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Democratic criticism
Critique of American imperial designs IS NOT complicitous with theocratic tyranny

 

 

Eskandar Sadeghi
June 13, 2006
iranian.com

'I am against the Iranian government and its policies.  This is one thing.  But it is a different thing to call for the destruction of my own country.  If a confrontation like that in Iraq happens in Iran, it could ruin my country.  No Iranian desires such a thing. We oppose the Iranian government, and we fight against it.  But we will do it by ourselves.  What we need is the moral support of civil-society institutions around the world... We have to establish democracy in Iran... Democracy cannot be brought from outside.  We have to do our best [to] struggle to make our country democratic.' -- Akbar Ganji

In his powerful and cogently argued essay Native Informers and the Making of the American Empire (Al-Ahram Weekly, 1 - 7 June 2006, Issue No. 797) Professor Hamid Dabashi of Columbia University has provided an exemplary paradigm of critical intelligence. His conclusions echo more or less what I've been trying to convince partisans of the late Shah (unfortunately the dominant constituency of my own family) for some time.  

In a somewhat disconcerted tone he asks, 'How could one account for this politically expedited collective amnesia -- of manufacturing consent and discarding history at the speed of one major military operation every two years?' The vast majority of Iranian émigrés it seems to me suffer from the same ailment of collective amnesia which Professor Dabashi diagnoses here as characteristic of the American public.

In my occasional fracas with these amnesiacs I find myself almost invariably drawn into the sort of puerile utilitarian speculations which concern themselves with which regime killed the greater number of its own citizenry. The regime with the less murderous record is absolved and all misdeeds mysteriously vanish from the historical record. The autocratic reign of the Shah, 'the lesser of two evils' is thereby transformed into the Iranian patriot whom strived against all odds to drag his primitive and backward countrymen into the light of progress, refinement and civilization.

And of course as a direct consequence of this crude utilitarian logic, the courageous men and women who partook in the revolution against dictatorship and neo-colonialism are reviled as little more than a bunch of ungrateful and rebellious school children.  These ingrates had the audacity to refuse the disciplinary measures and enlightened provisions of a benign patriarch whom in his unparalleled benevolence only ever sought to look after his people's interests (even if this was against their will). It's funny that given a little time and the right political motives how history rewrites itself. 

In an earlier article [Possible futures: The mêlée of US-Iranian relations], in which I attempted to argue that Iranians, especially the diaspora shouldn't succumb to the antithetical mindset of 'You are either with us or against us!' which the Bush Administration has so successfully instilled within the American imaginary. That one can be intensely critical of American imperial designs and the clerical regime in Iran appears to many Iranian émigrés a logical impossibility, and even a traitorous act.

I have even received hate mail and was condemned as complicitous because I rejected the 'tactical' use of nuclear weapons against Iranian nuclear installations. As Professor Dabashi points out in his Native Informers, concerned scientists have shown in a video simulation that a 'tactical' nuclear weapons attack could claim as many as three million lives and millions more through exposure to cancer-engendering agents.

Because of my opposition to this course of action I was not only bombarded with profanities and scorn, but was labelled an 'enemy' of the Iranian people. Apparently my name (Eskandar) lent credence to this accusation, because it was of course Alexander the Great whom ransacked Persepolis and inaugurated the demise of the Persian Empire. The abject ignorance and stupidity of this particular detractor of mine is I hope clear for all to see.

To accede to such an unspeakable act of barbarity shows the complete and utter hypocrisy of those seeking to rationalize a nuclear strike in the name of 'civilization' and 'democracy'. When 'democratic criticism' becomes an ideological façade for imperial barbarism it forfeits any legitimacy to which it may have previously laid claim because it becomes indissociable from that same barbarism. We should know by now that peace and civility can never be predicated upon monstrous brutality; barbarism only ensures the preponderance of barbarism.

This is of course notwithstanding all of the other egregious repercussions that would surely follow if a bombing campaign were to be amplified into a full-blown invasion. There's no need to rehearse these in their entirety, one only need look to the tragedy of Iraq; but I'll mention a few for those whom remain unconvinced: civil war and sectarian violence, thousands of civilian deaths (as many as 200,000 Iraqi civilian deaths since the US invaded Iraq in a fairly recent estimate), reinstatement of neo-colonialism, exploitation and depredation of Iraq's natural resources, influx of al-Qaeda and a myriad of other terrorist organizations, disintegration of civil society and even the nation itself.

Even given the marked disparities between Iran and Iraq and their respective histories, the potential for disaster is staring us right in the face. The 'by any means' mentality which has gripped many Iranians is delusional in the extreme. The belief that the clerical regime must be got rid of at any cost, no matter how many innocent victims must perish, is merely just another manifestation of the plethora of fanaticisms, both secular and religious, currently found in such abundance across the globe. 

In Professor Dabashi's polemical encounter with Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran he makes clear with astounding lucidity the sort of self-loathing and belittlement of everything Iranian in which so many comprador intellectuals routinely engage, which then proceeds to become fodder for the neo-conservative project for the new American century.

By 'Iranian' I don't mean the nonsensical mythologies so often exalted by Iranian nationalists such as Aryanism etc... Through conscious ideological distortion Iran is depicted by these self-styled 'native representatives' as a cultural wasteland -- a tabula rasa ready and waiting for the American dream to arrive and be transcribed upon it.

The nature of an Iranian modernity is still in the process of narration and fierce debate -- the vibrancy of this debate is clear to anybody even remotely familiar with Iranian cinema and literature of the last twenty years. Contrary to the fictitious narrative concocted by these 'native informers' the films of internationally renown directors such as Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Mania Akbari, to name but a few, testify unequivocally to the critical intelligence which pervades so much of Iranian cultural life.

The overwhelming majority of Iranians both inside Iran and the diaspora are disillusioned with the theocratic regime. Many have and will continue to oppose gender apartheid, theocratic tyranny and repression. Iran has one of the most articulate and critically minded cultural scenes in the whole of the Middle East. We should perhaps have greater faith in our own critical abilities rather than looking to supercilious Western intellectuals and politicians so eager to tell us how we ought to live.  

The road to lasting and significant change can only come through concerted cultural resistance -- all of the materials for this resistance are already present within Iranian civil society and cultural discourse and have hitherto been mobilized to great effect by journalists, artists, intellectuals and courageous members of the Iranian public.  The comprador intellectuals and sycophants whom have decided to grovel at the feet of potential benefactors in Washington (telling neoconservative zealots such as Richard Perle everything they want to hear) fail abysmally to distinguish themselves from those whom they claim to oppose. The contradiction is apparent for all to see -- they call for war in the name of peace and their 'civilizing mission'.   

The opinions expressed in this article in no way claim to speak for Professor Dabashi. Anybody interested in the views of Professor Dabashi are advised to read and engage with his rich, varied and profound work.

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