Iranian author Azar Nafisi’s “Reading Lolita in Tehran,” a memoir of her years as a college literature professor in Tehran during the Khomeini era, was a critically acclaimed success in 1993. Her book, which told of her ultimate resignation from the university because of the all-pervasive militant-Islamic censorship and the secret classes she held for young Iranian women in which they studied books banned by the regime, was praised for its celebration of the power of art and the achievements of Western civilization by a wide ideological range of critics, including Susan Sontag and novelist Margaret Atwood. Those two weren’t known for left-of-center views. Nafisi has since left Iran and is now a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University’s School of International Studies in Washington.
And she’s also in political correctness hell. Hamid Dabashi, an Iranian studies professor and “Orientalism” basher at Columbia University and a clone of his fellow Columbia-ite, ur-“Orientalism”-basher the late Edward Said (Said was famous for his interpretation of Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park” as a pro-slavery tract), has decided that Nafisi’s admiration for the West makes her a fellow traveler of George W. Bush. And we know what that means.
In the Egyptian English-language newspaper Al-Ahram (according to this report in the Chronicle of Higher Education–hat tip to Arts & Letters Daily), Dabashi penned a lengthy essay denouncing Nafisi. It’s hard to tell what’s funnier about Dabishi’s article, its hysterical anti-Bush tone or its weird postmodern lit-crit jargon as he explains how Nafisi’s memoir, ostensibly about the brutal conditions for women in Iraq, is actually all about “colonialism.” Here’s the Chronicle’s report:
“His blistering essay cast Ms. Nafisi as a collaborator in the Bush administration’s plans for regime change in Iran. He drew heavily on the late scholar Edward Said’s ideas about the relationship between Western literature and empire and the fetishization of the ‘Orient’ to attack Reading Lolita in Tehran as a prop for American imperialism. He also pilloried Ms. Nafisi personally for what he described as her cozy relationship with prominent American neoconservatives.
“By seeking to recycle a kaffeeklatsch version of English literature as the ideological foregrounding of American empire,” wrote Mr. Dabashi, ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran is reminiscent of the most pestiferous colonial projects of the British in India, when, for example, in 1835 a colonial officer like Thomas Macaulay decreed: “We must do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, a class of persons Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, words and intellect.” Azar Nafisi is the personification of that native informer and colonial agent, polishing her services for an American version of the very same project.
“In an interview published on the Web site of the left-wing publication Z Magazine on August 4, Mr. Dabashi went even further, comparing Ms. Nafisi to a U.S. Army reservist convicted of abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. ‘To me there is no difference between Lynndie England and Azar Nafisi,/he told the magazine.”
Nafisi hasn’t deigned to respond to Dabashi’s essay–and who would?
Dabashi, as you might expect, is already a hero of the anti-Bush American left, famous at Columbia for his aggressive antiwar stance in the wake of the 9/11 massacre and his virulent opposition to criticisms of anti-Semitism among the Columbia faculty.