Leili on Thu, 20 Dec 2001 13:18:53 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> FW: Intellectual traitors

Subject: Fwd: Intellectual traitors

>Who's afraid of Jacques Derrida?
>Pioneer thinkers in Iranian universities should be welcomed
>By Mehdi Nasrin
>December 17, 2001
>The Iranian
>It looks as though Jacques Derrida and Edward Said are planning to give
>lectures and teach in Iran in the upcoming months. As a premature reaction,
>some (Iranian) scholars abroad have already criticized and condemned the
>acts. They argue that by traveling to Iran and participating in such
>seminars and lectures, these prestigious intellectuals help the Islamic
>government of Iran manifest a nicer picture of itself to the world.
>It is likely that a government which has been criticized by many human
>rights organizations (like the UN and Amnesty International) and isolated
>from the international community for many years needs this nicer
>reputation. Moreover, such interactions between Iranian universities and
>foreign intellectuals may help the authoritarian government argue that
>there is actually freedom of speech in Iran.
>Those who are criticizing Derrida and Said, of course, have even more
>concrete and detailed objections. One of the translators of Derrida's works
>was among the Iranian intellectuals who was kidnaped and killed by agents
>of the country's Ministry of Intelligence four years ago. Since then, those
>who committed these evil acts have been brought to justice. However the
>closed trial was rather quiet about those who ordered the murders. The
>critics think Derrida has a commitment of openly condemning these kinds of
>extra-judiciaries and must thus decline the request of giving a speech in
>Said, on the other hand, has been criticized over the issue of Palestine.
>The Islamic government usually addresses the Palestinian people as the
>Moslem people of Palestine. This kind of statement, of course, can have
>racist interpretation. It seems according to the Islamic regime, there is
>no Christian or Jewish Palestinian. Since the critics think that Said has a
>commitment of openly condemning this idea, given that he himself is a
>(Christian) Palestinian, he must thus decline the request of teaching in
>However, something is wrong with their conclusions.
>Human rights violations and censorship within the Islamic government are
>undeniable facts. The premise of the critics' arguments is also correct:
>the Iranian government is a totalitarian regime with a very bad record of
>human rights violations. Thus it will probably (ab)use the presence of
>intellectuals (like Derrida) and activists (like Mandela who has already
>traveled to Iran twice) in order to improve its image. Therefore, critics
>conclude, these people should not travel to Iran.
>The fallacy of this argument is rooted in accepting what the Iranian
>government imposes. The Islamic regime may indicate that anybody who
>participates in Iranian elections has accepted the principles and the
>legitimacy of the Islamic republic. Many do not buy that; it can be a
>peaceful way to show one's protest.
>The Islamic regime may indicate that what happened on the streets after the
>World Cup qualification matches was nothing more than soccer hooliganism.
>Many believe it could be another social movement in the struggle for
>change. The Islamic regime may indicate that the flourishing humanitarian
>movement in the nation's film industry is a sign of a healthy society. But
>may say it could be just a fake intellectual passport to pass the borders
>of censorship.
>Moreover, by allowing foreign intellectuals to give lectures in the
>country, the Islamic regime may be trying to show respect for freedom of
>speech. Many do not buy that either. It is most likely just a window
>On the other hand, the presence of these pioneer figures in humanities,
>arts and sciences and any other interactions with the open world would be
>very beneficial for Iranian students and scholars. They would have the
>opportunity to directly discuss issues they have learned through translated
>texts and second-hand literature.
>This is a situation not unlike the presence of the Doctors Without Borders
>in poor and far off villages in eastern and northwestern provinces of the
>country which have increased the level of public health. It is not only the
>physical presence which matters, the contribution of the UN health
>committee to the national projects (like birth control) was and is very
>important. This of course does not wash away what the Islamic regime has
>done in these provinces since the revolution, unless one wants to buy what
>they sell.
>The same thing is true about higher education.
>The presence of pioneer thinkers in Iranian universities should be
>welcomed. We should not forget that not all Iranians who have left their
>homeland have done so because of political reasons. Some seek better
>education and a higher social life. If the Ministry of Higher Education
>spends more money on research and invites more foreign professors,
>university education will improve in Iran.
>Hardliners in Iran disagree with these kinds of interactions between
>universities and foreign scholars. They form a very influential band within
>the Islamic regime. It is not surrprisng that they are against any kind of
>interactions between the young generation and the open world.
>Even some Iranian scholars are against these interactions. They think all
>Iranian ministries -- be it intelligence, education or health -- form a
>totalitarian system and these interactions help the system survive with a
>more beautiful and practical interface. The Islamic Republic is like any
>other totalitarian regime, afraid of more open interactions with the world.
>However, these interactions take place because the world is changing and
>they cannot be totally isolated.
>Similar experiences (in Iraq, for instance) have shown it is only the
>citizens of these countries who pay the price of more vigorous sanctions
>and solid isolation. Any interaction with the open world (through the
>Internet, or educational exchanges) will help people move towards a more
>open and free society.
>Those who condemn these interactions have a tendency to define themselves
>as the true opponents of the Islamic regime. They (over)react to whatever
>happens in that country. They easily forget what is in fact best for the
>If tomorrow the Islamic Republic announces that all those walking on the
>street are supporters of the regime, hardcore skeptics will ask people not
>to walk on the street, and criticize anyone who does so. But many will
>continue walking not only because they do not buy whatever the Islamic
>regime sells, but also because walking is good for their health.

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