Dire Straits

Iran must deal with its own people before it can continue jockeying for geopolitical gain


Dire Straits
by Hamid Dabashi

A widely circulated cartoon on the internet among Iranians these days depicts the official Iranian press almost entirely ignoring two successive earthquakes in Northwestern province of Azerbaijan while fixated on the events in Syria.

As the two earthquakes - magnitude 6.4 and 6.3 - hit the northwestern province of Azarbaijan in Iran that resulted in at least 306 people dead and 3,000 people injured, and while the ruling regime is widely condemned for its indifference and/or incompetence to address the matter effectively, there are renewed claims by the Obama administration that the Iranian revolutionary militia (Pasdaran) is aiding and abetting the defunct Assad regime in Syria to stay in power.

The US and its regional allies are of course in the least position to point the finger at Iran, while the Syrian rebels have just claimed that they have shot down a Syrian fighter jet. The weaponry capable of that kind of operation is not exactly of the sort with which we identify the Arab Spring. The US and its regional allies have joined the ruling Assad regime completely to militarise the terms of democratic uprising in Syria. In the long run they will both lose. The Syrian people will triumph.

The ruling regime in Iran, meanwhile, has every reason to abandon Iranian people to their own devices and worry about the Syrian regime. The magnitude of the earthquake coming its way, should the Syrian regime fall, is way beyond what has hit ordinary Iranians in Azerbaijan.

Much remains uncertain on the Syrian scene. Russia, China, and Iran remain adamant in their support for the ruling regime - as obviously are Saudi Arabia, its Persian Gulf satellite states and US, EU, and Israel for the heavily militarised opposition. But the breaking down of the ruling regime in Syria in what ever shape that it might assume, will break down the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah alliance, will leave Hezbollah to its own devices in the domestic and regional politics of Lebanon, and give a new meaning to the increased and increasingly crippling economic sanctions and even a potential military strike against Iran.

The economic and diplomatic pressure on the Islamic republic is mounting aggressively. US President Barack Obama continues to sign into law ever-harsher economic sanction on Iran. During her most recent visit to Israel, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that her country will "use all elements of American power" to prevent Iran developing a nuclear weapon. Within minutes of a recent attack on Israeli tourists in Bulgaria, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu accused Iran of involvement in the carnage. "All the signs lead to Iran," he said.

In reaction to these and similar threats, the New York Times reports,some Iranian lawmakers have introduced legislation to disrupt traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, as well as "testing missiles in a desert drill clearly intended as a warning to Israel and the United States".

The move to close the Strait of Hormuz is a futile and belligerent act that will only result in further escalation of hostilities, reaching the point that Israel and Saudi Arabia (and their allies in the United States) have been openly and covertly pursing for a very long time - a regionally orchestrated, US-led, military strike against Iran.

The widespread propaganda machinery of the pro-Isareli lobby notwithstanding, everybody around the world knows that the US and its regional allies have no case against Iran and are putting pressures on the Islamic Republic over the nuclear issue first to appease Israel (and nothing ever appeases Israel enough) that does not wish even the illusion of a military parity in the region so it can continue to steal more of Palestine with total impunity, and second to divert attention from the unfolding democratic uprising in the region. In alliance with Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, Israel is hell bound to divert these democratic revolts to their own benefits. Neither Israel and nor, a fortiori, Saudi Arabia have the moral or the normative (or the political) wherewithal of dealing with open-ended democratic uprisings in the region. Their picking on Iran is part and parcel of a grander strategy to turn the Arab Spring to their benefits. They will fail.

Where does the Islamic republic stand in all this? It stands to lose. Why? Because the ruling regime in Iran negotiates from a position of weakness. Why? Because it lacks internal legitimacy, and instead of mobilising a mass social base against this treachery it continues to perpetrate even more treachery against its own people. The US and its allies know this and thus take advantage of it. Instead of negotiating behind closed doors with 5+1 or any other such configuration, shuttling from Istanbul to Baghdad to Moscow to God knows where, the ruling regime in Iran needs to negotiate with their own people - attend to their dire needs, relent to their legitimate civil liberties. Instead of closing down the Strait of Hormuz it needs to open the gates of their notorious prisons and free all political prisoners.

Leaving Iranians to their own devices to deal with a natural disaster is the clearest sign of how terribly the Islamic Republic miscalculates what is in its own best interests - a cliché behaviour among all tyrannies. Instead of turning to Iranians for legitimacy and trust the ruling regime assumes a weakly warring posture against adversaries that are using it to dismantle a transnational revolutionary uprising. All parties opposing this force of destiny we lovingly call the Arab Spring or the Green Movement will lose.

First published in Al Jazeera.

Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. His most recent book is

The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism (Zed 2012).


Thank you Zendanian

by robertborden54 on

Yes we do agree on some things and we can agree to disagree on others.  I appreciate the cordial tone of your message.  


Dear Robert

by Zendanian on

There is probably a lot more agreement bewtween us than you might think. Not that such commanlities (between two of us) are going to change any major geo-political facts in middle east, but it would be good to acknowledge commonalities, if they exist.

First off: we both agree that Israel is in need of some major changes, and fast. However you don't agree with my assenment of its peace movement. In a sense you are correct: whereas peace movement in Israel was able to have a 500,000 strong rally in opposition to Israel's invasion of Lebanon back in early 80's (just imagine 500,000 people out a population of barely 5 millions back then were protesting againsat the war, that was 1/10 of the population. No other country has had as much a strong movement. If one tenth of US population ever participated in a peace rally you would have traffic jams for couple of days in D.C.!) Todays peace movement is much weaker than in early 80's, however a majority of Israelis are still in favour of peace,

Poll: 70% of Israelis say Israel should accept UN decision


Existence of a mass sentiment for peace in that country, is an achievement of the peace movement. Perhaps we could agree on that?

You and I, would also, probably, agree that Hanna Arendt's writing on origins of anti-semitism (in her book "Origins of Totalitarianism") is probably the best treatment of the topic.

The Origins of Totalitarianism


We both also agree on limitations and dangers of ideologies (Left, Right, or whatever lable they put on themselves). Hana Arendt is a great instance of a writer, who although coming from a "Leftist" background had no illusions about its limitations.

Last, but not least, if I sounded condescening, which I probably did, a little bit, I apologize. It's a bad habit,  keeping propping up here and there. I'm just a student of the world as much as you or anyone else. In that sense, we're all equal in our curiosity and our need and quest for undistorted knoweledge and communications. Cheers


On the subject of anti-Semitism….

by Bavafa on

I believe it is the gross misuse of the term in the Western world, in US particularly,  seemingly in an effort to shut any criticism of Israel that draws such reactions.  Sadly the words “terrorist” and “terrorism” are being misused just the same way, it is applied based on who the perpetrator is rather  the act itself.


'Hambastegi' is the main key to victory 



Dear Zendanian

by robertborden54 on

I believe the problem I face in this exchange of views is that you and I do not share the same version of reality.  I appreciate the condescending tone.  I presume you are quite the specialist?  All I can tell you is that immersing oneself in leftist academic writing and building a reality out of it doesn't actually make it real.  Would it help if I tell you that I am actually very well-read when in comes to Mideast politics, including on the topic of Zionism and the origins of Israel?  I don't think so. Should I tell you that the Peace Movement in Israel is already so tiny that calling it diverse is only another way of saying it is fractured and politically impotent?  Should I explain that far from having any kind of uncritical support for Israel in reality I think that the Israeli right is truly becoming scary?  I explained why I characterized Dabashi's writing as anti-Semitic.  Thank you for highlighting further reading on the topic.  But as I said anti-Semitism predates 19th c. Germany.  I also enjoyed your evasive response re: your own opinion of Israel.  I just realized I am going on for no good reason.  Ideology, especially of the leftist variety is a spent force.  Sadly the rightist variety seems to be still kicking around.  I hope we can all be free of ideology some day and try to analyze politics as it really is without self-righteous indignation or even pseudo-intellectual affectation.


What the heck ?

by Rea on

"In alliance with Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, Israel is hell bound to divert these democratic revolts to their own benefits."

Benefits, such as ?


Robert, one shall never "assume" anything, because you only make

by Zendanian on

An a.. out of yourself and...

As far as Hamid's take on Israel, you should ask him since I'm not his spokesperson, only a reader of his books, and I do appreciate most of what he has produced so far. You still haven't told me what part of Hamid's rebuke of AN's Holocaust denial was anti-semitic? 

As far as my take on the Jewish state: Israel in an expression of Jewish nationalism, and as such has as much legitimacy an any other type of nationalsim in that region, Arab, Persian, Turkish, Kurdish,...Of course I don't have very  high opinion of any type of Nationalism to begin with (only cultural nationalsim, and even that mostly the modern versions). Also don't forget that Soviet Union was the first state to recognize Israel in 1948. Einstein was a socialist, also a Zionist, and asked to be its very first President but refused. Most probably becuase he didn't have high regards for nationalism.  

Unfortuamtely you don't seem to be very familiar and well read in history and roots of Jewsih Nationalism (aka Zionism) since it's a lot more complicated and diverse than your uncritical support of Israel seems to portray.

As far as the peace movement in Israel: again, you reduce the entire movement to just one or two groups and don't take into consideration the vast and incredibly diverse range that this tendency has within Israel.

It's not a secret that Saudi Arabia has been, is, and will be derailing all democratic movements in the Arab world. Robin Wright, (a fellow at the United States Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars) thinks the same way as well, is he an anti-semite, or...?

Don’t Fear All Islamists, Fear Salafis


P.S. On the origins and definition of Anti-Semitism in the Western world, sorry to inform you but ,your incorrect. All these distortion go back to German Anthropology of 18 and 19th century, and their invention of the so-called "Hellenic Model," as amply discussed and documented in Martin Bernal's two-volume masterpiece "Black Athena:Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilaization."

I presume I have answered all your queries. Cheers



by robertborden54 on

Anti-Semitic wasn't coined by the "distortive western media".  It has existed for thousands of years.  Yes Arabs are Semites too.  But in the west (where we live) in both popular and academic literature anti-Semitic is a term memaning anti-Jewish (believe me I had the same irrelevant argument with one of my professors about 20 yrs ago).  Just as Philo-Semitic in the western tradition means a friend of Jews.  

On the anit-semitism of the piece (and not Dabashi who I don't know personally), Peace Now is saying Israel in alliance with Saudi is trying to derail the regional uprisings to its benefit?  I'd be surprised.  Aside from that I called it ant-semitic because it peddles the same sort of 'root of all evil in the Middle East is Israel' story.  That in my book is anti-semitic.  You may differ.  

One question do you believe and (if you know) does Dabashi believe Israel is a legitimate state?  I'm guessing you have serious issues with the legitimacy of the State of Israel.  That my friend is anti-semitism.


To Dabashi's credit, AN's appearance at Columbia University was

by Zendanian on

cancelled, mainly due to Columbia U's Iranian community's (Iranian  students, staff and faculty) vociferous protest. Rest assure Hamid was a significant part of that protest.

All disagreements and difference with the good Prof. aside, he has evolved in many positive paths, and his contributions shall be acknowledged. Although for us Iranians, we usually don't do any of that untill they're dead and gone.

With regrads to his alleged 'anti-semitic'  positions: is anything he's saying any different from what the Peace Movement in Israel is saying? And also please try to recall what Hamid said about AN's denial of Holocaust. Was that also 'anti-semitic?'

P.S. This term "anti-semitic" which has been coined by the ever distortive Western media, is suppose to mean anti-jewish. However,  in the real world and real history, Semites refer to both Jews and Arabs, in Persian we call them Saami. So for our ever inquisitive minds in here, it might help to take into consideration how the very terms and language they're using in here, itself contributed to further distortion of issues and facts. Cheers


Focusing on the content of the article….

by Bavafa on

I think the author has got the situation vastly correct, all with the exception of his optimism of the power of the “Syrian people will triumph”


Time and time we have seen how these popular uprising and movement to be hijacked one way or another by the powerful forces coupled with corrupt so called leaders.  Our own nation has been rubbed from its potential freedom and democracy at least twice (1953 & 1979) in the last 60 years not counting the betrayal of few so called leaders just a couple of years ago.

  But I will continue to believe that for any nation to rid itself from such corrupt and disastrous leaders + super powers, people have to endure, not relent and lead.


'Hambastegi' is the main key to victory 



Prof. Dabashi’s SOBER analysis is indicative of what is.....

by P_J on

happening NOW, and what WILL happen if this train wreck is not stopped AND on time!

Also zendanian has a very valid point regarding the Green movement.

If we have learned anything in the past 30+ years is that we should not either trust Mullahs or their cohorts.   Greens are nothing, but turban less Mullah…the only difference that I can see!


We have learned our lesson(s) and should neither trust the Shahollahi/Hezbollah cult, and their equally corrupt cohorts; same should apply to the decaying Islamofascist regime.


One can easily see resemblances and draw parallels of the last days of the corrupt tyrannies of Mullahs to the collapse of the despicable Pahlavi’s …the resemblance is uncanny.   They BOTH are about to meet the TOILET of history!

 I just hope that this time our nation would not allow these MURDERERS to flee with billions of dollars of STOLEN and EMBEZZELED money belonging to our nation/people, as it happened the last time!


Overall, A good blog from Professor. Dabashi

by Roozbeh_Gilani on

And I agree with the key point that Professor dabashi is making, that is "the islamist regime is losing in it's power struggle against Israel & West, because it absolutely lacks legitimacy with Iranian people"

On a critical note, I also agree with Zendanian on his comments regarding the "green movement", for the same reasons as he does, and with  Robertborden on his "antisemetic horse manure " remark. I often  find some of that in Mr dabashi's writings :) 

"Personal business must yield to collective interest."


He is No Edward Saeid

by Zorumbaa on

The fact that Mr. Dabashi writes for Aljazeera, Al-Ahram and other Arabic newspapers and regularly gives interview to TV and radio outlets in the same region speaks for itself. He is a card carrying champion of the Palestinian cause and that does not make him a successor to Edward Saeid. One day he may decide to open up and clearly explain his position with respect to those very specific issues that are vital and important to majority of Iranians.


Good Points

by Demo on

Robert. Thanks for your comments.


Dabashi should stick to literature

by robertborden54 on

This is a disjointed piece of anti-Semitic horse manure.  Israel in a conspiracy to pervert the allegedly democratic uprisings in the Mideast?  Why does he think Israel hasn't made one single aggressive military move in the past couple of years?  Israel far from manipulating anything is scared that if it makes the wrong move it will divert attention from essentially domestically concerned uprisings back to itself and the Arab-Israeli conflict.  That was the anti-Semitic horse manure part.  The disjointed part is the patching on of the bit about Iran.  Is he hoping that the Islamic regime can negotiate from a position of strength?  And that will help with the so-called democratic uprisings in the region how?  Everytime I read something from this hack I wonder how he came to be the successor to Edward Said who no matter what you thought of his politics, at least wrote with elegance and erudition.


Iranians' Spring is Yet to Come!

by Demo on

Noting that Mr. Dabashi's article has been published in Al Jazeera & it is another of his futile attempts by to bring the life back to the dead so called Green Movement of his, and thus re-introducing that as an alternative to keep IRI further alive. But he is dead wrong. Both IRI & the Green are void of any credibility and legitimacy with the people. And as such the Iranians' (real) Spring movement is yet to come & unlike the fake Arabs Spring, orchestrated by the corrupt Sheikhs of UAE & of Saudis, will not be a simple removal of Khamenei & replacing him with Mousavi or alike.   


Green "Movement" is as reactionary as its leadership, and has

by Zendanian on

"achieved" nothing but losing the initial momentum gained by people's independent initiatives three  years ago. "Reformers" of Islamic Republic of Hell are most often as much an obstacle to overthrowing it as the ruling mullah thugs.

The only hope and significance in this so called "movement" was its mass base. Alas this base has been repeatedly compromised, demobilized, and deactivated by its reactionary leadership mainly Mir Hossain Mussavi, Korobi, and such.

From June '09 to January '10 "Greens" had a golden opportunity to expand on their early appeal and build the basis for a truly free and democratic Iran, instead from day one they worked in the exact opposit direction. Begining with chants of Allah O'Akbar, as slogans of protest! Soon these "chants of protest" were drown out by magnified Allah O'Akbars from mosques.

Moral of the story: you can not liberate yourself with the words of your oppressors.

In short: Liberation and establishment of a truly democratic and liberated Iran goes through over coming this so called "Green Movement." Fortunately we have independent, autonomous social movements in Iran to achive just that task.