Iranian Intellectuals and the West: The Tormented Triumph of Nativism

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Iranian Intellectuals and the West: The Tormented Triumph of Nativism

By Mehrzad Boroujerdi
Syracuse University Press, 1996
256 pp. $45.00

For the past 40 years, at least, Iranian intellectuals have been struggling with the relationship between Western ideas and those of their own culture. Most have avoided the extremes of either full identification with the West or full retreat to "traditional" values. Instead, the majority found in the West ideas of struggle, resistance, self-assertion, and patriotism that they wedded to pride in their own culture to create a kind of "nativism." This was a congenial intellectual outlook for those who rejected the imperial pretensions of the West, and it was able to accommodate both populism and Islamism. The ideological matrix of the Iranian revolution owes much to the convergence of these latter two trends. The author does a fine job of highlighting the nuances of the debate among Iranian intellectuals and concludes that they fell victim to a kind of "Occidentalism" that reduced the West to a hostile "essence," much as "Orientalism" did to the East. He concludes with the hope that the nativist phase of intellectual development can be transcended as Iranians reassess their relationship to the rest of the world.

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