Frantz Fanon (1925-1961)
Frantz Fanon’s Les Damnés de la Terre (1961), translated into English as The Wretched of the Earth, is an incontrovertible classic in the literature of anti-colonial resistance. It has acted as a source of inspiration for myriad intellectuals in the Global South, but by no means exclusively such. Apart from furnishing a powerful lexicon for describing the colonial condition, the book has also been brandished as a kind of ‘handbook’ on how best to resist, fight and overturn it. During the 1960s and 1970s, Iran was no exception in this regard. Fanon and his prominent role in the Algerian Revolution represented a lodestar for countless Iranian dissidents and revolutionaries. There has, however, been much confusion over the identity of The Wretched of the Earth’s first Persian translator, which has remained shrouded in uncertainty.
It has emerged as something of an urban legend that it was the radical intellectual and dissident, Ali Shariʿati, who first translated Fanon’s classic anti-colonial tome. But, in fact, the first translation of The Wretched of the Earth (Les Damnés de la Terre) was completed under the title of Duzakhiyan ruye zamin by Abolhasan Banisadr, who was a politically active student studying in Paris during the second half of the 1960s. He would ultimately emerge as the Islamic Republic of Iran’s first president from January 1980 until June 1981 The translation was originally published in two parts by Mosaddeq Press (which was sent to Iran and subsequently printed as a single volume, though the evidence of its having been split in two continues to mark the contents page and book’s pagination of some early pre-revolution editions). According to Banisadr, the first part was published in 1966-7 and the second one, which I have been able to independently verify, in January 1969. Mosaddeq Press was established by Banisadr and Hasan Habibi, along with two fellow activists, Engineer Houshmand and Dr. Kargosha in Hamburg, with the objective of publishing the writings of the much admired former prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddeq, who was overthrown by a CIA-MI6 orchestrated coup in 1953. It also sought to keep the national movement alive and publish literature which they believed would serve the struggle against the Shah and American neo-colonialism.
Abolhasan Banisadr (1933-)
Hitherto, it has been unclear who exactly translated which parts of Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth. In his seminal biography of Shariʿati, Ali Rahnema contends that it was the combined effort of Shariʿati, along with his friends, ‘Asgari, Harati and Alavi’. The veteran political activist and publisher, Lotfollah Meisami, has claimed that Hasan Habibi translated the book, except for Sartre’s preface which he attributes to Shariʿati. In an article discussing the various translations of Fanon in Persian, Farzaneh Farahzad, speculates on Shariʿati’s possible role as either translator or partial translator. She also mentions a 1979 edition of The Wretched of the Earth attributed to Abolhasan Banisadr but was unable to provide any solid evidence regarding who exactly translated the text and when. She dates the earliest translation of Fanon to 1970, namely, Fanon’s Toward the African Revolution (translated by Mohammad Amir Kardan), and dates the first translation of The Wretched of the Earth, to 1971. Unfortunately, the article misses Manuchehr Hezarkhani’s translation of Fanon’s highly influential lecture ‘Racism and Culture’ published in 1969. Farahzad provides a number of possibilities, all of which mention Shariʿati as a central figure, including the possibility that Banisadr lent his name to Shariʿati’s translation to facilitate its distribution. The earliest date posited by Farahzad for the translation of The Wretched of the Earth is mistaken and I have been able to verify that the second part was published in January 1969. Furthermore, this European edition of Duzakhiyan ruye zamin was cited by arguably the leading Iranian intellectual of the sixties, Jalal Al-e Ahmad, who died in the autumn of 1969. This would imply that the first and second parts of the European edition were in circulation among Iranian intellectuals inside Iran itself before 1971, the date postulated by Farahzad.
Ali Shari'ati (1933-1977)
Amar Ouzegan's Le meilleur combat translated by Hasan Habibi (right)
Some editions have attributed the entire translation or parts of Duzakhiyan ruye zamin to Shariʿati, a role Banisadr completely denies as far as the first edition of the book published in Europe is concerned. For example, one underground edition, these editions are known as jeld sefid on account of their white covers and lack of precise publishing information, produced inside Iran during the early 1970s, attributes the entire translation to Shariʿati, while another edition published in Tehran by Nilufar Press in the summer of 1982 only attributes the translation of the introduction to him (see Fig. 3). Given that Shariʿati returned to Iran in June1964, which precedes the publication of the first European installment by around two years and the second one by almost five years, we can deduce that he was not in France when either one of the installments of the translation first appeared. On some early pre-revolutionary underground editions of Duzakhiyan ruye zamin published in Iran, Shariʿati’s name as translator was scrawled on the cover page by hand and then copied and reproduced. The text ‘translator: Ali Shariʿati’, appearing on the cover page (see Fig. 1), is not typography, but handwritten and does not match the remainder of the text on the cover page e.g. title, author etc. Despite appearing in a single volume, it is clear from the contents page and pagination of these early pre-revolution underground editions published inside Iran that the book was originally translated and published in two parts, thereby confirming Banisadr’s account, as well as my own independent verification of the second installment of the edition first published in Europe. Following the victory of the revolution, at least one edition published by Amir Kabir in 1979 acknowledged Banisadr as the sole translator and acknowledges the original edition published by Mosaddeq Press as well (see Fig. 4). We see the translation clearly attributed to Banisadr on the front cover. However, upon closer examination of the edition the translation of one chapter, namely, the chapter entitled 'On National Culture', is attributed to Mehdi 'Asgari. Banisadr clarified that a draft of this chapter was translated by 'Asgari, but that Banisadr reworked it, and in recognition of 'Asgari's efforts, he was acknowledged as translator at the beginning of this chapter. Moreover, in this particular edition the typesetting of Sartre's preface doesn't match the remainder of the text. Banisadr has insisted to the author that he translated it. There could be several explanations for the discrepancy, but concrete evidence is hard to come by. For obvious reasons, editions of Duzakhiyan ruye zamin published after June 1981, such as that published by Nilufar Press, intentionally effaced Banisadr’s role, who by this time had been ousted from the presidency, and turned into a persona non grata by his adversaries in a highly tense and repressive political atmosphere.
Fig. 1 (Left): Underground jeld sefid edition of Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth published in Iran. Translation attributed to Ali Shari'ati.
Fig. 2 (Right): First edition of Part 2 of The Wretched of the Earth published by Mosaddeq Press in January 1969 and translated by Banisadr. As mentioned, no translator's name appears on this edition (courtesy of the author).
The original edition of Duzakhiyan ruye zamin published in Hamburg, features a short essay entitled ‘On Fanon and His Thought’ (Dar bareh-ye Fanon va andishehha-ye ou), which served as a foreword to the translation and was included in later editions published inside Iran. Contrary to the claims of several scholars, the foreword was authored by Banisadr, and he vividly recalls researching Fanon’s biography and the circumstances around his funeral ceremony described therein. The foreword as it appears in the second part of the European edition and complete jeld sefid edition published in Iran are identical in terms of content and having been typed, except for the obvious erasure of ‘Part 2’ (jozʿ dovvom) in the latter. It has, however, been frequently attributed to Shariʿati, most likely because he is still widely believed to have played a central role in the book’s translation. Shariati’s name does not appear in the foreword in the original Hamburg edition or in the foreword of at least one early jeld sefid edition I have reviewed that was subsequently printed as a single volume inside Iran (despite having been credited as translator in this version). In these two editions, the foreword mentions Mosaddeq Press explicitly, in which Shariʿati did not play any role. As mentioned above, Shariʿati had also already returned to Iran before its publication, and so it is unlikely that Banisadr, who unequivocally claims to have written the essay as its translator, would solicit a foreword from another author, who was not even in the same country at the time. The Nilufar Press edition retains the foreword but does not directly attribute it to either Shariʿati or Banisadr. While this edition has been typeset, the content of the foreword of the Nilufar Press edition is virtually identical, except for the removal by the publisher of any mention of the Mosaddeq Press. This stands in distinct contrast to the original edition published in Europe, the pre-revolution jeld sefid translation attributed to Shariʿati, and the 1979 edition whose translation was attributed to Banisadr, all of which explicitly mention Mosaddeq Press.