June 21, 2009

Reading the chapter from Hamid Dabashi’s IRAN a people interrupted

‘The Islamic Republic is a categorical contradiction in terms- it is neither a republic nor Islamic. It is not a republic because it is a theocracy; it is not Islamic because Islam (Shi’ism in particular) cannot be in power without instantly discrediting itself. From its very earliest manifestation, Islam emerged as the religion of protest, and in its long and tumultuous history, both political and doctrinal, it has never lost that initial defining moment of its political potency. The dialectical paradox that has remained textual to Qur’ranic revelation- its Meccan chapters charismatic and revolutionary, its Medinan verses somber and institution building- has never abandoned the long and arduous Islamic
history. In these terms, Shi’ism is the quintessence of Islam as a religion of protest and can only remain valid and legitimate as long as it posits itself as a revolutionary project. The instant that Islam (Shi’ism) becomes a dominant (state) ideology it contradicts itself. This paradox is definitive to Islamic political and doctrinal history. The Islamic Republic, as a result, and ipso facto, has placed Islam in a position of tyranny, which in turn discredits and dismantles Islam itself- in the most basic tenets of its doctrinal principles. From Umayyads (661-750) to the Abbasids (750- 1258) down to all other major and minor Islamic empires and dynasties, there has never been a Islamic form of government that has not been radically challenged and opposed in precisely Islamic terms. As soon as a dynasty has come to power in Islamic terms of legitimacy, a revolutionary movement has arisen to challenge it in precisely in Islamic terms. This paradox is now the central dilemma of the Islamic Republic, in which it is trapped and from which it has no escape, except dismantling itself. A regional integration of the most progressive forces in both the reformist and the conservative camps in Iranian politics is the only way it can at once sustain its domestic legitimacy and pose a highly effective politics of resistance to the predatory demands of globalized capitalism and the empire it engendered. But it cannot do so without radically revisiting its very doctrinal basis- and thus the self defeating paradox that at once animates and contradicts it.

A radical reformulation of ‘Islam’, now incarcerated within the clerically anchored ‘Islamic Republic’, effectively amounts to (1) recognizing its own polyvocality- its jurisprudence historically checked and balanced by its philosophy and mysticism; and (2) allowing the cosmopolitan context of its contemporary anti-colonial modernity to work the dialectic of its polyvocality out- its Islamism placing itself next to to the nationalism and socialism that have historically checked and balanced it. Among the myriad consequences of such an emancipatory reimagining of Islam in its modern and medieval history is the effective abandoning of the faulty Eurocenticity of a singular modernity, by which the rest of humanity must abide. In its contemporary context, this full-bodied version of Islam will posit the terms of an anti-colonial modernity that is worldly in its roots and cosmopolitan in its consequences.’ (217/18)

‘Trapped in the charismatic appeal of that abiding memory [‘the collective sentiment of the earliest nucleus of revolutionary Shi’ism], Ahamdinejad may indeed go to war- with the United States, with Israel, with any of the Persian Gulf states (or perhaps the United States and Israel may hand him the opportunity by invading Iran)- for the fire of war cleanses and purifies the evil that this zealotry sees dominant in the world […] The effective transmutation of a popular vote into populism , its alliance with the militarism will put Ahmadinajad’s presidency on a catastrophic course leading to a frightful fascism. [the book was published in 2007]…The republic of fear..will result [that] will impose draconian limitations on the latitude that has, in the past, been allowed to the social behavior of middle-class Iranians, the flamboyant youth, and the Gucci revolutionaries. [even though, I think, the recent Ahmadinajad’s speeches included talking about relaxing the activity of the ‘moral police’] This will scare and dishearten the middle-class Iranians and force them even more into belligerent secularism, vulgar consumerism, and ultimately escape the claws of the Islamic Republic[..] The impoverished classes will most certainly not be the beneficiaries of this exodus of capital. The Islamic Revolution never had the economic courage of its political imagination, never dared to opt for a socialist economy, even from its very ideological basis in the ideas and principles of ideologues such as Ayatollah Mahmoud Taleqani and Abu al-Hassan Bani Sadr. So called Islamic economics are fundamentally based on a secured niche in global capitalism. But this economics wants to have its cake and eat it too. It needs foreign investment and a robust capitalist economy, but it doesn’t want the Bourgeois International and its preference for tight jeans, loose scarves, and the democratic institutions that go with global capitalism. [although, someone like Chakrabarty would disagree: individual freedom is not a necessary condition for capitalism as it is for Marx] The Iranian economy under Ahmadinejad will thus remain heavily dependent on oil revenues. Jobs will remain scarce unless A. can transmute the oil revenue into a productive, labor-intensive economy- a critical task that all his predecessors have failed to meet. Chances are that he will not succeed, for he is very much at the mercy of the global economy, which allots Iran only a role as an oil producer […] (235)

The hope for the restitution of that cosmopolitan culture, now compromised by a militant Islamism that has no patience or tolerance for anything it deems un-Islamic, can come from an entirely unexpected corner if we consider the flowering relationship between President Hugo Chaves of Venezuela and his Iranian counterpart….Chaves has a categorical admiration for the Islamic Republic, and sees it as a potential ally across the globe. This admiration can extend beyond a mere transcontinental but vacuous camaraderie, with occasional economic benefits for both, only if Chaves uses his leverage with the Islamic Republic to have it open up its medieval gates to political dissent and institutional changes in its theocracy. The relationship is of course reciprocal- namely, if Chavez fails to raise principled questions with the Islamic Republic and thus help restore the Iranian cosmopolitan political culture, then the theocratic disregard for human rights and the mutation of Iranian cosmopolitan political culture into a clerical tribalism of the worst kind, now definitive to the Islamic Republic, will turn around and corrupt the social democratic aspirations of Chaves.’ (237)

What seems to be exciting about the Iraninan movement now is that it got organized precisely without such a benevolent intervention from the outside, but by the people, across the class lines, themselves. Hopefully, it will have implications beyond the conservative reformism of Mousavi and contribute towards the re-articulation of the cosmopolitanism of Islamic anti-colonial modernity again.


The pre-metaphysics of Things through Iranian Cinema

May 31, 2009


It is all because of my fascination with perhaps arguable and no doubt problematic ideas of pre-metaphysical, non-cultural and a-human givenness of objects and things and of life stripped down to its minimum, that I suggest we watch some of the Iranian masterpieces, which i think presisely deal with the issues.

Here are some films to chose for our screening as well as the quotes from Hamid Dabashi’s seminal book on the Iranian cinema ‘Close Up’. let me know what you prefer cause I’ll be seeing those again in anyway 


Abbass Kiarostami: ‘Through the Olive Trees’ or ‘Close Up’ 

Kiarostami presents us with  a different kind of ‘morality’, a ‘countermorality’ emerges here that is entirely contingent on the reality of the event itself and not on abstract ethical imperatives.’ CU p. 55 Kiarostami’s cinema, from its very inception, is an aesthetics of the real, a countermetaphysics of the factual. It is here to filter the world and thus strip it of all cultures, narrativities, authorities, and ideologies.’ C.U P54

‘Close Up’


‘Through the Olive Trees’



 Rakhschan Bani-Etemad ‘Gilaneh’(2004)

If Kiarostami and Makhmalbaf’s cinema are two visual modes of rereading Iranian culture in order to tease out its virtuality and thus negotiate a creative emancipation from it, the cinema of Bani-Etemad is a visual assault on that culture’s Achilles’ heel, namely, its conception of femininity…Her work has a much wider spectrum of implications than the condition of Iranian women. What is at stake in her project is the constitution femininity as the weakest and most vulnerable point of a much wider pathology of power, cultural constituted, socially institutionalized, economically based and metaphysically theorized. Bani-Etemad’s cinema is a visual theorization against that violent metaphysics.’ C.U. P. 223

Bani-Etemad launches her destruction of patriarchal constitution of sexuality from the depth of her documented reading of Iranian society…The result is a cinematic cosmovision that renegotiates the whole colonially militated culture of capitalist modernity and its colonial consequences.’ C.U.23


‘From Iranian filmmakers Rakhshan Bani-Etemad (NARGESS; OUR TIMES) and Mohsen Abdolvahab comes a searing anti-war film presented in two parts. On the Iranian New Year of 1988, Gilaneh (Motamed Arya), a woman from the country whose only son Ishmael (Bahram Radan) is fighting in the Iran-Iraq war, takes a perilous trip into besieged Tehran with her pregnant daughter. Fifteen years later, on March 20, 2003, as another New Year approaches, fatigued Gilaneh cares for her bedridden son as TV newscasts cover America’s opening attack on Baghdad.’



 Samira Makmalbaf. ‘Blackboards’



Everything is on the verge of happening in Blackboard; everything is in a critical moment of expectation…The constellation of these emotive urges of expectation and urgency, accentuated by the imminent danger of an Iraqi gas attack, splits open the plaster of normalcy in the appearance of the real and pulls every aspect of the evident culture out for negotiation. The most critical moment Samira chooses for this negotiation is the pre-moment of naming, when things are still things and have no name. When the band of student-less teachers are wandering through the rugged mountains, desperate for students, we witness something more than Samira getting back at her teachers. In a brilliantly choreographed scene, a young woman who is milking a goat gives some milk to a teacher. He has finally persuaded a single boy to learn to write his name, and when the boy takes in this knowledge as the teacher drinks his milk. In this epiphatic scene, the camera oscillates between the milk and the chalk, between a living white substance and the dead, white knowledge…Instantly, a gunshot rings out and the boy falls dead. As the teacher is revived by his drink, the boy dies the moment he learns to write his name’ C.U. 274