The Paradox of Decolonization: Ali Shariati’s Islamic Lawgiver

The Paradox of Decolonization: Ali Shariati’s Islamic Lawgiver

Thu, 18 Mar 2021 18:00 - 19:30 Greenwich Mean Time (UTC±0)

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A talk for Goldsmiths’ Global Middle East Seminar Series by Dr Arash Davari

About this Event


At the end of the Cold War, Iranian “religious intellectuals” increasingly concerned with democratic politics and disillusioned with the revolutionary postures of an Islamic Republic rejected the third worldism long associated with the 1955 Asia-Africa Conference held in Bandung, Indonesia. Ali Shariati’s legacy played a prominent role in these debates. Many dismissed utopian aspirations altogether, announcing their differences with Shariati. Others cordoned off the parts of Shariati’s oeuvre that invoked Bandung from the essence of his ideas, claiming the former expressed support for statist authoritarianism under the influence of his immediate historical context. This presentation reevaluates Shariati’s most controversial lectures, 1969’s Ummat va Imāmat. According to scholarly consensus, the lectures comprise a derivative imitation of Sukarno’s guided democracy and hence an apology for postcolonial authoritarian rule. Shariati’s rhetorical performance suggests otherwise. In my estimation, the lectures offer a postcolonial iteration of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s paradox of founding—a call for self-determination alongside the external intervention needed to prepare for it in the wake of moral dispositions accrued during colonization. Shariati thus proposes to resolve the problem of enduring colonial domination by citing a fabricated French professor, a foreigner, as an authoritative source. He practices a noble lie, believable because it draws from colonized sensibilities but laden with hints encouraging audiences to see past it. If audiences develop the requisite ability to decipher the lie, Shariati wagers, they at once develop the autonomy implied by self-determination. The procedure follows from what he calls an “Islamic perspective.” On these grounds, Shariati theorizes the paradox of politics as decolonization.

Arash Davari is an assistant professor in the Department of Politics at Whitman College. His current research addresses the question of revolution at the intersection of history and theory. He is writing a book about the 1979 revolution in Iran.

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