The End of Islamic Ideology - Iran
AT the writing of this essay, Iranians were poised to cast their fateful vote in the sixth round of parliamentary elections after the success of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. The election of the Sixth Majles was a momentous occasion for a nation much maligned in its modern history by a debilitating combination of domestic tyranny and imperial hubris. This parliamentary election marked yet another turning point in the political maturity of a people who have inherited all the malignant ailments of a semicolonized state and none of the institutional experiences of a fully colonized country. Iran was neither fully colonized like India so that in its post-independence history could transform its anti-colonial struggles into institutional basis of a democracy, nor was it totally immune to the Russian, French, British, and ultimately American imperialism so that it could mature politically in its own domestic terms. By the commencement of the colonially mitigated project of Modernity in early Nineteenth century, no political community could any longer mature in its own domestic terms. Instead, incorporation into an increasingly global mode of production became the defining moment of every major and minor component of the planetary momentum. In Iran, successive generations of corrupt politicians facilitated the colonial plundering of the nation, while aborting any pregnant possibility of domestic political maturity. The success of the Islamic Revolution in 1979 put an effective end to half a century of tyrannical Pahlavi monarchy and its active complacency in integrating Iran into a servile state in the global configuration of capital. But two decades into its success the Islamic Republic too has catastrophically failed to rescue the nation from the full and tightening grip of the global reign of free market economy, which demands very little more from Iran than providing its faltering logic of production with oil and buying nothing more than consumer products. The general contour of Iran's economic predicament at the threshold of the Twenty- first century is thus exactly as it was at the turn of the Twentieth century: A minuscule link in the global chain of economic production. The collapse of the Qajars, the rise and demise of the Pahlavis, and the successful institutionalization of an Islamic Republic have not in the slightest measures changed the predicament of Iran from a single-product economy principally contingent on the erratic logic of global capitalism. The catastrophic consequences of this predicament have been the effective formation of a capital-intensive (rather than labor-intensive) economy with very little grass-root pressure to demand and exact (rather than theorize and expect) democratic reforms. Democratic reforms, as a result, have always been promised ideologically rather than predicated on social-structural class formations. Social revolutions, military coup d'etfit, foreign interventions, and now for the first time parliamentary elections have been the sites and sights of the most intensive ideological contestations of material forces in Iran.
On Friday the 18th of February, 2000, the Iranian electorate, the young men and women in particular, were called on to rescue the beleaguered presidency of Mohammad Khatami, whose landslide victory in May 1997 caught the entrenched vested interest of the religious right by surprise. This parliamentary election reveals beyond any shadow of a doubt the cataclysmic moment when the long and arduous history of Islamic Ideology has finally come to an end. The running wisdom in Iran and abroad has been that this election has a potential to have the Islamic parliament occupied by "Reformists," ousting the "Conservatives," and thus giving President Khatami yet another popular mandate to draw his nation out of its moral and material nightmares. This assessment, however, is only the tip of an iceberg far more colossal in its historical implications. The hasty collapse of the Iranian political tension between the two opposing camps of the Reformists and the Conservatives is as much insightful as blinding to the realities of a nation in the tightening grips of a debilitating moral and material crisis. The dominant and domineering political discourse between the Reformists (as the Liberal Left) and the Conservatives (as the Religious Right) has now assumed an almost entirely ideological disposition and the legitimate demands of Iranians for freedom of expression have successfully obscured the underlying economic forces that define and delimit the rhetorical excesses of both these ideological claims. Confined and limited by the material forces beyond the measures of their control, the Liberal Left and the Religious Right, the Reformists and the Conservatives, are nevertheless engaged in a fateful and momentous battle for the moral and material mandate of a nation.
On the side of the Reformists is an army of hopes invested in President Mohammad Khatami and his delightfully smiling face, compensating for two decades of sober and sad faces, angry and stubborn looks, stark and austere demeanors. Some 80% of the Iranian electorate, more than 38 million people, 60% of whom are under the age of 25, are initially reported to have gone to voting polls with the frightful memories of two decades of a theocratic terror in their mind. They are thirsty and hungry, impatient and restless for change. Names such as Abdolkarim Soroush, Mohsen Kadivar, Abdollah Nouri, Akbar Ganji, and Mashallah Shamsolvaezin are emerging as the leading iconic invocations of a new dawning of freedom and hope. None of these names meant anything to anyone at the dawn of the Islamic Revolution twenty years ago. All of these names have emerged from the very depth of the Islamic Revolution itself. They are its dialectical negations. Having read and analyzed, admired and criticized, these post-revolutionary visionaries of a better future, young men and women in unprecedented numbers and with precocious political alertness flooded into streets and made their presence, their demands, and their inalienable rights, palpable, undeniable, factual. Chafing under two decades of a medieval theocracy, the young people in particular have no enduring memory of the Islamic Revolution and by all accounts could not care less about that piece of historical amnesia. They are the harbingers of a new dawn in Iranian history, vanguard of a whole new visionary recital of the possible, heralding the beginning of a fresh defiance. They have successfully learnt to forget, if not forgive, their parental paralysis.
But all is not well in the state of Islam. The defining moment of its very constitution is the medieval principle of the Supreme Rule of a Single Jurist (velayat-e motlaqah-ye faqih). He is the Letter of the Law personified, the vertiginous claim of his tyrannical claim to power having deafened and blinded a whole nation. Under that Sacred Canopy of terror, the most powerful institution safeguarding a curious combination of vested economic interest and medieval theocratic convictions, the twelve-member (male only) Guardian Council was constitutionally poised to disqualify some 600 candidates, among them some 200 committed Reformists, who must in one way or another have posed constitutional threats to the very legitimacy of the state, or at the very least politically modulated a reformist groundswell. The defiant voice of Abdollah Nouri, a convinced, convincing, and convicted Reformist, had to be treacherously silenced and jailed so that the most retrograde force of entrenched economic interest of the ruling elite, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, could once again hope to emerge as the power-broker of the religious right. The bogus charge of "weak commitment to Islam," leveled against these candidates by the Guardian Council, is the clearest ideological code of their potential threat. The resistance to the possibility of a political backlash against more than two decades of political tyranny covering up an equally long period of disastrous economic mismanagement of the national resources has been quite adamant. Mohammad Reza Bahonar, Spokesman for the "Coalition of Followers of the Line of Imam and the Leader" had expressed his confidence that his faction will win more than 50% of the 290 seats of the parliament in February 2000 election. His sadly mistaken assurance was predicated on the fact that the supervisory Guardian Council, an un-elected and un-democratic panel of senior clerics and jurists, had carefully screened the candidates for their ideological complacency with the Islamic Republic and its theocratic predicates. The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei had as usual squarely sided with the most retrograde forces in the election battle and accused the Reformist camp of representing "the enemy." Real and fictitious enemies of the Islamic Republic are ritually invoked in Khamenei's speeches in order to create an atmosphere of immanent danger, over which republic of fear he can supremely preside, occupying, as he does, the most insulting office to the most common conceptions of democratic principles, that of the Supreme Jurist (velayat-e faqih). The parliamentary election of February 2000 was thus the fateful site of yet another momentous encounter in ideological battle for the moral soul of a nation, to control the material body of its evidence.
Khamenei failed, however, in giving a new lease on life to such tired and old cliches. The former Speaker of the Parliament for nine years and President for eight, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is currently the powerful chairman of the equally un-democratic Expediency Council, returned to the campaign trail to run for a seat from Tehran and continue to represent the most powerful vested interest of the theocracy. His entering the race on 15 December, 1999 was a last-minute scramble to foster the dwindling position of the political and economic beneficiaries of the ruling theocracy and try to rein in the totally out-of-control revolt of the youthful population. He was squarely defeated, and only after some massaging of the ballots was he able to be the thirtieth of the thirty members of parliament elected from Tehran. The fact that Rafsanjani had once again emerged as a key power-broker, putting all his political and parliamentary prowess at the disposal of the reigning theocracy, shows the desperation of the Religious Right. The "Rafsanjani factor"--banking on his reputation as a wily pragmatist--was the key communicative factor trying to check and balance the potentially overwhelming victory of the Liberal Left. Rafsanjani's revolutionary credentials go back all the way to the early years of the revolution, when Ayatollah Khomeini appointed him as a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Council. He was among the founding members of the ruling Islamic Republic Party. He was in the Assembly of Experts that drafted the Constitution of the Islamic Republic, while the smoke-screen of the American Hostage Crisis diverted everyone's attention. Elected to the Parliament in 1980, he became its Speaker and held on to that prominent position until Khomeini's death in 1989. Khomeini's death created a vacuum in the position of the Supreme Leader, which was instantly filled by the far less juridically qualified but far more politically correct President Ali Khamenei, who in turn bestowed his vacated post to Rafsanjani. The political faction that Rafsanjani now represents call themselves Kargozaran-e Sazandegi, or "The Executives of Reconstruction." Rafsanjani himself has been bestowed with the superlative title of Sardar-e Sazandegi by this group, "The Generalissimo of Reconstruction." The Persian penchant for the superlative is positively diabolic.
"The Rafsanjani factor" failed to factor much. The constitutional crisis of the Religious Right, the fact that the overwhelming majority of the legislators were thrown out of the Majles by one of the most glorious democratic events in modern history, the fact that an entirely new generation of parliamentary democracy is now poised to recast the entire course of Iranian history, all point to the dawn of a whole new day in the fateful encounter between Islam and Modernity.(1)
The Defining Moment
If the Presidential election of the Second of Khordad (1376/Friday, 23 May 1997) that brought Mohammad Khatami to power was not strong enough an indication, if the student uprising in the month of Tir (1378/July 1999) was not cataclysmic enough an outburst, then the Twenty-ninth of Bahman (1378/Friday, 18 February 2000) when the Iranian parliament was swept clean of all but a memory of the Religious Right, is the incontrovertible evidence that we are witnessing the end of an era, the end of Islamic Ideology as a specific product of the fateful encounter between the ancestral faith of a people and the colonially mitigated project of Modernity.
Today what the factional bifurcation between the Liberal Left Reformists and the Religious Right Conservatives partially reveals and thus successfully conceals is a larger political fragmentation and the gradual dissipation of the whole ideological foregrounding of the Islamic Revolution, some two centuries after its historical formation. Deeply rooted in the anti-colonial movements in the early parts of the Nineteenth century, the Islamic Ideology gradually emerged as the dialectical outcome of a dialogical conversation between the ancestral faith of Iranians and the colonially mitigated project of a Modernity over the material and moral articulation of which they had little or no control. The seeds of the active desedimentation of the Islamic Ideology were already evident in the critical moments of its formation. Islamic Ideology emerged and was gradually articulated in successive moments of critical crisis in modern Iranian history. What has happened in Iran of the last two hundred years, and to Shi'ism in particular, however, is not exclusive to either. It is symptomatic of far more universal events in the Islamic world at large and Islam in general. The collective mutation of Islam into an Islamic Ideology is a much more global development, documentable all the way back to the earliest encounters between the Islamic world and the colonially mitigated project of Modernity. The active production of the Islamic Ideology as a site of ideological resistance to colonialism has been a more universal event producing a religiously nativist response to colonialism. The rhetorical confrontation between "Islam and the West" is the most immediate symptom of this encounter.(2) The making of an Islamic Ideology out of Shi'ism, a project that begins in the earliest parts of the Nineteenth century with such figures as Mulla Ahmad Naraqi (d. 1829) and concludes with Ali Shariati in the latter part of the Twentieth (d. 1977), is the most vociferous version of a much more universal event.(3)
What we see in Shi'ism and the production of an Islamic Ideology from its creative encounter with colonialism is the microcosmic version of a far more universal mutation. In this respect, Shi'ism is not just a branch of Islam. It is Islam's disruptive dream of itself, remembering its own revolutionary bursting into history. All Muslims are, as it were, in the Shi'i state of their faith when they revolt against injustice. Shi'ism is the collective remembrance of a promise not delivered; a conscience collective that keeps remembering and disremembering itself. The active mutation of Shi'ism into an Islamic Ideology is thus a symptomatic mutation at the bone marrow of a metaphysical conviction charged to complement history. Shi'is believe that a grave injustice was perpetrated when their first charismatic leader, Ali, did not succeed the Prophet as the legitimate leader of all Muslims. They cast this inaugural injustice as a long shadow over history. They have institutionalized the charismatic authenticity of their leaders claim to authority from Ali forward and call it Imamah. This institution receives its most revolutionary moment in the year 680 when a band of Shi'is followed yet another of their leaders, al-Husayn (d. 680), to a revolutionary uprising against yet another usurper tyrant. From then on insurrectionary uprising has been second nature to the Shi'is, martyrdom (or Shahadah) the very cornerstone of their faith. The Shi'is believe that their charismatic leaders are infallible (or ma'sum) and thus outside the cross-current of materiality and history. By far the most revolutionary aspect of Shi'ism, however, is their doctrinal belief in ghaybah, or occultation, or simply the belief that the last of their charismatic leaders is well and alive but out of sight. He is present but absent, evident but invisible. The doctrine of ghaybah is constitutional to Shi'ism's sense of insurrectionary expectation. They are always waiting for him to arrive, and that expectation gives their attendance upon history a critically anticipatory disposition.(4)
In its combative mode, Shi'ism is a tempestuous template of revolutionary uprising. The gradual re-articulation of Shi'ism into an Islamic Ideology was predicated on the fertile ground of this faith as the most militant version of Islam. Shi'ism is Islam in its most combative claim upon the world. Shi'ism began with a negation, a denial, a usurpation. As a result, Shi'ism is ipso facto a religion of protest, a faith avenging itself upon the world for having done it wrong. Shi'ism is an incomplete religion, always waiting for its own final delivery, always anticipating its own fulfillment, and the world is the very site of this shortcoming, militantly translated throughout history into an agenda of insurrectionary action. Shi'ism is in a perpetual state of expectation, awaiting its own delivery, hoping for its own promise, anticipating to deliver itself. The active mutation of Islam in general into an Islamic Ideology is thus most immediately and iconically represented in the ideological mutation of Shi'ism, its most charismatic moment in history, a moment institutionalized into a faith.(5)
By virtue of its doctrinal disposition, Shi'ism throughout its history has fed the revolutionary aspirations of the most radical social movements. From the insurrectionary disposition of the followers of Ali (d. 661), in which Shi'ism found its very name ("The Party of, Shi'a, Ali") to the paradigmatic battle of Karbala (680), to the revolt of Zayd ibn Ali (d. 740), early Islamic history is inundated with revolutionary movements under the raised flag of Shi'ism. What is paramount in these movements is their inaugurating, originary, power over the rest of the Islamic history. Shi'ism is condemned to remember its birth point for ever. Not an historical moment has lapsed in which Shi'ism has not transmitted itself into one form of massive social movement or another. In the Isma'ili branch of Shi'ism, from the latter part of the Eighth century forward, we witness one of the most radical social movements in medieval Islamic societies, ranging from North Africa to Central Asia.(6) Ruled by a pantheon of everlasting martyrs, Shi'ism has been a red flag raised high upon the entirety of the Islamic history. Martyrdom, as a result, is constitutional to the agitated memory that is Shi'ism. Whether patently identified with Shi'ism or not, insurrectionary movements that have led the cause of the oppressed against entrenched power have had a share in the inaugurating moment of Shi'ism in history. What gives Shi'ism its constitutionally revolutionary disposition is its doctrinal refusal to let go of the charismatic moment of Mohammed's mission. They have sought to perpetuate that charismatic moment by transferring it from the Prophet to their Imams and then from the Imams into the doctrinal institution of Imamah, and from there personified in the present absence of the Last Imam. The result is a generation and sustaining of a perpetually charismatic moment pulsating the routinized course of any Islamic history.
Shi'ism as Paradox
But all is not emancipatory revolt in Shi'ism. Precisely the same insurrectionary disposition that inaugurates Shi'ism into history constitutes its Achilles Heel. Shi'ism is predicated on a paradox: It fails upon success, just like the Sisyphus. Shi'ism is a religion of protest. It can never succeed. As soon as it succeeds politically, it negates itself metaphysically. Its material success is its moral failure. The success of the Islamic Revolution in Iran over the last two decades is the most recent example marking its political predicament that when it has succeeded politically it has, ipso facto, reversed its own legitimacy. Shi'ism cannot be turned into an official ideology of repression without immediately negating its own very reason for being. The key operative concept constitutional to Shi'ism is that of mazlumiyyat, "having been wronged," or "having been tyrannized." The paradigmatic expression of this key operative concept is the Third Shi'i martyred Imam, alHusayn, whose very honorific appellation is Husayn-e Mazlum ("Husayn the Tyrannized"). So far as Shi'ism is on the side of the oppressed it is in its full revolutionary blossoming. The instant that it becomes fully institutionalized into an apparatus of power it ipso facto mutates into a most brutal theocratic tyranny. All its revolutionary zeal now comes back to haunt and turn it into a monstrous negation of itself. This is the defining moment of Shi'ism because it has never surpassed its Karbala Paradox. Not now, not ever. The defeat of the Third Shi'i Imam in the Battle of Karbala in 680 is constitutional to its moral and material culture. If Imam Husayn had succeeded in Karbala, Shi'ism would have had an entirely different disposition vis-a-vis political power. The defeat of Imam Husayn in the Battle of Karbala has made Shi'ism both a religion of protest and a moral manifesto against all successful constitutions of power. Shi'ism covets what it cannot attain, and thus it is a religion of protest. Shi'ism cannot attain what it covets, and thus it is a moral manifesto against all political power. Between those two normative opposites, Shi'ism dwells as a paradox.
The result of this paradox has been the historical formation of Shi'i dynasties that in their very institutional claim to power have lost all their charismatic claim to authority. The Islamic Republic in Iran is not the first instance when the mutation of Shi'ism from revolutionary protest to dominant state ideology has robbed it of its own critical claim to legitimacy. As early as the early part of the Tenth Century, the Hamdanid dynasty of Mosul (904-991) and Aleppo (944991) had claim to a Shi'i state religion. So did the Buyids in Iran and Iraq (923-1055). The Fatimid dynasty of Egypt (909-1171) extended the Isma'ili branch of Shi'ism and institutionalized its power over much of North Africa. If these Shi'i dynasties did not have their own internal sectarian and political differences they would have completely taken over the entire medieval Islamic world from the Sunnite majority. Places as far West as Iraq and Syria, as far North as Azarbaijan and Mazandaran, as far East as Deccan, Lucknow, and Kashmir in India, and as far South as Bahrain and other Persian Gulf regions came under the full political power of one Shi'i dynasty or another throughout the medieval world. But no dynasty ever reached the paramount power of the Safavid Empire that ruled over a major segment of the Islamic world from the dusk of the medieval world in 1501 to the dawn of Modernity in 1722. These successive and simultaneous dynasties drained every ounce of revolutionary energy from the creative memory of Shi'ism. In the repressive measures of these imperial powers, Shi'ism became an effective state ideology and all but lost its defining doctrinal moments. In becoming the state religion of reigning tyrannies, Shi'ism does not as much forget as dis-remember itself. In these dynastic formations, Shi'ism became an historical antithesis of itself, a contradiction in terms, an oxymoronic self-negation, a paradox. If and when it succeeds politically it fails, ipso facto, metaphysically. Its material victory is its moral defeat.
It was in an attempt to reach towards this paradox that Ali Shariati, by far the most brilliant ideologue of Islamic Ideology in recent memory, while getting Shi'ism ready for yet another revolutionary posturing, distinguished between two kinds of Shi'ism: The Safavid Shi'ism and the Alavid Shi'ism.(7) What he meant by Safavid Shi'ism was the historical metamorphosis of an aggressive mode of revolutionary resistance into an ideology of repression. And conversely, what he meant by Alavid Shi'ism was the archetypal endurance of revolutionary resistance to tyranny, a global insurrection without frontiers in time or space. Quite intuitively, Shariati identified the successful institutionalization of Shi'ism into a dynastic rule with its moral failure, and its revolutionary posturing as a religion of protest with its political failure. But what Shariati tried, unsuccessfully, to break into the Safavid and Alavid Shi'isms, in oppositional plural, is in fact the intertwined paradox that is Shi'ism itself. There is no breaking up Shi'ism into its constituent oppositional ends without breaking it up altogether, denying it its transformative energy, alternating mechanics. Because Shi'ism was born metaphysically by being denied politically, it always covets the political in order to reclaim itself metaphysically. Shi'ism has had to turn into its own worst enemy in order to justify its own historicity, its own place in the world. If the Sunni majority, the world at large, were the only Other that Shi'ism had to battle to prove and implicate itself, it would have long since been rendered obsolete, redundant, outdated. Shi'ism had to bifurcate itself into a site of insurrectionary revolt and then into its own negation in order to see itself in the speculum of its own defeat, so that it could always-already rise again and remember itself triumphantly. Shi'ism does not forget but dis-remembers itself. And that is the paradox of its history.
This active self-remembrance always bracing itself for a disremembrance punctuates the interface of Shi'ism as a conscience collective and its proclivity to charismatic outbursts. If we put together the classical Durkheimian insight of religion as "a system of actions aimed at making and perpetually remaking the soul of the collectivity and of the individual,"(8) with the equally poignant Weberian insight that "it is recognition on the part of those subject to authority which is decisive for the validity of charisma,"(9) we begin to have a clearer angle on Shi'ism in its historical paradox. As a paradox, Shi'ism rests on its inaugural moment of being born as a refusal to let go of the charismatic moment of Muhammed's prophetic mission.(10) Islam itself was born as a religion of protest, a militant defiance of the self-paralyzed patrimonialism of the Arabian peninsula, a moral mandate against the fragmented Arab tribalism. The death of the prophet for the majority of Muslims meant the systematic routinization of his charismatic authority in a multifocal set of institutions. But for the Shi'i minority the inaugural charismatic moment was to continue in first the figure and then the paradoxical institution of the Imam and the Imamate.(11) The disenfranchised community that was inevitably generated around the opulent center of the early Islamic empires became the fertile ground of Shi'i and proto-Shi'i sentiments and movements. Something of the early charismatic conscience of the early Islam, an agitated memory of its inaugural moment, remained in Shi'ism. As a conscience collective, Shi'ism thus remained persistent on the insurrectionary birth beat of Islam, its defining moment. Throughout its history, Shi'ism has dissipated its conscience collective in moments of historical atrophy and then re-collected that insurrectionary memory in the figure of a charismatic persona, always on the prototype of the Prophet and the historical modulations of the infallible Imams.
Bringing Durkheim and Weber together and having them simultaneously observe Shi'ism will rescue Durkheim from the elaborate and superfluous arguments of trying to place the conscience collective on an epiphenomenal level which is post-material and pre-phenomenological,(12) Weber from the tiresome reformulation of the nature of charisma which ultimately collapses his sociology of charismatic authority to a pathology of power rather than elevating it to a hermeneutics of its historical manifestations,(13) and Shi'ism from its own blind-spot of not seeing itself as a self-propelling, self-paralyzing paradox. Thus located, we can see that Shi'ism is paradoxical at the moment of its inception because it wants to capture a fleeting charismatic moment, and that it is paradoxical at all moments of its potential destinations because its political success is ipso facto the metaphysical negation of its validity. Having been born as an insurrectionary defeat, Shi'ism cannot politically succeed without negating its own charismatic occasion. Shi'ism cannot be in a position of political power because the state that it thus forms will have to have a claim on a monopoly of violence,(14) and it cannot claim that monopoly without turning every mode of opposition to it as the de facto versions of Shi'ism. The reigning Shi'i state, a contradiction in terms, makes of all its mortal enemies a more legitimate contender to Shi'ism than itself. That is why the student uprising against the tyrannical aspects of the Islamic Republic (institutionalized in the position of the Supreme Leader as well as the Guardian and the Expediency Councils) have a far more effective claim on Shi'ism than the reigning theocracy.
This predicament is not exclusive to the Islamic Republic and its failure to institutionalize an un-institutionalizable claim to charismatic authority. The whole gamut of Shi'i scholastic learning (the ulama) and the whole history of Shi'i dynastic rule (from the Fatimids in Egypt to the Safavids in Iran) have scarcely escaped or diverted this constitutional logic of Shi'ism as a paradoxical religion of protest. Quite to the contrary. The most glorious achievement of medieval scholastic learning, Mulla Sadra Shirazi (d. 1641), who brought the entire spectrum of Shi'i learning to its epistemic finale during the reign of the Safavids, could not but translate in his Transcendental Theosophy the political ambitions of a Shi'i empire.(15) In his Transcendental Theosophy (Hihmat al-Muta'aliyyah), Mulla Sadra tried to do what the Safavids had done in the realm of political order. The Safavid constitution of a Shi'i empire is reflected in Mulla Sadra's imperial attempt at a metaphysical metanarrative that would embrace all the diversity of Islamic scholastic learning. From the nomocentricism of the Islamic law to the logocentricism of the Islamic philosophy, to the homocentricism of the Islamic mysticism--all are brought together in Mulla Sadra's Transcendental Theosophy in a massive centripetal move to unite and unify all the opposing forces of a centrifugal discursive tapestry. All the repressed forces of greatness that come back to haunt the Safavid nightmarish dream of a Shi'i dynasty find their metaphysical counterparts in Mulla Sadra's equally imperial attempt at giving One Final Shi'i shape to the thunderous oppositional forces that animate the medieval scholastic learning. Mulla Sadra's Transcendental Theosophy is thus in metaphysics what the Safavid dynasty is in politics: The return of the Shi'i repressed to haunt its own dream of Otherness.
Because it has been the historical Other of Islam itself (as Sunnism), Shi'ism can scarcely conceal its dream of being the Same. But being the Same, whether represented in the dynastic apparatus of the Safavids or the scholastic apparatus of Mulla Sadra's Transcendental Theosophy, ipso facto disqualifies Shi'ism from Shi'ism. Shi'ism has to always remain the Other and yet dream of the Same. When it becomes the Same it atrophies into its own nightmare. This is exactly the opposite of what Levinas detected as the primacy of the Same in what he would call "the Western Metaphysics," and identify with Socrates: "This primacy of the same was Socrates' teaching: to receive nothing of the Other but what is in me, as though from all eternity I was in possession of what comes to me from the outside--to receive nothing, or to be free."(16) Whereas Levinas' counter-metaphysics is to re-constitute the primacy of the Other, as the site of morality (for him located in the naked face of the Other), against a history of the primacy of the Same, he never paid any attention to what would happen to a metaphysics that narrates itself as the Other of a reigning the Same. The paradoxical history of Shi'ism is a good lesson in the equally pathological primacy of the Other dreaming of being the Same. Shi'ism is the Other. Shi'ism is Alterity. By virtue of its own historical roots, it has always been the Islamic Other, dreaming of itself as the Same. The mere assumption or even illusion of power gives Shi'ism a sense of political Identity and ipso facto it loses its sense of historical Alterity. Shi'ism can never be the Same. It has believed in its own Otherness. Before the first slogan or bullet is shot against a Shi'i government, it has lost its own legitimacy by being a "government," and thus having an exclusive claim on legitimate violence. The Shi'i claim on any "Islamic Republic" is always tangential, paradoxical, an antithesis running before its own thesis, never near a synthesis. The Shi'is are the Jews of Islam, the Other that proves the Same. The opposition between Shi'i Fundamentalism and Jewish Zionism is not the opposition between two oppositional identities, but the opposition between two identical Others, identical in their Alterity.
Two Cataclysmic Events
A succession of political events over the course of the 19th century, in the form of a conversation between Shi'ism and the onslaught of colonialism,(17) ultimately culminated in two cataclysmic courses of insurrectionary movements that marked and for ever changed the history of Shi'ism. One is domestic to Iranian Shi'ism and marks the last pre-modern revolution that tested the doctrinal boundaries of the faith, while the other confronted Shi'ism full-fledged with the colonially mitigated project of Modernity. The first, the Babi movement of 1844-1850, carried Shi'ism to one of its most radical doctrinal conclusions, while the second, the Constitutional Revolution of 1906-1911, cauterized the predicament of Modernity on its forehead. What the active participation of the Shi'i clerics in the Qajar frontier wars with the Russians in the first three decades of the Nineteenth century reveals, as does public uprising against the Reuter and Tobacco concessions in the last three decades of the century, is the resurgence of the Shi'i conscience collective as a religion of protest. No particular class, least of all the Shi'i clerical elite, was in total control of this insurrectionary conscience collective. It had a reality sui generis and it invested and divested power and authority on revolutionary figures and momentums that remained loyal to its hopes and aspirations. What the Babi Movement of the middle of the century and the Constitutional Revolution of the end/beginning of the century ultimately reveal is how as soon as the insurrectionary spirit of Shi'ism degenerates in one case it resuscitates itself in another. As soon as the Babi movement of the middle of the century degenerates into the Baha'i religion, the Constitutional Revolution of the end of the century becomes the repository of all the hopes and aspirations that were brutally murdered with the execution of Bab in 1850. The collective spirit of protest that is in Shi'ism in its most insurrectionary moments divests its aspirations from the lofty but irrelevant megalomaniac claims of Baha'ullah and invests them in local and anonymous figures far closer to their miseries and hopes. The Constitutional Revolution thus rises like a sphinx from the ashes of the Babi Movement.(18)
In its domestic, feudal, and pre-modern features, the Babi Movement marks yet another case of Shi'ism giving revolutionary momentum to an insurrectionary uprising and then degenerating, at the point of its success, into, in this case, a pathological universalism. The Babi movement was the last, universalized, revolutionary disposition of Shi'ism in its medieval terms before in Baha'ism it turned into a jaundiced reactionary religion. As the last insurrectionary event predicated entirely on doctrinal developments internal and integral to Shi'ism in its scholastic predicates, Babism tested the inherited Iranian political culture at its outer limits. As such, Babism gave political momentum to yet another revolutionary potential before it was doctrinally transmuted by the onslaught of Modernity.
As a political movement that shook the Qajar dynasty to its foundations, Babism began ideologically in Shaykhism, by far the most revolutionary doctrinal event in Iran of the Nineteenth century. The founder of the Shaykhi movement in Shi'i scholastic doctrines was Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa'i (1753-1826), a prominent jurist and philosopher of the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth century. The origin of Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa'i's thoughts can be traced back to the rise of the School of Isfahan in the Sixteenth century, particularly in the ideas of such prominent philosophers as Mulla Sadra Shirazi (d. 1641), Mir Damad (d. 1631), Mir Fendereski (d. 1640) and Mulla Rajab Ali Tabrizi (d. 1669). These philosophers gave an unprecedented universalizing momentum to Shi'i scholastic thought and sought for the first time in Islamic intellectual history to produce a unified field theory, as it were, of Islamic metaphysics. Mulla Sadra Shirazi, the most towering figure of the School of Isfahan, set upon himself the monumental task of bringing together centuries of conflicting Islamic scholastic thought in juridical (nomocentric), philosophical (logocentric), and mystical (homocentric) terms and give it a sustained metaphysical field theory which he called Hekmate Mota'aliyyeh ("Transcendental Theosophy").(19) There was a remarkable correspondence between the transcendental claims of Mulla Sadra's metaphysics and the universal claims of the Safavid state on a Shi'i empire. In his theory of Transubstantial Motion (Harakat-e Jawhari), Mulla Sadra sought to generate a metanarrative to embrace divergent forces of the metaphysical foundations of Islamic scholastic thought. Mulla Sadra was passionately driven by a constitutional conviction that a single set of metaphysical forces and principles were at work in both the manifestations and the material working of the sacred, and his lifetime project was to articulate this simple and elegant universe.
Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa'i was a direct descendent of these groundbreaking events in Islamic intellectual history. By far the most revolutionary aspect of Shaykh Ahmad's philosophy was his active reconstitution of the very idea of "Imam" in Shi'i imamology, directly rooted in its prophetology and theology. Although there was nothing particularly new in his attribution of divine qualities to the very Light from which the Imams were believed to have been emanated, his distinction of the divine attributes into Dhati (Essential) and Muhdath (Created) gave material agency not only to the figure of the (Hidden) Imam but by revolutionary extension to the charismatic community of his believers. Suddenly in the ideas of Sheykh Ahmad Ahsa'i, the dormant, post-Safavid, Shi'ism once again resumed a doctrinally theorized revolutionary disposition that gave the Shi'i believers and their leaders charismatic cause to be historical agents in the absence of the Hidden Imam. By far the most politically significant aspect of Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa'i's imamology was the creative constitution of historical agency for the charismatic community of his believers. Although in Ahsa'i's own ideas this political implication remains dormant, it nevertheless was instrumental in the active restoration of historical agency to the charismatic community in expectation of its final delivery. Sheykh Ahmad gave that metaphysical finality historical immediacy. There was only one step from Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa'i who died in 1826 and Ali Mohammad Bab (1819-1850) who led a revolutionary uprising against the Qajars and their clerical companions in 1848. Bab (meaning "Gate") abruptly announced that the dawn of a new revelation was upon the world and that he was its agent. The year 1848 on the Christian calendar corresponded to 1260 on the Islamic and marked the one thousand year anniversary of the Disappearance (Ghaybah) of the Muslim Messiah for the Shi'is. This Y1K occasion, as it were, had given the Shi'i world reasons to expect cataclysmic changes signified in the re-appearance of the Hidden Imam. Bab was the figurative manifestation of that expectation and hope.
Through a disciple of Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa'i, Seyyed Kazem Rashti (d. 1843), Bab was closely linked to the Shaykhi movement. After the death of Seyyed Kazem in 1843, in 1844 Bab first proclaimed himself "the Gate" (thus his name) to the Hidden Imam and then soon after the Hidden Imam himself. His claim won considerable approval among the Iranian peasantry and the urban poor, ready to follow any raised banner against the blinded tyranny perpetrated by the Qajar aristocracy and their clerical cohorts. Bab's theoretical articulation of his leadership was both simple and elegant, and as such squarely rooted in Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa'i's imamology. The figure of the Hidden Imam was alive and present in the realm of Archetypal Absolutes (Hurqalya). The earthly manifestations of that Archetypal Absolute was simply here to give historical agency to the Shi'i community.(20) The political result of these theological speculations was a critical bypass of the clerical establishment and their vested interest in the status quo. By claiming direct communication with the Hidden Imam through a moral conception of his will, he in effect personified the charismatic community of the Hidden Imam's followers. The revolutionary implication of these ideas is not merely in their resuscitation of Hermetic, Isma'ili, and Ghullat tendencies in Shi'i scholastic thought.(21) There is something far more dangerous to the status quo in these beliefs. Although Sheykh Ahmad Ahsa'i's close followers considered him personally as the one in communication with the Hidden Imam, and although Bab claimed that status openly for himself, the fact is that in these ideas were dormant the restitution of active historical agency for all Shi'is and thus in the Shi'i community at large. What is theorized in Sheykh Ahmad Ahsa'i is nothing other than the historical disposition of the Shi'i community, namely their collective constitution of a charismatic gemeinschaft with historical agency. This is what was potentially evident in the Shaykhi school of thought, brought from de jure to de facto by Bab and thus most feared by kings and clerics alike.
The Babi Movement was one of the most glorious revolutionary uprisings and the very last insurrectionary protest to come out of the Shi'i charismatic disposition in pre-Modern period. Bab's movement embraced both the impoverished peasantry and the urban poor, suffering under the double jeopardy of feudal tyranny and colonial encroachment, and shook the tyrannical reign of the Qajars to its foundations. But the final predicament of the Shaykhi school and of the Babi Movement unfolded in the colonial consequences of the onslaught of Modernity and revealed the cruel fate of this noble uprising that gave birth to some of the greatest heroes of modern Iranian history. What happens to this movement at the end is yet another catastrophic example of Shi'ism collapsing on its own face upon success. Bab was arrested and executed in 1850. He had appointed one of his followers, Mirza Yahya Sobh Azal (1830-1912) as his successor. An attempted assassination against Naser alDin Shah by Babis resulted in their massive persecution, which in turn resulted in their migration to Iraq in Ottoman territories. The leadership of Yahya Sobh Azal was soon challenged by a number of other Babis, among them his own brother Mirza Hossein Ali (1817-1892). The Ottoman authorities, under pressure from the Qajars, finally divided the two groups and sent Yahya Sobh Azal and his followers to Cyprus and Mirza Hossein Ali and his followers to Acre. Meanwhile, in 1866, Mirza Hossein Ali took the title of Baha'ullah ("Glory of God") and claimed to be the messiah promised by Bab. Soon he expanded his claim and thought of himself as the promised salvation of all religions, from Zoroastrianism to Christianity. Baha'ullah systematically eradicated every ounce of revolutionary energy from Babism and put it squarely at the service of the reigning monarchy and of Russian and then British colonialism. By the time that Iranians were getting ready to tear down the very foundation of Qajar monarchy in the course of the Constitutional Revolution, Baha'ullah officially sided with Mohammad Ali Shah. His son and successor Abd al-Baha went even further and was knighted by George V and under the British Mandate established the center of his vanity in Haifa. And thus Shi'ism succeeded once again in giving revolutionary momentum to one massive social protest in the form of Babism and then degenerating upon its success into Baha'ism.
By the time Baha'ullah and his successors were busy giving themselves obscene egotistical titles, the revolutionary momentum that had now degenerated into their personal vanity had dwindled to non-relevance in the birthplace of the movement. The revolutionary disposition of the movement had long since abandoned it and left it a graceless universalism with no material or moral claim on the fate of a charismatic community that had once invested it with that grace. Having come to the cul de sac of the personal vainglory of yet another self-proclaimed prophet, managing his fortune distanced from the predicament of the nation, the Shi'i community now turned to the most consequential event in its fateful encounter with Modernity: The Constitutional Revolution of 1906-1911.
The Constitutional Revolution of 1906-1911 was the ultimate event that fully implicated Shi'ism in the Project of Modernity, bringing a century-long process to a cataclysmic turning point. The confrontation with the Project of Modernity transmuted Shi'ism once again into a site of ideological resistance to colonialism while exposing its doctrinal roots to the brutally corrosive onslaught of instrumental rationalism and the European Enlightenment. If the Babi Movement in Iran is the last medieval insurrection in the Iranian feudal society, the Constitutional Revolution is the first modern revolution upon its successful formation as a nation-state. The moral force of this revolution was predicated on the material basis of subterranean changes in the new Iranian social formations. A wide spectrum of forces and classes participated in the Constitutional Revolution, and three distinct ideological formations divided their attention. Socialist, Nationalist, and Islamist ideological formations are distinctly evident in the course of the Constitutional Revolution. The effervescence of these ideological formations, however, are only the evident indices of far more serious subterraneous movements. The Constitutional Revolution is the most significant development in modern Iranian history by virtue of its marking the collapse of the medieval Persian political culture and the simultaneous rise and expansion of the Iranian civil society. This dual development was squarely predicated on the progressive integration of the Iranian national economy into the global circulation of capital and its colonial ancillary. As it was struggling to pull itself out of its medieval fetters, the rising Iranian bourgeoisie was also in a fateful battle with the encroaching colonial interests, and the dual encounter resulted in the measurable expansion of the material basis of the civil society. The constituent components of the civil society now were in full view of history. The landlords and peasants continued to form the principal class formations throughout the Nineteenth century. They were dominated by and incorporated into the Qajar feudal monarchy and the network of their princely division of the country, along with their military apparatus and bureaucratic officialdom. The merchants, craftsmen, and shopkeepers were at the nucleus of the expanding urbanization, soon to be augmented by a rising industrial, commercial, and financial bourgeoisie as well as an industrial working class.(22) These continuous and creative class formations were now in a nascent state of a revolutionary coagulation that would forever change the moral and material disposition of the society.
The active incorporation of the nascent Iranian national polity and economy into global capitalism and the semi-colonial status of Iran in that predicament had the unintended consequence of providing the nation with the material infrastructure of its civil society. The dramatic expansion and increased security of the highways (completed in the North by the Russians for their own colonial interests) as well as the improvement of the postal service and in particular the establishment of telegraph lines (completed in the South by the British for similar reasons) began to weave the warp and woof of the territorial texture together.(23) The simplification of Persian prose that had started early in the century, the proliferation of printing machines, and the emergence of a robust press gave color and texture to the national character of the civil society. The nationalization of the Iranian history and culture, literature in particular and chiefly by European Orientalist, soon followed. Though inorganic, an aggressive group of what can now be called a "national intelligentsia" emerged and began to defy their moderate class interests and speak the harsh truth to the entrenched power and become the opened windows of the national consciousness. It is in the creative imagination of this national intelligentsia that the very idea of Iran as a nation begins to take shape. The significance of these intellectuals in theorizing the idea and ideal of a civil society as the social site of "the nation" cannot be over-emphasized. In the careful wording of Said Amir Arjomand:
The social background of the intelligentsia at the turn of the century was
undoubtedly diverse and included clerical, bureaucratic, landowning, and
mercantile elements. But this diversity of social background did not
prevent their unification on the basis of a single ideology comprised of
the philosophy of the Enlightenment, the Victorian conception of progress,
and the political ideas of nationalism and of parliamentary democracy. Nor
did it prevent the intelligentsia from acting as the agent of mobilization
and political enfranchisement of the growing civil society on the basis of
the same ideology (Arjomand, 1988, p. 35).
There thus developed an always massive discrepancy between the ideas and ideals of civil society as articulated by a national intelligentsia and the weak material basis of a national bourgeoisie that could never exact, but only wish for, such ideals. The central significance of Shi'ism in the revolutionary disposition that resulted in the groundbreaking victory of the civil society over the Qajar court, as the symbolic citadel of Persian feudalism, was directly related to the jaundiced complexion of the Iranian national bourgeoisie. Again in Arjomand's words,
in the early decades of the twentieth century, civil society, though
growing in economic importance, was nevertheless quite small and weak. The
mercantile bourgeoisie could not act effectively without seeking support
from the hierocracy, and the urban alliance of the mosque and the bazaar
could not fail to draw the military might of the tribal periphery into
political arena (Arjomand, 1988, p. 35).
Shi'ism thus re-emerged as a revolutionary site of resistance by virtue of an historical mission it now had to perform in order to compensate for the material absence of a powerful bourgeoisie and the moral want of an ideological formulation of their ideals. Once again, as in the case of the Babi Movement, this revolutionary conscience collective had to release its critical creativity from the bondage of the clerical class. Contrary to the persistently infantilizing readings of Iranian history that consider the disenfranchised classes as the passive site of manipulation by the clergy,(24) the active site of this critical consciousness is nowhere else but among the dispossessed classes, the brutalized peasantry, the urban poor, the economically insecure artisans, shopkeepers, small size manufacturers, as well as the disenfranchised tribal communities, all of which were actively represented among the lower-ranking clerics. The triumph of the revolutionary conscience collective of the Shi'is over the petty rivalries of the Shi'i clerics is best evident in the hostilities between the seminarians of the two madrasas of Muhammadiya and Sadr. Being transformed from such degenerate competition for religious endowments and seminarian stipends to revolutionary leadership of a massive social protest in modern history was no small feat, and certainly no work of the sort that "pretexts were sought and found for the excitement of popular religious emotions against the state," (Algar 1969, p. 240) as the infantilizing, irrationalizing, readings of modern Iranian history would have it. The fact that the infamous picture of Naus, the Belgian Minister of Customs, in the Shi'i clerical robe became a focal point of attention for the revolutionaries has very little to do with exciting popular emotions and very much to do with the colonial target of the anger that now brought the clerical class closer to the economic interests of the rising Iranian bourgeoisie.
The weaker the Iranian national bourgeoisie in its material basis, the stronger the need for the moral reconstitution of Shi'ism as a site of ideological resistance. The weakness of the nascent bourgeoisie was primarily rooted in its being pulled down by the Qajar feudalism and asunder by the overwhelmingly more powerful global capitalism in its colonial contingency. The massive influx and trading of the British and Russian consumer goods inside Iran could of course as much strengthen the rising bourgeoisie as stifle it if coupled with forced colonial heavy-handed interference. The anti-colonial disposition of the mercantile bourgeoisie was thus diametrically opposed to the proclivity of the corrupt Qajar court, which had a banal ball giving out lucrative economic concessions to colonial powers in exchange for cash to finance their obscene trips to European capitals. The result is quite simple and forthcoming. A natural alliance developed between the nascent Iranian bourgeoisie and the clerical establishment. The clerical establishment itself was in general disenfranchised from its customary position of material power in the interregnum between the fall of the Safavids and the rise of the Qajars. Particularly under the reign of Nader Shah Afshar their control of the religious endowment was much curtailed. As late as the reign of Naser al-Din Shah, the Qajar court had the audacity of under Sepahsalar appropriating the religious endowments into its bureaucratic administration. With few prominent exceptions, such as the monumentally corrupt clerics like Mulla Ali Kani (who himself was among the major feudal landlords), the lower-ranking clerics suffered along with everybody else the consequences of an inept and corrupt Qajar court and their colonial potentates.
A few staccato events of crucial catalytic impact led to Mozaffar al-Din Shah granting a constitution to his subjects while effectively on his death-bed. Among these events, the attack of seminarian students the site of the Russian Bank of Tehran and then the public punishment and humiliation of a group of Tehran merchants by the governor of Tehran on 12 December, 1905 are clear enough indices of the economic causes and the social significance of the revolution. By 14 January, 1906, the ailing monarch was forced to put his royal seal and personal signature on the establishment of an Adalat-khaneh ("House of Justice"). The persistence of the monarch's prime minister Ayn al-Dowleh in power and the procrastination in the implementation of the royal decree resulted in two other major events that are equally crucial in revealing the underlying forces of the Constitutional Revolution. First was the massive migration of the major ulama to Qom on 15 July 1906 and second the seeking of sanctuary of some thirty merchants and clerics in the British embassy four days later. The group submitted their demands for the return of the ulama, dismissal of the stubborn prime minister, and establishment of the House of Justice to the monarch through the British charge d'affaire, Grant Duff. By the end of the month they had achieved all three of their objectives.
In the Mirror of Modernity
The result of the Constitutional Revolution, more than anything else, was the inauguration of the very idea of "Civil Society" and its ancillary expansion of the political community to include the new social formations in the Iranian social structure. The Shi'i clerics played a central role in the actual events leading to these groundbreaking conclusions, but at no point were they the sole historical agency of its achievement, or in full control of events, or did they have a complete conception of what a constitutional revolution was to achieve. A critical body of national intelligentsia, with waxing or waning religious sentiments, were equally, if not more, instrumental in translating the ideals of a constitutional democracy into the Iranian political culture. The road for this critical role to be played by a national body of lay intellectuals was paved as early as the early Nineteenth century and in the writings of such prominent figures as Mirza Saleh Shirazi, Haj Zeyn al-Abedin Maraghe'i, Mirza Fath Ali Akhonzadeh, Abdolrahim Talebof, Mirza Malkam Khan Nazem al-Dowleh, and Mirza Aqa Khan Kermani. As a result, during the course and certainly after the Constitutional Revolution, we can no longer see the Iranian social elite in its medieval composition of kings and clerics. Instead we witness the birth of a "nation" in direct response to the colonial domination, through which the joint projects of Modernity and the Enlightenment were now perceived
The progressive formation of the Iranian civil society was contingent on the active constitution of any number of "national" nuclei at symbolic, textual, and institutional levels. The gradual composition and nationalization of a progressive intelligentsia was a critical factor in this creative nationalization of the Iranian historical memory. From diverse social origins, the Iranian intellectuals began to conceive of themselves as the unitary spokesmen of a new national reality. Their creative imagination became the very effervescent site of a national psyche, a national narrative, and a national self-projection. The nationalization of the Iranian history, culture, and literature in particular, was an instrumental development in this critical point. The scattered and dynastic history of the land began to be re-narrated in national terms. The territorial integrity of a certain cultural identity began to be articulated in very certain terms. Persian literature, poetry in particular, became the literary and artistic location of a transcontinental claim on a national continuity of creative character. As highways, railroads, and telegraph lines began to chart and graph the land, as the shape of a sitting cat began to identify the cartographic appearance of a homeland carved to a shapely size by the cutting edge of colonialism, so did a national intelligentsia begin to narrate a national history, a national literature, a national poetry--in short, a national claim on time and space. All of this was in direct response to colonialism. As colonialism was the hegemonic denial of national sovereignty of other nations, other nations began first by identifying themselves as nations, and nations became the territorial sites of resistance to the colonial denial of national sovereignty. But behind colonialism was Modernity and the Enlightenment. Through the prism of colonialism but in the mirror of Modernity did Iranians of the constitutional period begin to see and seek themselves as a nation.
It is all but obvious that Shi'ism, now the de jure and de facto religion of the overwhelming majority of Iranians, would not be spared of this universal nationalization of the emerging collective psyche. In the course of the ideological preparations for the Constitutional Revolution, Shi'ism itself is nationalized in Iran and increasingly identified with Persian elements in the Islamic culture. The successful nationalization of Shi'ism was so indisputable that it became something of a shock to generations of students educated in national curriculum to discover that the great figures in the Persian poetic pantheon were in fact Sunni. In order for the nationalization of Persian literature and the simultaneous nationalization of Shi'ism not to collide, contradict, and cancel each other out, the nationalization of Shi'ism inevitably accompanied a Shi'ification of Persian intellectual, and particularly poetic legacy. Ferdowsi's presumed Zaydi affiliation became a particularly poignant case in point where in one iconic figure the nationalization of Shi'ism and the Shi'ification of Persian poetic imagination convened in each other. But the nationalization of Shi'ism was not merely reflected on the cultural constitution of a collective character. From the beginning of the Nineteenth century, and as anticolonial resistance began to take momentum in Iran, Shi'ism was effectively implicated in the nationalization of that resistance. The territorial losses to the Russians in the early part of the Nineteenth century and the economic concessions to colonial powers in the middle and towards the end of the century all culminated in the constitution of a national mode of resistance in which Shi'ism was being actively implicated. By the commencement of the Constitutional Revolution in the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries, Shi'ism was fully invested in the aggressive nationalization of anticolonial resistance leading to the formation of a national polity. Here it really does not make a difference that some of the ulama were Constitutionalist and others not. Both Constitutionalist ulama, such as Mirza Hossein Khalil Tehrani, Mulla Mohammad Kazem Khorasani, and Mulla Abdollah Mazandarani, and those who opposed it, such as Sheykh Mohammad Kazem Yazdi, Hajji Mirza Hasan, and of course Shaykh Fazlollah Nouri, all contributed, in positive or negational terms, to the aggressive nationalization of Shi'ism, whereby the scattered symbolics, institutions, and texts of the faith coagulated into the iconic forces of a national religion. The actual Constitution itself officially recognized Shi'ism as the state religion and as such gave ultimate legal status to the constitutional nationalization of a medieval faith.
Nationalization of Shi'ism meant its aggressive modernization, and its modernization meant the exposing of its medieval doctrinal roots to the corrosive elements of the European joint projects of Modernity and the Enlightenment. The result was enduring and cataclysmic. But in the immediate aftermath of the Constitutional Revolution, Shi'ism managed to safeguard its potential revolutionary posture by not being politically successful. Had Shi'ism succeeded in dominating and singularly defining the Constitutional Revolution, the ultimate failure of the movement in establishing a representative democracy would have been immediately translated into yet another moment of crisis for Shi'ism. But fortunately for the revolutionary disposition of Shi'ism, it failed to monopolize the ideological discourses of the Constitutional Revolution and had to yield considerable space and leverage to alternative modes of mobilization constitutional to the colonially mitigated project of Modernity. Two other simultaneous sites of ideological resistance to colonialism emerged in the course of the revolution: nationalism and socialism, in the broadest sense of these two terms. The nationalization of Shi'ism in the course of the Constitutional Revolution and the simultaneous exposure of its doctrinal roots to the corrosive elements of the joint projects of Modernity and the Enlightenment meant its concurrent conversation with Nationalism and Socialism as the other two modes of ideological resistance to colonialism. Shi'ism thus entered the Twentieth century completely mutated into a religious nativism that competed with the Iranian ethnic nationalism and third-world socialism as rival sites of resistance to colonialism.(25)
The competitive claims of nationalism and socialism to modernity ipso facto rendered the nationalized Shi'ism into religious nativism. The result of this fear of its two ideological rivals was catastrophic, not just for Shi'ism but for the nation at large. The fear of the Shi'i ulama that in the post-Constitutional Iranian political culture they would lose the battle to secular nationalists and socialists forced them into an ill-fated alliance with Reza Shah in 1923 and the safeguarding of the Persian monarchy. Little did they know that they were now in the claws of a far mightier force. Reza Shah soon mounted a massive campaign towards the administrative centralization of power that would sweep the clerical establishment of all but a shadow of the respect and responsibility they had gained and richly deserved in the course of the Constitutional Revolution. Soon after he ascended the Peacock Throne, Reza Shah commenced a massive process of administrative centralization that became the hallmark of post-Constitutional statism. In 1925, a succession of commercial, criminal, and civil laws began to codify and centralize the Iranian legal system, all at the expense of religious courts. In 1928, the Shah decided to give a new look to his subjects and by a royal decree ordered men out of their clerical habits and limiting it only to those clerics who could prove their legitimate claim to wearing it. In 1929, the government was put in charge of qualifying exams recognizing the juridical status of the clergy. In the same year Seyyed Hassan Modarres, a solitary voice of resistance to Reza Shah's megalomaniac consolidation of power, was put in jail. Reza Shah had masterfully divided the Islamist, nationalist, and socialist forces that had come to revolutionary prominence in the course of the Constitutional Revolution and was destroying them one by one. In a pathetic degeneration of the revolutionary spirit of the Constitutional period, all forces of opposition receded to their tribal limitations and allowed a massive centralization of power by a tyrant to take root. In the name of modernization, Reza Shah mounted one of the most frightful manifestations of fascist statism in modern history, eliminating all autonomous centers of voluntary association, generating a Gleichschaltung program very similar to Hitler's agenda in the contemporary Germany.
In the 1930's, the totalitarian tendencies of Reza Shah's tyrannical statism only intensified. In 1931, even harsher limits were imposed on the operation of clerical courts. In 1932, the power to issue property titles and other notarization responsibilities were divested from the clerical courts. In the same year the king prohibited the Ta'ziyeh performances. 1934, the curricular decisions of the religious seminaries were appropriated by the government. In the same year, the establishment of the Faculty of Theology at Tehran university created a de facto alternative to religious seminaries and critically compromised their autonomy. In 1936, Reza Shah carried his intention to give a new look to his subject further and ordered Iranian women out of their veils. A year later, in 1937, he had Seyyed Hasan Modarres murdered in jail.
When under pressure from the Allied Forces Reza Shah was forced to abdicate in 1941, the clerical establishment was left in a state of total shambles, the insurrectionary spirit of Shi'ism nowhere in sight. The formation of the Fada'ian-e Islam in 1945 and the series of political assassinations for which they assumed responsibility between 1946 and 1951 were the most obvious evidence of the Shi'i insurrectionary spirit immediately after the abdication of Reza Shah and the Allied occupation of the country. Instead, it was the third-world socialism of the Tudeh Party that now singularly defined the political agenda of the nation between the abdication of Reza Shah in 1941 until the downfall of Mosaddeq in 1953. In the 1940's it was the massive appeal of Tudeh third-world socialism that tested Shi'ism as a site of insurrectionary mobilization. In the battle, Shi'ism was totally cornered and had to yield the banner of insurrectionary mobilization to one of its two principal secular rivals. The catalytic impact of the Tudeh Party third-world socialism, its successes and failures, was to radicalize Shi'ism even further in its revolutionary resolve. While the experience of the Constitutional Revolution and its competition with Iranian nationalism were to nationalize Shi'ism in its political disposition, its competition with Tudeh Party third-world socialism had an enduring effect in its equally socialistic economic disposition. Another major catalytic impact of the Tudeh party on the Shi'i political disposition was the translation of the transnational third-world socialism of the Tudeh Party into the transnational pan-Islamism to which now such prominent Shi'i figures as Ayatollah Kashani aspired.
In the 1950's, it was the turn of the nationalism of the Mosaddeq era to test and over-run the revolutionary potentials of Shi'ism. Although Ayatollah Kashani was instrumental in Mosaddeq's assumption of power in 1951, the increasing political presence of the Tudeh Party in and out of the nationalist Prime Minister's government frightened the top Shi'i clerics and other members of the clerical establishment. Kashani's anticolonial position at the height of Mosaddeq's nationalization of Iranian oil industry was an extraordinarily positive force in the 1950's. But once again the competitive edge among Shi'ism and its two secular counterparts in ideological resistance to power was turned against them all. When the CIA-engineered coup of 1953 brought Shah back to power, Kashani led the clerical sentiment in welcoming the monarch back to power. Thus twice in the course of the Twentieth century, once in 1925 and once in 1953, the Shi'i clerical establishment was instrumental in restoring monarchical rule to Iran, in both cases out of their fear for the rise and supremacy of alternative sites of ideological resistance, socialism in particular, to the Shi'i clerical position. What the experience reveals is that both nationalism and socialism successfully constituted themselves as alternative secular sites to Shi'ism and had their significant share of the insurrectionary conscience collective of the nation. They in turn had a catalytic effect on the nature and disposition of Shi'ism as an equally forceful ideological force. While nationalism nationalized Shi'ism, socialism socialized it. Nationalized and socialized, Shi'ism, now in full conversational posture with two dominant ideological forces of Modernity, was fully exposed to the corrosive forces of instrumental reason, totally unbeknownst to itself.
By the 1960's Shi'ism, now nationalized and socialized, was ready for an aggressive re-ideologization against both nationalism and socialism in order to re-claim its full revolutionary potentials. In the course of the June 1963 uprising, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, it momentarily regained that revolutionary posture, but now top to bottom exposed to the corrosive elements of Modernity, and wall to wall metamorphosed via its conversation with nationalism and socialism, plunging it even deeper into its predicament of Enlightenment Rationalism. That Khomeini's uprising in 1963 fails only re-invigorates Shi'ism as a revolutionary ideology. No sooner had Khomeini's uprising been brutally suppressed that the eloquent voice of Ali Shariati was raised to give by far the most powerful expression to the Shi'i insurrectionary disposition. When Shariati returned to Iran from Paris in 1965, the suppression of the June 1963 uprising had totally demoralized the revolutionary disposition of Shi'ism. It is impossible to exaggerate the impact that Shariati had in single-handedly giving full ideological expression to all the suppressed revolutionary potentials of Shi'ism since the commencement of its fateful conversation with the colonially mitigated Modernity. By the mid-1970's, and before his forced departure for and subsequent death in London, Shariati had successfully transformed Shi'ism into the triumphant site of ideological mobilization against the Pahlavi regime.
The consummate summation of a century and a half of exposure to the corrosive forces of Modernity, Shariati finally delivered Shi'ism into Islamic Ideology so that he would at the very same time deliver its coup de grace too. Shariati's was the prophetic voice of Shi'ism in Modernity. Having conversed with and subsumed nationalism and socialism, Shi'ism could not but see itself in the speculum of Modernity as its supreme Other, and it became that Other. Shariati was the last Shi'i metaphysician and the first Shi'i Ideologue, the very picture of a medieval faith in the mirror of Modernity. He was the culmination of a century and a half of persistent exposure to the colonially mitigated project of Modernity. He coagulated Shi'ism into Islamic Ideology and by that very act delivered its last, fatal, stroke. By the time Shariati attended Shi'ism in mid-1960's, it had been effectively side-stepped by nationalism in the 1950's and by socialism in the 1940's and thus conversely nationalized and socialized in return. Khomeini's 1963 uprising was no ideological match for the combined attraction of nationalism of the National Front or socialism of the Tudeh Party and the Fada'ian e Khalq Organization. Khomeini had to be defeated in 1963, as it were, for Shariati to emerge in late 1960's and early 1970's in order to prepare the ideological foregrounding of Khomeini's second coming.
Shariati stole the show from both the nationalist and the socialist sites of resistance by out-nationalizing one and out-socializing the other in his fiery speeches at the Hosseiniyeh Ershad. In the concise wording of Ervand Abrahamian:
The central theme in many of Shariati's works is that Third World countries
such as Iran need two interconnected and current revolutions: a national
revolution to end all forms of imperial domination and to vitalize ... the
country's culture, heritage, and national identity; and a social revolution
to end all forms of exploitation, eradicate poverty and capitalism,
modernize the economy, and most important of all, establish a "just"
"dynamic," and "classless society."(26)
But Shariati did far more than merely appropriate the nationalist and socialist agenda and incorporate them both in a massive re-politicization of Shi'ism as Islamic Ideology. His years in Paris in the early 1960's coincided with the height of student activism on behalf of the Algerian and Cuban revolutions. His political maturation was thus instantly globalized in the French capital. His translations of Sartre, Fanon, and Che Guevara were the most critical indices of his active incorporation of Shi'ism into a global revolutionary disposition. With Sartre, he gave an existentialist twist to his historical defiance of the essentialized Muslim subject. With Fanon and Guevara his revolutionary persona expanded to cross-cultural proportions and assumed a sense of global camaraderie. The result was that he delivered Shi'ism to its full ideological formation not just by subsuming all other ideological products of the colonially mitigated encounter with Modernity but, far more important with a sense of global significance and urgency. With Shariati, as a result, Shi'ism was not only ideologized in response to colonialism and its two ideological ancillaries, ethnic nationalism and third world socialism, but far more significantly it was globalized beyond its native contingencies. Shariati took that historically globalized conception of Shi'ism as Islamic Ideology and brought it so critically close to the conscience collective of the Shi'i insurrectionary disposition that he almost completely de-authorized the clerical class as the custodians of that conscience. The clerical class, after Shariati, was no longer the chief defining force in charting the Shi'i revolutionary disposition. Much against the anger and frustration of the clerical class, Shariati successfully wedded Shi'ism to the historical agency of the Shi'is themselves.
By dint of an historical accident, Shariati was interjected into this fateful mission exactly after the failure of Khomeini's June 1963 uprising and right before his triumphant return in February 1979. Shariati came to Iran in 1965 less than two years after Khomeini was forced into exile following his failed June 1963 uprising, and he left for London less than two years before Khomeini returned to finish the job he had left behind in 1979. Khomeini had to vacate the scene, as it were, for Shariati to come back to his homeland from Paris and read Shi'ism fully into its ideological modernity. Khomeini returned triumphantly back to Iran soon after Shariati left for London, to die less than a month later from a massive heart attack, and rode on the rising wave he had set in motion. It is at this point that Khomeini became the sole defining factor of the Shi'i insurrectionary disposition. If one revolutionary figure were to personify the paradox of Shi'ism at its insurrectionary best and its tyrannical worst, it is Ayatollah Khomeini. For decades he was the very voice, the cathartic elegance, of the noble anger that is Shi'ism, and then at the moment of his success he became the incubus nightmare that always awaits any Shi'i success. If in the course of the 1977-1979 uprising, Khomeini was the beacon of revolutionary hope, the ten years of his tyrannical reign between 1979 and 1989 were nightmarish in their medieval terror. The Iran-Iraq war of the 1980-1988 only postponed the self-evident: that Shi'ism had once again defeated itself at the moment of its victory. By the end of the war in 1988 and the death of Khomeini in 1989, the 1990's witnessed Shi'ism in full tyrannical swing, the return of its repressed. The clerical class now set upon itself the task of routinizing the terror minus the charismatic occasion of its inauguration.
Khomeini's revolutionary success was the simultaneous failure of Shi'ism as the insurrectionary conscience of a people. But this time around Shi'ism was so thoroughly exposed to Modernity that its doctrinal roots were dangerously exposed. Colonialism was the historical conduit of exposing Shi'ism to Modernity. As alternative sites of resistance to colonialism, nationalism and socialism were the two ideological surrogates of Modernity. Whether it resisted colonialism or competed with nationalism and socialism, Shi'ism (as in fact Islam in general) ipso facto exposed its medieval doctrinal roots to the corrosive elements of the Enlightenment and Modernity.
The End of Islamic Ideology
The paradoxical history of Shi'ism in Modernity, constantly turning from a revolutionary ideology into an ideology of tyranny, has now ended in the cul de sac of the clerical establishment stubbornly holding on to power, while reformed-minded Shi'is like Abdolkarim Soroush are trying to restore to Shi'ism its inaugurating authority.(27) On the two complementary poles of theory and praxis, Soroush is trying to expand the historical claim of Shi'i scholastic limits, while President Khatami is trying to reign in the dialectical outburst of the forceful self-negation of Shi'ism as an historical paradox. They, Soroush and Khatami, in their complementarity, are however contradicting each other. All the appearances are that they complement each other in theory and practice, but in effect they are negating each other. One is contracting the hermeneutic effervescence of Shi'ism against itself, while the other is expanding that very dialectic into a conversation with its historical others. Soroush is pulling the Shi'i paradox towards a metaphysical re-subjection, Khatami is pushing to restore agencial autonomy to its history. Into the dialectic of their cross-negation is now inserting itself a youthful revolution that feeds on nothing but the raw testosteronics of its material, antioedipal, revolt. Soroush and Khatami are the historical mutations of Shariati and Khomeini. One is trying to de-ideologize Shi'ism back into its metaphysics of certainty, while the other is trying to have it engage in a civilizational dialogue with its historical others. Soroush is trying to globalize Shi'ism into a hermeneutics of change, while Khatami is trying to engage in a politics of dialogue. They will not necessitate but negate each other.
The July 1999 student uprising is the final demarcation of the end of Islamic Ideology not because it was anti-Islamic, but precisely because it was non-Islamic, non-nationalist, non-socialist--in one word: Non-Ideological, post-Ideological. It rendered not just the Islamic but any other form of ideological metanarrative irrelevant. The material force of their defiance exceeds and post-dates the necessity of any ideological convictions. By appearing to reform the Shi'i state from within, in both moral and material terms, what Soroush and Khatami in effect are doing is glossing over the fact that the age of Islamic Ideology is effectively over, that Iran as a nation and as a political culture is on the verge of an entirely new agency, and that both the glorious and the catastrophic consequences of the Islamic Ideology have now resulted in an entirely different political culture, one that can no longer be contingent on the medieval vocabulary of a theocracy. From the very ideological predicate of the constitution of the Islamic Republic on the supreme political authority of the Jurist (velayat-e faqih) to such repressive organs as the Council of Guardians and the Expediency Council, the pernicious mutation of a once-revolutionary reading of a cataclysmic faith is now in full view. The seeds of this mutation have been self-sprouting in Shi'ism itself. Because of its long and arduous battles against tyranny, from the tyranny of the early caliphs to that of the latest monarchs, Shi'ism itself easily collapses into the most ferocious form of tyranny of the most sacred severity the instant that it assumes power. Shi'ism has to be defeated in order to remain victorious. Shi'ism is a religion of protest. It can never succeed without negating itself. When it succeeds, Shi'ism is in double jeopardy. In the Islamic context at large, it partakes in the masculinism of its transcendental deity and in the Iranian context in particular it exacerbates itself by partaking in monarchical masculinity.
The emerging claims of the so-called "Dynamic Ijtihad" that today we hear in Iran and among the expatriate Iranists is an entirely bogus claim to gloss over this critical moment in the demise of Islamic Ideology. It is hard to believe that some two hundred years into the catastrophic consequences of an ideological formation that has resulted in a tyrannical theocracy still serious people can talk about "Dynamic Ijtihad." Dynamic Ijtihad is yet another trap to plunge the Iranian political culture even deeper into an exclusively Islamic discourse. Two decades into its success, Shi'ism has once again completely lost its revolutionary momentum and turned into an ideology of tyrannical suppression. What we have witnessed over the last two decades is global capitalism rendering all religious nativism, ethnic nationalism, and third-world socialism obsolete, exactly at a time when the constitutional paradox of Shi'ism is coming back to haunt it. This at a time that Abdolkarim Soroush is trying to de-historicize Shi'ism to rescue it from its current predicament, while Khatami is trying to re-historicize it through a forced dialogue with its civilizational others. The result is that Soroush and Khatami, who look compatible on the surface, will in effect work against each other. While global capitalism and the Shi'i paradox will corroborate each other and thus Shi'ism as Islamic Ideology will lose its discursive legitimacy, the Islamic Ideology loses its claim on state legitimacy, and Shi'ism as religious nativism will join ethnic nationalism and third-world socialism as outdated ideological formations.
The end of Islamic ideology is not the end of ideology, nor is it the end of history, or the appearance of the last man.(28) Such self-congratulatory assumptions at the presumed centers of globalizing power are nervous signs of the encroachment of the periphery, the fear of the foreign. The center can no longer hold, and the periphery is now the center, the center periphery, and thus the instantaneous collapse of all nervous bifurcations that have for too long divided the world to rule it. The end of Islamic ideology is not "the failure of political Islam" either.(29) If an iota of self-respect and historical agency has remained for Muslims some two centuries into the ravages of Christianity-modulated colonialism it is precisely because of their having successfully turned aspects of their ancestral faith into sites of resistance to colonialism. The remarkable common feature of all such diagnoses of Islamism as political failure(30) is their selective historical amnesia that the mutation of Islam into Islamic Ideology took place under duress and in the shadow of the extended gun of colonialism.
The Islamic ideology exhausted, Shi'ism, as Islam's insurrectionary dream of itself, will recede back into the latent layers of Muslim collective memory, awaiting yet another charismatic occasion to reclaim itself, to come back and lead yet another revolt that will be defeated at the moment of its success: Sisyphus paramount. Neither Mulla Sadra Shirazi nor Shaykh Ahmad Ahsa'i, neither Abdolkarim Soroush, nor Aristotle himself can save Shi'ism from its historical predicament. Shi'ism is a paradox. It dies at the moment of its success. It succeeds at the moment of its failure. It is only alive when it speaks the defiant truth to the entrenched power. It dies the second it succeeds and assumes power. The bullet that at the conclusion of this essay is sitting in the spinal chord of Said Hajjarian is the most eloquent argument that I can offer in defense of my thesis.
(1) The classical account of this colonially mitigated encounter with the European Enlightenment is still Albert Hourani's Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age, 1798-1939. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962. A good updating of that account is Hamid Enayat's Modern Islamic Political Thought. Austin: Texas University Press, 1982. For an extension of this account into the specific ideological disposition prior to the Islamic Revolution in Iran see my Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundations of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. New York: New York University Press, 1993. A representative collection of primary sources is to be found in John J. Donohue and John L. Esposito (eds), Islam in Transition: Muslim Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
(2) While many contemporary scholars have added fuel to the fire of this presumed confrontation between "Islam and West," others have persuasively argued against its validity. Among the latter is Fred Halliday's Islam & The Myth of Confrontation: Religion and Politics in the Middle East. London: I. B. Tauris, 1995.
(3) On the ideas of Mulla Ahmad Naraqi see my "Early Propagation of Wilayat-i Faqih and Mulla Ahmad Naraqi," in S. H. Nasr, H. Dabashi, and S. V. R. Nasr (eds), Expectation of Millennium. New York: State University of NewYork Press, 1989: 287-300. On Shariati see Dabashi 1993: 102-146.
(4) The most recent account of this critical phase in Shi'i doctrinal history is Said Amir Arjomand's "The Consolation of Theology: Absenceof the Imam and Transition from Chiliasm to Law in Shi'ism," The Journal of Religion. 1996: 548-571. For further elaboration see Arjomand's "Crisis of the Imamate and the Institution of Occultation in Twelver Shi'ism: A Sociological Perspective," International Journal of Middle East Studies. Volume 28, no. 4 (1996). For the most comprehensive study of Shi'ism in history see Said Amir Arjomand, The Shadow of God and the Hidden Imam: Religion, Political Order, and Societal Change in Shi'i Iran from the Beginning to 1890. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1984. Specifically on the doctrine of ghaybah see also Abdulaziz Abdulhussein Sachedina, Islamic Messianism: The Idea of the Mahdi in Twelver Shi'ism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1981. Equally crucial and groundbreaking in its critical re-evaluation of the historical roots of the doctrine is Hossein Modarressi's Crisis and Consolidation in the Formative Period of Shi'ite Islam. Princeton: The Darwin Press, 1993.
(5) For an account of Shi'ism as the attempted institutionalization of the charismatic authority of Prophet Muhammed see my Authority in Islam: From the Rise of Muhammed to the Establishment of the Umayyads. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1989: 95-120.
(6) For the most comprehensive account of the Isma'ilis see Farhad Daftary, The Isma'ilis: Their History and Doctrines. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990. For an excellent account of the philosophical disposition of Shi'ism underlying the proto-Isma'ili movements see Paul Walker, Early Philosophical Shi'ism: The Isma'ili Neoplatonism of Abu Ya'qub al-Sijistani. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Matti Moosa's Extremist Shi'ites: The Ghulat Sects. (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1988) gives a full historical account of Shi'ism being carried to its rhetorical charismatic conclusions.
(7) For an account of Shariati's thoughts see Errand Abrahamian, "Ali Shariati: Ideologue of the Iranian Revolution," in Edmund Burke, III and Ira M. Lapidus (eds), Islam, Politics, and Social Movements. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988: 289-297; and Dabashi 1993: 102-146.
(8) See "Review with M. Mauss, `Frazer--Totemism and Exogamy, vol. IV' and `Durkheim--Les Formes elementaires de la vie religieuse. Le systeme totemique en Australie' in Durkheim on Religion: A Selection of Readings with Bibliographies and Introductory Remarks. Edited by W. S. F. Pickering. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975: 180. See also Emile Durkheim, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. New York: The Free Press, 1915: 462-496.
(9) See Max Weber, On Charisma and Institution Building. Selected Papers, Edited and with an Introduction by S. N. Eisenstadt. Chicago: the University of Chicago Press, 1968: 49.
(10) On Muhammed's charismatic authority see Dabashi 1989: 33-46.
(11) On Shi'ism as a charismatic movement see Dabashi 1989: 95-120.
(12) As for example evidenced in the following qualification: "But collective consciousness is something more than a mere epiphenomenon of its morphological basis, just as individual consciousness is something more than a simple efflorescence of the nervous system" when read after the superfluous warning that: "Therefore it is necessary to avoid seeing in this theory of religion a simple restatement of historical materialism: that would be misunderstanding our thought to an extreme degree." (Durkheim, 1915, pp. 471).
(13) As evidenced throughout Weber's repeated oscillations among the "berserker," the "shaman," the "epileptoid," or the "swindler" in order to locate the ideal-type of the charismatic figure (see Weber, 1868, pp. 48-49).
(14) On state as the monopoly of violence see Max Weber, "Politics as a Vocation," in Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills (eds), From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1946, pp. 78.
(15) For a good introductory account of Mulla Sadra's philosophy see Mulla Sadra, The Wisdom of the Throne: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mulla Sadra. Translated by James Winston Morris. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981.
(16) Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity. Translated by Alphonso Lingis. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1961, pp. 43.
(17) An appendix discussing this conversation is available at www.newschool.edu/centers/socres/vol67/dabnotes.pdf.
(18) For a different reading of Baha'ism, sympathetic and inviting, see Juan R. I. Cole, Modernity and the Millennium: The Genesis of the Baha'i Faith in the Nineteenth Century Middle East. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. For an equally panegyric account of Baha'ism by a practicing Baha'i see Peter Smith, The Babi & Baha'i Religions: From Messianic Shi'ism to World Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987. These two statements, quite erudite and scholarly, are uttered from a position of faith and lack any critical stand in their analytical disposition.
(19) On Mulla Sadra see Morris 1981.
(20) On the Shaykhi School and the Babi Movement in general see Abbas Amanat, Resurrection and Renewal: The Making of the Babi Movement in Iran, 1844-1850. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989. But by far the most brilliant study of the Babi Movement is in Persian and richly deserves a translation: Mohammad Reza Fashahi, Vapasin Jonbesh-e Qurun-e Vusta'i dar Duran-e Feudal ("The Last Medieval Movement in the Feudal Period"). Tehran: Entesharat-e Javidan, 2536/1977.
(21) As rightly suggested by Fashahi in Fashahi 1977: 66-73.
(22) For a systematic examination of the rise of Iranian civil society see Said Amir Arjomand, The Turban for the Crown: The Islamic Revolution in Iran. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988: 11-90. The most perceptive study of the infiltration of ideas of modernity into religious sentiments is by H. E. Chehabi in Iranian Politics and Religious Modernism: The Liberation Movement of Iran under the Shah and Khomeini. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990. For a similarly perceptive reading of Modernity in the course of the Constitutional Revolution see Vanessa Martin, Islam and Modernism: The Iranian Revolution of 1906. London: I. B. Tauris, 1989.
(23) The territorial constitution of Iran as a nation is now the subject of a brilliant study by Firoozeh Kashani-Sabet in her Frontier Fictions: Shaping the Iranian Nation, 1804-1946. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999.
(24) As exemplified by phrases such as "... the ulama embodied the aspirations of the people. The adulation accorded their persons proves this more even than their voicing of demands popularly felt, demands that were in any event seldom conscious and frequently stimulated" (Algar 1969: 90) or that "Pretexts were sought and found for the excitement of popular emotions against the state ..." (Algar 1969: 240; for similar sentiments see pp. 245-246 about the site of the Russian Bank in Tehran, or p. 249 about the incident in the Shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad). The "exploitation" or alternatively "arousal" of "popular sentiments" and "emotions" is the key conceptual category of Algar's historiography of the "The Role of the Ulama in the Qajar Period." Throughout this book he treats the Shi'i clergy as shepherds in charge of a flock of sheep, shepherds who can use the raw energy of their flock for effective assertion of power. It is a peculiar combination of inanity and hubris to assume that the material misery of a people is not sufficient reason to generate moral outrage, and that people are to be "stimulated" and "aroused" to put their lives on the line for demands of which they are not even fully conscious.
(25) Still the most insightful study of the relationship between Islam and Socialism is Maxime Rodinson's Marxism and the Muslim World. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1981. Although Rodinson's attention to Shi'ism in this study is quite limited, his general observations remain quite critical.
(26) See Ervand Abrahamian, "Ali Shariati: Ideologue of the Iranian Revolution." in Burke, III and Lapidus 1988: 292.
(27) For an introductory essay to the ideas of Abdolkarim Soroush see John Cooper, "The Limits of the Sacred: The Epistemology of Abd al-Karim Soroush"," in John Cooper, Ronald Nettler and Mohamed Mahmoud (eds), Islam and Modernity: Muslim Intellectuals Respond. London: I. B. Tauris, 1998, pp. 38-56.
(28) As suggested and celebrated by now the chief ideologue of the American right Francis Fukuyama in the End of Ideology and the Last Man. New York: The Free Press, 1992.
(29) As suggested by Oliver Roy in The Failure of Political Islam. Translated by Carol Volk. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994. Oliver Roy's specifics on Shi'ism and Iran in his general assessment of the failure of political Islam is simply too random to be taken seriously. Identifying Shi'ism as "a history" and "not as a corpus" (168) and then reaching for the outlandish conclusion that "nothing in Shi'i thought. ... predisposes the clergy to play a contestant political role" not only suffers from the inner contradiction that how could Shi'ism, not conceived as corpus but as history, have a "thought" but far more seriously lacks a rudimentary grasp of this religion as a metaphysical corpus with a very long history and with a constitutional claim on political life matched only by the twenty-two years of the Prophet's own career. What boggles the mind is the imperial audacity with which Roy dismisses an entire faith, of which he knows next to nothing, and its monumental architectonic achievement of a metaphysical corpus, in its full scholastic panorama of jurisprudence and theology, philosophy and mysticism. But the critical reading of the pathology that Roy shares with other self-appointed coroners of political Islam demands a much wider space.
(30) As diagnosed by a wide array of observers ranging from Oliver Roy and Bernard Lewis to Fatima Mernissi, Daryush Shayegan, Bissam Tibi, and Fouad Ajami.
Hamid Dabashi, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Languages and Cultures at Columbia University, is author of Staging a Revolution: The Art of Persuasion in the Islamic Republic (with Peter Chelkowsky, 1999) and Theology of Discontent: The Ideological Foundation of the Islamic Revolution in Iran (1993). His paper "In the Absence of the Face" appeared in Social Research 67:1 (2000).
COPYRIGHT 2000 New School for Social Research