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Ali Shariati

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by: Dr.Ali Shariati


As a nation and a society possesses economic
resources, rich in energy, but worthles when raw, it also
possesses vast cultural and spiritual resources that have
accumulated throughout history. An inept and incompetant nation
will sit upon such rich treasures which are capable of making
people comfortable, nevertheless its people will remain ignorant,
stagnant and deprived. At the present time we know of large
nations in Asia and Africa that own vast and rich cultural
resources, but they are being stereotyped as backward, ignorant
and spiritually and morally bankrupt. There is a correspondance
between the cultural and economic resources of a nation. In
short, a generation looking for a way to solve its economic and
cultural-spiritual problems and to transform its society into a
progressive and creative one, must posses a historical and
cultural awareness aw well as technical-scientific know-how. This
does not mean it should merely emulate another progressive
society. Rather, it must posses an independant experiance, and
original principles and virtues, with a new mission in moving
towards its goals.

In recent years the enlightened generations of Asia and Africa
have come into direct contact with the philosophical, cultural
and spiritual schools of Europe. In the past (eg. in the 19th
century), when an educated Asian returned from Europe, he would
merely recount his memories, and whatever he said people would
accept. This was the only type of connection between Asians and
Europeans. Today however, Asian and African free-thinkers are
well acquanted with Europe due to today's educated class, mutual
relations, heightening of cultural awareness, and familiarity
with various aspects of European culture. These handful of
Eastern free-thinkers are self-conscious of themselves as well as
their cultural and spiritual values.

They have realised despite the fact that they posses great and
rich cultures brimming with spirituality, philosophy, and
knowledge of life, they are so 'culturally' poverty stricken (due
to alienation from their roots) that they have their mouths open
for any European cultural morsels. These peoples' only pride is
to learn the collaquialisms,ideas, expressions of the European
thinkers and take them home as souveneirs. We notice that the
contents have nothing to do with our miseries, pains and fate.
The fact is that the Easterner suffers from hunger while the
Westerner suffers from a full stomach. Therefore what the latter
says does not make any sense to the former, though in their
western atmosphere they are proper and make sense. However once
these ideas are transferred to a different atmosphere they become
useless except to those who like to show off.

I have sutied existentialsim and am a bit familiar with it. I
see existentialism in it's philosophical and spiritual form, and
as an art, the most splendid human consciousness in industrial
Europe and the materialistic West. But unfortunately I often
notice that our Asian and African free-thinkers, who know nothing
about their own native historical and spiritual treasures and
know only one western language,have learned existentialism in
Europe or America and imported it to their homeland- often
passing it off as a new phenomenon. When we examine the
"souveneirs" we notice that what was the existentialist
revolution of the 19th century in Kierkegaard's era to the 20th
century, in Sartre's and Jasper's period consists of a sort of
spiritual and human consciousness against the materialistic order
and vile and fossilizsing of consumption which has been ruling
the West.

Up to this point,fine, but as compared to the Eastern
spiritual experiances, these are very elementary and crude
lessons. Anxiety, which has been the most basic spirit of
existentialism in the past 100 years (man's estrangement with the
material world, the anxiety due to responsibility and inability
to find direction and the right way), make up the bulk of the
most fundamental problems of existentialism. We see that such
problems are as easy as "learning the alphabet" in
Eastern theosophy . They have existed in Laotse,Buddhism and
Islamic theosophy long ago, we have had rich experiances in such
areas.Unfortunately for example, we notice that an Iranian
free-thinker goes to Europe without knowing anything about Islam
and his own history other than those things he learned from
"Mama" and "Granny" and his high school
books. He studies literature, philosophy and art, and when he
returns home, he offers us elementary concepts that are taught in
our high schools and religious seminars.

For instance, this free-thinker goes to Europe and learns that
Sartre talks about "Choisir" (verb in French,to
choose,and Choix,a noun), which is our determinism and free-will
in persian. Determination and free-will have always been in
circulation and usage in our culture, especially in the
philosophical,spiritual,and theosophical writings of the Islamic
culture. However, since this free thinker was unaware of their
existence before going to Europe , he thinks he is offering
something new!

We notice that there is an exact correspondance between the
economic and the spiritual fate of the East. As I mention before
a nation which is incapable of utilizing it's own material
resources remains hungary, no matter how rich it is. By the same
token if a nation cannot know it's own cultural and spiritual
resources and is incapable of extracting,refining, and turning
them into energy, it will remain ignorant and backward while
sitting in piles of spiritual and cultural resources. The same
type of correspondance exists between the role of cultural and
material resources in the fate of a society. That is, those who
are incapable of utilizing their resources have to extend their
hands for rations from foreigners.

We see that the conscious Europe, which knows us better than
we know ourselves, utilizes our cultural and spiritual resources
and builds new schools of thought and ideas. Since we are not
worthy of a conscious utilization of our spiritual resources, our
free-thinkers have to beg them, and it never dawns these
free-thinkers that what they are recieving is their own raw
materials. Since they were not able to utilize their own
resources, they are being accused of
savagery,ignorance,spiritual,moral, and material poverty.

Therefore,as the East is trying to know it's own raw material
resources- - learning to extract them,showing their worth in
refining and converting them to energy - in order to save itself
from poverty, it should also do the same in cultural realms. By
extracting and refining it's cultural resources it must attain a
spiritual comfort, as well as a spiritual movement and
creativity. As the East is trying to become self-sufficient and
independant in the economic realm in order not to consume
European consumer goods, by utilizing the same consciousness, it
must try and become independant of Western spiritual products and
ultimately achieve moral and spiritual independence.

It is impossible to achieve economic independance, without
having achieved spiritual independance and vice versa. These two
are interdependant as well as complimentary conditions. In order
to have an independant character in the material,social, and
economic sphere, we must develop an independant consciousness
before the West, and vice versa. What should we do, and in what

It is quite obvious. We must know that the best teacher for
regaining and wresting one's independance and national character
is the enemy (or enemies) who robbed us from our independance and
national character. Therefore we must develop consciousness of
how the West has deprived us of our cultural and spiritual
resources and consequently trained a generation of Easterners who
have lost the capability of utilizing their rich treasures of
thought,ethics,spirit, and culture. In reality we have become
estranged from these resources. We must search for the steps that
the West has taken, as well as the mathod, and the sratagems it
has used to succeed and reach it's goals in the East, to such an
extent that she has accused the grand East, the origin,cradle,
and the foundation of Western man's civilization and culture, of
savagery, backwardness and corruption. Once we study and find the
tracks through which the West has enterd our lands, we can then
retrace them and return to the origin.

Instead of knowing the great African and Asian thinkers of the
present century who have found solutions with their own national
and universal consciousness, with greed and indescribable
enthusiasm, we spend our energies and efforts to know people such
as Brecht, Beckett, and so forth who have nothing to do with our
own condition. If I were a German I would worship Brecht, but
since I am an Iranian, I cannot understand him and I do not know
what he can do for me. The fact is that Brecht's prescription is
not good for my pain; he has a neurological problem, but I have a
stomach ache. Further, he has gone through two world wars and
three centuries of machinism, but I know neither what a world war
is nor machinism and bourgeoisie. Therefore his philosophy is of
no use to me. My anxiety is over fuel for winter, my future job,
and the training of my child, while his anxiety is existential.
He is asking himself, "what is my role in the world?".
He has reached a point where is secure in all aspects and now he
has come to grips with his own existence. We are still without
clothing and charcoal, but he is thinking about
"himself". Therefore his malaise is different than

In searching for a writer and thinker , we must look to those
individuals whose pains,history, condition, and fate are
identical to ours. I wish we knew Kateb Yassin instead of Brecht,
Omar Mawloud, Omar Ozgan,Frantz Fanon, and Aime Cesaire instead
of Jean Paul Sartre and Camus. Unless we know ourselves to the
extent that we are familiar with the Western free-thinkers, we
will to the same extent become alienated from ourselves.

Those who sincerely and honestly contaminate the Eastern
free-thinkers' minds with existential,cultural,philosophical, and
social problems of the post W.W.II Western man and create in them
extreme subjectivity for the European problems and the
progressive schools of the West, will not only distract the
Eastern peoples and their free-thinkers from their subjective
mission and the existing reality which they are confronted with,
but they will also change themselves into corrupting and
deceitful elements.

What has the West done to the East , that the latter has
become alienated and become unworthy of her own material
resources? It is quite obvious. Omar Mawloud (one of the grearest
African thinkers) says, "In order to turn a man into a
subservient, obediant, and trusting creature, we must strip his
personality away Because as long as he has character he cannot be
a servant. And in order to get a good ride from a nation, human
feelings must be taken away from them, or at least weakened. As
long as the Easterner feels he is independant, noble, and worthy,
he will never fawn and wag his tail for a Western morsel to be
thrown to him.

Sordell is one of the great African thinkers,writers and
free-thinkers. He is one of the individuals we should seek to
know rather than Jean Paul Sartre. He says, "In the
relationship between two human beings as well as two societies,
and in the relationship between the East and West, there is a
contradiction, a dialectic. How? Look at the dialectic between a
mother and the child. The mother despises the kid, beats him up,
negates him and rejects him. And the child in order to be immune
from all these harrasments resorts to the mother herself. He
resorts to the mothers lap and the mother accepts him. Why?
Because he is no more nuisance, he is hanging onto the mother, he
is part of the mother, and he has resorted to her. The child by
doing this negates his original character, the one that
exasperated the mother, 'I will not listen to you, and I don't
care what you say'. But since the child wanted to be immune from
all these hassles he resorted to the mother."

As we notice in the dialectic relationship, the child was
despised by the mother but in the meantime in order to respond to
being despised he resorts to the mother herself. This resembles
the relationship between two human beings, and two societies, the
East and the West. This is Sordellian dialect; superior vs
inferior, Western vs Eastern and white vs black. The fact is that
the west with her philosophy from Nietzsche,Hegel, to Freud and
Sigfried, all have designed the issue of superior race inferior
race, Western-Eastern race, and black-white

Ernest Renan, one of the greatest spiritual and moral
anthropologists of the world, also spurts out such nonsenses
as:"Man's spiritual race is the Northern and Western

Yes, I have seen it with my own eyes in universities such as
Sorbonne in Paris. In the 20th century an M.D. writes his
dissertation on the subject of the cells of the blacks vs whites.
And a group of world famous professors offer him his degree since
he has proven that brain cells of the black man's cortex are
inferior to white's or that the curvature of the tail in a
black's cell is less than that of the white's. I told him then
that he was mistaking the cell's tail and his own tail!

Hegel who purported to be a great genius, says, "God was
a 'subconscious' that entered nature. He developed and entered
plants; he developed further and entered animals.....into
man.......into Eastern man......into Western man....into Germans,
and he evolved further and entered into the German government,
and finally it entered the kingdom which rules us now." Wow!
Look how far Hegel's whole reasoning and arguments have gone!

Today in schools the war between the Greeks and the Persians
is called the war between the Greeks and the barbarians (though
Persians had the greater civilisation). These people still do not
know that the Greeks were not defeated by barbarians but by a
great civilisation. From the second and third grades on, children
are indoctrinated with the myth that Westerners are superior to
Easterners. Even university professors and thinkers in all areas
of the universities cherish the feeling of racial superiority.
For instance the contemperory professor Sigfried states that,
"God has created two kinds of races in natire: the boss who
must direct, and the laborer who must obey. Which one is needed
more? Obviously the laborer. Every thousand laborers calls for
two to three bosses. So, God has created a European race who is
the boss, and an Eastern race, who is the laborer. This is why
the birth rateof the East is 3%-5% annually, while for West is

Mr.Sigfried is a sociologist and a member of the French
academy today. He is an international figure and has not been
accused of racism. He says, "What you see and tend to ignore
on the sidewalk is a French gentleman, an average worker with
blond hair and blue eyes, who can easily direct huge
organisations and offices of the East. While, if you go to the
East, you will find great thinkers and personalities who are
incapable of directing a six man organisation. Why? Because the
Western brain creates civilisation and organisation while the
Eastern brain is sentimental, poetical, and theosophical.
Furthermore, a European is capable of working with a machinefor
forty years, but an easterner wrecks it within the first six
months and then continues to work with it for the next twenty
years." ( L'ame des peuples (Spirit of Nations), translated
into Persian by Mr.Ahmad Aram, Tehran).

I want to tell Mr.Sigfried that what he says is true but it
has nothing to do with being ae Easterner. It is due to
unfamiliarity with the machine, and because the Easterner has
become corrupt. There was a time when the Persian mind organized
and administered a huge empire extending from India to the
Meditrranean. The direction of this empire was in the hands of
one man - Khaje Nezam al - Molk - at a time when going from one
end of the empire to the other required one to pass through
twenty races, religions , and nationalities. This used to be the
Eastern mind. If the Easterner is incapable of ti now it is
because he has been corrupted by Westerners, but the Easterner is
not aware of this.

The people of India who are being accused of being useful only
for theosophy, morals and mortification of flesh, discovered the
first numerals for man. The laws of light refraction discovered
by Ibn Heitham, and the Algebra by Omar Khayyam are still valid.
These are some of the discoveries of the East. Why are we told
the East is only good for theosophy, ethics and meditation,
rather than intellect, logic and economics? The reason for
designing philosophical, scientific, sociological, and historical
problems in this manner is, because the Europeans, while trying
to buy themselves security and assure themselves of superiority
and originality, want to make Easterners feel racially inferior,
weak and faithless. Why? Because, according to Sordellian
dialectic, on the one hand the Easterner is made to feel inferior
(having a corrupt past, religion, and history), while on the
other hand, in order to get rid of his complexes, the Easterner
tries to be like the Westerner,the superior race. Once the
Easterner follows the superior race he will be, he will be immune
from attacks which label him black,Eastern, theosophic,religious,
corrupt and brainless. Why? Because he is no longer being accused
and he is no longer in his native suit. Just like a child who is
attacked by his mother but resorts to the lap of the mother
himself. When I use the 'mother-child' instance to depict the
relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed, from a
cultural point of view, it is not an exanmple - it is a reality.

The mothers for Asia and Africa are England,France and
Belgium, and Holland. When these countries accuse us of a base
culture,people and race we tend to believe them. How does a
country interested in freeing herself from such accusations go
about it? By pretending to fulfill those descriptions. Once this
is done, the "mother country" is satisfied, and
consequently one's country is secure and everything is alright.

When an individual thinks, consumes, socializes, creates, and
wears a suit like "himself", he is independant. But now
such an independance is being attacked, all the talks are a means
to severe the East from "it-self", and make her a
consumer like the West.

Ever since the 18th and 19th century when European machines
began to overproduce, the surplus had to be sold to Africa, Asia,
Latin America, and Australia, but the merchandise such as beauty
aids, were made for European tastes.How could an African woman
use it? As an African woman makes her own beauty aids from her
farm, the same is true of her clothing.

What should one do to attract the villagers to buy expensive
coats? Their mode of consumption must be changed. But consumption
cannot be easily changed since it is related to one's
religion,history, social standing, culture and ethics. All these
must be destroyed in order to change a villager into a mannequin
that can be manipulated the way we wish. That is we must force
things down his/her throat (regardless of how the individual

What is culture? It is the spiritual,mental,moral,and
historical accumulations of a nation,similar to natural
resources.How were natural resources formed? Throughout centuries
animals and plants were pressurizes within layers in the depth of
the earth. Due to the interplay of myriads of variables they were
transformed into vital economic substances. Throughout history,
culture, due to the appearance and demise of successive
generations, also becomes accumulated and forms the spiritual
assets of a nation. No matter how we interpret originality,it
belomgs to history since man's character is not suddenly formed
from nothing in a single period.

Therefore, the personality of a generation depends upon the
constant flow of past accumulations of
spiritual,mental,ethical,artistic,and theosophic nurturing, to
the extent that a generation can digest his past savings,he can
receive nourishment from the makings of it's own century. Which
tree can utilize the sun,air,and nitrogen best? It is quite
obvious that it will be the one that has grown roots deeper in
the soil.

An individual who feeds on his own history possesses a
personality that is capable of choosing and shaping his tomorrow.
It is absolutely impossible for an individual who has no past to
have a future. Whoever has no past begins from zero, and whoever
is not familiar with his own culture is a primitive man.

The exploitiative sociology of Europe has realised that in
order to be able to rob the East, to ride on her back, and to
easily decieve her, it is imperative to strip her from her
personality.Once this is accomplished she will proudly follow the
West and with unspeakable lunacy and thirst she will consume
Western goods. Because whoever is deficient in personality will
relate himself to someone who has it. And one of the
manifestations that help an individual resemble someone else is
through consumption., by which the person can imitate. This is
very true, since those who want, for instance, to look like a
celebrity (scientific,artistic, and cinematic) often imitate his
consumption, and drive his type of car.

The exploiter wishes to see his machines work all of the time.
Furthermore, he wants to see all originality,religion,tastes, and
various talents destroyed, so that all races can be changed to
become consumers of his products. In order to achieve this
purpose, the exploiter searches for ways to deprive a nation of
it's personality, which is defined as the unique aspects of a
culture that differentiates it from another.Therefore, a
generation, like a tree, must be severed from it's roots so that
it can be used and manipulated any way the exploiter wishes.

Depriving a nation of it's history and cutting it off from
it's culture with subsequent alienation of the present generation
from it's cultural resources, have reached a point that the
cultures which possessed the proudest religions,most progressive
philosophical thinking, the most delicate arts, created the
grandest civilisation and contributed the most experiance to
human history, today have become so alienated with their past
possessions that they have been transformed, into a sort of human
being that has to re-learn how to dress,eat,read,and write! Why
are these societies living in poverty and ignorance while the
West and it's thinkers, by looting such cultures, are trying to
enrich their own cultures?

In the Crusades, the Islamization of Christianity created
Protestantism. Christianity,which throughout centuries was the
cause of retardation, was transformed into a builder and
energizer of Europe. Unlike what we are told it was not the
negation of religion which created modern Western civilisation
but the transformation of a corrupt and ascetic religion into a
critical,protesting and mundane Christianity. That is,
Protestantism was the creator of modern Western civilisation,
rather than materialism or anti-religious sentiments which did
not exist in the Renaissance.

The transformation of Catholic to Protestant meant changing a
corrupt religious spirit to a social religious spirit, one which
built today's grand civilisation upon centuries of Western
retardation and inertia. What I am about to mention happens to be
the biggest Renaissance experiance; no cultural assets (including
religion) were negated in the Renaissance, It was Hitler who
asserted that he was in the process of building history. If you
start buliding history now you will have just what you made! What
did Hitler do than destroy past accumulations?

What was Renaissance? It was a revival of the Greek cultural
elemants which were unknown in the Middle Ages. Therefore today's
great Western civilisation is the product of 15th,16th, and 17th
century thinkers who decided to extract the Greek and Roman
cultural resources (along with their own vast reservoir of faith
and feeling) in order to consciously "know"
Christianity, so that they could convert this opiate to energy
and awareness-generating force. And they succesfully did it. Why
are we not told the truh?

We are told these thinkers threw religion and past away,
marched forward and suddenly embraced a new civilisation! But how
could they march forward empty-handed? With an empty hand you
must start from zero and a primitive condition. Rather, they
returned to the past consciously from the right direction, and
instead of knowing Plato and Aristotle through the Arabs, they
decided to do it their own way.

Today, we notice that Asian and African progressive thinkers
and leaders who have advanced European education attend
international circles in their own native costumes and
attires.Why?Because they are aware that for the past 200
years"exploitation" has tried to tell them that,
"You had know native clothes of your own and "I"
put it into you. You had no language, I taught it to you.You had
no past and I provided the present for you. You were not familiar
with civilization,i civilized you." All in all, the
exploiters had trained the black Africans in such a way that they
could feel that they were only good for servitude and dancing.
The black leader who puts his native clothes on wants to create a
faith in himself. He has been a good human being, a good thinker
in the past, a partner in human civilisation, and he contributed
to helping the human condition.

At the present time the Tanzanian intellectuals speak English
since they have learned it from childhood. But their president
(Julius K.Nyerere) says that they should return to Swahili, the
language which is used by the country's natives. Their president
is a sociologist, and a well known thinker on the international
level today. He is not a "fuddy-duddy" reactionary.
Why? Because as long as the Tanzanian black man does not realise
that talking is possible without using a foreign tongue, he will
continue to feel like a dumb semi-savage who was civilised by
having attached himself to Europeans. In order to create a
faith,character,spirituality, and originality in themselves,
Swahili must be learned and English thrown away. And this
experiance is possible only when they can get rid of European
culture and return to themselves and depend upon their own
history and culture.

We Easterners have been civilisation builders and humanity's
teachers throughout man's history, so much so that we now own a
collection of vast and deep cultural,mental,and social
experiances of humanity.Why can't we, by depending on
ourselves,extract and refine all these spiritual resources (which
have been sitting unknown and idle), rejuvenate, and convert them
to consciousness raising and protesting forces? Yes, we have
these vast resources which are like mines and rich sea under our
feet, but they were severed to such an extent that in order to
regain our personality we have to resort to others.What should we

We must mend and fill up this gap in order to be able to think
independantly and know ourselves. We must find the strength to
choose and turn into a creative force the past historical,
religious, theosophical, and literary factors which have changed
to superstition, and opiate matters and have caused inertia and
corruption in our societies.

The Westerners, unlike what they did to Africans, did not
negate our past,they metamorphosized it. And when we look at our
own new portrait we hated it. Consequently we began to run
towards our "metamorphosized" past and religion, as
well as towards European schools and culture.

We have had no choice but to shatter such images of ourselves
and inculcate the portrait of reality in the minds of our masses
in the East,and extract and refine our cultural resources, not
the way the West has done it for us, but with a method and
conscious responsibility, relative to our people and society.
Further, as in economics, where we convert raw materials to
energy and consequently start a great industry and production, we
have to use the same spirit in building up our personality and
cultural independance in thinking,spirituallity, and human

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