The false anxiety of influence

The revolution in Egypt is a unique historical event, seperate from Iran in 1979 or France in 1789, author says.

    Egypt's revolution could have affects across the whole global south [Reuters] 

    Comparisons between Egypt's current uprising and Iran's 1979 revolution have become something of a cliché.

    The mass demonstrations in Egypt against a US-backed dictator have reminded many observers of similar scenes from the Iranian Revolution of 1979, leading some to believe that another "Islamic Revolution" is in the making.   

    This is a false reading of the Iranian Revolution of 1977-1979; and an even more flawed reading of the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. 

    This, above all, is a logically flawed assimilation of a unique historical event that was ignited in Tunisia, has now spread to Egypt and perhaps will expand even farther in the Arab and Muslim world, to the point of even casting aside cliché terms, including and the most colonially pernicious of them all: "the Middle East". 

    Meydan al-Tahrir in Egypt today, like its counterpart Meydan-e Azadi in Tehran two years ago (the two Arabic and Persian terms mean exactly the same: "Freedom Square"), is the epicenter of a planetary reconfiguration of world politics.

    Watershed moment

    Irreducible to no other event, Egyptians gathering at Tahrir Square have staged a global spectacle of the democratic will of a people. The storming of the Bastille and the French Revolution of 1789 is the closest European event that comes near to what is happening in Egypt and its open-ended consequences for the global south. And, when the Bastille was happening, no one knew exactly what a new watershed had been marked in European history. 

    Allowing for its own metaphors gradually to emerge, the Egypt of 2011 is neither Iran of 1979 nor  France of 1789 nor any other country of any other time. It is what it is: It is Egypt; and it is 2011.

    What has happened in Tunisia and now in Egypt and perhaps even beyond is not tantamount to the fall of the Berlin Wall, or by extension what happened in Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the collapse of Soviet Union. 

    The Tahrir Square of 2011 is not the Tiananmen Square of 1989. Such lazy clichés, phony metaphors, and easy allegories send people after a useless goose chase preventing them from properly seeing the events in Tunisia and Egypt.

    The emerging facts in Tunisia, Egypt, and Iran demand and will exact their own concepts and metaphors, leading to fresh insights, perspectives, and theories. 

    We are all blessed to be present at the historic moment of a massive epistemic shift, not merely in the geopolitics of the region, or the planetary configuration of power, but even more crucially, in the moral and political imagination that we must muster to come to terms with it. 

    False constructions

    To reach for those fresh insights we must first clear the air of false assimilations and misbegotten metaphors and above all of the whole false anxiety of "influence". The falsifying trend of comparing the Egyptian revolution of 2011 to the Iranian revolution of 1979 is usually predicated on an ulterior ideological motive. 

    The pro-Isreali neocons in the United States and their Zionist counterparts in Israel compare the Egyptian and Iranian revolutions because they are frightened out of their wits by a massive revolutionary uprising in a major Arab country that may no longer allow the abuse of the democratic will of a people for the cozy continuation of a colonial settlement called "Israel". 

    Echoing the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the Iranian neocon contingencies like Abbas Milani of the Hoover Institute think tank in California fear that the Muslim Brotherhood will take over the Egyptian revolution and create an Islamic Republic—habitually turning a blind eye to the fact that a fanatical "Jewish Brotherhood" has already created a Jewish Republic for more than sixty years in the same neighborhood.

    Soon after Binyamin Netanyahu and Abbas Milani, and from precisely the opposite ideological direction, Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic and the vast petrodollar propaganda machinery at his disposal, celebrated what is happening in Egypt as a reflection of Khomeini’s will and legacy and the commencement of an "Islamic awakening".  Not so fast, interjected an almost instant announcement from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. This was not an Islamic Revolution, they explained, but an Egyptian revolution that belonged to all Egyptians—Muslims, Christians, people from other ideological persuasions. 

    Fighting theocracy

    In between the frightful Zionist propaganda and Islamist wishful thinking myriads of other opinions have been aired over the last two weeks in one way or another measuring the influence of the Islamic Revolution in Iran over the revolutionary uprising in Egypt. 

    This is a false and falsifying presumption first and foremost because what happened in Iran during the 1977-1979 revolutionary uprising was not an "Islamic Revolution" but a violently and viciously "Islamised revolution".

    A brutal and sustained course of repression—perpetrated under the successive smoke screens of the American Hostage Crisis of 1979-1981 and the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988, and the Salman Rushdi Affair of 1989-1999—is the crucial difference between an "Islamic" and "Islamised" revolution. 

    A cruel crescendo of university purges, cultural revolutions, mass executions of oppositional forces, and forced exile, took full advantage of domestic and regional crisisis over the last three decades to turn a multifaceted, modern, and cosmopolitan revolution into a banal and vicious theocracy. 

    The CIA-sponsored coup of 1953, the massive arming of Saddam Hossein to wage war against Iran, and the creation of the Taliban as a bulwark against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, all engineered by the United States, and the continued armed robbery of Palestine by Israel have been the regional contexts in which the Islamic Republic destroyed all its ideological and political alternatives and created a malicious theocracy, consistently and systematically abusing regional crisis to keep itself in power.     

    That historical fact ought to be remembered today so no false analogy or anxiety of influence is allowed to mar the joyous and magnificent uprising of Tunisians and Egyptians to assert and reclaim their dignity in a free and democratic homeland. 

    There is no reason whatsoever to believe that Tunisians or Egyptians will allow such a treacherous kidnapping of their dreams and aspirations by one fanatical ideological absolutism or another. 

    Ideological links

    What we are witnessing in Tunisia and in Egypt today, as we in fact have been over the last two years in Iran, is a people’s democratic will to retrieve their cosmopolitan political culture, wresting it from colonial (Tunisia), imperial (Egypt), or tyrannical (Iran) distortion, deception, and corruption. 

    Even if we are to indulge in the false anxiety of influence, it is crucial to remember the historical fact that Egypt has had far more enduring influence on Iran than the other way around. 

    The entire Islamic ideology that prefigured the Islamist take over of the Iranian Revolution of 1977-1979, was predicated on the ideas of Egyptian thinkers ranging from Muhammad Abduh to Mahmud Shaltut to Sayyid Qutb. That Muhammad Abduh himself was a disciple of Seyyed Jamal al-Din al-Afghani points to the transnational disposition of our political cultures in the region that cannot be colonially fragmented and falsified. 

    But under no circumstances should we be limited in our understanding of the rich and effervescent political cultures of the region to Islamism of one sort or another, for this particular revolutionary politics has never been the only dimension of interaction among ideas and movements in our region. 

    Global hopes

    Anticolonial nationalism extending from Jawaharlal Nehru's India to Mohammad Mossadegh's Iran to Gamal Abd al-Nasser's Egypt to Ahmed Ben Bella and Houari Boumediène’s Algeria (extending all the way to the Cuban revolution) has had catalytic consequences for and on each other beyond any colonially manufactured national boundary. 

    The same is true about revolutionary socialist movements where the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), for example, has had a far-reaching impact on Marxist movements in the region from Nepal to Morocco, from Afghanistan to Yemen. All these cross-metaphorisation of a defiant politics of hope and struggle point to the regional solidarities that have existed and informed these revolutionary uprisings far beyond the colonially manufactured and racialized nationalism of one sort or another. 

    All of this is only if we were to remain limited, and we must not, within the banal sphere of "influence". Who influenced whom and under what circumstances, is an exercise in colonial futility that constantly pits one group of Arabs or Muslims or Asians or Africans or Latin Americans against each other.

    These divisions can be exacerbated by a mindless nationalism that prevents the clear sight of emerging geopolitics. Until it is realised we as a people will never be liberated from the nasty snare of trying to explain ourselves to “the West”, a figment of an arrested colonial imagination that racialised nationalism keeps perpetuating. 

    We must, once and for all, change our interlocutor, and begin to talk to ourselves. From Tehran to Tunis to Cairo and beyond, our innate cosmopolitan cultures are being retrieved, our hidden worlds discovered, above and beyond any anxiety of influence. 

    Egyptians are now achieving our collective future—for all of us.  It was not destined for Iranians to do this in 2009--but the victory of Tunisians and the triumphant will of the Egyptians in 2011 will have unequivocal consequences for all other democratic and national liberation movements in the region. 

    Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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