Hamid Dabashi: “A new world giving birth to itself…”

Hamid Dabashi is here to calm our nerves through the dreaded American Decline. “Empires don’t last,” he smiles. “If they did, we’d be speaking Persian.”

All the news looks bright to the sometimes gruff and provocative Iranian historian of culture and colonialism at Columbia University. Even Qaddafi’s last spasms in Libya have the virtue of putting the seal of King Lear’s madness on a half-century, now finished, of post-colonial tyranny. “Qaddafi was the nativist aftertaste of European colonialism — the bastard son of its militarism, charlatanism, barefaced barbarity…” he writes.

Even the cruelty and sickness today in Hamid Dabashi’s native Iran will be seen one day as a bad episode in a long and vivid dream of democracy. It’s a dream sustained in a century of Iranian poetry, fiction and film and in conversation with the globe — a dream that came to life in the Green Movement in 2009 and in the now global raps of Shahin Najafi and the sublime music of Mohsen Namjoo, seen and heard all over the world on YouTube. Young Iran in 2009 helped generate the revolutionary waves of 2011, Dabashi is saying, and Iran’s dream will rise again with the others.

“The world after Tahrir Square is like Christopher Columbus approaching the new continent. A new world is giving birth to itself… We are looking at a seismic change, not informed by miracles or ideology but by demography and economics” — that is, by the young majority in the world and by the mobility of labor and capital. Egypt in 2011 is “the first post-modern revolution,” not led by a designated or charismatic figure, but with a built-in distrust of grand narratives, Islamic or Marxist, and of grand illusions. The shape of the new map is still unimaginable. “We don’t know what the future is, but, boy, is it good to be alive and witnessing it.”

We seek out Hamid Dabashi — and we read his books like The Green Movement and the USA: The Fox and the Paradox — to catch an unequivocally enthusiastic long and cosmopolitan view of events that still seem to baffle, maybe unsettle, most of us Americans.

Not the least of Hamid Dabashi’s reassurances comes in his view that Americans are ready in fact to “return to the fold of the world,” to see themselves as “a microcosm of the world,” not master of it. We experience every day “the globality of our condition,” even though officialdom and media resist the idea. He says we have changed more than we realize in 30 years since he immigrated, first to Philadelphia — before feta cheese and pita bread, for example, were American staples. “We are emerging from a provincialism which was ideologically manufactured, against the grain of our everyday experience of successive waves of immigrants. The world kept coming here, but entering this delusional ideology that we are exceptional. I am convinced we are overcoming that split — between the republic in our hearts and this imperial hubris that we flex. Look: CNN fires Lou Dobbs and asks me to write columns for them. Who could have imagined that?”

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  • Some thoughts on Hamid Dabashi ROS interview:

    1. Americans first defeated the Redcoats then became the Redcoats.
    2. America as an empire was designedly an “empire of disorder”.
    3. “Controlled chaos” was the chosen American style.

    At the heart of the current American imperial crisis is the overcoming of the above-listed “bad trinity.”

    The Imperial American daydream is that we can go back to the paradise symbolized by Israel’s 1967 lighning victory over the Arabs and undo the 1973/78 oil shocks, Vietnam defeat of 1975, Iranian revolution of 1979, the stagflation…ie. the whole package of the post-1973 unraveling.

    The globality that Hamid Dabashi refers to frequently needs a new architecture, a new “arrangement” on a global scale, to use the Elia Kazan word.

    This requires a West/Muslim rapprochement and the installation of Third World development as “locomotive.”

    The tearing down of the Berlin Wall would need to be followed by the tearing down of the Sharon Wall in Palestine which symbolizes the North-South, West/Muslim/Third world divide.

    The world-economy now morphing into an economy-world means that the global economic carousel/merry-go-round is less driven by the national “horses’ bobbing up and down along its rim but rather the other way.

    Without these world-level institutional changes, what Hamid Dabashi calls for is akin to Kwame Appiah’s “cosmopolitanism” and remains a potentially stillborn emotion.

    For some relevant contextualization, see:


  • Glen S.

    Side note: it’s Namjoo, Mohsen Namjoo. Thanks for another great conversation Chris!

  • chris

    Correction made, with apologies. Thank you, Glen.

  • Potter

    We have heard and were grateful for some pretty sublime Iranian music here over recent years through World Music. Also I remind myself I have several classics of Iranian film on DVD waiting for me…

    I don’t know what to think about Dabashi after reading the Wikipedia entry linked above to his “gruff and provocative” expressions– pretty ugly racism which he would (and does) complain about when it’s pointed elsewhere by others. I am offended especially since he does not seem to apologize really but is sorry about the way what he said was taken ( absolving himself) It sort of takes away from some of the positiveness and hope and some insight in this interview as you expressed, Chris, in your last paragraph above. Certainly Dabashi did not add to that hope with those statements.

    As for Obama, we agree.

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