Monday, July 18, 2011

The Bianry of West vs Rest

In Dabashi's book, he targets a number of intellectuals and public figures for continuing the binary thought process of the West (Western Europe and the US) vs the Rest (basically the so-called Third World). One of the figures he targets is Oxford scholar Tariq Ramadan. He thinks that Ramadan (and Soroush) are fighting a lost battle by basically appealing for an audience from the modern West that is not listening now and for all intents and purposes does not exist. Ramadan's appeal to reform "Islam" in order to dialogue with the West is doomed for failure.

Instead Dabashi claims globalization has illustrated that the binary thinking of the West vs Rest is over. There is no real monolithic West as there is no monolithic Islam (in essence there never existed such things in the social-historical reality). Modern thought (as seen in Kant and others) brought forth Orientalism and thus colonialism. The response to colonialism is the Islamic nationalism of figures like Khomeini and Qutb. According to Dabashi, these narratives are ultimately oppressive.

Furthermore, a good point Dabashi makes is that for him Shiite thought is a powerful movement of critique against the powers as seen in the thought of Ali Shariati but when in power has the capacity to be as oppressive as other powers as seen especially with the Iranian Revolution (I think Christian theology has the same capacity as seen in history).

Where does Dabashi think we can move from this binary way of thinking? He believes that what is needed are more people movements (kind of like the multitudes of Negri/Hardt) to mobilize resistance against abusive powers. I think one of the key chapters which he closes the book with is when he compares the late global thought of a Malcolm X with other nationalist movements like Qutb. For Dabashi, Malcolm X went through many changes in thought until finally he became a more global thinker due to his pilgrimage surrounded by various peoples of color. Moreover, religion is a force that can provoke a way to a call for justice (see his references to Gustavo Gutierrez, for example), but can never be the transcendent power that tries to collapse the real, social-historical differences of the multitudes.

So, for a book I bought on a whim, it was really helpful to read a current thinker, arguing against various voices inside (like Ramadan) and outside (like Agamben) the Muslim world. I will still be working out his arguments about modernity and the secular for a while but it will probably start a trend in my reading to see the viewpoints of voices outside of the canon of the so-called West.

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