A violent origin : a Girardian analysis of the scapegoating of Ali ibn Abu Talib in Shi'ite tradition

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This dissertation applies Rene Girard's theory of the scapegoat mechanism to prove that Ali ibn Abu Talib appears in Shi'ite traditions as an innocent victim. The aim is to investigate Girard's substantial body of work to determine whether Ali was a scapegoat and a victim of a conspiracy within his community. Girard's theory is founded in mimetic desire, where he incorporated external and internal mediation to form an analysis of mimetic rivalry. Using various texts to develop his theory and support his concepts, he investigated Aristotle, Plato, Stendhal, Proust, Shakespeare and Freud. He developed his theory from the interaction between friends to the incorporation of an object of desire to form the 'French triangle'. He moved from investigating this 'triangle' in personal relationships to conspiracies and subsequently to communities with regard to primitive religions. It was in the discovery of the sacred victim that Girard recognized the purpose of myth, that it concealed the role of the persecutors and that it silenced the victim. Girard then transferred his deductions to analyzing the Bible, where he identified ways in which the text gave the victim a voice. He maintains that only Jesus supported a non-violent position and embraced positive mimetic desire in the form of imitating the love of God. In reviewing Ali's life, one discovers that it reveals Girard's concepts of mimetic rivalry, conspiracy and collective violence. There is the historical Ali and the divine Imam Ali. These two positions can be reconciled by following a constitutive reductionist method for the purpose of analysis in applying the scapegoat mechanism theory. Reductionism is useful and necessary for this study. While the historical Ali reveals a victim, the divine Ali takes responsibility for his own death. The historical and the divine reveal two perspectives in relating Ali's story, one from the victim's perspective and the other from the perspective of the persecutors. However, with respect to the scapegoat mechanism, Shi'ite traditions about Ali, inclusive of historical, popular, or ghulat traditions, show that Jesus was not the only victim to reveal his innocence and embrace non-violence for positive mimesis. Rather, Ali goes further in rejecting materialism to avoid envy, encouraging his community to witness his poverty. Without the distraction of material things, Ali could demonstrate God's love. While Girard claimed that Christianity, particularly the gospels, revealed the victim's innocence in Jesus Christ, Ali brings forth a similar message of imitating the love of God. Like Jesus, he revealed that God was a loving and forgiving God; he was not an angry God that demanded sacrifice.

Includes abstract.

Includes bibliographical references (leaves 182-192).