December 2, 1923 – September 9, 1969
Jalal was born into a religious family in Tehran. His father was an Islamic cleric originally from the small village of Owrazan in Taleghan mountains. After elementary school Al-e-Ahmad was sent to earn a living in the Tehran bazaar, but also attended Marvi Madreseh for a religious education, and without his father's permission, night classes at the Tehran Polytechnic. He became "acquainted with the speech and words of Ahmad Kasravi" and was unable to commit to the clerical career his father and brother had hoped he would take, describing it as "a snare in the shape of a cloak and an aba."
In 1946 he earned an M.A. in Persian literature from Tehran Teachers College and became a teacher, at the same time making a sharp break with his religious family that left him "completely on his own resources." He pursued academic studies further and enrolled in a doctoral program of Persian literature at Tehran University but quit before he had defended his dissertation in 1951. In 1950, he married Simin Daneshvar, a well-known Persian novelist. Jalal and Simin were infertile, a topic that was reflected in some of Jalal's works. He died in Asalem, a rural region in the north of Iran, inside a cottage which was built almost entirely by himself. He was buried in Firouzabadi mosque in Ray, Iran.
Al-e-Ahmad is perhaps most famous for coining the term Gharbzadegi - variously translated in English as westernstruck, westoxification, occidentosis - in a book by the same name Occidentosis: A Plague from the West , clandestinely published in Iran in 1962. In the book Al-e-Ahmad developed a "stinging critique of western techonology, and by implication of Western `civilization` itself". He argued that the decline of traditional Iranian industries such as carpet-weaving were the beginning of Western "economic and existential victories over the East."
His message was embraced by the Ayatollah Khomeini, who wrote in 1971 that
The poisonous culture of imperialism [is] penetrating to the depths of towns and villages throughout the Muslim world, displacing the culture of the Qur'an, recruiting our youth en masse to the service of foreigners and imperialists ...
and became part of the ideology of the 1979 Iranian Revolution which emphasized nationalization of industry, independence in all areas of live from both the Soviet and the Western world, and "self-sufficiency" in economics.
Al-e-Ahmad joined the Tudeh Party along with his mentor Khalil Maleki shortly after World War II. They "were too independent for the party" and resigned in protest over the lack of democracy and the "nakedly pro-Soviet" support for Soviet demands for oil consession and occupation of Iranian Azerbaijan. They formed an alternative party the Socialist Society of the Iranian Masses in January 1948 but disbanded it a few days later when Radio Moscow attacked it, unwilling to publicly oppose "what they considered the world's most progressive nations." Nonetheless, the dissent of Al-e-Ahmad and Maleki marked "the end of the near hegemony of the party over intellectual life."
He later helped found the pro-Mossadegh Toilers Party, one of the component parties of the National Front, and then in 1952 a new party called the Third Force. Following the 1953 Iranian coup d'état Al-e-Ahmad was imprisoned for several years and "so completely lost faith in party politics" that he signed a letter of repentance published in an Iranian newspaper declaring that he had "resigned from the Third Force, and ... completely abandoned politics."
Al-e-Ahmad used a colloquial style in prose. In this sense, he is a follower of avant-garde Persian novelists like Mohammad-Ali Jamalzadeh. Since the subjects of his works (novels, essays, travelogues and ethnographic monographs) are usually cultural, social and political issues, symbolic representations and sarcastic expressions are regular patterns of his books. A distinct characteristic of his writings is his honest examination of subjects, regardless of possible reactions from political, social or religious powers.
On invitation of Richard Nelson Frye, Al-e-Ahmad spent a summer at Harvard University, as part of a Distinguished Visiting Fellowship program established by Henry Kissinger for supporting promising Iranian intellectuals.Al-e-Ahmad rigorously supported Nima Yushij (father of modern Persian poetry) and had an important role in acceptance of Nima's revolutionary style.
Novels and novellas
The School Principal
By the Pen
The Tale of Beehives
The Cursing of the Land
A Stone upon a Grave
Many of his novels, including the first two in the list above, have been translated into English.
"Of our suffering"
"Someone else's child"
"The Chinese flower pot"
"Plagued by the West" (Gharbzadegi)
Jalal traveled to far-off, usually poor, regions of Iran and tried to document their life, culture and problems. Some of these monographs are:
"Tat people of Block-e-Zahra"
"Kharg Island, the unique pearl of the Persian Gulf"
A Straw in Mecca
A Journey to Russia
A Journey to Europe
A Journey to the Land of Israel
A Journey to America
The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky,
L'Etranger by Albert Camus,
Les mains sales by Jean-Paul Sartre,
Return from the U.S.S.R. by André Gide,
Rhinoceros by Eugène Ionesco,