Below is a lengthy passage (the underlining is mine) about the relationship between the US and Iran.  I’ll paraphrase to save your eyes the workout.  Iran and the US have narratives about themselves and the other, and everything is interpreted through that narrative.  The final part of the passage is the meat.  Beeman explains one of the communicative differences between Iran and the US: a (non)European model of diplomacy.  Given these differences of communicative style there are misunderstandings, which are then filtered through the already operating narratives.  This article does a great job of falling into this pitfall.  Imam details a misunderstanding and provides the Iranian explanation and then the article does the narrative filtration of ‘dem bad, we good’ to try and make a coherent argument.

Many of the conservatives (I do not mean Republicans as there are plenty of Democrats just as, possibly more so, hawkish) dismiss articles like Beeman’s as ivory tower ephemera.  But those people are not reading the bottom portion of Beeman’s passage.  There is a materiality and empiricism to what the (many within) the academy are saying.  If the risks are precisely as catastrophic as conservatives claim, then shouldn’t they pay attention to all commentary?  This myopia in the face of catastrophe either proves their incompetence or the insincerity of their supposed catastrophes.

Beeman, William.  (2003).  Iran and the United States: Postmodern culture conflict in action.  Anthropological Quarterly, 76(4)

For Iran, Iraq, the Taliban of Afghanistan, and terrorist organizations such as Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda, the United States became the “Great Satan,” to borrow Iran’s epithet. The Middle Eastern oppositionists saw America as an external illegitimate force that continually strove to destroy the pure, internal core of the Islamic World. It was also seen as the inheritor of the mantle of colonialism carried out earlier in the 20th Century by Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. For the United States, the resistant forces of the Middle East took on a demonic form—that of the “crazy outlaw” nations and terrorist groups whose activities were illegal, unpredictable, and irrational. Every president from Ronald Regan to George W. Bush vilified these forces. In Nader’s terminology, they represented disharmony in an extreme form, because they threatened the international social and political order. Each side’s mythology of itself and its role in world affairs complimented this “mythology of the other.” All of the Middle Eastern forces counted their efforts against the United States as proof of modern success in confronting a formidable enemy. For Iran this was the Revolution of 1978-79 and the subsequent 444 day hostage crisis. For Iraq, it was the Gulf war. For Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders, it was a series of aggressive attacks against the United States. These included bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001 on the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and Pentagon in Washington. These groups thus become not just revolutionary oppositionists; they become the guardians of justice and equity for the people of the world. For the United States, a more complex structure which I term below the “U.S. Foreign Policy Myth” held sway. As I will explain below, this myth sees the “normal world” as a body of nation-states arranged in a dichotomous structure—for or against the United States and its interests. The oppositional forces of the Middle East confound this model. The United States therefore places them in to a residual category, and tries to eliminate them—to purify the world, as it were. The United States therefore becomes not just the guardian of democracy or freedom, but of world order. These mythologies became ideological filters for transmission (or, more accurately, non-transmission) of messages between the two cultural worlds. Such filtering might be sufficient to create the kind of abortive understanding that took place between the two nations with such relentless regularity. However, the ideological problems were reinforced by a communicational structure that was equally conducive to reinforcing the mutual negative images both nations held of each other. A Problem of Discourse The communicational problems can be thought of as problems of mutual discourse which became more and more severe as time went on. The United States and all of the Middle Eastern opposition forces mentioned above have operated with different, often contradictory notions of how discourse on an international level should be managed. This often caused drastic misreadings of the content of communication between the two cultural worlds, and mutual accusations of deviousness, insincerity and bad faith. The formal study of discourse has seen considerable growth during the past two decades. Discourse analysts posit a set of implicit contextual agreements between parties which allow face-to-face conversation to take place in an unimpeded manner. Critical theorists such as Bourdieu, Derrida and Baudrillard have extended the term discourse to include the culturally contextualized rhetorical practices of governments, scholarly institutions and commercial business. The theoretical relevance of discourse studies for this problem will be discussed in greater detail in the following chapter, but I wish to underscore here the need to understand the contextual factors which underlie disturbed discourse as a key to explaining. The United States government is bureaucratically geared to speaking to foreign powers using a set of communicative routines and principles inherited from eighteenth and nineteenth century European diplomatic practice. The practices emphasize face-to-face communication between elite governmental officials at equivalent levels (head of state to head of state, secretary or minister of foreign affairs to secretary or minister of foreign affairs, etc.). Special protocol rules apply for communication between persons who are of non-equivalent hierarchical position. These principles thus imply a universal hierarchy of bureaucracy, and a universal set of understandings about management of discourse parameters within that hierarchy. The routines are widely used because they are implicitly accepted by the international community who learned them from colonial powers.


Sayyid Qutb

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Theodore Dalrymple has another stunningly simple piece in City Journal this month.  His argument is simple and consequently does not stand up to scrutiny.  First he moves through a comparison between Communism and Islamism, conflating the two to as Lenin and Qutb, respectively.  They are similar because 1. they call for the abolition of the state, 2. they do not shy away from violence and finally they believe in vanguardism and not mass movements.  To say that theses differences make them the same, except the obvious different telos, is laughable (even if allowing the conflation of the two writers as emblematic of the two ideologies.)

He then spends some time to mark the ideological approaches offered as laughable for two reasons.  First, the preachers of the idological movements are privileged.

Avoiding material failure gives quite sufficient meaning to their [the struggling] lives.  By contrast, ideologists have few fears about finding their daily bread.  Their difficulty with life is less concrete.

Dalrymple then marks this academic-cum-liberator lifestyle as “the treason of the clerk”, a phrase coined in 1927 by Julien Benda.  If that argument has been floating around so long and still has not gained traction then maybe Dalrymple should investigate that instead.  His argument for dismissal of ideologists as privileged is actually the very argument advanced by Lenin, and maybe Qutb, for liberation.  By a vanguard.  Maybe Dalrymple is writing to an audience that does not have the background to dismiss this argument as easily turned and handled by the ideologists.

Dalrymple’s second argument is that ideology stands as a form of fetishistic disavowal, it serves as a token allowing the ideologists to avoid confrontation with what they are realyl upset about.  One can almost hear Dalrymple calling Qutb a homosexual in this passage.  Maybe there are larger questions at stake, more personal questions for individual activists, but that does nto change the veracity of their criticisms.  These are ad hominems.  Maybe if Dalrymple could show how the personal baggage affects the credibility of the theory, then there would be an argument.  Never mind the fetish is a Marxist form of interrogation to criticize the world as we know it.

Why then does Dalrymple go through these moves?  Surely he is not writing to dismiss Marxism and Islamism, as though the reader of City Journal needs such prodding.  Dalrymple then turns to environmentalism, claiming that it to is an ideology and ergo ought to be held under the same scrunities.  Except he, at no point, tries to show environmentalism as callign for 1. state dissolution or 2. violence or 3. vanguardism.  Dalrymple cannot even identify a voice that leads this new ideology.

The problem is that environmentalism is not an ideology, it is a platform.  It is a goal and a way of evaluating policies; it is not a cohesive story told to flatten out contradictions.  It rests upon a belief in purity, a belief shared by Islamism and modern day political conservatism.

This understanding is an easy one to make if someone believes, as Dalrymple does, that she is outside of ideology: that ideology is the space of an other, a marginal other.  Dalrymple’s other is a traumatized (impure) body, so all of us normal folk (pure) who enjoy buying things and selling our labor are immune to the vagaries of ideology.  Just the obverse, it is when ideology is most invisible that it works its magic on us the most.

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