Jalal Al-e-Ahmad

Jalal Al-e-Ahmad

Yaalal Al-e-Ahmad (1923-1969), is a renowned writer and social critic. In a short autobiographical sketch made in 1967, not published until after his death, he described his conservative, religious and moderately wealthy family. His father wanted his son to have a career in the bazaar. Upon finishing elementary school, he decided to enroll – unknown to his father – in night classes in Dar-al-fonun, while working during the day as a watchmaker, electrician and leather merchant. After finishing the Dar-al-fonun classes in 1943, he entered the Faculty of Letters at the University of Tehran, graduating in 1946, and the following year he was hired as a school teacher. He was forced to continue working as a teacher throughout his life, despite the growing respect and popularity he gained as a writer.

Yalal joined the Party of the Masses of Iran shortly after World War II. In the late 1940s, he distanced himself from this pre-Soviet party. He supported the oil nationalization movement of Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq. Following the CIA-orchestrated coup in 1953, Al-e-Ahmad was imprisoned for several years.

In 1950, Al-e-Ahmad married Simin Daneshvar, a very talented writer. However, from 1945 to 1968, he wrote novels, essays, travel diaries, and ethnographic monographs. The themes of his works are mainly cultural, social and political issues, symbolic representations and sarcastic expressions. In his works, he focuses on the superstitious beliefs of the common people and their exploitation by the Shiite clergy.

He has translated some works into Persian, such as “The Dirty Hands” by Jean-Paul Sartre and “The Player” by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Al-e-Ahmad traveled to poor and remote parts of Iran and tried to document their lives, their culture and their problems. In 1962, he published “Gharbzadegi” (Occidentalism) which is his most famous critical essay. In this work he wrote a scathing critique of Western technology and civilization and argues that the decline of traditional Iranian industries, such as carpet weaving, was the beginning of the West’s existential and economic victories over the East. His message was widely adopted by Ayatollah Khomeini and later by other revolutionaries during the Iranian revolution of 1979.

Al-e-Ahmad died in 1969. It is rumored that he was poisoned by agents of Savak, the security service of the Shah of Iran.


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