Across the Bay

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Mossadegh and Me

An Anonymous reader left the following comment in response to my "Portrait of a Dragoman" post:

"Though your comments are generally clear, supported, understandable and agreeable, I am troubled by your characterization of Mossadegh Iran. Your description clearly suggests a perhaps not broadly, a somewhat representative populist movement. You diminish it a little too conveniently, attributing to it the cause of it's own demise. For me, this weakens an otherwise compelling and educated POV."

Your point is well taken, and I agree that my characterization could be seen as dismissive. However, that was not my intention. All I wanted to show was that there is a lot more to the picture than the simplistic picture that Khalidi wants to draw (Mossadegh = liberal, democratic, nationalist, and all around great. Then comes the bad CIA = foreign malicious US intervention that ruined, and continues to ruin, it for liberal nationalist democrats in the ME. If only you bad American leave the ME alone... you'll see democracy flowing in the streets.) This (rather Occidentalist) view tends to eliminate all the internal dynamics and the Iranian players, rendering as sole (malevolent) agents the outsiders, and depicting the "natives" as nothing more than passive victims, who only react to what's imposed on them. That overall worldview (that I have sometimes labeled "passive-aggressive") and attitude is a hallmark of post-Orientalist scholars of the ME. It's not only bad scholarship, it's also dangerous, as the piece by Lee Smith makes abundantly clear. For more, see the following essay by Martin Kramer (from his book Ivory Towers on Sand. If you haven't read Kerr's review of Orientalism, I strongly encourage you to do so. I will see if I can upload a PDF copy of it. Kerr, followed by Kramer, nails Said for neglecting to foresee how Islamists would use his thesis to reject anything Western. Kramer has another relevant chapter of his book online.)

Thank you for your feedback, and I hope I made my point clearer.