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gharbzadegi
November 23, 2007 10:26 AM   Subscribe

"Fascism", in its current hyphenated repackaging, gets bandied about quite a bit these days. So, it may surprise you to learn that the populist appeal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad depends in part on a Persian concept, "gharbzadegi" ("weststruckness" or "occidentosis") whose roots are located in an Iranian adaptation of Martin Heidegger's proto-fascist concept of "The Darkening of the World" by the intellectuals Ahmad Fardid and Jalal Ali Ahmad.
posted by felix betachat (32 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh god this is a great post. Heidegger! Gharbzadegi! Fascism! This is why MetaFilter is MetaFilter!

[spreads rose petals on felix's profile page]
posted by KokuRyu at 10:59 AM on November 23, 2007


Thomas Sheehan wrote about Heidegger and the Nazis here; I read it years ago and remember it as a thoughtful and moderate take on the extent to which Heidegger's thought is tainted by Nazism and his notions of the "Greek-German axis" in philosophy.

The first half of Heidegger's Being and Time still strikes me as a productive contribution to epistemology, rather free of ideology; the second half, well, it takes a turn for the worse.
posted by creasy boy at 11:15 AM on November 23, 2007


Lots of stuff here. Great thread; thanks felix!
posted by never used baby shoes at 11:18 AM on November 23, 2007


from the Darkening link:

The spiritual decay of the earth is so advanced that peoples risk exhausting that reserve of spiritual force which enables them just to see and take stock of this decay (in respect of the destiny of 'Being'). This simple observation has nothing to do with cultural pessimism: for in every corner of the world the darkening of the world, the flight of the gods, the destruction of the earth, the massification of man, the contemptuous suspicion of everything which is creative and free, have reached such proportions that such childlike expressions as pessimism and optimism have long become laughable.

This is "spoon-fed" to the masses in American universities by "unscrupulous Philosophy Departments"? Cool.
posted by Brian B. at 11:33 AM on November 23, 2007


Appropriate soundtrack
posted by Grangousier at 12:04 PM on November 23, 2007


from the gharbzadegi link: the fact that 'the world of non-Islam ' is called Dar al-Harb, the house of war, seems quite backward and war mongering to me.
The mirror image of Bush talking about a crusade after 9/11.
posted by jouke at 12:10 PM on November 23, 2007


Fascinating.
posted by semmi at 12:25 PM on November 23, 2007


Great post.

First, to be clear, what Heidegger did to, and said about, Jews - including his support for Hitler's project - is detestable.

That said, I'm not sure that we should be praising or condemning the *entire* corpus of this problematic man's work, simply because he held disgusting and vile opinions about Jews, or supported Hitler.

He was wrong about Jews, and should be (and was) taken to task for that, period. Also, his post-war actions, including his refusal to admit mistaken notions about Jews, are almost unforgivable. He should be held in contempt for that.

Heidegger's work, though dense and at time nearly incomprehensible, *does* deserve scrutiny, because it is profound in many ways, and provides (aside from his pathetic anti-semitic claptrap) unique insights into many of the questions about modern life, technology, art, and so on.

There is a lot to be learned from Heidegger, by both investigation into some of the deep questions and answers he created about life in the modern world, as well as some of the vile mistakes he made though by confusing his love of what he considered "pure thought", the the absolute truth.

One big lesson I've learned from Heidegger is that one cannot separate out thought from emotion. We are all of that (emotion and thought), combined. Many of our greatest errors in life are made because we either forget that fact, or are ignorant of it.
posted by MetaMan at 12:39 PM on November 23, 2007


"I am reminded of the anecdote told about Bozorgmehr the Sasanid Iranian sage and statesman who, upon confessing ignorance on a certain issue was lambasted by his interlocutor: "How can you draw such a large salary if you are so ignorant?" Bozorgmehr responded: 'Lady, if I were to be paid on a scale proportional to my ignorance I would be the richest man on earth. My salary is based on what little I do know.'"
That alone was worth the price of admission. Top posting, thank you.
posted by Abiezer at 1:03 PM on November 23, 2007


Fantastic!. Thank you.
posted by elmono at 1:42 PM on November 23, 2007


This is an excellent post, thank you.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:56 PM on November 23, 2007


I'll be reading through these links for a while... thanks!
posted by not_on_display at 2:33 PM on November 23, 2007


That Boston Review really is excellent and it's good to see it read widely. It sheds a lot of light on the underlying, real battle of ideas and events that's going on in Islam that so many in the West just miss completely.

Heidegger's work, though dense and at time nearly incomprehensible, *does* deserve scrutiny, because it is profound in many ways, and provides (aside from his pathetic anti-semitic claptrap) unique insights into many of the questions about modern life, technology, art, and so on.

Well Heidegger deserves praise as the most fantastically wrong and misled man who's ever lived. This is quite an extraordinary feat but it's not exactly something to write home about. There's a clear connection between Platonic thought which introduces the concept of domination and German philosophy which attempts, again and again, to totalize both the world and the man. This is obviously not a reason to dismiss the entire project but it's good justification for the sneanie treatment towards all of them.
posted by nixerman at 2:41 PM on November 23, 2007


what Heidegger did to, and said about, Jews - including his support for Hitler's project - is detestable.

What did Heidegger do to Jews? What project did he support? There is every evidence that Heidegger was enthralled with the fuerher-volk relationship because of what he thought it could do for our understanding of 'Being,' but he wasn't exactly an antisemite. His favorite teacher was a Jew, his lover was a Jew, and most of his best students were Jews.

He was an asshole, because he was more than willing to throw his friends and lovers under the bus to gain a little temporal power and thus advance his ontological project. But a Jew-hater? No.
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:43 PM on November 23, 2007


By the way, great post!
posted by anotherpanacea at 2:46 PM on November 23, 2007


ummm... let's play 6 degrees of seperation from... Hitler.

Cheney -> Wolfowitz -> Strauss -> Husserl -> Heidegger -> Hitler OMG FASCISM!.

Heidegger was a student of Husserl.

It just goes to show how unexceptional fascism is, except as a historically novel way to tar movements you don't like...

None of this makes "islamo-fascism" any less ludicrous.
posted by geos at 2:46 PM on November 23, 2007


the populist appeal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad depends in part on a Persian concept,

Blaming someone else for your problems is hardly something Persia can claim to own.
posted by three blind mice at 2:56 PM on November 23, 2007


Heidegger, according to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
posted by Brian B. at 3:25 PM on November 23, 2007


Excellent post!
posted by jason's_planet at 3:30 PM on November 23, 2007


OK, I'm going to depart from the consensus here; I don't think this is a great post. It's an ambitious post with some good links, but I think it's fatally flawed by its attempt to draw a line between gharbzadegi and fascism. The former is indelibly associated with the name of Jalal Ali Ahmad, a great and quirky writer whose book overturned the intellectual world of '60s Persia in a way for which there is no parallel I can think of in America (unless you go back to the days of Tom Paine). And there is no connection between Jalal and fascism. He apparently got the word gharbzadegi from Fardid, a shady character whose influence, such as it was, was more of a person-to-person thing, since he was not much of a writer. It's fine to link him with Heidegger and Heidegger's unfortunate ideological connections, but that wouldn't make a very exciting post, because nobody outside of Iran has heard of Fardid. It's the leap to Jalal, one of the few modern Iranian writers of whom foreigners have heard, that gives the post its zing, and that leap is entirely unmerited. Here's a quote from the "adaptation" link:

The concept of "westoxication" appears to be derived from a recurring theme in Martin Heidegger's works, the "darkening of the world."


See what he does there? "The concept of westoxication" links Fardid to Jalal (just because they used the same word), and "appears to be derived" is classic innuendo. Mind you, it may be true; I have little interest in Heidegger and none in Fardid, so I'm certainly not going to investigate it. But "westoxication" (gharbzadegi) has a very specific anti-colonialist meaning in Iranian discourse, one that has been basic to intellectual/political discourse for over forty years and one that has nothing to do with Heidegger or fascism.

Sorry for the long diatribe, which will interest hardly anyone, but I felt Jalal's honor was besmirched here and I didn't want people to go away thinking "Jalal Ali Ahmad = fascist."
posted by languagehat at 4:09 PM on November 23, 2007 [8 favorites]


Cheney -> Wolfowitz -> Strauss -> Husserl -> Heidegger -> Hitler OMG FASCISM!.

You don't need to throw Husserl in the mix. Strauss studied under Heidegger.

He was wrong about Jews, and should be (and was) taken to task for that, period. Also, his post-war actions, including his refusal to admit mistaken notions about Jews, are almost unforgivable. He should be held in contempt for that.

I don't know that Heidegger made any pronouncements on the Jews for him to be wrong on. It's known that his wife was anti-semitic but I don't think you can say that about Heidegger beyond his support of the Nazi party. Heidegger had decades long affairs with two Jewish women and when he was rector he had an anti-semitic Nazi poster removed. He also claimed that his support for the Nazi party weakened after Kristallnacht. This in no way lessens his responsibility for backing the Nazi regime. He was very famous well before 1933 and his membership in the party contributed to the Nazi facade of legitimacy. If he did make comments specifically about the Jews I am interested in seeing a citation.
posted by BigSky at 4:29 PM on November 23, 2007


Apologies in advance for the lengthy quotage, but I don't think this is in print anywhere, anymore. It's from the Semiotext(e) German Issue, 1982. I have no axe to grind regarding Heidegger, but here is his response, such as it is, to the accusations against him - which to this day are apparently all that non-specialists know of Martin Heidegger...

Heidegger's 1950 response, apparently unpublished, to an attack on himself reported in the article "Hanfstaengel contra Heidegger" (the Munchen Suddeutschen Zeitung, June 14, 1950.

Martin Heidegger: On My Relation to National Socialism
"Regarding the charges made by Mr. E Hanfstaengel in the Munich city council that in 1933 I pressured students to join the Party, I declare the following: I never pressured a student or anyone else at all to join the Party. I myself unfortunately allowed myself in early summer 1933, as rector of the University of Freiburg elected by the Plenum, to be pressured into joining the Party, to be sure only on the condition (which I also always strictly held to) that I would never work in any way for the Party and certainly not accept an office in it or in one of its organizations. In 1933 I committed the political error, as was the case with many even among those of the highest spiritual and worldly distinction, of seeing constructive strengths for our people in Hitler and his movement and embracing it. I recognized this error already in the first ;months of the year 1934 and I resigned my office as rector under protest against demands of the National Socialist Minister of Culture of Baden. Since then, i.e. during the last ten years of my academic teaching activity up to fall 1944, I engaged in an ever more pointed spiritual argument or criticism of the unspiritual foundations of the National Socialist world view.
This conduct was understood very precisely by thousands of students whom I educated for responsibility for the West as well as by Party officials and their press. The many years of informants and surveillance by the S.D. (security service), the continuous attacks on my works in Party journals, later the publication ban, and finally being drafted into the Volkssturm*, unusual for one of my age and my position, and from which many far younger colleagues remained exempted, prove this unequivocally.

My error of 1933 was established by the Political Cleansing Committee of the university as the only "taint" and they simultaneously emphasized that I could no longer be counted as a National Socialist after 1934. A teaching ban was declared by the French occupation authority in the year 1947, which was rescinded again in the year 1949. In the German denazification proceedings I was classified as a fellow-traveller without atonement measures (being required).

Where crimes have occurred, they must be atoned for. But how long does one want to continue to defame publicly over and over those who erred politically for a short or even a longer time, and this in a state according to whose constitution anyone can be a member of and fighter for the communist party. A strange blindness pushes forward in this way the wearing away and inner dissolution of the last substantial strengths of our people."
(* Emergency draft affecting young and old Germans during the last days of the Third Reich)
posted by pilgrim at 5:04 PM on November 23, 2007


I have a friend who wrote his thesis on Being and Time, and we've spoken about this nazi link many times. He seems to be convinced that it's been enormously blown out of proportion and tends to obscure the work of the man. I've read Being and Time and found it mind-blowing and, while difficult, well worth the work.
posted by Espoo2 at 5:08 PM on November 23, 2007


Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar
Who could think you under the table
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:11 PM on November 23, 2007


Heidegger thought it was great when Germany united under one will of National Socialists. Many Americans thought it was great when country united after 9/11. Jalal Ali Ahmad thought it was great when Persia united under the threat of westernization. Then things went downwards, as the united will wasn't as good as they hoped. It is easy mistake to make -- a shared purpose is something people really hope to find -- but I think it would be intellectually dishonest to try to correct your mistake by totally disconnecting yourself from the supposed united will: if you were part of it, spokesperson of it, you have the responsibility to stay in it, take the shame and try to steer it towards something better. Heidegger got it, I think some of the current right-wing intellectuals also got it, and will be remembered fondly later, but for now: shame.
posted by Free word order! at 7:38 PM on November 23, 2007


LanguageHat is right on re: the shabby attempt to make a link with fascism, but I'll forgive the FPP's sensationalism since there's so much other interesting stuff here. Thanks!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 8:24 PM on November 23, 2007


MetaFilter: the Western intellectual conspiracy.

One thing I don't get: were that last link in any other context, about any other topic, people would be falling all over it. It's full of logical flaws, contradictions, and general paranoid ranting that wouldn't be out of place in a 9/11-truth website.

Did I miss a memo? Are we not going after insane 'Orientalist conspiracy' theories? (What, not sporting?) I'm a tad bit disappointed.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:27 PM on November 23, 2007


It's an ambitious post with some good links, but I think it's fatally flawed by its attempt to draw a line between gharbzadegi and fascism.

languagehat, I agree completely about the apparent fuzziness of the causal/authorial relation chain here, and thanks for pointing it out. However, I thought the point of the post was to a) point of the absurdity of the contemporary conflation of Islam with the Nazis, while b) pointing to a correlation, and even perhaps a conceptual nexus, between ideas are related to a certain luddite-volk obsession in Germany and a similar one operating in anti-colonial Iran. Even if there wasn't a true connection between Jalal and Fardid, it seems that there's an interesting confluence of ideas at stake. Also, I thought the connection between Jalal and Fardid was established, insofar as Jalal borrowed Fardid's word 'westoxification,' and the matter was only to demonstrate a link between Fardid and Heidegger, which seems to be that Fardid taught and translated Heidegger's work. From the Ahman Fardid link, which is testimonial by a former student:

Who, for example, can deny the enormous impact of Fardid's ingenious translation of Heidegger's "DaSein" to "Havalat e Tarikhi" based on a reading of Hafiz?

students saw the world in a different light after each and every lecture. We felt the entire world budge a little and sundry pieces of it fall into place as Fardid, his unlit "homa baizi" cigarette in hand, wiggled his Archimedean lever under a world of thought. I fell in love with Heidegger through Fardid.

Moreover, his reticence seems tied to a Socratic/Straussian esotericism:

The most prevalent charge against Fardid has been that he never wrote anything of importance. He was, to paraphrase Reza Barahani's snickering epithet, an "oral philosopher" (filsoof e Shafahi.) This was, to be sure a puzzling attribute. Although Fardid tried to justify his expository reluctance to the poverty and contamination of the language, (in the Heideggerian sense) I suspect his reticence stemmed from his paralyzing perfectionism.

Once, responding to a young author who had published an article in a popular daily in Tehran, and who had dedicated it to Ahmad Fardid with these words: "Everything I know, I have learned from Professor Fardid" the philosopher shot back:

"You have learned nothing from me, youngster, get back to your homework." Later that day, still smarting from what he considered an offensive praise, he offered the following analogy:

"Every spring I buy grass seed from the store across the street and cast it in my lawn, but what grows there is just quaint and curious weeds and not what I have put in the ground. The same is true of those who claim my legacy or oppose it. They bear no resemblance to what I have sewn."


I know some fourth generation Straussians who still talk like this. But whatever. Really, the whole post needed only to include this one story to be excellent:

the anecdote told about Bozorgmehr the Sasanid Iranian sage and statesman who, upon confessing ignorance on a certain issue was lambasted by his interlocutor: "How can you draw such a large salary if you are so ignorant?" Bozorgmehr responded: "Lady, if I were to be paid on a scale proportional to my ignorance I would be the richest man on earth. My salary is based on what little I do know."
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:35 PM on November 24, 2007


I might just be talking to myself here, but reading the last link to Jalal makes him sound rather a lot like Fanon: mostly concerned with the way that imperial education patterns have created a malaise of self-hatred amongst the Persian ruling class. I'm starting to see lh's objection a bit more clearly: the word gharbzadegi may come from a Heideggerian perspective, but the popular usage is almost completely Sartrean: it's got that same melange of existential marxism he seems to have patented and exported all over the colonized world.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:06 PM on November 25, 2007


The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia
Visions of World Order in Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian Thought

Cemil Aydin

posted by Brian B. at 12:21 PM on November 25, 2007


That looks like a very interesting book, Brian B. Have you read it? Could you say a bit about it?
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:33 PM on November 25, 2007


That looks like a very interesting book, Brian B. Have you read it? Could you say a bit about it?

I haven't read the book, but I suspect that anti-Westernism is a developed pattern of thought predating any Heideggerian support they might have borrowed post-modernly. Theologians such as Bultmann also made good use of Heidegger, because of the latter's radical ontology and quest for meaning. Likewise, I would assume that Heidegger is well known in Islamic discussions, where fundamentalism requires political patronage. Heidegger saw many philosophical dead ends and tried to steer away from them. This has earned him the status of being an academic touchstone for just about any turn, even from Westernism apparently.
posted by Brian B. at 2:53 PM on November 25, 2007


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