Kasravi’s Evolving Impact on Iranian Youth

By all accounts, Ahmad Kasravi was an enigmatic personality whose fame, or notoriety, spilled over the boundaries of intellectual and religious circles into the arena of public debate, bestowing on him something of a celebrity status. It is fair to say that Kasravi’s death by assassination in 1947, intensified public attention on him and his ideas and for at least a decade; thereafter he received a more focused, and to some extent, more objective, scrutiny. This article attempts to examine Ahmad Kasravi not so much as a landmark in the Iranian intellectual history but as a cultural icon, that is, a focal point of the contemporary ethos and an intellectual trend-setter in terms of social, political, and religious thinking and behavior, with special emphasis on the contemporary youth and their view of Kasravi. Relying mainly on his own experience as a youth in early formative stage during the years following Kasravi’s assassination, the author explores the process by which the young generation of the time came to view Kasravi as a historic personality. It is noted that the author’s age group gained social and political consciousness in the early fifties during the Mosaddeq era when the society experienced a degree of freedom of expression and enquiry unprecedented in Iran. At that time Kasravi’s works were still in circulation and the subject of debate. That is when the author and his peers learned about Kasravi and his intellectual legacy.

The article indicates that the young Iranians of that generation never became disciples of Kasravi. By the time the members of that group came in contact with him and his ideas, they had been fairly well indoctrinated by Hegel, Nietzsche, and, most of all, Marx, and found Kasravi’s visceral hostility to industrialism and European intellectual tradition quaint if not wrong-headed. In a similar vein, he wrongly assumed that since Marx and Nietzsche both subscribed to a materialist world view, they shared the same philosophy of power and the nature of power relations in human social behavior.

Gradually and inexorably, the article argues, the young urban Iranians of the 1950s came to view Kasravi not only as a historical phenomenon, but also as a cult figure. As such, the cognitive interaction with Kasravi and his ideology became subject to the semiotics of popular cultural, requiring a visual dimension, which in that era consisted of a single photograph reproduced many times over on the inside cover of his books and publications about him in the print media.

Faridoun Farrokh
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