Monday, October 15, 2007

Dissident Mystique and Leadership Phobia

As in any country, there are leaders, and there are leaders, and there are dissidents, and there are dissidents, in Iran. Some leaders and dissidents advance national, class, and social interests of Iran's working people; other leaders and dissidents set them back, some to the point of destroying their nation. It is the former we should support, and it is the latter we ought to criticize.

However, most leftists in the West tend to be guided by a mythical contest between the BAD Leadership and the GOOD Dissidents that exists only in their imagination when it comes to picturing politics in Iran in particular and the global South in general. That is a misleading guide. It's time for us to cast away both dissident mystique and leadership phobia.

Hamid Dabashi, to his credit, sometimes helps us question the aforementioned mythical contest (which is why liberals such as Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson disparage this aspect of Dabashi's work).
. . . [B]y far the most atrocious aspect of Bollinger's statement is that because of the slanted relation of power it flaunts it ipso facto shifts the center of gravity of contemporary Iranian political predicament away from Iran and Iranians themselves and places it in the self-righteous domain of a white man and his civilizing mission. It is precisely the same colonial attitude that is perpetrated in the statement written by Akbar Ganji and circulated for signatures among exclusively non-Iranian signatories. Not a single Iranian was allowed, even if he or she insisted, to sign that statement. Akbar Ganji's deeply colonized mind, denying Iranians themselves the right and responsibility to have a say in their national destiny, tallies perfectly well with Bollinger's deeply racist mind to presume that he is telling Iranians something they do not know. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of Lee Bollinger's statement is the appearance of the name of Akbar Ganji in it, for in that single reference Lee Bollinger and Akbar Ganji appear as the two-sides of the same colonial coin that denies nations agency and assigns to white men the authority and audacity to civilize the world. Is it even conceivable for Gandhi to launch his movement to liberate India and systematically deny Indians a say in the affairs of their homeland, or for Mandela to write a statement on behalf of civil liberties in South Africa and disallow South Africans to sign it? This is precisely what Akbar Ganji has done, and that is precisely the reason why he is so easily incorporated into Bollinger's racist assumption that he has to bear the heavy burden of liberating Iran and civilizing the world. To avoid that trap, it is long overdue that people like Akbar Ganji look at movements led by Gandhi and Mandela as example of their struggle, rather than come to the United States, go on a Shi'i pilgrimage of collecting white talismans of names he considers worthy of defending the cause of liberty in his homeland. (Hamid Dabashi, "Of Banality and Burden," Al-Ahram Weekly 866, 11-17 October 2007)
Dissidents who become "native informers" for the empire, like Ganji for instance, cannot and should not be supported.

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