The Journals of Early Iranian Emissaries Abroad

In his review of a number of journals written by the first Iranian emissaries sent to Europe, the author states that contrary to European traders and diplomats travelling to the East, Iranian diplomatic envoys were, by and large, mostly interested in the more superficial manifestations of progress and modernity in the West. The Iranian preoccupation with mysticism and introspection in the 17th and 18th centuries was not conducive to the development of a spirit of adventurism and a sense of curiosity about worldly and material aspects of societal life. Furthermore, the persistence of despotic rule and the endemic social and political insecurity caused Iranians to travel abroad to relieve personal tension rather than to observe and learn.

However, in reviewing three of the most noted of the journals, Tohfat al-Alam, Masir-e Talebi and Safarname-ye Mirza Saleh, the author refers to their indirect impact on the devlopment of certain concepts in the course of Iranian constitutional movement. Indeed, the author believes, Tohfat al-Alam may be the first book in Persian that contains a number of references to democratic values and institutions in the West, including limited monarchy and the parliamentary system which were developed, according to the book's author, as a consequence of the separation of church and state.

The author of Masir-e Talebi, describes, on the basis of his first hand observations, a number of modem developments in England which merit adoption by the Iranians only when they are compatible with the tenets of Islam. The emphasis of the book on the rule of law in European societies and the attention paid to the "public interest" as opposed to private motives, is also, according to the author, one of the first references to these two concepts in Iranian writings. The most salient feature of the third journal, Safarname-ye Mirza Saleh is its subtle yet clear comparison of the democratic features of the European societies with the despotic and arbitrary nature of Iranian political structure.

Javad Tabatabai
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