Without being co-opted

According to The Chronicle of Higher Ed, Hamid Dabashi, a professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University, read Seymour Hersh’s New Yorker article, about the Bush admin’s plans to whack Iran, with dismay.

The article prompted him to dust off an essay that he had written a few years before and publish it in the June 1 edition of the Egyptian English-language newspaper Al-Ahram. His target? Not President Bush or the Pentagon, but Azar Nafisi, author of the best-selling memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran…His blistering essay cast Ms. Nafisi as a collaborator in the Bush administration’s plans for regime change in Iran. He drew heavily on the late scholar Edward Said’s ideas about the relationship between Western literature and empire and the fetishization of the “Orient” to attack Reading Lolita in Tehran as a prop for American imperialism…In an interview published on the Web site of the left-wing publication Z Magazine on August 4, Mr. Dabashi went even further, comparing Ms. Nafisi to a U.S. Army reservist convicted of abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. “To me there is no difference between Lynndie England and Azar Nafisi,” he told the magazine.

No difference. Interesting. And pleasant, and reasonable, and conducive to rational dialogue.

I saw the article via Crooked Timber just now, and it grabbed my attention with some violence. It is a subject I think about. The aftermath of Ramin Jahanbegloo’s release brought the subject sharply into relief, and I worried about it a good deal – specifically about the possibility of tainting Iranian reformers, in or out of Iran, by supporting them; or endangering them; or both.

Coincidentally enough, I was interviewed briefly by Maryam Namazie yesterday for her tv programme, and blurted out my worries on this subject. I had a feeling as I was blurting that it wasn’t the ideal thing to say, but it was what came into my head – and it gave Maryam an opportunity to be eloquent about internationalism and solidarity, so perhaps it was all right. (She is damn eloquent, Maryam is.) At any rate, under the circumstances, it really is hard for an American not to worry at all that she could be tainting people with suspicion of being in cahoots with the Bush administration, however unwittingly. As the Chron points out –

The conundrum, say these scholars, is how to voice opposition to the actions of the Islamic Republic without being co-opted by those who seek external regime change in Iran through a military attack. “All of us are mortified about the possibility of a U.S. attack on Iran,” says Janet Afary, an associate professor of history and women’s studies on Purdue University’s main campus and president of the International Society for Iranian Studies.

But Tim Burke blows some nonsense out of the water.

But read further, and you’ll see one more thing, which is the underlying manner that a great deal of ostensibly “postcolonial” literary criticism is basically nationalism in disguise, because to Dabashi the greatest sin of Nafisi is that she doesn’t like Iranian culture. E.g., this is not so much about whether or not the post-1979 government is or is not repressive. Dabashi isn’t about to be enough of a tool to argue that it is not repressive. This is about diasporic struggles over national identity, and a pretty crude attempt to rough up someone who speaks as a “national” but commits cultural treason against the nation. Anybody who on this blog, commenter or otherwise, has ever railed against the bullshit cultural nationalism of the American right – the calling out of Sontag et al as traitorously “European”, the argument that any time an American intellectual expresses distaste or disgust for American culture, should recognize what Dabashi is doing here. He is posing the sheer impossibility, in his view, of ever being a native who hates or criticizes his native nation (not government, but nation-as-culture, culture-as-nation). In Dabashi’s reading, the moment that a postcolonial subject expresses that perspective, they MUST, inevitably, be a hollow vessel within which lurks the empire. Whereas “Western” subjects still retain the liberal privilege of hating or disliking their nation; they are choosing subjects. This is noxious on a great many levels, not the least of which is the political puppeteering that is going on here. Western subjects choose and so long as they choose to become anti-national, they are good choosing subjects; native subjects must be loyal to their nation or be nothing more than pawns of empire. Two different kinds of human subjectivity here: what could be more faithful to the colonial bifurcation of the world into West and non-West?

Beautifully said.

To be continued.

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