Iran’s Islamists were influenced by Western philosophers, notably Martin Heidegger, in forming an ideological foundation for the 1979 revolution and today’s political Islam, New York University Professor Ali Mirsepassi concludes in his new book, Political Islam, Iran, and the Enlightenment (Cambridge University Press, 2011).
Mirsepassi, a professor at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, maintains that observers of Iran have placed “an excessive emphasis” on the “purely religious quality of political Islam, and that this has led to a scholarly blindness concerning ‘non-Islamic ideas’ in the overall development of the Islamist ideology as a mobilizing and motivating force.”
“Muslim intellectuals in general—and Iranian intellectuals in particular—have come to know the West, modernity, and democracy largely through the radical counter-Enlightenment ideas of German philosophy, as well as of certain French intellectuals, in a genealogy that goes back to the counter-Enlightenment movement,” Mirsepassi observes.
He adds these include “such early ideologues as Joseph de Maistre—who defended the French ancien regime—to such latter-day and more boldly aggressive defenders of the aristocratic ‘order of rank’ as Friedrich Nietzsche, and finally Martin Heidegger, on the eve of fascist total war against the values of Enlightenment in World War II.”
Western influence on political developments elsewhere has had different effects. Mirsepassi, whose book Democracy in Modern Iran (NYU Press) posited that that Islam is not inherently hostile to democratic ideas or institutions, notes in his latest work that the ideas of John Dewey played a significant role in democratic social movements in India.
Growing up in Iran, Mirsepassi recognized the abuses of the Shah and, seeking to help bring democratic reform to his country, participated in the revolution in 1977 and 1978 as a graduate student. But after the Shah’s ouster, Mirsepassi and other advocates of democracy were forced out of the revolutionary movement by Iran’s religious fundamentalists.
Mirsepassi left Iran in 1979 for the United States, where he obtained his masters degree and doctorate at American University. Since his arrival in America, Mirsepassi has been involved in democratic and human rights movements in his native country and devoted much of his scholarship to the analysis of democracy. He was last in the country in winter and summer of 2008. At that time, he interviewed several reformist politicians, activists, and intellectuals and also gave several lectures at the Tehran University and at other cultural institutions. With his research and work within the country’s reform movement, Mirsepassi is now considered one of the country’s most significant intellectuals whose work on democracy has influenced its educated class.
For review copies, contact Nicole Villeneuve, Cambridge University Press, at 212.337.6567 or firstname.lastname@example.org.