A review of Foucault and the Iranian Revolution

In The Nation, Johnathan Ree reviews Janet Afary and Kevin Anderson’s Foucault and the Iranian Revolution.

“Foucault’s experiment in political journalism earned him rebukes in the French press from the very beginning. Maxime Rodinson, a venerable Marxist scholar of Islam, informed him wearily that an Islamic government was bound to usher in some kind of ‘archaic fascism.’ And an exiled Iranian feminist claimed that Foucault’s interest in ‘political spirituality’ was blinding him, like many other Westerners, to the inherent injustice of Islam, especially toward women. For the time being, Foucault refused to respond, but events seemed to be vindicating his critics. The Shah fled Iran in the early weeks of 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini returned in triumph and at the end of March an Islamic republic was ratified in a popular referendum: a classic case, it would seem, of a resurgence of reactionary authoritarian populism. Many of the possibilities that Foucault had canvassed were coming to nothing, and in April he published an open letter to the new Iranian Prime Minister, Mehdi Bazargan, expressing dismay at the abridgment of rights under the incoming ‘government of mullahs.’

But while he remonstrated with his friends in Iran, Foucault never yielded an inch to his critics in Paris.”