March 21, 2007
Malicious, pestiferous, horrid, pathological, mendacious, and especially useless, are some of the adjectives repeatedly used by Professor Hamid Dabashi in his new book titled Iran: A People Interrupted, an ill-tempered and self-indulgent work written in a mixture of Stalinist hectoring with post-colonial gibberish. The footnotes -- a treasure trove of invective -- contain an array of criticism of a wide variety of Iran scholars, Iranian and Western alike, most of whom are either “useless Lipstick Jihadists,” or work in the service neo-con cronies. (A particularly egregious example is Azar Nafisi, the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, who among other things is accused of being an employee of the Pentagon.) Additionally, Nafisi is reproached for calling her live-in help, Tahereh Khanoum, apparently committing the ultimate bourgeois sin of not calling her by her last name!
At a lecture at Politics and Prose, a progressive bookstore in Washington DC, we finally meet the great professor who has long aspired to taking on the mantle of the late Edward Said and who, as he put it, wrote this book, “for his fellow antiwar activists.” But ah, how difficult it is to replace someone who was eloquent in his writing and committed to the cause, and who rarely engaged in personal attacks. From the minute Dr. Dabashi stood up, he just talked and talked about himself. The grand-standing was simply insufferable. Given the uneasy atmosphere that pervaded the room, one got the impression that others in the audience felt the same way.
Mr. Dabashi, I asked quasi-innocently, after he finished his talk, is there anyone you actually like? Why is it that you use such poor adjectives when describing or criticizing your colleagues in the field? Can’t you be a little nicer or just a bit more civil? He responded by saying that I was wrong, that there were many people he admired and that this was reflected in the book. Afterwards, I checked the book beyond the cursory reading I had done during the talk, and to be fair, there are a few exceptions amidst all the useless, senile and racist Iran specialists parading in the footnotes, “distinguished” and “courageous” colleagues who have written “magnificent” and “groundbreaking” studies of Iran and its history.
When I asked him why he had contributed four pages to the well known human rights activist Akbar Ganji, criticizing him in statement such as “the very Islamic Republic that Akbar Ganji helped to succeed in eradicating all its secular and Islamists opponents … makes them natural bedfellows of the US neocons!” (p. 243). He told me, “Actually tonight Ganji is speaking at Columbia University because I had something to do with it.” I called Mr. Ganji the next day. He told me that Dr. Dabashi had nothing to do with his presence at Columbia. He had been invited a while back on behalf of a Columbia-based organization called the Center for the Study of Democracy, Religion and Toleration.
Dabashi also claimed that, in the book, he had in fact compared Ganji to Mandela. This, it turns out, was another false statement. In reality he refers, in a statement filled with sarcasm and innuendo, to the “hidden promise” of Ganji, to the “Nelson Mandela that is waiting to be born in him.” Finally he chides Ganji, as he is coming out of his “nativist cocoon,” for focusing exclusively on Iran at the expense of the real struggle, the global one” (p. 245), and brands him as a natural ally of the US neo-cons as well as for chasing after the “grand delusion” that is Western civilization and its “neo-liberal economics.” “The US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan,” Dabashi writes “were notably absent from Ganji’s call for the protection of human rights.”
Insult and falsehood abound here, flowing freely from Mr. Dabashi’s pen in his relentless effort to cut down on all these “inorganic” intellectuals. In point of fact, Ganji has on every occasion and most recently at the Council on Foreign Relations in NYC, spoken out in unambiguous terms against the war in Iraq, insisting that democracy cannot be exported by way of an invasion or any other violent measure by theUS or any other power.
Dr. Dabashi, a self promoter of grand proportions, also reminded his audience at least three times that he had gone to the February 2003 anti-war demonstration in New York City, braving extremely cold conditions. Should we all be grateful, thank the Lord that the distinguished professor took the time and effort to attend a demonstration? Weren‘t we all there, either in New York or in Washington, or anywhere else where demonstrations were held that same day; in fact haven’t we participated in every single anti-war demonstration that has been organized? Dr. Dabashi clearly thinks of himself as the leader of the vanguard of the anti-imperialist movement, but claiming credit for speaking out against the Iraq war??? Believe me; everyone with a human heart has been against this war from the beginning.
Dr Dabashi finally has the audacity to criticize those of us who went to New York in August of last year to participate in the hunger strike in front of the UN against the abuse of human rights in Iran and to demand freedom for political prisoners. Everyone there was supposedly only speaking out for the “phantom liberties” that the West offers. I would like to ask Dr. Dabashi, the professor, the tireless and valiant fighter for real freedom, why he didn’t show up in defense of Mr Ossanlou. If class is the issue, doesn’t Ossanlou represent the proletariat of Iran, or is he also an instrument in the hands of the neo-cons?? Where was Dr. Dabashi in those “sad and solicitous” summer days? Of course, he lives on the other side of Manhattan, the Upper West Side, so it’s quite a trek. And maybe he was too busy composing new poetry for the beloved?
Why has the name of our dear Professor not appeared on a single petition regarding Iran? What has he really done for the anti-imperialist movement anyway? It is surely noble to defend the rights of the Palestinians against the Israeli occupation. But maybe, just maybe, as an Iranian he should also be concerned to defend the Iranian people’s struggle for democracy and human rights -- other than by writing a book that offers an ideologically distorted picture of Iranian society and history.
Where do you stand in all of this, Dr. Dabashi? During your presentation at Politics and Prose, you had nothing much to say; you just read a few passages from your book, ones that were about you rather than about Iran. No wonder that one member of the audience asked you afterwards what the book was about. Shunning him, you still didn’t give a clear answer. You just engaged in quasi-revolutionary generalities and evasive banalities about your inability to speak to President Bush and the need to withdraw from Iraq, “now.”
Let’s be frank. I was disappointed in your talk. A year ago, in the same bookstore, I attended a lecture by Stephen Kinzer who introduced his latest book, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq; it was interesting, passionate and overwhelmingly critical of US government’s attempts at regime change around the world. We all left the bookstore enchanted and in awe, something I did not feel after listening to you.
Reading Dabashi's book, I am just as disappointed. It is filled with innuendo and insinuation, its arguments and its portrayal of Iranian history are deeply skewed and reductionist -- not the topic of this intervention; I leave that to others if they think it is important -- and sadly lacking in style and grace, two hallmarks of Edward Said’s prose. Maybe it is Dr Dabashi who needs to be interrupted. Iran is going through many changes, and so should you dear Comrade. Comments