. The analysis of Occidentosis, Al-e Ahmad’s most famous and most important work, reveals that his argument against the ‘West’ is riddled by inconsistencies, contradictions, and historical inaccuracies. Following this analysis, a comparison of the view of the intellectual in Occidentosis and that in Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth (1969) is used to expose Al-e Ahmad’s limitations as a political thinker and cultural critic. Finally, the concluding chapters on two of Al-e Ahmad’s autobiographical works, Lost in the Crowd (1964) and A Stone on a Grave(2008), show that, contrary to the popular belief that Al-e Ahmad “rediscovered Islam” during the last years of his life, he actually rejected Islam and Perso-Islamic traditions and embraced and celebrated his own nihilism.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
    • Department of Sociology
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
    • Kellogg, Katherine (political science)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Simmons, Tony (Sociology, Athabasca university)
    • Mannani, Manijeh (English)
    • wassermann, Richard (sociology, U of A)
    • Sheibani, Khatereh (literature, York University)
    • Dorow, Sara (Sociology)