Iran From a Different Angle

I found this brief excerpt (courtesy 3 Quarks Daily) hard to resist:

If you want to go where people are reading Hannah Arendt and Karl Popper, Nafisi has admonished, go to Iran. Go to Iran, I would add, if you want to discover where people are reading Jürgen Habermas, Isaiah Berlin, Leszek Kolakowski and Immanuel Kant. There have been more translations of Kant into Persian in the past decade than into any other language, reports Vali Nasr , and these have gone into multiple printings. Abdollah Momeni, the leader of Irans most prominent student-activist group (Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat), claims Habermas as his chief inspiration. The speeches and writings of Akbar Ganji, Irans leading dissident, are peppered with references to Kant, John Stuart Mill and Albert Camus.

Indeed, there are often more vibrant resonances of Continental thought in countries like Iran, notes the political philosopher Fred Dallmayr, than can be found in Europe today.

It’s from an essay by Danny Postel in which he which examines some of the intellectual currents in Iran. Somewhat surprisingly, to me at least, it seems among intellectuals and students liberalism tops the list. Postel acknowledges the complex ongoing debate around liberalism but notes that its meaning in Iran is fairly straightforward. “Broadly speaking, it signifies the struggle for human rights, womens rights, civil liberties, pluralism, religious toleration, freedom of expression and multi-party democracy.”

In a theocratic state, such issues are of course hardly academic. As he says, “For Iranians, liberalism is a fighting faith.” The glimpses of their struggles remind us of how much we tend to take for granted while the essay as a whole is a stark illustration of how narrow, indeed almost cartoonish, the debate about Iran has become.

In any case, I was glad I didn’t resist and suspect you will be too.

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15 years ago

I tried to make a similar point on another blog a couple of years ago and was told by someone who proclaimed to be an expert that I was wrong. Its good to see a bit of sanity returning to the debate.


[…] Iran from a different angle: Some of the intellectual currents in Iran […]