Jalal Al-e-Ahmad

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Jalal Al-e-Ahmad
جلال آل احمد
Jalal Ale Ahmad.jpg
Born (1923-12-02)2 December 1923
Tehran, Iran
Died 9 September 1969(1969-09-09) (aged 45)
Asalem, Iran
Nationality Iranian
Occupation Writer, social and political critic
Spouse(s) Simin Daneshvar (1950−1969, his death)
Jalal-e Al-e-Ahmad signature.png

Jalal Al-e-Ahmad (Persian: جلال آل احمد‎‎; December 2, 1923 – September 9, 1969) was a prominent Iranian writer, thinker, and social and political critic. He coined the term Gharbzadegi - variously translated in English as "westernstruck", "westoxification", and "Occidentosis".[1]

Personal life[edit]

Jalal was born into a religious family in Tehran. His father was an Islamic cleric originally from the small village of Owrazan in Taleghan mountains. After elementary school Al-e-Ahmad was sent to earn a living in the Tehran bazaar, but also attended Marvi Madreseh for a religious education, and without his father's permission, night classes at the Dar ul-Fonun. He became "acquainted with the speech and words of Ahmad Kasravi" and was unable to commit to the clerical career his father and brother had hoped he would take, describing it as "a snare in the shape of a cloak and an aba."[2]

In 1946 he earned an M.A. in Persian literature from Tehran Teachers College[3] and became a teacher, at the same time making a sharp break with his religious family that left him "completely on his own resources."[4] He pursued academic studies further and enrolled in a doctoral program of Persian literature at Tehran University but quit before he had defended his dissertation in 1951.[5] In 1950, he married Simin Daneshvar, a well-known Persian novelist. Jalal and Simin were infertile, a topic that was reflected in some of Jalal's works.

He died in Asalem, a rural region in the north of Iran, inside a cottage which was built almost entirely by himself. He was buried in Firouzabadi mosque in Ray, Iran.[6]

In 2010, the Tehran Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Department bought the house in which both Jalal Al-e Ahmad and his brother Shams were born and lived.[7]

Political life[edit]


Further information: Gharbzadegi

Al-e-Ahmad is perhaps most famous for coining the term Gharbzadegi - variously translated in English as westernstruck, weststruckness, westoxification and occidentosis - in a book by the same name Occidentosis: A Plague from the West , clandestinely published in Iran in 1962. In the book Al-e-Ahmad developed a "stinging critique of western technology, and by implication of Western `civilization` itself". He argued that the decline of traditional Iranian industries such as carpet-weaving were the beginning of Western "economic and existential victories over the East." [1]

His message was embraced by the Ayatollah Khomeini, who wrote in 1971 that

The poisonous culture of imperialism [is] penetrating to the depths of towns and villages throughout the Muslim world, displacing the culture of the Qur'an, recruiting our youth en masse to the service of foreigners and imperialists ...[8]

and became part of the ideology of the 1979 Iranian Revolution which emphasized nationalization of industry, independence in all areas of life from both the Soviet and the Western world, and "self-sufficiency" in economics.

Political activism[edit]

Al-e-Ahmad joined the communist Tudeh Party along with his mentor Khalil Maleki shortly after World War II. They "were too independent for the party" and resigned in protest over the lack of democracy and the "nakedly pro-Soviet" support for Soviet demands for oil concession and occupation of Iranian Azerbaijan. They formed an alternative party the Socialist Society of the Iranian Masses in January 1948 but disbanded it a few days later when Radio Moscow attacked it, unwilling to publicly oppose "what they considered the world's most progressive nations." Nonetheless, the dissent of Al-e-Ahmad and Maleki marked "the end of the near hegemony of the party over intellectual life."[9]

He later helped found the pro-Mossadegh Toilers Party, one of the component parties of the National Front, and then in 1952 a new party called the Third Force. Following the 1953 Iranian coup d'état Al-e-Ahmad was imprisoned for several years and "so completely lost faith in party politics" that he signed a letter of repentance published in an Iranian newspaper declaring that he had "resigned from the Third Force, and ... completely abandoned politics."[10] However, he remained a part of the Third Force political group, attending its meetings, and continuing to follow the political mentorship of Khalil Maleki until their deaths in 1969. Despite his relationship with the secular Third Force group, Al-e-Ahmad became more sympathetic to the need for religious leadership in the transformation of Iranian politics, especially after the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1963.[11]

Literary life[edit]

A magazine cover reproduced from an original poster by Guity Novin depicting Jalal Al-e-Ahmad, Samad Behrangi, Ali-Akbar Dehkhoda, and Sadeq Hedayat

Al-e-Ahmad used a colloquial style in prose. In this sense, he is a follower of avant-garde Persian novelists like Mohammad-Ali Jamalzadeh. Since the subjects of his works (novels, essays, travelogues and ethnographic monographs) are usually cultural, social and political issues, symbolic representations and sarcastic expressions are regular patterns of his books. A distinct characteristic of his writings is his honest examination of subjects, regardless of possible reactions from political, social or religious powers.

On invitation of Richard Nelson Frye, Al-e-Ahmad spent a summer at Harvard University, as part of a Distinguished Visiting Fellowship program established by Henry Kissinger for supporting promising Iranian intellectuals.[12]

Al-e-Ahmad rigorously supported Nima Yushij (father of modern Persian poetry) and had an important role in acceptance of Nima's revolutionary style.

Novels and novellas[edit]

  • The School Principal
  • By the Pen
  • The Tale of Beehives
  • The Cursing of the Land
  • A Stone upon a Grave

Many of his novels, including the first two in the list above, have been translated into English.

Short stories[edit]

  • "The setar"
  • "Of our suffering"
  • "Someone else's child"
  • "Pink nail-polish"
  • "The Chinese flower pot"
  • "The postman"
  • "The treasure"
  • "The Pilgrimage"
  • "Sin"
  • ...

Critical essays[edit]

  • "Seven essays"
  • "Hurried investigations"
  • "Plagued by the West" (Gharbzadegi)


Jalal traveled to far-off, usually poor, regions of Iran and tried to document their life, culture and problems. Some of these monographs are:


  • A Straw in Mecca
  • A Journey to Russia
  • A Journey to Europe
  • A Journey to the Land of Israel[13]
  • A Journey to America


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Brumberg, Reinventing Khomeini: The Struggle for Reform in Iran, University of Chicago Press, 2001, p.65
  2. ^ Mottahedeh, Roy, The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran, One World, Oxford, 1985, 2000, p.288
  3. ^ Boroujerdi, Mehrzad. Iranian Intellectuals and the West: The Tormented Triumph of Nativism. 1996. p.187
  4. ^ Mottahedeh, Roy, The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran, One World, Oxford, 1985, 2000, p.289
  5. ^ Boroujerdi, Mehrzad. Iranian Intellectuals and the West: The Tormented Triumph of Nativism. 1996. p.65
  6. ^ "Photograph of Jalal Al-e-Ahmad's grave". Mehr News Agency. December 9, 2010. 
  7. ^ l-e Ahmad patrimony in Tehran obtained Archived October 13, 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ "Message to the Pilgrims" (Message sent to Iranian pilgrims on Hajj in Saudi Arabia from Khomeini in exile in Najaf) February 6, 1971, Islam and Revolution: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini, (1981), p.195
  9. ^ Mottahedeh, Roy, The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran, One World, Oxford, 1985, 2000, p.290
  10. ^ Mottahedeh, Roy, The Mantle of the Prophet: Religion and Politics in Iran, One World, Oxford, 1985, 2000, p.291
  11. ^ "Homa Katouzian on Khalil Maleki | Part 2: Debunking Conspiracy Theory - Tehran Bureau". PBS. 2012-04-16. Retrieved 2013-09-26. 
  12. ^ Frye, Greater Iran, p.103)
  13. ^ Al-e Ahmad, Jalal. "The Israeli Republic". Restless Books. 

External links[edit]