Thursday, August 30, 2007

Foucault and Iran

David Frum on Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism, by Janet Afary and Kevin Anderson. Fascinating.
Thanks: Jogo

Added links (c/o Noga and an anonymous commenter): Edward Said and the Iranian Revolution by David Zarnett; The philosopher and the ayatollah by Wesley Yang.


Will said...


Look here.

bob said...

Ah, thanks Will - I missed that. I've been wanting to read the book for some time.

Noga said...

I'm not sure I buy all this psycho-sexual analysis of Foucault's support for Khomeini. I always thought Foucault was simply duped into the same kind of alliance we often see today between anti Imperialist theory and Islamic anti-Westernism. Buruma and Garton Ash come to mind, in their admiration for Tariq Ramadan.

Foucualt kept up his apologetics for Iran's revolution until he spent 4 months in Iran, after which he fell silent.

My beef with him is that silence. Unlike Orwell, who, upon waking up from the dream of communism, devoted his thoughts and writings to debunk these theories of justice, Foucault chose to retreat into shroud of silence. He (must have) realized how wrong he was, yet could not bring himself to agitate against it.

All in all, Foucault was not really interested in politics. And this foray into politics was a complete failure. His main strengh and usefulness lie in the unique way of analysing texts. While most readers are looking following the narrative, he chose to examine the margins.

bob said...

Excellent points Noga, as ever. I agree that there is something political at stake, rather than something psycho-sexual, and I think the Afary/Anderson book goes into that more, and the Frum article simplifies slightly, reducing it to misogyny.

I also think you are right in your ambivalence about Foucault. I can't find it now, but there's a really interesting piece by Richard Bernstein about Foucault which captures this well.

I am not sure the Burumu-Ash/Ramadan analogy works though. Ramadan presents himself as fitting into the same European/cosmpolitan tradition that Baruma-Ash come from - whether he is honest in that or cynical, I'm not sure, but it's worked. Whereas Khomeini presented himself as utterly radically other to Western modernity, which is what appealed to Foucault. (Of course, this was cynicism from the Mullah too, as Islamism is profoundly modern.)

More on this later, got to rush

Noga said...

Found this article which is a much better critique of the book, and relates to what you called Foucault's ambiguity and my reference to Buruma/Ash infatuation with Ramadan:

"There is a long tradition of Western intellectuals going abroad to sing the praises of revolutionaries in distant lands and finding in them the realization of their own intellectual hopes. But the irony of Foucault's embrace of the Iranian Revolution was that the earlier intellectuals who had sung hymns to tyrants tended to share a set of beliefs in the kind of absolutes — Marxism, humanism, rationality — that Foucault had made it his life's work to overturn. Rather than pronounce from on high, Foucault sought to listen to what he took to be the authentic voice of marginal people in revolt and let it speak through him. In practice, this turned out to be a distinction without a difference.

Anderson says that the debate over these 25- year-old writings has relevance when some leftists focus more energy on criticizing an administration they scorn than on speaking against a radical Islamist movement that also violates all their cherished ideals.

"It's not that radical Islamism is getting a pass from Western progressives and liberals, but it is the case that many are not being critical enough," says Anderson. When certain polemicists are spreading simplistic ideas about "Islamo-Fascism," he continues, "there's a tendency to say that this isn't so. But the fact is that while radical Islamism has many features and faces, everywhere it is antifeminist, everywhere it is authoritarian, and everywhere it is intolerant of other religions and other interpretations of Islam."

Anonymous said...

Bob et al:

A much better piece than this one about Foucaulth (although Foucault gets an honerable mention for his willful blindness,)posted on the Democratiya Book Review, David Zarnett on Edward Said's aiding and abetting of the Iranian Revolution:

Incognito said...

It's probably a mixture of both political and psycho sexual.

It takes a lot of courage to admit one was wrong, and not many are willing to do that.