Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Imperial "Academics" and "Scholars"

The notion that academics and scholars are honest intellectuals who strive for objective research, and are independent of government (and other) influences is nice sounding, but is nothing more than a myth.

This is especially the case post 9/11/01: The US led War on Islam and Muslims, has resulted in an increased demand for "scholars" and "academics" of Muslim and/or mid-east backgrounds who would willingly act as "researchers" and "policy writers." These "scholars" then produce, and/or facilitate the production of articles, books, and magazines that attempt to justify American Imperialism to what, in their racist assumption, is an ignorant, and unwitting Arab and Muslim population.

A few background resources that readers can consider are:

1. A talk by Hatem Bazian on the Empire's Embedded Intellectuals (audio): Part I and Part II

2. The Native Orientalists by M. Shahid Alam

3. US "democracy promotion" and regime change in Iran

These types of "scholars", however, are not only restricted to the ivory towered universities - increasingly, they are employed by pro-empire "think-tanks" such as the Brooking Institute and Council on Foreign Relations. It is these "think tanks" that provide the imperial scholars with funding, resources/contacts, publicity, and the cloak of "objective respectable" scholarship. However, as the links above show, these think tanks are anything but "objective" and are, infact, all about providing the intellectual rational for maintaining imperial supremacy.

Now, lets take a closer look at Haleh Esfandiari, an Iranian citizen who is being held by Iran's government on alleged espionage charges and "acting against national security." The right wing and liberals are presenting Esfandiari as if she is just a "scholar" and an "academic." Well, a closer look suggests that she is nothing of the sort:

Esfandiari is the Director of Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (sounds nice don't it?). This "center for scholars" is, infact, a US government outfit - its trustees are all appointed by the President of the US (i.e. Bush). Infact, both the Chairman and Vice-Chairman raised major funds (over $100,000 for Bush and Co.'s electoral campaigns) . The other trustees either belong to major corporations, or, are affiliated with the US government, including the US Secretary of State: Condoleezza Rice. The president and director of this center is Lee H. Hamilton who is on Bush's Homeland Security Advisory Council.

A major supporter of Esfandiari is the neo-con American Islamic Congress whose founder, Zainab Al-Suwaij, strongly advocated for the invasion of Iraq, and is now involved in its so-called "rebuilding" efforts. Others involved with this "congress" and their backgrounds are listed here. Riffat Hassan, the pro-Mu(Bu)sharraf Progressive Muslim scholar is also part of this "congress."

The American Islamic Congress are the ones who set up the Free Haleh website, with another neo-con friendly group called "Freedom House" whose board includes the notorious neo-con and anti-Iran, author Azar Nafisi.

Esfandiari was also a presenter at a 2004 conference sponsored by the notorious Zionist lobby AIPAC, her panel was titled:

Revolution From Within: Can the Iranian People Reclaim the Republic? (Convention Center - ROOM 144 ABC):

-- Mr. Philo Dibble, deputy assistant secretary, U.S. Department of State

-- Ms. Haleh Esfandiari(*), Middle East Project consulting director, Woodrow Wilson Center

Esfandiari's work at this "center for scholars" appears to be focused on women's issues in the "middle-east." An interesting publication is something called "Building A New Iraq" that is focused on "Regional Strategies for Empowering Women." A cursory look at the publication suggests that it is all focused on how women are working for "democracy" in Iraq. There was not one word about the horrendous loss of life that is due to the American occupation, nor did I find any "strategy" that included a call for American withdrawal from Iraq and the "region." The very title "Building a New Iraq" should be a give away about what is going on. Who is doing this "building" and what exactly is this "New Iraq?"

Now, one might call this type of "scholarship" outright US government propaganda, but to suggest that this kind of work has anything serious or relevant to offer for Iraqi women, or any woman is, quite frankly, ludicrous. How is that a "scholarly" publication is talking about people living under occupation, and who are witness to an incredible level of destructive violence primarily due to that occupation, totally ignores that reality?

Now, specific to Esfandiari's case, she is infact an Iranian citizen and, as such, it is even more problematic that she should affiliate herself (a director no less) of such an organization, while the US not only has no diplomatic relations with Iran, but also has been issuing threats after threats, including nuclear threats. While one can possibly fault the Iranian government for being over zealous at times, it is difficult to fault them for being cautious, when one of their own citizens is acting as Director of an imperialist and hostile government's think tank. And frankly, the kind of company she has been keeping in the US does not do her cause a whole lot of service.

***A recent statement by the Iranian government suggests that they are not exactly ignorant of the US "democracy promotion" and what this might mean for the Islamic Republic:

“The truth of the matter is that those bodies are under the umbrella of such titles as democracy, human rights, and are playing the role that their intelligence and information services used to play against countries in question in the past"

…the NED Foundation, relying on the cooperation of other US foundations, theoretized the model of East Europe’s collapse, matched it with the situation in Iran, and tried to pursue it as a project.”

some of those foundations send invitations to Iranian thinkers to give lectures, participate at seminars, or to present research projects, allocating budgets to such activities… trying to choose active partners in our country and link them to the decision maker circles and organization in the United States.”

Another interesting twist to the case is that there is a supposed "momentum" to do an "academic" boycott of Iran over her case. But Palestinian advocates who have campaigned for a boycott against the Zionist entity for years, still remain without much of a momentum? Why ? How does one individual, who is with a US government affiliated think tank, get all this momentum, but a boycott against the Zionist entity responsible for killing hundreds and thousands, bombings, dispossession, occupation of an entire people fails? Even the oh so (not so) great, Noam Chomsky has been vague, if not outright against boycotting the Zionist entity. What might this double standards be about?

This kind of racist thinking, that ignores the horrendous occupations, is at the heart of the ongoing (but obviously failing) imperialist drive of the US - and the imperial scholars make the situation only worse by providing an intellectual veneer.

4 comment(s):

  • Awesome post!

    I love your blog bro! Keep up the good work.

    By Blogger Abu Turab, at 5/19/2007 11:31:00 PM  

  • I agree all scholarship is located and I would not contest the assertion that Neocons have their own quasi-imperial 'army' of scholars. But if such an analysis remains on par with Bush's 'for us or against us' motto, it becomes no more than a polemic of political alignment. Different scholars have different agendas and different levels of integrity, and surely equating Haleh Esfandiari with Riffat Hassan is, ironically, rather Chomskyish in its simplicity. There are, it has to be said, some analysts on the left than can extraordinarily liberal in their manipulation of data to promote their world view, Greg Palast being a prime example. The important thing, in my view, is to promote scholarship that is rigorous and locates itself, even if that is on the side of imperial power. Simply demonizing anyone remotely sympathetic to US/Israeli foreign policy implies no debate is worthwhile and that undermines the sense that change is possible.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5/22/2007 03:33:00 PM  

  • I think you either did not read, or do not understand fully the context of Esfandiari. The US has declared that it wants to overthrow the Islamic Republic - call it "regime change" - and we know, Iran knows, what "regime change" means - and what being "axes of evil" means.

    Esfandiari is part of a think tank, and has been part of Zionist conferences that have discussed these things.... The only difference between Esfandiari and Bush is that she is working with that section of the US government that want, what Iran correctly calls a 'soft revolution."

    This is what imperialism is all about - it is not just about bombing people, it is about taking colonizing people's "hearts and minds."

    You can call this "demonizing" I call it calling it as it is... and, in this situation, I think Iran has shown a high level of sophistication in understanding what is going on... including a good understanding of the role that these "think tanks" play in the scheme of things.

    IF the US had not made those threats, if there was no imperialist slaughter taking place, and threat of even more millions to be killed... then things would be very different - and the context of Esfandiari would be different. But that is not the world we are living in...

    I am not a liberal - and so see no reason why those oppressed, and targeted for massive slaughter should just play nice - and not resist imperialist actions. Furthermore, "debate" and/or "dialogue" is only possible when there is an equal level of power. "Debate" is not at all possible, when one side holds nukes in their hands threathing to slaughter you if you don't do as they wish...

    This is why one of the most important practices of Islam is to cultivate a sense of discernment - everyone is not "equal" in this situation - one side is clearly a massive aggressor.

    only a million may have been killed since the war began with the attack on Afghanistan in 10/01 --- it took a few million or so more... - before the German population, and the Nazi collaborators decided something might be wrong with the Nazis... how many millions more, b/4 people begin to understand?

    By Blogger redwood, at 5/22/2007 05:41:00 PM  

  • salaam,

    The important thing, in my view, is to promote scholarship that is rigorous and locates itself, even if that is on the side of imperial power.

    I would have to agree with Altaf's point on this issue. There is no position of neutrality or objectivity when there exists such an imbalance of power. Infact, one could argue that it would be morally unethical to do so. I think the Quranic example of Musa (as) is quite relevent to our times. Despite all the transgressions and problems that the Bani Israel presented to Musa (as) and to the Message, one would be hard-pressed to think Musa's (as) obligation at that moment was to objective and ignore the essential power differentials between Bani Israel and Firaun.

    By Blogger malangbaba, at 5/26/2007 08:41:00 AM  

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