International Journal Middle East Studies



BOOK REVIEW

MEHRZAD BOROUJERDI, Iranian Intellectuals and the West: The Tormented Triumph of Nativism (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1996). Pp 256.


Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi a1
a1 Department of History, Illinois State University

Abstract

Mehrzad Boroujerdi's Iranian Intellectuals and the West explores the works of three generations of Iranian writers and academics who contributed to the formation of a counter-Western “nativist” discourse. It opens with an exposition of the concepts that constitute the theoretical grid of the book and provide the title of its first chapter. “Otherness, Orientalism, Orientalism in Reverse, and Nativism.” Informed by contemporary critical theories, Boroujerdi argues for the centrality of the “other” to the formation of modern self-identity. Re-encapsulating the main theses of Said's Orientalism, he recounts that “the Islamic world came to be perceived as the embodiment of all that was recently left behind in Europe: an all-encompassing religion, political despotism, cultural stagnation, scientific ignorance, superstition, and so on” (p. 7). He then explains “Orientalism in reverse,” a concept formulated by the Syrian critic Sadik al-Azm. Preferring this clumsy concept to “Occidentalism” or “self-Orientalizing,” Boroujerdi defines Orientalism in reverse as “a discourse used by ‘oriental’ intellectuals and political elites to lay claim to, recapture, and finally impropriate their ‘true’ and ‘authentic’ identity” (pp. 11–12). As a counter-narrative of Orientalism, this discourse “uncritically embraces orientalism's assumption of a fundamental ontological difference separating the natures, peoples, and cultures of the Orient and the Occident” (p. 12). Boroujerdi attributes the popularity of Orientalism in reverse to the “seductive lure of nativism,” which is defined as “the doctrine that calls for the resurgence, reinstatement, or continuance of native or indigenous cultural customs, beliefs, and values” (p. 14). Surprisingly enough, Boroujerdi does not divulge that this seductive and pervasive “ nativism” has no discursively significant equivalent in Iranian cultural politics.



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