To a hammer, everything looks like a nail

A couple more thoughts on Dabashi, because they tie into other things, into larger subjects. (Which, come to think of it, is part of what he is claiming about Nafisi and RLT. It’s a reasonable enough thing to claim, it’s just that he does such a terrible job of it. It could for instance be the case that RLT, whether intentionally or by accident, did something to increase US hostility toward the Iranian regime; but that’s a rather different thing from claiming that, for instance, ‘there is no difference between Lynndie England and Azar Nafisi.’ You’ll notice I haven’t been claiming there is no difference between Hamid Dabashi and Iran’s religious police. That would be because I think there’s a difference.)

There is some inconsistency, especially in the interview.

…my critique is almost entirely directed at the substance of RLT, with a very minimum attention to its context. The fact that the author of RLT is a well-known, well-connected, and well-funded neocon, employed by the principle doctrinaire of neo-conservatism Paul Wolfowitz (when he was the head of SAIS), endorsed by the most diabolical anti-Muslim neocon alive Bernard Lewis, and promoted by a scandalous PR firm like Benador Associates, and many other similar indications are all entirely tangential to the substance of my critique…

Well if all that is ‘entirely tangential’ why does he mention it so often and so emphatically and hyperbolically? The tangential doesn’t get hammered on that way.

I am not privy to any information whether this has been a conscious or unconscious choice…Of course I do not mean “recruitment” literally. How would I know if she was or was not recruited to do anything? I am not privy to any such information—whether she is or is not recruited…The accoutrement of neoconservative power that has purchased and promoted that book is entirely tangential and rather irrelevant to the substance of that book and the relevance of my criticism…I am not in the least interested in how her career opportunism has led her to corridors of power without an iota of scholarly credentials to her name…What I am interested in is understanding how the inner dynamics of this vulgar empire works—and how comprador intellectuals like Azar Nafisi and her ilk proceed to manufacture consent for it…Fouad Ajami and Kanaan Makiyyah had made a very powerful case for the US invasion of Iraq…these people disappear from the public scene and there is no court or public forum where one can take these criminal comprador intellectuals and hold them accountable for their deeds. The same is now true about the neocon cohort of Fouad Ajami, namely his SAIS colleague Azar Nafisi.

He doesn’t know, he’s not interested, and yet he does know, and he is interested.

As you rightly document this, I am not “suggesting” anything. I am saying that chapter and verse people like Azar Nafisi have been actively involved in asking the United States officials for what inside the Beltway they call “regime change”—and now there are reports that she and her ilk…are actually on a frequent flier program to and from DC, with regular visits to the White House, the State Department, and Almighty only knows what other doors Elliott Abrams (“the Neocons Neocon”) is opening for them. I am afraid Azar Nafisi’s “friends in Washington,” as she calls them, are precisely people like Paul Wolfowitz, Foad Ajami, Bernard Lewis, and Elliot Abrams.

But, but, that is all tangential to his critique of her book; that’s why he’s so bashful about it all.

What you have in such figures as Azar Nafisi and Foad Ajami is really a band of politically pestiferous career opportunists, peanuts really in the grand scheme of things, utterly illiterate, but at the service of exceedingly powerful people who waste millions of our tax money trying to put a spin on a reality that keeps exploding in their barefaced barbarity. I have said before and I have argued that here is an organic link between what Lynndie England did in Abu Ghraib and what Azar Nafisi did in RLT—and what holds these two underlings in the service of George W. Bush’s war on terror…etc etc

Diffident, tentative, careful, scholarly stuff, befitting a tangential subject that he isn’t interested in and (by his own account) wouldn’t know about. What would he have said if he had been interested and had known, one wonders.

One thing that’s interesting about all this is the hyperbole. Dabashi makes Nafisi sound extremely powerful, barely less powerful than Wolfowitz or even Rumsfeld. On the face of it that’s just silly. She’s a writer, and a literary writer at that; how powerful can she be? But then, Dabashi is a teacher of comparative literature. If he makes a literary writer sound immensely powerful by giving an interpretation of her work, he makes himself sound immensely powerful at the same time. Nafisi is the wicked powerful writer, Dabashi is the good powerful literary critic who explains her wicked designs. No one would have known, no one would have understood, all would have proceeded in secret, had it not been for the brave perceptive righteously angry teacher of comparative literature at Columbia. What a great, wise, impassioned, ardent, benevolent and powerful man he must be.

Could that be what’s going on here? Could that be a large part of the reason for this unpleasant and unwarranted outburst? Why yes, I think it could. I think it’s a vulgar and nasty bit of careerism and cv-polishing along with a healthy dose of ego-inflating. I think Dabashi was posturing and showing off and bigging himself up, I think he was splashing some red paint on his radical credentials. It’s like Xenophanes’s observation – if cattle and horses or lions had gods, they would look like cattle and horses or lions. To a teacher of comparative literature, literary writers and their interpreters look like the center of the universe.

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