Monday, 20 June 2011

The Evils of Westernization - Light of Islam

The Evils of Westernization



A Review Article


Dr. Wahid Akhtar

Jalal Ali Ahmad

Occidentosis: A Plague From the West

trans. R. Campbell; ed.

Hamid Algar;

Mizan Press, Berkeley, Contemporary Islamic Thought
Persian Series (1984), §5. 95.

Occidentosis (Gharbzadegi) is Jalal Ali Ahmad's tryst
with the infinite world of ideas, for which the scene is
set in twentieth-century Iran and the background is
provided by the vast panorama of the East faced with the
onslaughts of the Western civilization. The first draft
of the book in Persian was presented at two of the many
sessions of the Congress on the Aim of Iranian Education,
on 29 November 1961 and 17 January 1962 in the form of a
report, but it did not find a place in the proceedings of
the Congress due to its critical nature. The first
one-third part of Gharbzadegi was published in the
periodical Kitab-e Mah causing the suspension of the
journal. The author published it as a separate work
privately in 1341/1962. Since its publication the book
has been discussed, criticized and analysed heatedly both
in Iran and abroad. It is acknowledged by both admirers
and critics as a work of unique significance because of
its content as well as its approach. R. Campbell has done
a commendable service to contemporary Islamic thought by
rendering the book into English.

Hamid Algar, a specialist in the field of recent
Iranian thought and politics, has greatly enhanced the
value of the translation by adding well-researched
scholarly notes to it. The notes by Algar are both
informative and corrective, for Jalal Ali Ahmad, being
not a historian and a meticulous researcher, had
committed certain errors that needed to be pointed out
for the sake of providing readers with more accurate and
definite information about the events referred to in the

Algar has done the editorial job with superb

Jalal Ali Ahmad is one of the most eminent figures of
contemporary Persian literature, basically a fiction
writer, but nevertheless an equally important ideologue
of modern Iran. In many respects he is a precursor of Dr.
Ali Shari'ati, who, despite exercising far greater
influence than Jalal on the youth, could not surpass
Jalal Ali Ahmad in literary excellence.

Jalal Ali Ahmad (b. 1923) belonged to a family of
strong religious traditions. The famous revolutionary
Ayatullah Mahmúd Taliqani (d. 1979) was his paternal
uncle and Jalal Ali Ahmad had been always impressed by
him, but particularly during his later religious phase
came closer to him. Jalal's family was reasonably
well-off. When the clerical class was deprived of its
notarial function and the income they derived from it,
his family was put to hardship and Jalal had to give up
his education after primary school. Instead he was sent
to work to supplement the family's income. Jalal secretly
enrolled in night classes and obtained his high school
diploma in 1943. One year later he joined the Túdeh
party, and made a complete break with religion. There he
founded a literary association of Marxist writers, and
within three years was appointed director of the party's
publishing house with the responsibility of launching a
new monthly Mahanah-yi mardum. He wrote prolifically for
the party journals. In this period he was under the
influence of the nationalist, anti-Shi'i writer Ahmad
Kisrawi. In 1946, he graduated from the Teachers'
Training College in Tehran, and started his career as a
teacher and as a writer of fiction almost

His first collection of stories Did wa Bazdid (Visits
exchanged) was published in 1945, and his anti-religion
stance in those stories marked his complete break with
Islam and his father. His second collection of short
stories Az ranji ki mibarim, an exercise in socialist
realism, was published in 1947 The very same year he came
out of the Túdeh party along with a group of activists
led by Khalil Maliki as an aftermath of the party's
support to the Soviet Union's refusal to save the
communist-dominated autonomous government of Azarbayjan.
Now he devoted most of his time, except brief occasional
sojourns in politics, to literary work. Seh Tar, his
third collection of stories is product of this period. He
returned to political activity with Dr. Musaddiq's
campaign joined an alliance for the nationalization of
the Iranian oil industry and' with Hizb-e Zahmat Kashan.
In 1952, as a result of Maliki's rift with the Hizb-e
Zahmat Kashan, a new party Nirú-ye Sewwum was formed and
Jalal served it for a short time. In 1953, when the
fugitive Shah was brought back by the U.S.A., Jalal left
this party also.

Moreover, political activity was made virtually
impossible due to severe repressive measures. Jalal
turning again to literary pursuits translated Gide's Re
tour de l'URSS and brought out Zan-e ziyadi (The
superfluous woman). He dabbled in modernist poetry and
painting also for some time. But more, significant for
his intellectual development was his interest in
anthropology. Within a period of four years he published
three research monographs dealing with Iranian villages
and their age-old customs, viz. Aurazan, Tatneshinha-ye
Bulúk-i Zahra, and Jazirah-ye Khark. During this
research the contradictory nature of the Western and the
Islamic Eastern traditions dawned upon him, a realization
that paved the way for his return to Islam. The worth of
his anthropological work was immediately recognized by
both the Iranian academic circles and Western
universities. He undertook extensive foreign travels: to
Europe in early 1963, to the Soviet Union in 1964, and to
the United States in 1965. Of all these, the journey
exercising the farthest reaching impact on his psyche was
his hajj pilgrimage in 1964, which proved to be a great
leap towards Islam. During this period of great
creativity he realized the basic conflict between the
traditional Iranian social structure and the new changes
being imposed on the Iranian society in the name of

The interiorization of this awareness resulted in a
unique kind of self-realization-broadening of the field
of self-activity to the levels of national as well as
religious collective-self-realization. The
Iranian-Islamic archetypal patterns of conscious and
unconscious psychical processes were revealed to him to
be in opposition to those patterns of thought and
practice which were being imported with technology from
the West and transplanted on the Eastern soil. Jalal's
realization of the contradictory characters of the
Western and Eastern cultures caused him to write
Gharbzadegi, an analysis of the corrupting influence of
the West on the East in the historical perspective with
particular reference to the Iranian society and body
politic. In the last years of his life he produced two
major works: the novel, Nafrin-e zamin (The curse of the
land), published in 1967, a damaging criticism of the
so-called Land Reform; and a work of ideological
importance, Dar khidmat wa khiyanat-e rawshanfikran
(Concerning the service and disservice of the
intellectuals), which was posthumously published during
the peak hours of the Revolution.

Jalal died on September 9, 1969 in a village in Gilan,
and was buried near the Firúzabadi mosque at Shahri Ray.
Thus came to end an intellectual career, apparently
chequered with swift shifts in political and
philosophical position, but in reality depicting the
journey of a restless soul in search of its true
identity, a quest for the roots. Jalal's psychological
and intellectual biography is not different from those of
many others who underwent similar radical upheavals and
transformations in the post-Second-World-War period of
disillusionment with almost all the modern ideologies
causing a deep sense of rootlessness.

Jalal traced back the roots of his own existence along
with the roots of Iranian culture and soul to Islam-a
diagnosis of great relevance to the Muslim world in
general. Hamid Algar's introduction to the translation of
Gharbzadegi furnishes all necessary information about
Jalal's literary and political life.

Algar's following observation provides the key to
understanding the real nature of Occidentosis:

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
discovered an important and fundamental truth concerning
his society-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. (p. 14).

A more important observation made by Algar concerns
the nature of Jalal's rediscovery of the soul of Islam.
In his view, Jalal's return to Islam is not
straightforward, because, firstly, he could not
completely free himself from the Orientalist influence,
and secondly, there was an unmistakably nationalist
colour to Ali Ahmad's proud claim that

"Islam became Islam when it reached the settled
lands between the Tigris and the Euphrates, until then
being the Arabs' primitiveness and Jahiliyyah" Jalal
in Occiden tosis blames Orientalists for inflating the
Iranian ego by causing them to believe that they are the
people with a great past and consequently making them
think that they did not need learn anything new from the
West except the use of machine. Then taking advantage of
this false pride and complacence, in his view, Western
scholars changed the moulds of Iranian thought
substituting them by their own measures. It is strange
that an intellectual of Jalal's calibre, who was aware of
the Western scholars' conspiracy, fell so cheaply into
their trap and explained the origin of Islam in terms of
"a kind of delayed response to the call of Mani and
Mazdak" or, using Marxist jargon, "a new call
based on the needs of the urban populations of the
Euphrates region and Syria". These and many other
false notions and criteria are fabrications of the
Western mode of thinking imported to the East in the name
of "scientific tools of socio-historical

And our intelligentsia is so allured by the temptation
of being considered modern that a conscious writer like
Jalal, fully aware of Western intellectual conspiracy,
applies them to the realities of Islam and the Eastern
culture unhesitatingly. Unfortunately all intellectuals
who have been and are in the vanguard of political and
intellectual movements in the third world have been using
Western concepts and criteria to interpret and solve the
complexities of their own traditions.

Modernism, liberalism, scientism, secularism,
sociologism and many other 'isms' were evolved and
developed in the West according to the changing
conditions of the Western society and polity, which were
confronted with a fundamental contradiction between new
scientific modes of thinking and Christian-dominated
medieval ways of life and thought that caused an
unbridgeable breach between sacred and profane, spiritual
and physical, worldly and otherworldly, religion and
social existence, or the church and the state. So-called
Eastern intelligentsia in general, and Muslim
intellectuals in particular, without applying their
intellect to the fundamental opposition between Oriental
and Occidental milieu, accepted Western notions as if
they were universally true and applicable to various

Nationalism is also such a category having little
relevance to the realities and ideals of Islam. Iranian
Islam, Indian Islam, Malaysian Islam, Pakistani Islam,
Turkish Islam and Arab Islam as terms have become so
current in contemporary writings that even the most
cautious and meticulous of Muslim scholars brought up
under the Western educational system use them as valid.
Undoubtedly Islamic teachings due to their immense
potential of adaptability could fit in different environs
without being altered basically, but it did not mean that
Islam could be variously interpreted. Since such a wrong
conception of Islam became current, Muslim Ummah as a
whole began to lose political and economic power and
became stagnant intellectually and scientifically.
Jalal's pride in an Islam which became Islam after
settling in what is presently known as Iraq, Syria and
Iran stems from a similar nationalist oriented
misconception. Surprisingly enough Jalal is critical of
the Safawid Iran for playing into the hands of
anti-Muslim Eastern and Western powers by stabbing the
Ottoman Muslim empire in the back which proved to be the
last stronghold of Muslim resistance against the world
supremacy of the West. Granted that his criticism is not
justified concerning all the points, nonetheless his
analysis, though defective, reveals his keen desire for
Muslim unity. He is also aw are that the breaking up of
the Ottoman empire into small states and principalities
was engineered by Western imperialist designs. This
awareness should have led him to understand the true
nature of the movements of nationalism in the Muslim
world. The seeds of nationalism were sowed in the hearts
of the Muslims by a well-planned conspiracy of Western
imperialism, intellectually supported by Orientalists and
Western educators with a view to break Muslim unity.

The Arabs who are still serving their Western masters,
with their overemphasis on Arab nationalism fail to
realize that the differences within their own fold are
due to themselves and are offshoots of the spirit of
nationalism cultivated in their minds by the vested
Western interests. The divisive role of nationalism does
not stop at alienating Arab Muslims from the rest of the
Muslim world, but it goes further and deeper by causing
subdivisions among themselves making them even more
dependent on the West. Like many modern and so-called
progressive writers of the past generation Jalal Ali
Ahmad, in his diagnosis of the evil effects of Western
influence, could not smell the danger of the
West-inspired nationalism. Thus he, whose messianic
mission was to liberate Iranians from the clutches of
Westernization, fell an easy prey to the Occidental trap
not realizing the ideological pitfalls in Western
thought. This is how Orientalists consciously coin
certain notions with ulterior motives and our Eastern, or
more precisely Muslim, intellectuals imitate them
unconsciously subscribing to their views and serving
their motives.

Algar, quoting Simin Danishwar, Jalal's wife,
concludes that Jalal's "relative return to religion
was a means to preserving national identity and a path
leading to human dignity, mercy, reason, and
virtue." All these terms are ambiguous, rather
emptyclichés, confusing "Islamic identity"
with a particular kind of "national identity."
Jalal's return to Islam is dubbed as incomplete by Algar,
for, even in Khassi dar Miqat, Jalal's travelogue of his
hajj pilgrimage, despite his occasional emotional
outbursts, he is more concerned with the human and
material surroundings than with his own inner experience.
On the one hand, it may be explained in terms of a
hangover from his Marxist past, and on the other, it can
be deciphered "as an attempt to flee from the
mosque" The last phrase occurs in Khassi dar Miqat
(Tehran: 1345/1966, p. 74) on the occasion of his visit
to the tomb of the Prophet (S) in Medina.

In the morning when I said, 'peace be upon you, O
Prophet,' 1 was suddenly moved. The railing surrounding
the tomb was directly in front of me and 1 could see the
people circumambulating the tomb ... I wept and fled from
the mosque. (Occidentosis, p.18)

However, this incomplete return to Islam in itself is
significant, because it paved the way for the coming of
many an intellectual in the fold of the Islamic
Revolution. Ayatullah Taliqani remarked of him: 'Jalal
was very good toward the end of his 'life.' Had he lived
till the victory of the Islamic Revolution, most probably
he would have been on the side of the 'ulama'. This is
not a shallow conjecture, but can be supported with ample
evidence. He was the first member of the intelligentsia
to lament the killing of Shaykh Fadl Allah Núri, the
chief opponent of Western-style constitutionalism. .Jalal
reevaluated his positive role in blocking the smooth
sailing of the Western interests in Iran in the following

... The martyred Shaykh Núri was forced to mount the
gallows not as an opponent of constitutionalism, which he
had defended early on, but as an advocate of rule by
Islamic law (and as an advocate for Shi'i solidarity).
This is why they all sat waiting for the fatwa from Najaf
to kill him-this in an age when the leaders among our
occidentotic intellectuals were the Christian Malkum Khan
and the Caucasian Social Democrat Talibov. Now the brand
of occidentosis was imprinted on our foreheads. I look on
that great man's body on the gallows as a flag raised
over our nation proclaiming the triumph of occidentosis
after two hundred years of struggle. Under this flag we
are like strangers to ourselves, in our food and dress,
our homes, our manners, our publications, and, most
dangerous, our culture .... (Occidentosis, pp. 5657)

Ali Ahmad was probably the lone litterateur who
recognized the significance of the 15 Khurdad 1342 (6
June 1963) uprising, and could see how decisive a role
the 'ulam a' were to play in shaping the destiny of Iran.
He also went to see Imam Khumayni, who was quoted as
saying: I once saw Jalal Ali 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 Gharbzadegi was
lying near me. He asked, 'How did you come by this
Nonsense?' and I realized it was Ali Ahmad.
Unfortunately, I never saw him again. May he enjoy the
mercy of God. (Commemorative supplement to Jamhúri-ye
Islami, p.10)

The first chapter of Occidentosis deals with the
nature of the disease. It is said that the division of
the world in two blocs, East and West, or communist and
non-communist, has become redundant. In fact there exist
two blocs, and they are: producers of the machine and
buyers of the machine. It makes all the difference who
exports and who imports machines. Economy, politics,
sociology, psychology, and every other thing including
prosperity, mortality and birth-rates, social welfare,
nutrition, culture, and socio-political structure depend
upon this single fact. The West or the exploiter owns the
machine, and the East or the oppressed, or in more
respectable terms the developing countries, need the
machine. The boundaries of the East and the West are also
floating and shifting. Sometime the East overlaps the
West, and vice versa.

The East includes Asia, Africa, and Latin America,
while the West comprises Europe, America, Japan, South
Africa and Israel. In such a division ideological
compartmentalization becomes superfluous. Jalal
discovered this radically new reality in the early
sixties. In the past the area from the Eastern
Mediterranean to India (and China), presently called by
the West 'the East' was the advanced and civilized part
of the world, whereas the present West then led a
semi-barbaric life. Now the balance is tipped in favour
of the other side. It was success in trade and
advancement in machinery and technology that vested the
West with superior authority in all respects. With the
process of civilization, or rather Christianization, the
worst forms of deprivation, exploitation and
dehumanization encroached upon the lands of Asia, Africa
and Latin America. Religion, culture, economy, social
structure and the old value systems were destroyed by the
colonizers. It was only Muslim unity that obstructed the
onward march of imperialism. With the elimination of
Islamic Andalusia the last battle scene was set in the
Ottoman empire, the last citadel of formal or real
Islamic unity.

When the Ottoman empire was disintegrated as an
aftermath of the first world war, its provinces, formed
as independent states, but virtually Western satellites,
fell an easy prey to the ever-increasing lust of the
West. Iran was a part and parcel of this scheme, where a
dictator of the West's choice was crowned emperor. This
entire process was facilitated by importing into Iran the
machine and its Western experts along with all its
paraphernalia. The post-war period witnessed the
all-embracing tentacles of occidentosis rapidly taking
into their deadly embrace the entire Iran and all the
aspects of its religious, cultural, social and economic
life. This was the end of a national identity.

The next three chapters describe the earliest signs of
the illness, the wellsprings of the flood, and the first
infections. In these chapters Jalal gives an account of
the historical events leading to the ultimate surrender
of the East to the West. The villain of this long drawn
drama is the machine-a substitute for Fate, the villain
in the classical Western play-as a tool of the demigods
of money and political power in Iran.

The delayed reaction on the part of the East, like
that of Shakespearian hero Hamlet, comes to the surface
at the end of the nineteenth century, in the form of
constitutionalism, which also proved to be inspired and
manoeuvred by the Britishers. It is in this perspective
that the martyrdom of Fadl Allah Núri is assessed as a
sacrifice of great significance by the author. Before
that Jalal had analysed the vital role of Iran-Turkey
conflict as an instrument of strengthening the forces of
the West.

In the fourth chapter, "The First
Infections", among other things, Jalal evaluates the
nature and character of Western education. The first
point he makes out is that the entire Western education
is based upon and modelled according to Christianity. In
the East it aims at alienating the Eastern people from
their culture, religion, and social structure. It is an
irony of events that an educational system more advanced
than that of the medieval Christian system was put aside
as being obsolete and retrogressive in the name of modern
science and technology. This type of education alienated
the so-called elite from their people, soil, and their
traditions, without bestowing upon them the slightest
spark of expertise in modern science and technology. In
the Iranian context, Jalal makes note of the following

This estrangement came about because the two
generations that have cropped up here since the
Constitutional Era to become professors, writers,
ministers, lawyers, general directors, and so on, only
the doctors among them having any true specialized
competence ... they all went astray in opting for
"adoption of European civilization without Iranian
adaptation".... (p. 58)

Westernization is not an isolated phenomenon confined
to Iran.

All colonies of the West in the East had to meet this
challenge. For instance, the Indian subcontinent, which
remained under the British colonial rule virtually for
about two centuries, underwent a process of
Westernization, but it could affect a minority of civil
servants and upper ruling class only, and failed to
engulf the vast majority of the Muslim and non-Muslim
population. The Western education system was thrust upon
the subcontinent partly due to needs of the British
rulers for efficient functionaries for their
administration, and partly because a few far-sighted
leaders considered the old Muslim and Hindu systems of
education out-dated and felt that the Indians'
acquaintance with modern sciences was the only means of
rescuing them from total destruction. A section of
orthodox Muslim 'ulama' and staunch champions of Hindu
culture put up some resistance to the Western influence.
This resistance, though not lasting long, served as a
warning as well as a safety measure and effective
restraint in checking complete surrender of India to the
W est. Thus, the Indians were enabled to master modern
scientific knowledge and its tools without being totally
alienated from their own cultural traditions. Only a
negligible minority of timeservers took pride in
Anglicizing themselves, but the majority of the Muslims,
Hindus, and other communities, including even new
converts to Christianity, retained and preserved their
traditional style of life. As a consequence of firm
adherence to their native traditions, Indians learnt
modern sciences and proved themselves to be the equals,
in specialized fields, of the Westerners, but at the same
time they retained their "Indianness".
Contrarily, in Iran, after the early resistance against
Westernization by the clergy was repressed by force,
there was no check against Westernization. It is more
tragic that instead of trying to specialize in modern
sciences they remained content in imitating Western ways
of dressing, living and eating, and they forcibly
unveiled their women without initiating them into modern
spirit. Another factor that accelerated superficial
Westernization was affluence, which came in the wake of
the oil money. Jalal repeatedly uses the phrase "the
ugly head of oil" for referring to the negative
consequences of the oil. Though the lion's share of oil
revenue was usurped by the Western powers and companies,
yet the remnant of it was enough to ensure Iranians that
they could buy all they needed from the West. They became
accustomed to the use of the machine without having
technical know-how. Gradually they became more and more
easygoing and comfort-loving, and surrendered their
social, cultural, political, and economic freedom to the
despotism of the machine. When Jalal curses the machine
and holds it responsible for Iran's slavery to the
machine-producing West, his criticism issues from a
realization that the machine played the key role in
subjecting Iran to occidentosis. The imported machine and
technology required expertise, which was not available in
the country, and hiring of foreign experts meant
importing the necessary paraphernalia. which was
accompanied by all sorts of foreign cultural influence,
including that of the Orientalists, sociologists,
political analysts, functionaries of cultural exchange
programmes, etc. With all this, Iran's subjection to
occidentosis was complete. The same process took place in
the Arab countries also with some minor differences. But
probably the pre-Revolution Iran had become much more
Western in its life-style than any other Muslim or
Eastern country. All diseases produce corresponding
antibodies. Similarly the plague of occidentosis produced
from within writers like Jalal and a combating resistance
force in the form of the 'ulama', who untiringly fought
against all forms of Western supremacy. This concerted
struggle ultimately culminated in the movement led by
Imam Khumayni. Jalal witnessed its beginning and
anticipated correctly its far-reaching socio-political

The fifth chapter '"The War of
Contradictions", brings out the main contradictions
of the Iranian society caused by the machine
transformation. The logic of machine consumption
compelled premature urbanization, as a consequence of
which villages were deserted and agriculture destroyed.
This change forced Iranian consumers to be dependent on
foreign food grains and frozen or tinned food products.
The entire Iranian economy collapsed. The figures which
are supplied and analysed by Jalal concern the years
1331-1340 (1952-1961), which marked just the beginning of
Iran's dependence on the West, and particularly the
U.S.A. Desertion of the countryside and total collapse of
agriculture in the coming years turned Iran into a
country spoon-fed by the West. Oil reserves were drilled
and exported with an alarmingly fast rate. No long-term
planning was even conceived at any level. The White
Revolution did nothing except darkening the conceivable
future of the nation. Urbanization and occidentosis
everywhere and always go hand in hand:

First, the new urban resident attends initially to the
wants of his stomach and then to those of the region
beneath his stomach, and for the sake of the latter, to
his grooming. (p. 66)

In this period, as compared to the most advanced
cities of the world, Tehran had 2200 licensed men's
barbers and women's hairdressers and 2500 unlicensed
ones. Comparing this with London's 4300 barbers and
hairdressers, or Moscow's 3900, one can appreciate how
much the people of Tehran devoted themselves to
maintaining their appearance. Similarly the number of
cinema houses and other places of refuge from urban
anxiety, home and family, school, and sexual and other
deprivations increased stupendously. The bank accounts of
the Hollywood film-makers were incessantly fed from the
pockets of lower and middle class Third World citizens.
The amounts spent and earned in this business were
staggeringly high. Secondly, the problem of security grew
serious day by day. Thirdly, traditional industries and
handicrafts were ruined.

Fourthly, a whole course of time is needed to accustom
people to the use of the machine. In the West, the
people's consciousness and mode of living developed with
the evolution of the machine, whereas in Iran its
introduction on a large scale was so sudden that people
in general lost the sense of all proportion. A simple
villager came to the city and w as astounded to such a
degree that he fell an easy prey to all sorts of
temptations, which led him to a life of easy-money and

In this process corruption was logically accepted as a
way of life.

Fifthly, in a medieval social set-up that did not
provide women with respectable work and valued their
labour much cheaper than that of men, women were
superficially emancipated. Without being trained in any
trade of social significance, they had no other job but
to freshen and exhibit themselves as objects of sex.
Sixthly, ninety per cent of the people of Iran have
deep-rooted faith in the return of the Twelfth Imam (A),
"all awaiting him, each in his own way; because none
of the Iranian governments ever lived up to the least of
its promises; for oppression, injustice, repression, and
discrimination had been always pandemic." In such a
clime of waiting for a just government, propagation of
the idea of a national government with all its tools and
institutions of oppression, the SAVAK and the torture,
and an alien system of education could cause only a wider
breach between faith and practice. Such a system could
breed either cynics and rebels or timeservers and
hypocrites. Another contradiction to which Jalal attracts
attention is that in this age of shrinking international
boundaries with all the affluence that provides every
Iranian an opportunity for travel, Iranians remained
usually ignorant of their immediate neighbours and their
cultures :

But if the Afghan and I, united in our religion,
language, and racial stock, know nothing of each other or
if to travel to Iraq Or India is harder than to penetrate
the iron Curtain, it is because we are within the sphere
of influence of one corporation and the Afghan in that of

Jalal's conclusion is that the world is
compartmentalized according to the interests of our
masters who pull our strings from behind the scene and we
submit like puppets to them. In Jalal's view, the most
dangerous of all the contradictions arising from
occidentosis is our ignorance of our own situation in
that part of the world in which significant events are
taking place. The locus of threat has been transferred to
the Middle East.

The sixth chapter contains some positive suggestions
as to how we can break the spell of occidentosis. Jalal
says that the road Iran has so far followed is to remain
only a consumer of the machine, to submit utterly to this
twentieth-century juggernaut.

... First we need an economy consistent with the
manufacture of machines, that is, an independent economy.
Then we need an educational system, then a furnace to
melt the metal and impress it with the human will. Then
we need schools where these skills may be practically
imparted. Then we need factories to convert the metal
into machines and other industrial goods. And then we
need markets to make them available to the people in the
towns and villages.

To achieve control of the machine, one must build it.
Something built by another-even if it is a charm or a
sort of talisman against envy-certainly carries something
of the unknown, something of fearsome "unseen
worlds" beyond human access. It harbors a mystery.
The one who carries that talisman does not possess it but
in a sense is possessed by it in living under its aegis,
in taking refuge in it and living in constant dread of
giving it offense. (pp. 79-80)

According to Jalal, the main reason for Iran's
occidentosis is the mode of thinking which says:
"Now that we are an oil-producing country and the
European brings us everything from soap to nuts on a
silver platter, why should we go to the trouble of
building factories, heavy industry, with all the
attendant problems...." (p. 81) It is due to this
way of thinking that almost the entire oil income goes to
the West:

The Westerners extract, refine, transport, and compute
the cost of the oil themselves and figure our annual
share at, say, forty million pounds sterling, given us as
credits toward purchase of their manufactured goods and
deposited in their own banks in our accounts. We are
necessarily compelled to return these credits by buying
from them. Who are they? Forty percent is America and its
satellites, 40 percent England and its adherents, and the
rest, France, the Netherlands, and other Western European
nations. In return for the oil they take, we must import
machines, and in the wake of the machines, specialists in
the machines, dialectologists, ethnologists,
musicologists, and art historians. (pp. 83-85)

In this context Jalal refers to the under-the-counter
transactions, which sometimes involve estimable
Orientalists like Peter Avery, a fellow of the reputed
Cambridge. It came as a revelation to Jalal that people
are similarly small around the world. In 1962 Iran had
thirty thousand foreign experts, engineers and
specialists. This number multiplied in the coming years
under de facto American rule.

The seventh chapter entitled "Asses in Lions
Skins, or Lions on the Flag" is a vivid description
of occidentotics, and is relevant to all countries and
nations under the spell of Westernization.

The term Gharbzadegi was actually coined by Ahmad
Fardid, as Jalal himself acknowledged, but it would have
.lapsed into obscurity were it not for Jalal's book. This
chapter forms the core of the book. I quote liberally
from this chapter because of another reason also, that
is, the passages quoted are the best examples of Jalal's
powerful style, which is retained to a great extent by

Campbell, in his foreword, explains the difficulties
of translating Ali Ahmad's style which "has a
certain rough and uneven quality, marked by great
informality and a deliberate disregard for the syntax of
conventional literary expression." The translator
has made an attempt to convey not only the ideas of the
original text but also something of the tone in which
they were presented. The following account of the
Westoxicated Iranian is equally true of all Westernized
people of different Eastern nations who are infected by
the epidemic called rootlessness. They have been uprooted
from their native soil, alienated from their own culture,
society, people, past, heritage and are even estranged
from their present. They live in a vacuum, lead the life
of parasites and feed their lust with exported luxuries.
Ideas and fashionable trends in arts also form a part of
their mental luxury. Here follows Jalal Ali Ahmad's
portrayal of this class:

The occidentotic is a man totally without belief or
conviction, to such an extent that he not only believes
in nothing, but also does not actively disbelieve in
anything-you might call him a syncretist. He is a
timeserver. Once he gets across the bridge, he doesn't
care if it stands or falls. He has no faith, no
direction, no aim, no belief, neither in God nor in
humanity. He cares neither whether society is transformed
or not nor whether religion or irreligion prevails. He is
not even irreligious. He is indifferent. He even goes to
the mosque at times, just as he goes to the club or the
movies. But everywhere he is only a spectator. It is just
as if he had gone to see a soccer game.

He is always to be seen off in the grandstands. He
never invests anything of himself-even to the extent of
moist eyes at the death of a friend, attentiveness at a
shrine, or reflection in the hours of solitude. In fact
he is not accustomed to solitude at all; he flees it.
Because he is in terror of himself, he turns up
everywhere. He offers opinions, if it is appropriate, and
particularly if it is fashionable to offer opinions, but
only to someone from whom he hopes to gain some further
benefit. Never do you hear from him any outcry or
protest, any but or why or wherefore. He will explain
everything with the utmost gravity and grandiloquence. He
will feign optimism.

The occidentotic seeks ease. He lives in the moment,
although not in the sense the philosophers intend. If his
car is running and he looks debonair, nothing troubles
him. If in some distant age, concern for offspring,
bread, clothing, and provisions held Sa'di back from
spiritual wayfaring, the occidentotic, with his head
submerged in his own fodder, will do nothing for the sake
of anyone else. He doesn't go looking for any headaches
for himself, and he easily shrugs things off. Because he
has figured out just what his job is, because he doesn't
take an unconsidered step, because he sees every action
as the product of an equation, he doesn't stick his nose
into others' affairs, let alone feel concern for their

The occidentotic normally has no specialty. He is
jack-of-all-trades and master of none- But because he is
schooled, literate, and perhaps educated, he knows to use
polysyllables and to bluff his way into every company.

Perhaps once he had a specialty, but he has seen that
in this country one cannot, with a single specialty,
grasp the horn of plenty. Therefore he necessarily has
involved himself in other lines of work. He is just like
the old women in a household who in the course of
lifetimes of experience have learned a little about
everything, although their knowledge is limited by the
perspective of illiterate women. The occidentotic too
knows a little about everything, and his knowledge is
limited by the perspective of the occidentotic. He has
tabs on the topics of the day-what will be useful on
television, what will be useful on the educational
commission and at the seminar, what will be useful for
the mass circulation newspapers, what will be useful for
talks at the club.

The occidentotic has no character- He is a thing
without authenticity. His person, his home, and his words
convey nothing in particular, and everything in general.
It is not that he is cosmopolitan, that the world is his
home. He is at home nowhere rather than everywhere. He is
an amalgam of singleness without character and character
without singularity. Because he has no security, he
dissembles. In the very act of being so polite and
sociable, he mistrusts whom he is speaking to. And
because suspicion dominates our age, he must never open
his heart to anyone. The only palpable characteristic he
has is fear. In the West individuals' characters are
sacrificed to their field of specialization, but the
occidentotic has neither. He has only fear: fear of
tomorrow, fear of dismissal, fear of anonymity ...

The occidentotic is effete. He is effeminate. He
attends to his grooming a great deal. He spends much time
sprucing himself up. Sometimes he even plucks his
eyelashes. He attaches a great deal of importance to his
shoes and his wardrobe, and to the furnishings of his
home. It always seems he has been unwrapped from gold
foil or come from some European "maison." He
buys the latest prodigy in automotive engineering every
year. His house, which once had a porch and a cellar, a
pool, awnings, and a vestibule, now looks like something
different every day. One day it resembles a seaside villa
with picture windows all around, and full of fluorescent
lamps. Another day it resembles a cabaret, full of gaudy
junk and bar stools. The next day all the walls are
painted one color and triangles of all colors cover every
surface. In one comer there is a hi-fi, in another a
television, in another a piano for the young lady, in
others stereo loudspeakers. The kitchen and other nooks
and crannies are packed with gas stoves, electric
washers, and other odds and ends.

Thus the occidentotic is the most faithful consumer of
the West's industrial goods. If he should rise one
morning and find that the hairdresser, the tailor, the
shoeshiner, and the repairman have all closed up shop, he
would turn to the qibla in desperation (that is, he would
do so if he knew where the qibla was).

All his preoccupations and Western products are more
essential to him than

any school, mosque, hospital, or factory. It is for
his sake that we have an architecture with no roots in
our culture....

The occidentotic hangs on the words and handouts of
the West. He has nothing to do with what goes on in our
little world, in this comer of the East.

If perchance he is interested in politics, he is
cognizant of the faintest right or left tendencies in the
British Labour Party and is more familiar with the
current U.S. senators than with the ministers in his own
government. And he knows more about the staff of Time or
the News Chronicle than about some nephew way off in
Khurasan. And he supposes them more veracious than a
prophet because all these have more influence on the
affairs of his country than any domestic politician,
commentator, or representative. If he is interested in
letters, his only concem is knowing who won this year's
Nobel Prize or who was awarded the Goncourt or Pulitzer
Prizes. And if he is interested in research, he folds his
hands and closes his eyes to all the problems within the
country that could be studied. He seeks to learn only
what some orientalist has said and written about the
questions within his field. If he is one of the ordinary
people who read the weeklies and the pictorials, we have
seen what a sorry lot they are.

If there used to be a time when one could silence
opponents and end all arguments by citing one verse of
the Qur'an or one tradition transmitted in Arabic, now
one does so by relating one sentence by some European,
whatever the subject under discussion. (pp. 94-98).

As the five preceding chapters are a prelude to the
main theme of occidentosis elaborated in the seventh
chapter, the remaining four chapters, from the eighth to
the eleventh, form a sequel to it. "A Society in
Collapse" is again an account of the tyranny of the
machine, in the wake of which the armed forces emerge as
the final arbiters. Jalal has described various wings of
the armed forces in terms of their utility for the
oppressive regime and its subservience to its Western

The ninth chapter gives an account of the pitfalls of
the West-oriented educational system and its irrelevance
to Iranian society and people.

The educated class was a typical breed of
occidentotics; all its activities and products lacked any
sense of purpose and direction. Some passages from this
chapter can be quoted to serve as an index for the study
of the occidentotic elite of other similar countries:

With very few exceptions, the sole output of these
colleges over the last twenty or thirty years has
consisted of distinguished scholars, all of whom know the
language, know some biography, are scrupulous workers,
write marginalia in others' books, resolve tough problems
in language or history, determine which graves lack
tenants or which figures lack graves, explore the
mysteries of Sura an-Nahl, know who is citing or
plagiarizing from whom as much as a thousand years ago,
and write treatises on the poets of the tenth century of
the Hijra, whom one could count on the fingers of one's
two hands. Worst of all, most of them become teachers of
literature, educational directors, or civil judges. Bless
this last group, whose members have given some
underpinnings to the Justice Ministry and some meaning to
the idea of the independence of the judiciary and who
well distinguish truth from falsity, if conditions allow.
But what of the others? All in all, what benefit have we
realized from them, besides a deeper plunge into

All these professors and their carefully trained
pupils, with their ears stopped like Seven Sleepers',
have retreated so far into the cave of texts, textual
variants, and obscure expressions that even the roar of
the machine cannot awaken them. Rather, they have
plastered these texts to their ears to avoid hearing
these most loathsome of sounds. The encroachments of
foreign tongues day by day are undermining the importance
of the mother tongue and making a sound command of it
less necessary. Defections to scientific and technical
fields further thin the ranks of those pursuing these
fields. With things in such a state, the nation's centers
for letters, legal studies, and leaning, the Colleges of
Letters, Law, and the Religious and Philosophic Sciences
have retreated into the cocoons of old texts, content to
train pedants, just as the clergy have drawn into their
cocoons of fanaticism and paralysis in the face of the
West's onslaught. These days, just as the clergy
languishes in the toils of doubt between two and three
and explication of ritual purity and impurity, such
centers of Iranian, Eastern, and Islamic letters, law,
and learning languish in the toils of whether the
decorative be should be joined to the following word or
whether the silent should be written.

Those exiled from the world of universals will clutch
at minutiae. When the house has been carried off in the
flood or has collapsed in an earthquake, you go looking
for a door in the debris to bear the rotting corpse of a
loved one to the graveyard.

As we speak of educational questions and questions of
the university, we meet with another major question, that
of the army of returnees from Europe and America, each of
whom has returned at least a candidate for a position in
a ministry and who collectively form the bulwark of the
:nation's organizations. Each of these educated persons
is a boon-something like finding one shoe in the desert.
For look closely. See, after returning and finding a post
in an organization and getting entrenched there, what
each of these boons turns into. They haven't the
authority or the competence to do the job. They are
illiberal, apathetic, and for the most part lacking in
concern, mostly because they see themselves and their
opinions as amounting to nothing next to the Western
advisors and consultants who dominate the scene.

Contrary to the widespread view, the greater the army
of returnees from Europe, the less their power to act and
the greater the distress of the institutions that absorb
their impact- Because there has never been a plan for
where to send these youths and what specialty, what
trade, what technology they should study, they have gone
each to some part of the world to study or experience
something completely different from others' experiences,
on their own choice and initiative, to their own taste.
As they return, each having to join some group in one of
our country's organizations, it becomes obvious how
dissonant they are and how at a loss to carry out
anything. Consider the French-educated Iranian, or the
English; German; or American-educated one :

each tunes up and plays in a distinct style.

If I have hope for the future of intellectuals in
Iran, however, one reason is this very diversity of
methods by which our European-educated have studied, of
their fields of study and places of study. This is the
wellspring of the wealth of Iran's intellectual
environment. Look at the intellectual environment of
India, at how English its majority of Oxford-educated
intelligentsia have made it. Under present conditions in
this country, these youths generally resemble the lovely
tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths we import as bulbs from
Holland and grow in the Tehran greenhouses. When they
bloom, we put them in exorbitantly priced flowerpots and
give them to friends or acquaintances to set in a hot
room under the sun where they will survive a week at
most. These flowers at the top of society's basket also
wither in this society's climate. Or if they don't, they
generally fade to the color of the society.
Notwithstanding all the propaganda cranked out to lure
back students from abroad in Europe, I do not believe
that their return promises to be a service to the country
so long as no environment suited to their future work is
provided. Who is to provide this environment? In this
intense cold, those can prepare it who have been both
baked in the furnace and acclimated to the icehouse....

Although many young men return with European or
American wives, very few of the young women return with
European or American husbands. This constitutes an
additional problem. As we watch crumble the foundation of
the Iranian family, an intimate relationship of husband
and wife of the same stock, the responsibility of these
incongruous households is obvious. The saying, "the
pigeon of two towers" means these youths with their
families-the firsthand human products of occidentosis.
(pp. 117-119)

Under the heading "Mechanosis" the
distinguishing factors of a transitional period of
society are discussed, which are : advance of science;
transformation of technique, technology, and machine, and
some semblance to Western type of democracy. In all cases
these factors cause crises, which are in proportion to
the speed of transformation of a society. Iran sought to
make up for a two-hundred-year lag within two decades,
which naturally gave rise to social aberrations and
psychological disturbances. In the West, mechanization of
socioeconomic structure produced gangsters, brigands,
killers, adventurers, and deportees at the social level,
and militarism and fascism at the political level. Jalal
holds that the Iranian society has its own rogues, who
are sometimes exported to the West under imperial
patronage. He regards African and Asian countries raped
and transgressed, and put to pressures, humiliations, and
killings as the victims of the same abnormal phenomena.
In a democratic set-up, political parties also help
technocracy and bureaucracy to iron out individual
differences and to mould all individuals in one and the
same shape. This is again a byproduct of the machine
which demands total conformity to its dictates.

"Conformity in the work place", in Jalal's
words, "culminates in conformity in the party and
union, which in turn culminates in conformity in the
barracks-that is, before the war machine." The
yardstick of standardization is not only applied to
dress, form, and manners, but also to thought and inner
make-up. Out of this come the Blackshirts, the
Brownshirts and the Fascists of all sort. In such
deterministic and standardized society, psychosis and
neurosis, personality split and dissociation,
schizophrenia and melancholia become the order of the

Jalal has enumerated three specific forms of
melancholia common in Iranian society. the melancholia of
grandiosity, the melancholia of glorifying the nation's
remote past, and the melancholia of constant pursuit.

The last chapter, "The Hour Draws Nigh",
gives a brief account of some Western thinkers and
writers who predicted the end of the road taken by the
pursuers of the machine. First of all he refers to Albert
Camus and his masterwork The Plague, then to Eugene
Ionesco's Rhinoceros, Ingmar Bergman's film The Seventh
Seal, Sartre's Erostratus and other similar works and
characters. After translating The Plague one-third, a
realization came to him that "the plague"
symbolized mechanism, murder of beauty and poetry, spirit
and humanity.

And now I, not as an Easterner, but as one like the
first Muslims, who expected to see the Resurrection on
the Plain of Judgement in their lifetimes, see ... that
all these fictional endings raise the threat of the final
hour, when the machine demon (if we don't rein it in or
put its spirit in the bottle) will set the hydrogen bomb
at the end of the road for humanity. On that note, I will
rest my pen at the Quranic verse: "The hour draws
nigh and the moon is split in two." (The Quran,
54:1) (p.137)

In Iran the occidentosis-demon has been reined and put
in the bottle by the Islamic Revolution, and
"Mechanosis" has been controlled to some
extent. Watch out! The danger has not vanished, it still
lingers on in some of the darkest corners of the society.
The hour to relax has not arrived as yet.

At the end, it can be pointed out that some of the
translations of the titles of Jalal's books are not
accurate, which are modified in this review. It is feared
that such errors might have crept into the text of the
book also.


*Gharbzadegi, a literary event in modern Persian
literature, was published in 1962. The author Jalal Ali
Ahmad is one of the most eminent writers of Iran, whose
importance was not diminished by the Islamic Revolution
but was rather enhanced. The English translation of
Gharbzadegi by Campbell is reviewed by Dr. Wahid Akhtar,
an eminent Urdu writer and poet. Dr. Akhtar is a
professor of philosophy at Muslim University A


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