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New Left Review 65, September-October 2010


Kevan Harris

ISLAM’S LAND OF IDEAS

If hostility or indifference to serious intellectual culture has been a growing trend within the Atlantic world over the past decades, in Iran, where Jalal Al-e Ahmad penned On the Service and Treason of Intellectuals over forty years ago, arguably the reverse is true. When Habermas visited Tehran in 2002, and Rorty two years later, thousands flocked to attend their speeches, overflowing the lecture halls. A daily supplement to the Etemaad newspaper, shuttered this past February, could likely contain an interview on Austro-Marxism, an exegesis of Kant, or fifteen pages given over to contemporary Iranian novelists and poets, available at almost every kiosk. Not for nothing did the cultural theorist Dariush Shayegan describe the country as the Germany of the Islamic world—the land of philosophy. It could be said that Dariush Mehrjui’s mischievous portrayal of the post-revolutionary Iranian intellectual scene in his 1990 film Hamoun retains its bite: a failed philosopher torturing himself into an existential tizzy, occasionally spouting half-hearted leftist slogans from his younger days, while his boss lionizes the East Asian capitalist miracle. But nevertheless, this is a field in flux: Iran’s is a fast-changing society, in which received ideologies—whether the Islamic Republic’s theocratic nationalism, or varieties of Western liberalism and ‘modernization theory’—inevitably clash with uneven social, political and economic realities. Written before the 2009 presidential elections, and the rise and fall of the Green Movement, but scarcely outdated by those events, Mehran Kamrava’s Iran’s Intellectual Revolution attempts an up-to-date mapping of the outcomes. [1] Mehran Kamrava, Iran’s Intellectual Revolution, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 2008, £32.99, paperback 280 pp, 978 0 521 72518 7

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