Hamid Dabashi: White moderates and Greens

27 01 2010

American pundits who pontificate on the internal affairs of others only reveal themselves as irrelevant and ridiculous, writes Hamid Dabashi.

Mr. Dabashi is an Iranian-American intellectual historian, cultural critic and literary theorist. He is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at the Columbia University in New York, the oldest Chair in Iranian Studies.

I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice — Martin Luther King, Jr, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” 16 April 1963

The only reason the world at large should take notice of what American pundits think of the Green Movement in Iran is that their self-indulgent pontificating reveals much about the troubled world we live in and that they think they must lead. Indeed, one of the most magnificent aspects of the unfolding civil rights movement in Iran is that it acts as a catalyst to expose the bizarre banality of American foreign policy commentary and its limitations in dealing with the rest of the world. Those in American circles that are of the “bomb Iran” persuasion are lost causes just like the Ku Klux Klan. It is the equivalent of what in a different context Martin Luther King Jr called “the white moderates” that warrants more attention.

Perhaps the single most important problem with American politics, policymakers and pundits — left or right, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican — is that they think that anything that happens anywhere in the world is about them or is their business. The imperial hubris that seems definitive of the DNA of this political culture wants either to invade and occupy other people’s homelands and tell them what to do, or else disregard people’s preoccupation with their own issues and impose, demand and exact “engagement” with them, whether they want it or not.

Take the most recent piece of nonsense published on the civil rights movement in Iran by Flynt and Hillary Leverett, “Another Iranian Revolution? Not Likely” ( The New York Times, 5 January 2010), which has absolutely nothing to do with or seriously to say about the Green Movement, and yet everything to reveal about the pathology of American politics as determined inside the self-delusional Beltway cocoon.

As early as mid-June 2009, the Leveretts defending the fraudulent election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (“Ahmadinejad won. Get over it,” Politico, 15 June 2009). That millions of Iranians had poured into their streets and put their lives on the line did not seem to bother the Leveretts. In addition to a condescending tone, in which the Leveretts partake freely when talking about a groundbreaking civil rights movement about whose origin and disposition they are categorically ignorant, the chief characteristic of their take is that they keep fabricating non-existent targets and then shooting them down. The result: what say has everything to do with the besieged and bunkered mentality inside the Beltway and absolutely nothing to do with the Green Movement. Chief example: “The Islamic Republic of Iran,” they believe, “is not about to implode. Nevertheless, the misguided idea that it may do so is becoming enshrined as conventional wisdom in Washington.”

Whoever said it was? No scholar or otherwise serious and informed observer of Iran writing in Persian or any other language and still in her or his right mind can predict — or has predicted — that the Islamic Republic will or will not fall, and even if it did, one way or another, it would have nothing to do with what “conventional wisdom in Washington” opts to enshrine or not to enshrine. If there are folks inside the Beltway who think the Islamic Republic will fall any day now, Abbas Milani will become the American ambassador to Iran, or the Iranian ambassador to the US, depending on the season of his migrations to the left or right, and Lolita will soon become required reading in Iranian high schools, well that’s their problem, and yet another sign of their dangerously delusional politics. That hallucination has nothing to do with the Green Movement, and thus the Leveretts need not have sought (in vain) to discredit a monumental social uprising of whose origin and destination they are oblivious.

These Washingtonians live in a world of their own. A massive civil rights movement has commenced in a rich and diversified political culture of which people trapped inside the Beltway have no clue. Thus what American pundits make of it is entirely irrelevant. This is a civil rights movement some two hundred years in the making, whose course and contours will be determined inside Iran and by Iranians. No Iranian could care less what people in halls of power in the United States think of their uprising, unless and until they start harming it. There are two sorts of harm: economic sanctions, covert operations and military strikes, advocated by the likes of Milani; or else engaging with the illegitimate and fraudulent government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as the Leveretts advocate. These are both interferences in the domestic affairs of Iran. Mr and Mrs Leverett ought to know they will be remembered in Iranian history as the 21st century equivalent of Kermit Roosevelt if they persist, as they have since the commencement of the Green Movement in June 2009, in actively siding with what in Iran is called “the coup government of Ahmadinejad”.

The supreme irony of the Leveretts’ position is that while the ghastly propaganda machinery of the Islamic Republic accuses anyone who utters a word against their criminal atrocities of being “an agent of CIA”, here is an ex- CIA agent acting as the greatest proponent of their theocratic terrorism. The Leveretts’ main concern is with President Obama hurrying up to “engage” Ahmadinejad before it is too late. To pre-empt neocon belligerent chicanery the Leveretts seek to push the president in the direction of diplomacy with Ahmadinejad’s administration. That legitimate and even laudable and noble concern, however, soon degenerates into an arrogant and ignorant dismissal of an entire civil rights movement as something ephemeral and even non- existent.

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