Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The crash

A companion of many years which has felt more like an extension of my body—dearest laptop—began to make curious noises one day and then it suddenly died. And it took along thousands of photographs and pages up on pages of notes about various books and articles and many other files I had managed to accumulate over the years.

Of course I have back ups, but they too are sitting inside assorted boxes (which remain) scattered around different cites across four continents. Mr. BP, you see, isn’t the most stable of fellows. So we have been brooding a tad more dejectedly of late.

And we have also been interviewing for jobs. But of course that too isn’t going anywhere. We have lost our taste for the “respectable” society and we half suspect the disdain to be mutual.

Living the life of a semi-literate vagabond in the margins of our great cities has a certain charm, I must admit. But it would get terribly tedious intellectually, I fear. So, I am thinking I should really take a long break soon to put my own affairs in order.

Before I go, though, I would like to finish a number of conversations which I’ve never managed to develop to my satisfaction. So, I intend to do a series of posts on Mr. Pollack’s book, The Persian Puzzle, which might also offer an opportunity to rethink some of the issues I have broached in the past.

At least two reviewers from the opposite sides of the political spectrum haven’t been too terribly kind to the Gentleman.

Mr. Amir Taheri, our famed, old “Emissary of the Apparatus,” comes to pull a Juan Cole on Mr. Pollack, charging our author with suffering “from the fact that he has never been to Iran and does not know the Persian language,” while complaining further:

Pollack has an amazing arsenal of adjectival bullets with which to shoot his hated Iranians. He writes that Iranians are "stupid, naïve, paranoiac, delusional, unreasonable, and obtuse." And that is only for starters!

And that, of course, makes a rational discussion of the conflict that much more difficult.

Mr. Kaveh Afrasiabi, on the other hand, an author who is the closest there is to a thoughtful fellow traveler, has almost identical set of objections:

Pollack indulges in criticizing Iranian emotionalism, xenophobia, exaggerated "self-importance", "considerable ignorance of many of its policymakers", etc, thus making a mockery of objective analysis bereft of such abstract generalization smacking of what the late Edward Said labeled "Orientalism".

The crux of the matter, for Mr. Afrasiabi, appears to be the following:

Pollack unfortunately proves incapable of breaking free from a CIA school of thought that, in addition to denigrating Iran's national character, consistently predicts the imminent demise of the Islamic regime in Iran.

I have been reading Mr. Pollack’s book and I like it. It is nowhere written in stone that an analyst should like Iran or Iranians. By that standard, almost everything anyone ever writes these days about Iran could be easily dismissed.

But it is terribly unfair, I think, to highlight a few unflattering characterizations out of 539 pages of a book instead of thinking about some of the more important assumptions and conclusions presented by a writer.

Any how, I was pleasantly surprised by Mr. Pollack’s attempts at being fair minded and his efforts in seriously grappling with a number of fundamental difficulties and challenges that Iranians and the Iranian regime pose. This is not to say that I don’t have misgivings. But since when has agreement become the sole standard for judging a book?

I’ll tell you about some of Mr. Pollack’s more interesting observations soon. This especially since--as our Spirited Poetess rightly points out-- after the election of Mr. Ahmadi Nejad, and faced with the brewing (potentially) catastrophic conflict, some of the loudest (Iranian) observations are reducible to a variety of the shallowest sartorial, or boring and banal rhinological, fulminations.

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