Political Islam, Iran, and the Enlightenment: Philosophies of Hope and Despair By Ali Mirsepassi (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. pbk. 241 pages)

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Amir Dastmalchian



Political Islam, Iran, and the Enlightenment is Mirsepassi’s latest treatise
that focuses on the Iranian intellectual and political climate. Mirsepassi
is concerned to show the German and French intellectual influences of Islamist
intellectuals as they search for an appropriate response to modernity.
With Iran taken as a case study, Mirsepassi’s discussion is intended to undermine
those analyses of Muslim political aspirations which deem these
aspirations to be inherently anti-Western. Comprising an introduction and
seven chapters, Mirsepassi’s work speaks to those researchers in a range of
sociopolitical disciplines concerned with coming to grips with intellectual
developments in the Muslim world. The book might also interest those
interested in understanding the impact of continental philosophy on the
Muslim world. Although the emphasis is on Iran, an attempt is made in
the final chapter, especially, to broaden the discussion by dealing with the
Indian experience of modernity.
According to Mirsepassi, the Muslim understanding of modernity and
secularism was influenced by the specific visions of modern society held
by Kemal Ataturk and the “Shah of Iran” (presumably the ambitious Reza
Shah). These two figures were in turn influenced by the antireligious fervor
of French secularism. The attempt of Muslim intellectuals, therefore, to
establish a correct vision of society was informed by the radical Counter-
Enlightenment figures of German and French philosophy. Furthermore,
Muslim intellectuals overlooked Western visions of modern society which
were not antireligious. Political Islam, Iran, and the Enlightenment, therefore,
constructs a narrative that leads to examining the experience of British-
style secularism in India. Mirsepassi’s fear is that a lack of appreciation
of the European heritage of Islamists ‒ who Mirsepassi sees as intellectually
and politically totalitarian and as representing all Muslims ‒ will lead
to the sidelining of two groups from within the Muslim world. These two
groups are the quietist ulama and the reformist intellectuals, the latter of
which offer Mirsepassi the hope of an Islamic response to modernity that
is consistent with democratic principles ...

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