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An Open Letter to Jürgen Habermas

by HAMID DABASHI, AHMAD SADRI, and MAHMOUD SADRI

17 Oct 2010 17:0837 Comments

The creative courage and moral imagination of the Iranian people endure.

Habermas.jpg[ 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.

Respectfully,

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.

37 Comments

Thank you professors Dabashi, Sadri and Sadri. I was going to write a response to Doustdar's letter, but you have already done a magnificent job of responding.

Muhammad Sahimi / October 17, 2010 7:38 PM

Doustdar is not a "lost" and "bitter" thinker. He has been living in exile for many years seeing his country falling in the chasm of ignorance and inhumanity more each year than the pre-bloody-vious year because of all the things that are being done to IRAN by Ayatollahs. HE IS LIVING IN EXILE. THAT is what EXILE does to a THINKER, mate!

Amin / October 17, 2010 7:43 PM

I want to dispute the last comment that being exiled affects thinker in a negative way,there are many many exiled Iranians who has sharpen their views on the culture and politics of the time.one becomes more objactive ,rather negative discounting
The childhood culture,one might diagree with the political ideology og the present ,not the culture as a whole.
Persian language and literature is one of the finest with the rich masterpieces,such as Rumi,Hafez,Saadi and so on ,even
Westwern Orentalist have indicated that.Evidently mr,Doustar
Has developed negative reaction to his motherland than the government.

Ali raouf / October 17, 2010 10:49 PM

Mr. Dabashi et al either intentionally or unintentionally misquote or misunderstand Mr. Doustdar's litteral argument as well as what he meant.

Mr. Doustdar did not argue shortcomings of Persian language, nor did he consider that the reason behind what we see today. Thus the paragraph before last of the above letter is totally bogus. What Mr. Doustdar argued was that there has not been much scientific achievements in iran for the last 50 years. This is a correct assessment. The environment is simply not ripe for any original work when many school teachers and professors have to have side jobs to get by and thus have no focus on their scientific work. The culture imposed by islamic republic is also one of deceit and show-off, resembling those of last Romanian dictator's period where the political leaders (such as Ms. Ebtekar, late Mr. Kordan, ... Mr. Ahmadi nejad), publish plagiarized papers on their own names. There has been some 1.6 M scientific papers published in the world last year, only 1700 of them from iran (mostly internally published).

Mr Doustdar also did not point to islam as a uniquely troublesome religion. What he said was that at this point in history (not yesterday or the day before that), islam remains far more political than its competitor, the christianity. This is an absolutely correct assessment. He is equally right on his assessment of likes of Soroush who do not even have courage to face the end result of what they created some 30 years ago back home. Have run away, yet continue to prescribe yet another version of what we have experienced in the last 30 years.

Maybe Mr. Dabashi et al (as well as Mr. Soroush) should make a visit to Evin and get a treatment from the pious torturers there. That hands-on experience may help them then to better see the works of the cancerous political islam that that nation has suffered for for the last 1400 years. Too much comfort in the west has blurred their vision.

Raician / October 18, 2010 5:31 AM

I'd prefer to see the letter in it's original German before offering an opinion.

Pirouz / October 18, 2010 7:08 AM

Nice to see that Messrs Dabashi and Sadri continue to defend their "religious intellectuals", who try to save the Islamic Republic at any cost!
Though I am not a supporter of Mr Doustdar, his criticism on intellectual duplicity in Iran is well-founded. Instead of bashing him, the authors of this Open Letter should start to criticise the miserable attempts of Iranian religious "thinkers", arbitrarily mixing up western philosophical theories with Islam to deceive the West.

Arshama / October 18, 2010 9:41 AM

I don't think that being in disagreement with Mr Doostdar's ideas should lead an intellectual to attack his personality. This is not a polite, scientific way of proving counter-arguments.

Negar / October 19, 2010 12:43 PM

And here there are remarks about democracy and liberty. It is crystal clear that enlightened people have increased in Iran recently, especially among the youth. But you can easily trace ignorance in adopting these ideals. Look at the dogmatic ways of some of the opposition peoples, they're saying Death upon the Dictator and the like. How can you claim to bring about liberty when you're going to have Death-Upons and bias again? It's just reversing the attack, far from humane ideals. It's not appropriate in my eyes. I don't know about others.

Negin / October 19, 2010 12:54 PM

It is sad to see Dr. Dabashi, a scholar with major contributions to Iranian political history and literature has fallen into such a low and cheap political rhetoric. I hope Mr. Habermas never gets a chance to read Dabashi's letter because it is exactly his letter and not Mr. Doustar's that lacks intellectual imagination and has no "iota of joy and hope". Dr. Dabashi has made a major mistake by sending this letter because:
1. After his open support for the Green Movement and advocating for openness and inclusion of everyone for discussion and debate, this is the first time, I see him to be extremely undemocratic. This letter is written only for character assassination and nothing more. Morally and intellectually unjustified!!
2. Mr Doustar is perhaps the only intellectual who has been very consistent in challenging the political philosophy in Iran (both Islamic and non-Islamic). He has contributed substantially to the critic of political Islam and its socio-cultural footprints in Iran. If Mr. Dabashi does not agree with his views, he can write a critique on his books and articles.
3. My Reading of Mr Doustar’s letter to Habermas, which is not that different from his frame of thoughts in his earlier work, is in fact to point out that there is a shallowness in what the Islamic Republic and his pseudo intellectuals claim as philosophical thought in Iran. Both Soroush and Ardekani, as “Islamic philosophers”, were in fact appratchiks of the Party of God, and the “state intellectuals” during the darkest period of the Islamic Republic. They were openly against civil society, freedom of speech, women’s right, and many more basic cultural and human rights. Dr. Dabashi should know this. Mr Doustar correctly points out that these and the intellectuals before them have not contributed to science and philosophy in Iran and globally. They do not even understand the tradition of western thought and philosophy and are merely poor translators of western ideas.
4. The most surprising part of Mr. Dabashi’s letter is his co-signees the Sadri Duo, the two mediocre university professors, who have never done any reasonably readable scholarly work, were diehard supporters of Islamic Republic when they were students in US, and like their mentors and friends, Soroush, Kadivar, and others are just realizing that there is a need for co-existence of Islam with other thoughts. Several decades earlier Sadegh Hedayat’s called these “Rajjaleh”, political and intellectual opportunists.
Sassan

Sassan / October 20, 2010 4:33 AM

Dear Dr. Dabashi,
I wonder how you could have genuinely collaborated with Dr. Ahmadi Sadri who boasts about his theory of "Merciful Islam" or Eslaame Rahmani?
I wonder why your offensive language targeting Mr. Dustdar in this biased letter is trying to accomplish but character assassination of a man who has wholeheartedly labored for the progress of his culture through philosophical and cultural critiques. The caliber of intellect and genuineness seen in Mr. Dustdar's work is far beyond the boastful opportunism and heedless ignorance of Sadri brothers who still believe that Islam as a philosophy can be weaved into a civil rights movement while being antithetic to the very nature of human liberty and autonomy. Today, this was certainly a bitter surprise for me to see a "secular" Iranian intellectual fall prey to the hands of Soroush wannabes.

Raha / October 20, 2010 6:45 AM

Doustdar's supposed self-loathing, etc., is far healthier and breathable than Dabashi and Co's grubbing around in the cesspool of Islam for scraps of nourishment. Beware these scraps are undigested vomit of diseased minds! What Dabashi lacks is the sine qua non of a thinker: honesty. He has made a little miserable niche for himself as a 'religious intellectual' (an oxymoron!) and defends it tooth and nail like a little frightened animal.

bijan / October 20, 2010 1:57 PM

The three writers of this letter to Mr. Habrmas have chosen to discuss everything, no matter how irrelevant, except the key reason Mr. Aramesh Doostar wrote his letter to Mr. Habermas.

At issue here is a simple and basic question: Is it acceptable that, by accepting invitations from the regime, travelling to Iran, and participating in regime-sponsored conferences and events, Mr. Habermas or other world-famouse philosophers, lend support and legitimacy to a regime in who has executed, imprisoned, tortured, and exiled tens of thousands of Iranians, including many hundreds of writers, scholars, poets, philosophers, musicians, scientists, journalists, and sportsmen? That was the crux of Mr. Doostar's letter to Mr. Habermas.

A review of Mr. Haberams' interviews with the European press after returning from Iran, in which he conveys a favorable impression of the situation in Iran and praises the "freedom of thought" in Iran, would make it clear to any neutral obsever that Mr. Doostar's concerns are not too imaginary.

In addition to being ruthless, the ruling mullahs in Iran are extremely skillfull manipulators and philosophizers. The three writers of this letter to Mr. Doostar have attempted to discredit Mr. Doostar because he has raised troubling questions and exposed facts that upsets their political and religious biases. The three writers anguish comes as no surprise as they have long been known as active philosophical proponents of the so-called reformist partners of the Iranian regime in the U.S.

Joseph Milani / October 20, 2010 3:42 PM

Mr. Ahmad Sadri:

Please explain why you met with Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi! recently, one of the masterminds behind the torture and killing of innocent people who participated in the green movement last year. Additionally, why did Mesbah Yazdi display such great affection towards you?
Proof?
http://www.jahannews.com/vdciprazyt1apw2.cbct.html

Speaking of "banality of imagination", it seems clearly to me that you are suffering from an acute case.

Be Naam / October 20, 2010 5:13 PM

Mr. Doustdar is not representing Iranian, neither do you.
As far as I am concerned you are bunch of damn Islamist creeps.

Roya / October 20, 2010 5:49 PM

Thank you professors Dabashi, Sadri and Sadri.

Mehrdad / October 20, 2010 7:27 PM

Shame on Hamid Dabashi, Ahmad Sadri, and Mahmoud Sadr, because they wrote their open letter for the purpose of “character assassination.” If truly they wanted to respond to Doustdar’s paradime, why they did not open a scientific and philosophical discourse with Doustdar, rather than bashing him. Besides, Doustdar, in his letter, never claimed that he spoke on behalf of Iranian culture, or, for that matter, for any group of Iranian. Why you three take a liberty and try to respond to Doustdar’s letter on behalf of Iranian? Who selected you? After all these years of living in the U.S.A and teaching, the minimum you should have learned from this culture is that “do not open your mouth unless you have something to say,” for yourself.

On another note, this is a serious problem with Iranian intellectuals who still think and behave in absolute terms of selfcenteric creatures.

Monny / October 20, 2010 8:30 PM

What are doing?! is it part of your academic ethic or your responsibility to society? you wrote to one non-iranian to show that you have something against another iranian?! who are you?! may be doostdar made a mistake, are you representative of Habermas?! you talked on behalf of whom?! really i think you have forgotten our experience in crazy 1979`s revelotion. you look like to toodeh party leaders after revolution. what do you what to achieve from this? what kind of progress ll happen in iran with this letter?! shame on you.

ehsan / October 21, 2010 12:10 AM

It would be strange if apologists of the Iranian regime like Dabashi and friends would understand or even like what Mr. Doustdar is saying.

If you can read Persian, you can find his letter here:
http://www.pezhvakeiran.com/page1.php?id=26671

If you can read German, see here:
http://eppinger.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/ein-philosoph-in-teheran/
http://eppinger.wordpress.com/2010/10/01/si-tacuisses-philosophus-mansisses/

Now compare to Mr. Dabashi:
Defending Ahmadinejad in 2007:
"I am against Ahmadinejad and the system over which he presides, but he is an elected official, not a "dictator" in the technical sense of the term. The republic that he represents is a theocracy, but that theocracy works through a very complicated division of power in various official and unofficial, elected and unelected, democratic and despotic, centers of gravity, of which Bollinger seems to know next to nothing."
http://www.meforum.org/2402/ahmadinejad-academics

Hosting an Iranian regime official:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnk-9N2o7KY&
feature=player_embedded

A lot more could be said about this infamy of Dabashi et al., but the facts speak for themselves.

Soraya / October 21, 2010 3:10 AM

Islamic Republic is hosting an International Congress of Philosophy 11-23 November.
It will be great if these 3 Amigos (Hamid Dabashi, Ahmad Sadri, Mahmoud Sadri) will attend this congress and speak about their Islamic view on death by stoning.. etc.
First class ticket will be provided by Islamic fund. Free Chelo Kebab and Dizzi is also provided.

Roya / October 21, 2010 10:13 AM

3 Islamist Amigos letter is a shame. Doostar letter was too direct, too open for an Iranian taste. But you have to read his letter more than once. It contains issues and point that are all true and part of the recent Iranian history. The 3 Amigos letter (I read both English and Farsi version) is not addressing any issues at all. It just attacks on Mr. Doostdar. It is a shame letter by 3 Amigos.

Roya / October 21, 2010 1:17 PM

I felt happy when I saw your reply to Mr.Dousdar. I found him jealous of the influence and position of other Iranian intellectuals. I know we need harsh and frank critique of our culture but what Mr.Dousdar did was only blaming all other except himself! It is not important what Dr.Habermas thinks of all these, but why one should let himself draw such inferior cynical picture of others? from what position?!

mohammad / October 21, 2010 6:58 PM

I'm so glad that the general response to this ridiculous letter has been negative. These three (Dabashi and the Sadris) are bullies. They want nothing but to cloak their intimidation tactics in forms of 'open letters' and 'articles'. But hopefully us (the new Iranian generation) will see passed their demagogic buffoonery. And hopefully Jurgen Habermas will find them just as laughable too.

By the way: similar to Aramesh Doustdar, European philosophers and political thinkers have engaged with Habermas in debates about the role of religion and have similarly criticized Habermas' views. That Dabashi and Co don't know this is all too obvious.

Navid / October 21, 2010 8:51 PM

I think this letter is as bitter as the letter by Aramesh. I think there are some elements of truth in it.
I also think Islam is much more dangerous than Christianity because Islam has a great tendency to be enforced and crush the any independent thoughts.

Esmaeil / October 21, 2010 9:42 PM

I don't understand the the motive behind the writing of this letter. Do they think that Mr. Habermas needed some condolences to get his morale boosted?
Do they think Mr. Habermas needed to be reminded of some trivial fact like "Aramesh is not the representative of Iranians"?
This letter is another sign that we don't understand the meaning of "free speech" yet

Esmail / October 21, 2010 9:56 PM


If Mr. Doustdar has the freedom to lecture the German parliament to engage in preemptive military action against Iran, then the individuals writing this letter can exercise the same freedom to rebuff Mr. Doustdar regarding his recent letter to Habermas.

Whether it is necessary or not is a separate matter. Necessity is a not a prerequisite to the exercise of free speech!

As an added note, irrespective of one's political or philosophical standing with respect to IRI, I personally find advocates of preemptive violence philosophically bankrupt - across the board and regardless of rationale proposed for such violence.

Jay / October 22, 2010 12:24 AM

نامه "ته گشاده" این "استادان مبهر!" بواقع دلیلی بر تائید تز دکتر دوستدار است: شما و امسال شما از ریشه و بنیاد "نا اندیشمندید و به جهل ابد محکوم... بگیرید بر حالتان...


nasrin amirsedghi / October 22, 2010 1:54 AM

Europe became tolerant and liberal not because Christianity was reformed and saw the virtues of democracy, rule of law, freedom of expression, but because it was defeated and forced to submit. The West is liberal-democratic to the extent that it is NOT Christian. The same applies a fortiori to Islam. It has to be DEFEATED and FORCED TO SUBMIT to the rule of law, principles of democracy, etc. In this task that should claim a part of every Iranian intellectual's time and energy, dishonest babblers like Dabashi are a nuisance.

bijan / October 22, 2010 3:12 AM

We Iranian mostly are really very Arrogant and Ignorant and very proud of nothing it does not matter If he or she is professor. Until they learn to tolerate and understand and do not try to impose their believe on each others. It is long way. When professor and other educated who teach at University is so retarded like this three professor what should we expect from Khameniey and Ahmadinejad.
I feel very sorry for these three professors.

Reza / October 22, 2010 6:10 AM

It is true that in Christian Europe there was a battle over centuries between the Kings of the nation-states and religous figures vying for power and influence. Henry IIV and Papal authority for example. Ultimately the Church had to give way. Into the 20 century, the Church became a spiritual force with only indirect political power. What has occurred lately is the phenomenon of born-again Christians, born-again Muslims and Jews. Bush as a recovering alcoholic rediscovered his Christian faith, (which is all very well) but too often these born-agains demonstrate by their behaviour that their primary attribute is a narrow-minded intolerance that is damaging to the society, including to the religous section.

pirooz / October 22, 2010 11:09 AM

Hamid Debashi and his co-thinkers has a very well established history of Islamic republic in Iran. He will never say what was his possition toward this barbaric regime for past 31 years and not just after election in Tehran. No islam and democracy are mutually exclusive name one country , one Islamic regime in history of human being that value human rights ?

Alex rami / October 23, 2010 5:32 AM

Masood Noghrekar has written a highly recommendable critique to this defense of IR supporters like Mr Dabashi and the Sadri brothers:
در حاشیه ی
هجمه ی "دین خویان" دانشگاهی به آرامش دوستدار
http://www.iran-chabar.de/

Arshama / October 23, 2010 6:36 PM

Dabashi ia lackey for IRI so don't expect any thing better from that guy.The battle in Iran has always been and still is between forces of Iranum (true Iran) verses forces of darkness (Omatestan based on cult of Islam).
Every time in history we see a rise in Iranian nationalism or a desire to revive true Iran, all of a sudden you see massive response and attack from forces of drakness.
The struggles goes on, till this dark cult is brought to their knees.

Synaky / October 26, 2010 6:29 PM

This letter from these religious thinkers is so impolite and shameful as a teacher. This is not a admirable and scientific critique, it is full of religious prejudice and it is belong to whom they feeds their minds and pockets from such an Islamic schools like Iranian ayatollah's governments, cause Islam is as their identity and as a sociologist they are worry about their identity. I'm so sorry as an Iranian student when I'm seeing peoples like dabashi and sadris. If Islam and Islamic government in Iran are good, so please you teachers go there and enjoy your life. please and please

cyroos / October 31, 2010 1:28 AM

It is a wonderful letter written by this "tryintelectual" group.They have made an effort to satisfy their soles and soothe their hearts from the jealousy they have always had towards Mr.doostdar.

mehrdad / November 2, 2010 11:12 PM

Dr. Dabashi?

Who was responsible to invite Ahmadinejad to the Columbia University?

Mohsen / December 1, 2010 6:58 PM

Thank you professors Dabashi, Sadri and Sadri. but you have done a magnificent job of responding.

Cheers,

Sadegh Ruzbeh / January 13, 2011 10:55 PM

Furthermore I have investigated on other side of Mr. Dostar idea , appears that he has openly racist idea particularly against Arabs which legally consider to be Anti-Semitism, according to many European country law including in Germany where who is harbouring, he is acting a hate propaganda and consider as criminal person. I think this part of his personality also must be discussed and let the world know what kind sick person we are dealing with. I have complete source of document to approve this.

Cheers,

Sadegh Ruzbeh / January 15, 2011 1:07 AM