The Middle East in Transition: Studies in Contemporary History

By Walter Z. Laqueur | Go to book overview

IDEOLOGICAL CRISIS IN IRAN

by F. KAZEMZADEH

THE IMPACT of the West upon Iran has had a shattering effect upon the spiritual life of her people. Modes of thought and feeling which had developed over the centuries underwent a radical transformation within two or three generations. The rapid dissolution of traditional cultural patterns precipitated an ideological crisis which is growing more severe every day and promises to continue for a long time.1

Iran's contacts with the West did not originate in the twentieth century. However, during the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries her relations with Europe were sporadic and confined to government officials whose duty it was to receive foreign ambassadors and negotiate with them. Some merchants had dealings with European traders, while occasionally a Jesuit or an adventurer from the West would turn up at Esfahān or Shirāz. The presence of a few- Russians, Englishmen, or Venetians had not the slightest effect upon Iranian society.

Those Iranians who came to have some knowledge of the West had little admiration for the 'Franks'. True, the Franks were masters at casting cannon, an art the Iranians hastened to learn; they were good at making pistols, watches, and pocket-knives and sailing the seas. However, this did not make them superior in the eyes of the Iranians, who knew that the Franks could contain the Turks in Central Europe only through coalitions, while Iran withstood them alone. The Franks were Christian, and no Iranian would agree that Christianity was superior to Islam. Thus the West failed to make an

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1
It must be noted that the Iranian masses, predominantly rural, are largely inert politically and ideologically. Even in the cities many are unconscious of any crisis. This article, therefore, discusses the ideas and attitudes of a minority which includes the intellectuals, as well as a portion of the upper and the middle classes.

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