Hell Is Not The Other

As US pressure mounts on UN security council members for tougher sanctions against Iran, the western press, largely subservient to corporate and western governments interests, has been busy at the same time forging a dehumanised picture of the country Israel and the US want to punish, destabilise and eventually attack. The mainstream politico-intellectual elite has also joined the fray. 'Reading Lolita in Tehran' and 'The Caged Virgin' are such books, a genre in the service of empire, they pretend to speak about women's issues in Islam while presenting a biased and external (western borrowed) perspective on these issues.

We have to reverse this curse, the curse of biased information and arrogance about other cultures, the curse of feeling irresponsible as citizens in the stigmatisation and the dehumanisation of the Other.
I know how it feels to be misperceived, stigmatised. I am an immigrant women who crossed three cultural barriers and married a western man. I am not religious, neither from a Muslim upbringing, but I lived in Lebanon, a country made of a mosaic of religions, among Christians, maronites, catholiques, orthodoxes, and Muslims, sunnis, druzes and shias. I lived part of the civil war and realised that the radicalisation of public opinion is dangerous, that it is always made for belligerant political purposes, that sectarian wars are ugly, that there is individual responsibility in contributing to the stigmatisation of the Other, that there is always more effort to display in order to understand the Other than there is to exclude him, that summary condemnation of the other is a lazy intellectual approach, that applying our standards to the Other and asking for total compliance is pure arrogance, that in every political and military tragedy there is individual responsibility, that our responsibility now as western citizens toward what is going on in the ME is to be first and foremost critical, not of Muslims, not of Iran, not of Shias, not of Sunnis, not of Iraq, not of Afghanistan, but of our own actions and the actions of our governments, otherwise we are making ourselves complicit of our governments illegal wars and the human rights violations and the murderous radicalisations that go with them.

I think as citizens and intellectuals, all we must look for is to understand before we condemn, before we join the chorus that will be responsible tomorrow for what is going on today.

With this perspective in mind I invite you to read and watch the following:

My critique of a prominent Muslim basher

Dove's Eye View: Maria Golia Talks Back To Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

Read Golia's essay on Hirsi Ali here.

Muslim Americans are denied official representation in their country.

Why 'Reading Lolita In Tehran' is not good for your understanding of women issues in Iran.

Was I a good American in the time of George Bush ?

Inside Tehran (an excellent BBC documentary, 1h30')


Naj said...

Hi Sophia, This is a great documentary indeed. I think everyone should see it.

One comment that I do get about books such as Reading Lolita, is that these books are written by Iranians.

The fact is, every writer has the right to express a novel from their own perspective. Many Iranian women share the views in Lolita. But there are also women in Iran who, although suffer the same kind of problems, have a different approach, a different expression.

It is sad that Azar Nafisi's academic acheivement is discussed so often, and we never hear about Farzaneh Milani; another woman, working extensively on women issues in Iran.

Sophia, my blog "is" dedicated to demystification of the image of the women of Iran; but can I blame Israel or the US for teh Iranian government putting two of the greatest women activists (one a lawyer with a successful track record of activism against death penalty, and the other the editor of Iran's most prominent women journal)in jail?

Of course, I can draw attention to American activists or even Canadian ones arrested for illegal protest, and say that Iran's no different.

And I can also guess that this is a time that the radical rhetoric of Shadi Sadr perhaps doesn't serve the best interest of Iran, a country bombarded with disinformation attacks by Israel and AIPAC and AEI! But why play in the hand of Israel and America, and make new enemies like all those Iranian women who are in absolute fury over the arrest of women right activists?

I cannot blame Israel for Azar Nafisi having written the book that she has. I just wish she spoke up and said: "None of your business! We'll wash our own dirty laundry without help from your nuclear attack!" And I wish people also talked about Farzaneh Milani, who is documenting in Women and Veils, the women who "WRITE" Lolitas in Tehran!

Sophia said...

You raise interesting points. The problem is : are they going to give us our freedom and peace of mind to finally sort our problems out without the permanent threat always hanging over our heads.
Constraints, when they are formulated as threats, are counterproductive because they divert energies from internal problems toward external problems. What we need is openness from everywhere. In fact opressive regimes die from openness and thrive under threats and hostile constraints.

Leila said...

Thanks for this, Sophia.

I posted Maria Golia's review of Hirsi Ali's book on my blog (at Maria's request). She has lived in Cairo for the last quarter century and had quite a bit of nuanced response to Hirsi Ali's sweeping generalizations.

Just the other day, somebody wrote me an angry comment on Maria's post. The person accused me and Maria of being completely illogical and immature. They did not, of course, address any of Maria's points.

The person seemed outraged that anybody would question the stereotype Hirsi Ali promotes.

I shrug my shoulders. What a world we live in...

Thank you for speaking up.

Sophia said...

Hi Leila,
Then I should link to your post. I was dismayed by Hirsi Ali's lack of honesty, intellectual rigour and scholarship on Islam. Most of all, in judging other cultures, we should always try to unserstand before we condemn and even when we condemn leave some doors open, this is not Hirsi Ali's concern, she wants a global war on Islam or on her former self...

Leila said...

Definitely link to the reprint of Maria Golia's essay, which originally appeared in the Times Literary Supplement. They don't have an online archive, so she wants it spread around.

My blog post about Maria Golia and A. Hirsi Ali is here.

Sophia said...

Thank you so much. I have linked to Golia's essay in both posts, this one and the other one on Hirsi Ali.
Many thanks to Mrs Golia.

jij said...

thank you for the link sophia...

Sophia said...

Jij, it is me who should thank you.

Since March 29th 2006