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Contempt for Aramesh Doustdar has nothing to do with his atheism


August 20, 2005

Abdee Kalantari has posted a public response to me ["Demanding criticism"]. If like Gertrude Stein on her deathbed you are wondering: "but what was the question?" welcome to the club. I too am wondering. Not about the question but about why Abdee would publish a public response to a note whose first line contained one single word: PRIVATE! As they say, what part of the word "private" did you have trouble understanding Abdee?

A few days after writing that note I set off for the centennial meeting of the Americian Sociological Association in Philadelphia where I was told by a friend that a response to my views on Aramesh Doustdar had appeared on the Donkeys list as well as the site. The letter published at had left off my name but mentioned my translation of Soroush, leaving little doubt about my identity. 

I was not amused because this is a violation of trust not to mention a betrayal of professional ethics on the part of the moderator of a forum. I am also not amused because I am being forced to waste my valuable time - that could be more productively employed playing single-draw solitaire on my computer -- on a topic I find depressingly pedestrian.

I asked Abdee a brief, private question: why would he be so infatuated by the fulminations of someone I could only describe as a windbag? Hey, one may not like Freddy Kruger movies either. You know they have many fans among the pimply teenagers, alright.

But when you see your friend anxiously waiting in the ticket holders' line to see the latest "Return of the Hypodermic Man" don't you have the right to go over and whisper in his ear: what do you see in this character? Does this give that friend the right to "out" you as a Freddy Kruger hater and impose on you the "necessary torture" of seeing a bunch of movies featuring a man with syringes for fingers? 

So, I am going to have to respectfully decline Abdee's invitation to read all of Doustdar's books. If I found him worthy of a public challenge I would have to undergo that "necessary torture" but I don't. I have read one of his books cover to cover as well as the articles and interviews that Abdee lavishes on the readers of his Internet list.

And, oh, I have also read Doustdar's spellbinding address to the German parliament, inviting them to use military force against Iran -- and here is, dear Abdee, your real segue to chicken-hawk philosophers of yore, hugging a German boot.

In short, I have read enough of Doustdar to know that he wages a campaign of insulting cheap shots against the Islamic and mystic heritage of Iran. He dismisses Hafez because he is not "rational" and jettisons Ghazzali because he relates an Islamic tradition about bedding your wife when you get an errant erection.

Here is a point to ponder: is Doustdar a more enthusiastic atheist than Diderot? Can you imagine the French philosophe relegating Saint Augustine, Saint Anselm or Saint Thomas Aquinas to insignificance on such silly grounds? 

Abdee knows me well enough to know that my contempt for Doustdar has nothing to do with his atheism. I would never find it odd or objectionable that an Iranian intellectual would be fond of the works of Daryoush Ashuri, Morad Farhadpour, Seyed Javad Tabatabai, Ramin Jahanbaglu and others who are as religiously unmusical as Doustdar.

Indeed, I have published articles in Persian and in Iran, arguing that radical secular thinkers are an integral and indispensable component of Iranian intellectual ferment. But I have no use for what Abdee aptly (but probably unintentionally) identifies as "oddball" philosophy, or for screwball logic and smirking standup style of Doustdar.

Abdee gets the intellectual history of pre-revolutionary Iran all wrong. I was there at the University of Tehran and attended classes given by intellectual giants of the day that he mentions: Hamid Enayat, Simin Daneshvar, Ahmad Ashraf, and, yes, even Ahmad Fardid. There is a good reason why no one had ever heard of Abdee's "oddball" philosopher in those days: he never was in the same league with the greats -- even if he was "of their generation." 

From what I "have" read of man's work, I can discern the following: Doustdar has made a career on the claim that thinking is impossible in Iran and in Persian because of our subservience to religion. Fine. Let's say the impossibility is so dense that even Mr. Doustdar can't see through it to offer us one original thought in Persian -- no, the "very original" thought that thinking is impossible doesn't count.

So, where is his contribution to Western philosophy in other languages that he has putatively mastered? Where are his volumes in German or French on Kant and Hegel and Heidegger? Don't tell me that "impossibility of thinking" ("emtena'e tafakkor" a concept he accuses Tabatabaie of plagiarizing from him but the same one that the hapless Ahmad Fardid coined decades before Doustdar) in Persian has contaminated his non-Persian speaking brain as well!

A Latin Google search of Doustdar yields about twenty hits with not one book or article to his name. But a Persian search brings up more than four thousand hits. He must be awfully fond of this language that forbids straight thinking. So, why not write in German? We know he knows how to say: "bomb Iran" in German. But, can he say anything else? 

When I look at Doustdar's pitiful career however, I can't help agreeing that there is something wrong with the picture and that it has something to do with the role of religion in our culture. If I had to guess I would have to say the culprit is not Islam in general but our Shiite fondness for breast beating, our love of helplessness, martyrdom and tragedy expressed in a secular trans-valuation of the religious "roze-khaani" and "zekr-e mosibat."

There must be something very seriously wrong with a culture in which one can gather a coterie of not entirely stupid followers with endless lamentations about why thinking has become impossible in Persian without having to produce the tiniest shred of evidence that this critique will lead to liberation from that impasse. 

Finally, Abdee says that I don't like Aramesh Doustdar because I am a "Muslim Intellectual." He must know that I disapprove of dividing Iranian Intellectuals into "religious" and "non-religious" categories -- as he has personally posted my Persian articles on the topic and written a contribution to that debate that raged between me and Ali Paya in Shargh. So, it is rather naughty of Abdee to try to get my goat by calling me names.

I have two things to say about this:

1- My disdain for Doustdar has nothing to do with whether or not I believe in a God. If God came down and told me point blank that She does not exist or that She does but Malawian Toad Worship is the one and only True Path to Her, I would still find Doustdar boring and I would still be depressed that there are educated Iranians, speaking this wonderful language and capable of enjoying its magic, who find someone like Doustdar worthy of reading -- or refuting.

2- Abdee disparagingly calls me a "Muslim Intellectual" hoping that I would be somehow offended. Last month Mehdi Tayyeb, a teacher of the mandatory Islamic Knowledge (Maaref-e Eslaami) courses at Allameh Tabatabaie University and the guru of an Islamic phalange movement (overlapping with Ansar-e Hezbollah) publicly denounced me an apostate, a Kafer.

I don't consider myself either an "apostate" or a "religious intellectual." But I don't much care if people call me this or that either. Abdee contends that I will have a hard time giving a "sympathetic reading" to Doustdar not only because I am a "Muslim Intellectual" but also because I am "a translator of Soroush's into English (sic)" The logic of this sentence leads me to take back my original question and with any luck end this debate.

Dear Abdee, I no longer wonder why someone like you would be fascinated by someone like Doustdar. 


Ahmad Sadri

Ahmad Sadri is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Lake Forest College, IL, USA. See Features. See homepage. This article first appeared in Shargh newspaper in Iran.

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