Monday, February 21, 2005

Daydreaming happily!

Mr. Hanson's latest column of Feb 18 in the NR has the following which got me thinking (tangentially) happy thoughts:

Finally, the United States at last is beginning to cut loose from an octopus whose petroleum tentacles have wrapped deeply around banks, lobbyists, defense contractors, and lawyers in Washington and New York, both Republicans and Democrats, oilmen and multiculturalists alike.

Curious inclusion here of the term "multiculturalists"! By that, I am thinking, the Gentleman means someone who deviates from the curriculum sanctioned by the cultural conservatives in the States and so really those who are deemed responsible in/for the (re)production of the cultural/educational milieu out of which emerges the sort of intellectuals who recently founded No War on Iran.

The sort of intellectuals who employ (politics aside for the moment) a certain academically fashionable vocabulary which might not be all that popular with quite a large number of people on the outside and epitomized in the penultimate paragraph of the Mission Statement:

It is clear to us that the post 9/11 crusade of the United States relies on a Manichean and colonial logic that situates "Western freedom and democracy" in opposition to "Islamic backwardness and tyranny." We resist such discursive binary constructions that reproduce colonial legacies, and instead locate these forms of knowledge-production within the gendered and raced global capitalist relations. We question the taken-for-granted notions of terror, freedom, democracy, and fundamentalism, by pointing to the contradictions that mark hegemonic usage of such tropes.

Given the fragmented, contentious nature of our lives today, and our general tendency to only read what might validate our own assumptions, the shared cultural narrative might not be initially that obvious. But let's pause a bit longer and think about certain non hegemonic tropes in a founding member's post. Our learned, bright and erudite Akhavan:

I will be the last person who would argue that the ruling regime in Iran—or any other place for that matter—can be conflated with the people of the country. But to radically de-link the people of Iran from their government in contexts such as the above is both disingenuous and dangerous. No matter how many photos we are shown of Iraqis under occupation stuffing ballot boxes with checks next to un-named candidates, or how often we see the stylish Karzai playing the role of the sovereign statesman, Bush's forays into Iraq and Afghanistan have reminded us of the obvious: though we may be able to tell the differences between people and states, bombs cannot.

Now back to Mr. Hanson of May 14, 2004 for his honest take about the dangers—by any other name-- of radical de-linking:

Yet the much-deferred-to "Iraqi people" were not quite enemies or friends. They were victims of Saddam's mass murder, of course, but also once upon a time in Kuwait they were happy to loot, rape, and kill themselves. Someone besides Saddam Hussein, after all, killed a million of their own. They wanted liberation from on high, but not necessarily by the U.S., the infidel supporter of Israel and a devastatingly lethal enemy that had wrought havoc on their conscript armies in 1991 and 1999…Have we forgotten that millions in the neighborhood -- from the Palestinians to the Gulf sheikdoms -- were delighted about news of September 11.

We are going to overlook the simple fact that imbecility is not in the exclusive monopoly of the "Arab streets." Remember that every time there is death and torment, quite a large number of Americans cheer loudly as well.

The point here for now: do you not see how they almost say the same thing even when literally worlds apart and drawing diametrically opposed conclusions using distinctive vocabularies?
Now suppose you are sitting in Tehran. You even have a BA from one of the finest universities here. You have access to all sorts of different translations and many texts with the latest "hip," "fashionable," "academically cool," lingo. You might be either a devout Moslem supporter of this regime, or a non-believer in opposition.

How would any of this translate for you?

How would you ever think about all the assumptions and the competing propositions and claims if you have gone through college not having read a single page of original thinking, really? How will you come to think about any form of a discussion if all you've had are lectures, regurgitations, tests, easy answers and quick synopses!

What if instead of having read Plato, Schopenhauer, Hume or a Kierkegaard, you have spent four years at best reading Durant, or Copeltson talk about what these figures might have thought about?

What if instead of having read Ibn-Khaldun, Al- Biruni, Al-Razi, or Al-Farabi, you have at best read a Bernard Lewis (yes, it might surprise some of you, but he is included in the Ministry of Education's core-curriculum for the Humanities students) or possibly even a Said? (Who is not!)

Or at best some Iranian instructor's superficial rendering of the "highlights" of their "essential" contributions?

What if you have gone from one fashionably cool secondary source to another without ever even having had to pause and read what little fragments are left of the Manichean opus? Will you ever pause to think whether the sort of usage about them in the Manifesto and elsewhere does them justice? Or even fairly characterize Mani's contributions to our shared heritage?

And incidently, how could you even think you are doing your students a service by having them read perhaps Augustine only at best if you're a "cultural conservative," and not have them encounter a single Manichean text because…well, that would naturally sort of be multiculturalist," wouldn't it? God forbid, being ultimately forced to include some Zoroastrian text in the cannons to better understand Manichaeism or the Messiah.

Nasty creatures those multiculturalists, aren't they? Right next to the oilmen, and the bankers, and the defense contractors, lobbyists and by the time you have finished reading the entirety of Mr. Hanson's article, even Saddam and Abu Nidal and the rest of those Jew haters!

So then I began to daydream about a vast network of old fashioned institutions of higher learning in Iran. And four years of genuinely multicultural explorations of diverse texts.
Four years of sustained, exciting encounters with memorable Persian, Greek, European, Hebrew, Hindu, Chinese, Arab, and Japanese thinkers, among others. With quite a rigorous program of language acquisition to boot.

Wouldn't that be simply the most provocative, radical four years of bliss-- filled with conversations and discussions and non-stop soul searching? With instructors disinterested in belittling and humiliating their students and unwilling to treat them like cattle and the sort of students so engrossed in the subject matter that they refrain from hustling their guides for absolutely meaningless grades and simply unwilling to terrorize each other in order to carry favor with some authority figure.

A genuinely nurturing collaborative project.

It could all start in one small college in some cheaply acquired land in a terribly remote area with few buildings and some computers, books and a dormitory and a canteen. With some prestigious, respectable foreign university lending blessing, support and advice.

How much money, do you think, would this entire enterprise come to cost? And the return on this meager expenditure long term in contrast to the billions spent annually to butcher and torture or generally annihilating gradually the creative impulses of some of our best and the brightest?

And all this in the abode of one of the most ancient civilizations which has consistently produced truly cosmopolitan, multicultralist thinkers, and nonetheless, a civilization that is having a bit of trouble finding her moral compass and her creative original voices nowadays.

I am daydreaming of course yes, but terribly joyous dreams.

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