Defying the System: The Origins of Anti-Westernism in the Non-Western World and the Case of Iran

Oguzhan Goksel
Content Type
Journal Article
Turkish Journal of Middle Eastern Studies
Issue Number
Publication Date
Sakarya University (SAU)
Anti-Western sentiment is a common feature of politics in many non-Western societies such as China, Cuba, Venezuela, Turkey, Iran and various Arab countries. Challenging the scholarly literature that depicts anti-Westernism as an “irrational, extremist and fundamentalist reaction to the cultural hegemony of the West,” this article conceptualizes anti-Westernism as a rational reaction to –and an unsurprising consequence of– the problematic political/economic interactions between non- Western societies (e.g. Iran) and Western powers (e.g. Britain, France and the US). Iran is a particularly noteworthy case because anti-Westernism played a key role in the formation of the modern state in the country. The foreign policy behavior of Iran in our time and the historical trajectory that produced the Islamic Republic after the 1979 Revolution cannot be understood without acknowledging anti-Westernism. The origins of anti-Westernism in Iran are explored in this article through interpreting the path dependent historical experience of the country, with a particular emphasis on the relations between Iran and Western countries. In contrast to works that attribute Iran’s anti-Western foreign policy to the Islamist ideology of the post-1979 era, it will be argued that hostility to the Western-dominated international political system should actually be traced to the transformation in which the Iranian national identity evolved in the early 20th century.
Imperialism, Islamism, Revolution, Anti-Westernism
Political Geography
United States, Europe, Iran, Middle East, North America