An Open Letter to Jürgen Habermas
by HAMID DABASHI, AHMAD SADRI, and MAHMOUD SADRI
17 Oct 2010 17:08
The creative courage and moral imagination of the Iranian people endure.[ opinion ] Recently the Persian translation of an open letter by Aramesh Doustdar to the German philosopher and sociologist Jürgen Habermas was published by a number of Persian websites. In this correspondence, Doustdar accuses Habermas of having been duped by Iranian pretenders to intellectuality and philosophy and of undue reverence for Islam. Doustdar also warns Habermas about the incorrigibility of Muslims and the danger they pose to Europe. The following is a letter addressed to Jürgen Habermas regarding the content of Doustdar's correspondence.
Dear Professor Habermas,
Recently Mr. Aramesh Doustdar has addressed a long open letter* to you criticizing some of your most recent comments on the intellectual developments in Iran, the rights of the Muslims in the West, and the conditions of coexistence of religion and modernity in the contemporary world.
It is sad to see a thinker so bitter and lost, without an iota of hope or joy not just for Iran and Iranians but for humanity at large. We hope that you will not take his letter as an indication of the state of moral and intellectual imagination in our homeland. It must be obvious from the ad hominem attacks, ax-grinding, and sloppy, essentialist judgments of this letter that Mr. Doustdar is an eccentric curmudgeon with shallow and often laughable ideas about Islam, Muslims, Iran, Iranians, religion, and modernity.
Mr. Doustdar admonishes you for your reticence regarding the atrocities of the Islamic Republic, where it is a matter of public record that you have indeed signed statements in support of civil liberties in Iran. Mr. Doustdar asserts that you have been duped by a "Shia-Iranian...magic show" staged by a bunch of crafty "pretenders to philosophy." And why would someone like you fall for such a charade? Because, he ingenuously explains, "we Iranians have this talent to attract our interlocutor. It doesn't matter that we do so by pandering or by pretending to be a worthy opponent." Rarely does one encounter, even in notorious Orientalist screeds of the last century, such outright racist and defamatory characterizations of an entire nation, a history, a people. Statements like these betray the tragic sense of inferiority and self-loathing that burdens this man.
In the above letter, as in his other works, Mr. Doustdar waxes nostalgic about the advances of the Pahlavi dynasty that in his estimation brought Iran almost to the brink of "civilized urbanity." He goes on to denounce Islam as uniquely dangerous for our collective health, citing an image that he has seen on some magazine cover. By contrast, he rates Christianity, its present fundamentalist and violent strains notwithstanding, as a fairly innocuous form of monotheism. How could one have lived in the heart of Europe for decades while remaining so ignorant of its history and culture? But Doustdar is equally alien and hostile to his own culture and civilization. Here as elsewhere, he dismisses the entire mystic tradition of Iranian Islam, rooted as it is in Mazdian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Christian Gnosticism, as a conspiracy to "deceive the minds" and "kill science and philosophy."
Leading historians of science have remapped the world of ideas, navigated points of regional and global interactions, advanced path-breaking theories of multiple modernities, and debunked the narrow Eurocentric vision of the world. Yet Mr. Doustdar fanatically persists in seeing a monolithic, linear, and singularly European trajectory for humanity and civilization and casts the entire non-Western world into an abyss of stupidity and ignorance.
Doustdar's most salient leitmotiv is that the Persian language has been corrupted and is incapable of producing original science or philosophy. And yet he has written almost exclusively in Persian. One wonders why he is so addicted to, so ineluctably trapped inside, a language that is putatively so barren. One wonders why this philosopher (liberated as he is, of both Islam and Persian language) has not taken advantage of living for three decades in Europe to produce a single contribution to modern philosophy?
Ultimately, Professor Habermas, the moral and intellectual character and disposition of our historic struggles for securing enduring institutions of democracy and social justice are not determined by writing letters to you or any other European philosopher. The creative courage of our people and the moral imagination that sustains their struggles are today manifested and determined in the daring streets and dark dungeons of Iran, and in the hopes and aspirations of millions of Iranians around the globe worrying and hoping for the best in their homeland. But we simply wanted to set the record straight that Aramesh Doustdar speaks for no one but himself and expresses nothing but the banality of his own imagination.
Hamid Dabashi, Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature, Columbia University in the City of New York
Ahmad Sadri, Professor of Sociology and James P. Gorter Chair of Islamic World Studies, Lake Forest College, Chicago
Mahmoud Sadri, Professor of Sociology, Texas Woman's University and the Federation of North Texas Area Universities
* A preface to the letter asserts that it was originally written in German on September 3, 2010, and that further correspondence will be published at a later date. It does not identify where one might find the original open letter. The Persian version can be found at Gooya.