Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hamid Dabashi

Hamid Dabashi is no stranger to controversy, especially after the visit of the present Iranian president to Columbia university, where the President of that university called the Iranian president as a "petty, cruel dictator". Dabashi is Professor of Iranian studies at Columbia university, a cultural and literary theorist, and like one of his mentors Edward Said, represents one of those voices in the American academic space that still insists for not ignoring the weak and the dispossessed, and keeping alive in the mainstream debates about American and European imperialism and thus creating that unique space which in itself is foreign to the very environment that creates it.

Dabashi's scholarship is unique and extensive and is not limited to social and cultural criticism or to the standard role of an exiled intellectual from the Middle East criticising his own country or its rulers. Dabashi is not an embedded intellectual or a Comprador but is quite strident in speaking and taking a specific stance. In that way, after post-colonialism, Dabashi has, like Said before him, produced work that allows the protagonist and the present spectator to understand that simply denouncing imperialism is not enough, for in countering the devastating and dismembering effects of servitude, a certain kind of mentality that arises in those who gain power, a certain love for revenge or nationalism leads to regimes of over-powering cruelty whose first victims are their own populations. Dabashi is quite critical of the present Iranian regime as he was of the President of Columbia University whose affront to Ahmadinejad was described simply as "the most ridiculous clich├ęs of the neocon propaganda machinery, wrapped in the missionary position of a white racist supremacist carrying the heavy burden of civilizing the world, propaganda warfare waged by the self-proclaimed moral authority of the United States.Only Lee Bollinger's mind-numbing racism when introducing Ahmadinejad could have made the demagogue look like the innocent bystander in a self-promotional circus."

Dabasi has produced works of differing variety, interest and magnitude. From his important work on Iran's road to revolution to his work on Islamic resistance movements as liberation theology to his great love for Palestinian cinema and his interest in Makhmalbaf's work or Kiarostami, Dabashi has also written significantly on Islamic history. I have read with great pleasure and attention and have been impressed with his work on ascertaining narration in Islamic history called Truth and narration. Set against the background of the life of one of Persia's great sufi mystics and legalists, Ayn-ul-Qudat, Dabashi deconstructs his life and at the same time deconstructs the main forces within Islamic history or narration. He allows us to see that there has not been just one force or party at sway.....that there has always been a battle between the legalists, the mystics and those basing it on reason or power alone.

The above forces are still battling for the mainstream of Islam and the ones vying for power are the ones who are at present ineffectually fighting against European and American cultural imperialism. The present Iranian regime or similar regimes are thus to be seen in the context of the after effects of a liberation theology, where the spirit of Islam is used to give moral authority to an ideology that wants to fight imperialism and often exaggerates the very discontent it wants to resist. It eventually ends in more repression and pain. Besides his political, cultural and other philosophical works, Dabashi has written extensively on Shiite theology, including papers on Taaziyeh, Shiite passion plays and their sociological causes and manifestations and on Ali Shariati, the Marxist-Islamist ideologue of the Iranian revolution.

Dabashi's forceful writings have been about Palestine and Palestinian people and apart from cinema, his articles and papers on Palestine are extensively being quoted now. A tribute to Edward Said by Dabashi and a fine essay called For a fistful of dust on his journey to Palestine. About Israel he once wrote,

"What they call "Israel" is no mere military state. A subsumed militarism, a systemic mendacity with an ingrained violence constitutional to the very fusion of its fabric, has penetrated the deepest corners of what these people have to call their "soul." What the Israelis are doing to Palestinians has a mirror reflection on their own soul -- sullied, vacated, exiled, now occupied by a military machinery no longer plugged to any electrical outlet. It is not just the Palestinian land that they have occupied; their own soul is an occupied territory, occupied by a mechanical force geared on self-destruction. They are on automatic piloting. This is they. No one is controlling anything. Half a century of systematic maiming and murdering of another people has left its deep marks on the faces of these people, the way they talk, the way they walk, the way they handle objects, the way they greet each other, the way they look at the world. There is an endemic prevarication to this machinery, a vulgarity of character that is bone-deep and structural to the skeletal vertebrae of its culture. No people can perpetrate what these people and their parents and grandparents have perpetrated on Palestinians and remain immune to the cruelty of their own deeds".

There is a certain flavour to his writing, which is not good because it criticises the establishment but because it represents the aesthetics of that resistance which speaks for lonely and defeated causes. Professor Dabashi is a voice of that corner, that corner which is doomed for oblivion. But at least, it has found a new voice.

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