May 29, 2003
[The following is part of a debate on "Donkeys Party" mailing list moderated by Abdee Kalantari in New York City. The debate started with comments on a picture of Ayatollah Hakim kissing an Iraqi boy. Roya Hakakian is a poet in New York and Mahmoud Sadri is a sociologist at Texas Women's University. Read Sadri's reply here.]
Very few people come as highly recommended as you do. But more than the positive reviews of your intellect what convinces me of your good nature is the cantankerous nature of those who recommend you. Anyone who can make Abdee and Saba laugh is surely a saint.
To this opening allow me to also add that I’ve been less than a perfectly vigilant donkey and thus remiss at following all the stable-related exchanges. Which is an oblique way of saying that I’ve not read all of your emails. Hell, until a few days ago I didn’t even know that there were two Sadris [Mahmoud, and his identical twin Ahmad, a sociologist at Lake Forest College].
But as I’ve been asked by the top donkey to fan the flames of debate, I have jotted a few aar-o-teez below. To do so, I’ve denied you your Mahmoud Sadriness, what uniquely makes you, you. (I highly suggest that you never forgive me for it.)
For the purposes of this particular conversation, you’re not Mahmoud but a MIRI, a personal patent not likely to be registered, but an invention nonetheless: Male Iranian Religious Intellectual.
Why reduce you to an acronym, you’re wondering. Well, it’s the only way we can distance ourselves from our individualities and immediate realities and put what we have and are still undergoing into historical perspective.
As a MIRI, you’re ultimately the heir to the 1979 revolution. Surely you’re displeased with it retrospectively and abhor the supreme leader as much as the next guy. But what revolution ever went the way that made those who initially designed it ultimately happy? I find you trying to benevolently explain what flusters some of the rest of us. You try to bridge, surely out of good will, our separate universes.
But given the scope of the atrocities, aren’t these universes better off in separate orbits? You didn’t wish for truckloads of Bahais to be hauled away from their dinner parties, never to return home; for the infrastructure of the Iranian Jewish community, formerly only second to Israel in all of Middle East, to be so irretrievably dismantled; for women to go without the right to travel and divorce and suffer as they did; for every other atrocity to have taken place since 1979. But they did. The mullahs are the face of those atrocities. And they are the people you want to help me understand.
How can you be certain that you understand them yourself, since you’re not pleased with what they wreaked? What makes you certain that you know what drives them to things they do, like kiss little boys on the lips? Or what those kisses or touches mean to our culture? Shouldn’t you be instead lying in bed sleepless at night wondering about your certainties and actively casting doubt upon them?
Haven’t the mullahs, or the culture you’re eager to shed light on, been unpredictable even to you? Isn’t it your historical mandate to ponder the wisdom of the rest of us? Isn’t the authority with which you explain these kisses a function of the social power you’ve enjoyed in the past 25 years? You always remind others such as me how often you frequent Iran.
What you obviously cite to further prove your credibility as a reporter, to someone like me who cannot travel to Iran, could indeed be not a measure of your familiarity but mere flaunting of your power. Could your sunny positions on issues be the product of the power you have enjoy as opposed to superior insight?
Let’s not beat around the bush. I’m a type too. I’m the non-Moslem Iranian woman who got the major shaft. Even in this particular instance of kiss, you are the one who was ultimately unscathed “fingering” and I, the less lucky one. Naturally what informs your positive intellectual disposition on Iran is your lot of power and good fortune.
What informs mine is my bleak lot. From where I stand, a long overdue democratic movement is on the rise and I’d like it to go where those who have been voiceless in Iran can be the ones to dictate and interpret the culture for a change. I’d like for this to be my time now. I’d like to hear as little as possible about why the mullahs do things the way they do. Why rush to make amends, to reach an understanding?
Let’s have our turn at our version of “truth commission” first. The mullahs could indeed be pedophiles you know. And what you so certainly declare to be non-erotic gestures could prove much more complex than your cheerful interpretations allow. Need I point to the recent crisis in the Catholic Church?
As far as I’m concerned, the MIRIs and any of their social derivatives had their chance. Why let them tell us how to see things even now? Why not remove them from power by booting them out of intellectual office, by casting doubt on every insight they offer.
It’s high time we turned a deaf ear to those who misled the nation for quarter of a century. What do they know anyway, given the national pits? I want to hear from them as much as women in America wanted to hear from men at the turn of the last century and that is precisely as much as American Blacks wanted to hear from Whites.
I hope that life gets --peacefully and respectfully so-- uncomfortable for the MIRIs as it did for WASPs in America. MIRIs should exercise silence, reflect more than explain, introspect more than preach for a good long time.