Three years after popular revolutions overthrew dictators and galvanized political resistance in the Arab world, and as uprisings and civil wars continue to spread from Cairo’s Tahrir Square to Aleppo’s Saadallah Al-Jabiri Square, the causes, consequences, and future of these movements are still hotly-debated.
Over the past few months, Muftah has been publishing numerous analyses – cultural, political and popular – about the Arab Revolts in a rolling Special Issue entitled, “The Arab Spring – Three Years On.”
As part of this series, Muftah is honored to present exclusive excerpts of Arshin Adib-Moghaddam’s latest book, On the Arab Revolts and the Iranian Revolution: Power and Resistance Today, which was published by Bloomsbury in October 2013. The first, short excerpt from the book’s first chapter is below. Additional extracts will follow in upcoming weeks.
Few academics or intellectuals can boast of the credentials, expertise, and prolific scholarship of Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, whose work has earned him an internationally renowned reputation as one of the foremost thinkers and commentators on the Middle East and Muslim world, its relationship with the West, U.S. foreign policy toward these regions, Islamophobia, Orientalism, critical and postcolonial theory, and the myth of the clash of civilizations.
Adib-Moghaddam is currently Reader in Comparative Politics and International Relations at University of London’s prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Chair of the Centre for Iranian Studies and a member of the Centre for Palestine Studies (CPS) at the London Middle East Institute. After studying in Hamburg, Germany and Washington D.C., and receiving his MPhil and PhD at Cambridge, Adib-Moghaddam was named as the University of Oxford’s first Jarvis Doctorow Fellow in International Relations and Peace Studies at St. Edmund Hall and the Department of Politics and International Relations.
In addition to contributing to outlets such as Al-Jazeera, The Guardian, CNN, The Independent, The Daily Star (Beirut), Mehr News Agency (Iran), Outlook Magazine (India), International Studies Journal, Monthly Review, and Middle East Critique, Adib-Moghaddam has authored a number of books, including A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilisations: Us and them beyond Orientalism (Hurst/Columbia University Press, 2010), Iran in World Politics: The question of the Islamic Republic (Hurst/Columbia University Press, 2008), and The International Politics of the Persian Gulf: A cultural genealogy (Routledge, 2006).
Adib-Moghaddam’s new tome, On the Arab Revolts and the Iranian Revolution: Power and Resistance Today, is part of Bloomsbury’s book series, Suspensions: Contemporary Middle Eastern and Islamicate Thought, edited by professors Jason Bahbak Mohaghegh and Lucian Stone.
In their own discussion of the Suspensions series, Bahbak Mohaghegh and Stone explain that, all too often – if not almost exclusively – in Orientalist and Western commentary, the protests which swept and continue to sweep the Arab world are considered, and dismissed, as “purely reflexive, irrational and having no rational substance in themselves. There is, in essence, nothing new to see here, at least philosophically speaking. The answer lies in the West, they would have us believe.” They object to this position, continuing:
Consequently, the immediate task set before our current intellectual landscape is in fact the opposite of these false entitlements and impositions: that is, to extract and illuminate those visionary fluctuations of thought that are occurring on the so-called Eastern front of the artificial civilizational divide. This is not to be performed in the name of some pale reflex towards multicultural inclusion but rather because, in navigating the narrow epistemic fault-line of East and West, one soon realizes that it is now perhaps only those laboring under the former designation who carry the capacity to elude, sabotage, and eventually abandon the withered paradigms of Western thought and its exhausted archetypal resuscitations. Rather, the East is not a monolithic province of inquiry inasmuch as it embodies the radical outside of our epochal consciousness: the nowhere, the abyss, the desert. It is the overshadowed potentiality of the unfathomed, the unforeseen, and the jaggedly incommensurate (narratives of extreme distance and disorientation). By extension, it is through an acutely relocated/dislocated focus upon the literary, philosophical, and artistic innovations of these exilic voices that we bear witness to tactics that might shatter the very disenchanted prism of the modern imagination. A singular turn beyond.
“In this way, the Suspensions series,” they say, “aims to forge a vast and multidimensional constellation of works dealing with subjects as far-reaching as violence, humor, radicalism, vulnerability, resistance, cosmopolitanism, and cultural transformation. Moreover, it brings into alignment/contrast the major and minor sites of a highly labyrinthine region, showcasing the distinctive trends at work in Iran, Turkey, North Africa, Eastern Europe, the Arab World, and beyond—a continual migration of ideas and global theaters of operation.”
With this in mind, Adib-Moghaddam’s new book fits the series – and Muftah‘s own editorial mission – perfectly. The publisher describes it as “the first comparative analysis of two central political events that have altered our world forever: the Arab uprisings which started in Tunisia, and the Iranian revolution in 1979,” adding that “Adib-Moghaddam demonstrates how contemporary forms of protest are changing our understanding about the way power and resistance function” while arguing that “acts of protest in Tehran to Cairo can be entirely linked to the same act in New York, London, Madrid and Athens.”
In an interview with e-International Relations last year, Adib-Moghaddam provided more insight into his motivation for undertaking this project, stating, ”I simply don’t think that after the revolts of the past years, in the Arab world, in southern Europe and the various Occupy Movements in the UK and the USA which evolved in a distinctly global field, it is analytically prudent to think in terms of geographical entities. Threats such as terrorism, environmental deprivation and hyper-neoliberal capitalism are truly global. Opportunities such as the increasingly internationalised stop the war movements and grassroots NGO’s in the fields of social justice, human rights and democracy are global too.”
With his encyclopedic knowledge of history and political theory, Adib-Moghaddam has done more than merely read tea leaves. The Arab uprisings have heralded what he sees as the dissolution of the diametric discourse of East and West, North and South, the binary conceptions of the Oriental and the Occidental. No longer are “the dynamics of rebellion there…fundamentally different from the politics of revolt here.”
Rather, as Bloomsbury’s description of the book tells us, “Adib-Moghaddam argues that the dialectics of power and resistance are truly universal and that they are unfolding within a globalised political context that is increasingly interconnected. In order to illuminate this argument theoretically, the study is organised around conceptual terms that feed into forms of power and resistance, such as revolution, radicalism, dissent, knowledge, neighbour and reform. These terms and concepts are discussed and deconstructed via an empirical discussion of pivotal events beyond the non-western world, demonstrating that for a long time, and without realising it, we have been living in the end times of unitary categories such as ‘west’ and ‘east.'”
Columbia University professor Hamid Dabashi, who sits on Muftah‘s Board of Advisors, has praised On the Arab Revolts and the Iranian Revolution and its author. “Adib-Moghaddam has brought his formidable intellectual capacities to provide a groundbreaking comparative assessment of these revolutions in such a solid and provocative way that no future study can ignore or soon surpass,” he insists.
– Nima Shirazi
The following is an exclusive excerpt from “On the Arab Revolts and the Iranian Revolution: Power and Resistance Today” (2013) by Arshin Adib-Moghaddam. It is taken from the book’s first chapter, “Our Revolting Neighbours.”
The current form of thought control can be seen operating in relation to many politicized topics, but it is particularly apparent in depictions of ‘Arabs’ and ‘Muslims’, especially after the terror attacks on the United States in September 2001. As I have argued in A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilisations, the outburst and jingoistic vitriol against individuals and issues considered to be remotely ‘Islamic’ was the surface effect of a cultural constellation that runs deep in the subliminal consciousness of western Europe and North America. In order to accentuate that this ‘Islamophobic’ assemblage is dense and historically anchored I called it a clash regime, a system that reproduces Islam as unique, deviant, violent and ultimately different to ‘us’. This is not to say that there is an all-encompassing anti-Islamic culture in Europe and the United States of course, but to accentuate that Islamophobia continues to be exploited politically by powerful strata of western society, exactly because there exists a cultural constellation that is amenable to such manipulation. It is this regime of truth, nurtured by influential doyens of our contemporary culture, which compels ‘us’ to believe in some inevitable, cosmic battle with ‘them’. It is such norms, institutions and ideologies that fortify boundaries that are turned into trenches of war during times of crisis. And it is in this way that murder in the name of civilization continues to be accepted and legitimated as an international modus operandi.
It is one of the central purposes of this book to cut through some of the representations of the Arab and Islamic world as ultimately different. To that end, I am taking as a point of departure the recent events in the Arab world, which spread like wildfire through the Mediterranean encompassing capitals in North Africa and southern Europe. I start by arguing that the uprisings are indicative of a post-modern form of globalized politics that reclaims the universality of norms such as social justice, independence, freedom and democracy. For a decisive period for the future of world politics, the ‘power of the powerless’ has been on display. Not since the uprisings that brought down the Iron Curtain and facilitated the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, has there been such an interconnected outpouring of public dissent with decisive political consequences. At the time of writing, three of the longest standing dictatorships in the region, those of Zine El Abidine Ben-Ali in Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, have been swept away by the sheer determination of the people; in the case of Libya accompanied by a period of armed conflict between the state and the opposition who were partially aided by NATO. These leaders, whose legitimacy was not democratic, but geared towards the authority of the military establishment and the ideal of the charismatic and strong leader, have followed the fate of the Shah in Iran and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Despite the residues of the authoritarian regimes that continue to be part of the political culture in West Asia and North Africa (WANA), it is safe to argue that demands for democracy, independence and social justice have become the common currency of the societies in the region. Irresistible as it would be to assume that the stereotype of Arabs and Muslims as unique, deviant and ultimately different has been overcome, the revolts have shown nonetheless that they are not simply reducible to targets in the ‘war on terror,’ that Orientalist depictions of them as the irreconcilable other are outdated and of questionable analytical value.