Anne Curry in Iran and Discourse

Interesting Dateline NBC on Iran. Anne Curry went to Iran and talked to a lot of people. It’s worth watching I believe. Though most mainstream media pieces focus too much on “the other’s” dichotomous relationship with the west, Curry tries to show how similar Iran is to the US. But she still built some dichotomies going along with the traditional discourse on Iran.

2 “quick” thoughts:

WARNING: I apologize ahead, ’cause I know it’s gonna’ get slightly rookie-philosophical and loaded with some jargon, YUK!

She was a little obsessed with chador and hijab. It seems every time a western journalist goes to Iran they devote a large segment of their book or documentary to this issue. These things are endlessly commented on and presented as anti-modern, but to many women these forms of clothing can be seen as expressions of modern aspirations that were frustrated under the forcefully secular Pahlavi’s, for instance. I believe that identifying this religious tradition as the real threat to tolerance and sanity, we’re letting ourselves let go of the massive problems that confront the Iranian people, like economy and survival, for instance.

Of course, freedom of expression is seen in the west as philosophically a natural right, but we must force ourselves to see it as also the right to do opposite of what we westerns do, that is, it is not anti-modern to cover-up with chador or tight hijab. Sometimes these things that we see as oppressive are really expressions of agency, a recognized aspiration of modern thinking.

Foucault once explained his paradox of subjectivation and one can think of it in relation to these things, like a possible woman’s want to wear chador: the very processes and conditions that secure a subject’s subordination are also the means by which she becomes a self-conscious identity and agent, thus, the possibility of agency, as relayed through Judith Butler in her post-structuralist thinking of a woman’s agency (1993, 2001), is located within the structures of power (rather than outside of them) and, more importantly, suggests that the reiterative structure of norms sees not only to consolidate a particular regime of discourse/power, but also provides the means for its destabilization (Mahmood, 2005).

Now I am certainly not saying the the Islamic Republic does not have a terrible human right’s record, particularly with regards to women. I am only stating that concentrating on the upper-class problem of hijab and chador really takes time from discussing what most women in Iran might see as more important, such as economic and family issues.

She could have filled some of that time in a province talking to women who don’t care about the chador and just want prosperity for their families.

Curry set up the dichotomy between “tradition and modernity”. Oh boy, I really hate this one. As if one’s tradition cannot hinge itself to “modernity”, whatever that modernity actually means. Why do these things always have to clash in our western discourse?

What is tradition? I like the modern philospher MacIntyre’s concept when he points to the connection between how we confront our lives today as bearers of a particular social identity, thus:

“[….] practices always have histories and that at any given movement what a practice is depends on a mode of understanding it which has been trasmitted often through many generations. And thus, in so far as the virtues [of the traditional practice] sustain the relationships required for [acceptable] practices , they have to sustain relationships to the past–and to the future–as well as the present” (222, 1981).

In taking this, because a traditional practice must sustain the relationship required with one’s practice today, we can see that maybe practices of tradition, like religious life, or certain moral traditions, don’t represent some type of space where nonargument must exist, contrary to modernity where argument supposedly ‘thrives’. It must be figured out by the actor whether a particular tradition is acceptable to her. In fact, tradition is a space of different interpretations and argument, not just some stifling anti-modern, thus anti-western, mode of repression.

Iran is a society that has become a synthesis of, what is seen as, “modernity” (thesis) and tradition (the antithesis). Iran fits within this dialectical frame. For example, while Iranians and the Islamic Republic put strong emphasis on science and technology, it also has mullahs doing some of that work, spurred by Shi’a Islamic thought going back hundreds of years. This is not “modernity” butting up against tradition, but the two working together: a traditional way that a cleric may see his life and identity informs his understanding and methods of researching a modern science to fix a modern issue, such as stem-cell research or AIDS.

Curry hints at these things when discussing the AIDS clinic in Tehran, but disappoints by saying, in more tactful words, that Iran needs to modernize like the west if it really wants to battle contemporary issues like AIDS or drug abuse.

But overall I like the show’s point: Iran and the US share many similarities, and while Iran has contradictory and diametric characteristics (like most societies, including right here in the good ‘ole U.S. of A.) it is not some backwards outpost, but a thriving hodgepodge of culture, interests, and global peoples. This is not something just ‘touchy-feely’, but true. Ahmadinejad is not Iran, yet Ahmadinejad is a product of Iran…

Yuk, again, sorry for the jargon. Hopefully it’s not too incoherent ’cause really the Dateline piece is very simple and enjoyable. I was feeling cerebral today… Question my theses if they don’t make sense to ya’.


~ by The Common Man on June 8, 2009.

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