Sunday, October 07, 2007

Shi'ism, Scientific and Utopian

What is the greatest danger to intellectuals in the Iranian diaspora today? Their desire to "look to the West."1 Their temptation to appeal to "American power," in the name of "a supposedly grateful Iranian public, led by a Westernized middle class," through ideological warfare that makes Iran out to be a Republic of Fear.
. . . [Kanan] Makiya argued, that, once freed, they [Iraqis] would throw off the tired orthodoxies of Arab politics and, in their despair, look to the West.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"It was doomed," [Ali] Allawi told me. "What was doomed was the attempt to refashion Iraq in a sort of civilizational makeover, using American power in an alliance with a supposedly grateful Iraqi public, led by a Westernized middle class. The assumption turned out to be false. And it was compounded by a series of disastrous decisions." (Dexter Filkins, "Regrets Only?" New York Times Magazine, 7 October 2007)
Kanan Makiya ought to be an object lesson for leftists among the diaspora intellectuals. They cannot love Iran in a way that I can, for they are saddled with the burden of personal losses and historical defeats, but if the US-led multinational empire succeeds in destroying Iran,2 whether through economic warfare, "democracy assistance," military force, or (as is most likely) the last after a decade of the first two, they will miss it more than I will, just as Kanan Makiya must miss Iraq more than I do.

1 The following words of Jalal Al-e Ahmad still ring true when one looks at the culture of the top 20 percent or so of just about all nations in the South, actual proportions depending on levels of their capitalist development:
To follow the West -- the Western states and the oil companies -- is the supreme manifestation of occidentosis [westoxification] in our time. This is how Western industry plunders us, how it rules us, how it holds our destiny. Once you have given economic and political control of your country to foreign concerns, they know what to sell you, or at least what not to sell you. Because they naturally seek to sell you their manufactures in perpetuity, it is best that you remain forever in need of them, and God save the oil reserves. They take away the oil and give you whatever you want in return -- from soup to nuts, even grain. This enforced trade even extends to cultural matters, to letters, to discourse. Go flip through our half-dozen so-called heavy literary publications. What news do you see of our part of the world? Of the east in the broadest terms? Of India, Japan, China? All you see is news of the Nobel Prize, of the new pope, of Françoise Sagan, the Cannes Film Festival, the latest Broadway play, the latest Hollywood film. This is not to mention the illustrated weeklies, which are quite notorious. If we aren't to call this occidentosis, what are we to call it? (Occidentosis: A Plague from the West, Mizan Press, 1984, p. 62-3)
The habit "spontaneously" cultivated by many intellectuals of all nations who look to the West, or rather the mythical West, serves the ruling classes of the US-led multinational empire, incorporating the upper classes and strata of their nations into liberalism, Americanism, the ideology of "Freedom, Equality, Property, and Bentham." See Shirin S. Deylami, "In the Face of the Machine: Westoxification, Cultural Collision, and the Making of Perso-Islamic Ideology" (October 2006) for a criticism of two common misinterpretations of Ahmad's ideology (and others like it) as "a call to the Past" and "a disdain for modern globalization" in all its actual and potential forms. These misinterpretations, Deylami argues, miss the point of the criticism of "Westoxification": "a particular targeting of one form of economic, political, and cultural hegemony" (p. 1).

2 Iran, but for the curse of oil and the faith in the Twelfth Imam, might have been a Japan of West Asia; conversely, if Japan had not become an imperial power in its own right, Kita Ikki might have been a Jalal Al-e Ahmad of Japan. As things happened, our paths went into completely opposite directions. Intellectuals in the Iranian diaspora do not realize that stubbornly religious working-class men and women of their nation, who rejected them and followed Khomeini instead, still made a finer choice than my compatriots. But if they don't look West and look East instead, they will appreciate what they have. The Iranians have a republic, albeit religious, of their own; the Japanese have a client state, albeit secular, run by Japanese bureaucrats and gangsters for the American emperor. Moreover, the republic that had expelled its cosmopolitan intellectuals may, if it is permitted to live, eventually welcome them back, perhaps under the banner of a Shi'ism that is at once scientific and utopian.


Julio Fernández Baraibar, my friend in Buenos Aires, translated this article into Spanish: "Chiísmo, científico y utópico," Critical Montages, 7 October 2007.

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