This week Jalal Al-e Ahmad and Dr. Ali Shari’ati provided us with eerily relevant perspectives on a few issues, especiallly given the vast gap in time that they overcome. Al’e Ahmad argues that Gharbzadegi (Weststruckness) is the root cause of Islamic problems at the time of writing (early 1960s) and provides a detailed web of political and economic relations that leave the Muslims subjugated by Western technology and practice. Shari’ati introduces the concept of Jihad and Shahadat which deterermines how Muslims should act when in dire straits.
Al’e Ahmad starts by describing where Islam finds itself as a “Weststruck situation in which we await Western alternatives in a daze” (95, Al’e Ahmad). This depiction of Muslims being extremely passive is reinforced throughout the booklet with special attention paid to the “Weststruck man” who “has no personality” and aims to “please everyone” (read the powerful Western businessmen) (117,118, Al’e Ahmad). This dependency on the West is derived from two sources according to Al’e Ahmad: the machines and economics that are brought to the Middle East. His first point is to emphasis that by understanding how the machines work provides the users with control such that the “machines are a means” to “eliminate poverty and to see to the spiritual and material welfare of all humanity” (98, Al’e Ahmad). This is contrasted with uninformed dependency on the machines which constitutes a position of weakness as he likens to a child fearing demons when someone places an ordinary soup pot over their head. Al’e Ahmad finds that contemporary Muslims fall on the side of not knowing enough about the machines that provide their sustenance and cites “the country [having] no framework to support ‘technicians” demands” (98, Al’e Ahmad). This leads to a dependancy on foreign experts which Al’e Ahmad firmly denounces.
Soon it becomes clear that being reliant on foreign experts to run the economy opens up the door to exploitation especially “when the country’s economy is in other people’s hands and those other people build machines” leaving Muslims to be “needy purchasers” (105, Al’e Ahmad). That Western interests have control in how governments choose to sacrifice self-sustainability for “Machinestruckness” is justified because “the seller [Western markets] will be unwilling to give up such an acquiescent customer” (100, Al’e Ahmad). Not only does this affect the Islamic world on an institutional but also individual scale when the products sold reduce people to being “loyal customer[s] of Western industrial products” to the degree that the “shock” of their disappearance “would strike him down” (119, Al’e Ahmad). This results in the Weststruck man who is content to enjoy as many superficial comforts as he can lay his hands on even if it renders him unwilling to prioritize his duties to Islam.
Shari’ati begins by explaining how wise “conquerers” of Islam realised that Islam could never be defeated by force because the essence will live on through the “hearts and minds”. Instead, through an approach that echos both Al’e Ahmads “Weststruckness” and Frantz Fanon’s view of colonialism, he describes how “all values are eliminated” through such steps as the “intellectuals sell[ing] out and the clergy support[ing] the powerful” leaving the true believers of Islam outnumbered by those under a new, false, banner that identifies itself as Islam (180, Shari’ati). What can one do in such an impossible situation? Shari’ati uses the example of Husayn to illustrate the ideas of Jihad (struggle) and Shahadat (martyrdom) within the context of Islam. Shari’ati suggest that it is just by “‘being Husayn'” and having knowledge of the wrongs being perpetrated that he is obligated to rise up as opposed to having “ability” (180 Shari’ati). Yet it not a sad moment when this hopeless struggle occurs and Shahadat provides one of the ultimate acts of faith that “is desired by our warriors” and takes an important place within the religion (194, Shari’ati).
Perhaps it is just a reflection of how Western my own thoughts are, but I believe that Al’e Ahmad’s views provide a more useful lens with which to criticize the current situation. Shari’ati provides a way to understand the motivation of many attacks and actions of the faithful but a deeper look at intercultural relations provides a broader look into how each side may find itself disenfranchised at different stations. While I don’t believe that “Weststruckness” exists to the degree suggested, the recent globalization has not been an equitable process and understanding these imbalances can help explain current situations very well.
Ayatullah Mahmud Taleqani, Ayatullah Murtada Mutahhari, Dr Ali Shari’ati, Jihad and Shahadat, The Institute for Research and Islamic Studies
Jalal Al’e Ahmad, Gharbzadegi, Mazda Publishers, California, 1997