The curious case of Hamid Dabashi on Obama.

Hamid Dabashi is one of the leading experts on Iranian history. His erudition is on display when you read Iran: A People Interrupted or Theology of Discontent. Besides his familiarity with all the leading scholarship, however, there’s the lengthy digressions, with unnecessary polysyllabic jargon. Enormous slabs of what he writes are unreadable, which isn’t too bad, considering the enormous slabs are largely empty.

In his books, Dabashi was at pains to insist on a high level of purity when discussing critics of the Iranian regime: they had to oppose the Shah and the Islamic Republic and all of their crimes, not selectively. He was scathing in his discussion of those who criticised the Islamic Republic, but not US threats to bomb Iran.

Recently, he’s applauded Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize award on CNN. Hailing Obama as a “visionary statesman”, Dabashi rises to almost unbelievable levels of ecstatic awe.”Like all other visionaries, dreamers of the impossible, he is taken for a fool by his detractors. But the youthful euphoria that welcomed him into the White House and promised him this prize means he is on the right and the winning side of history.”

Let us follow Dabashi’s trajectory. During the election campaign, Dabashi was pretty excited about Obama. He was confused that Obama, who he worshipped, appeared to make shocking statements on Palestine to AIPAC. He concluded: “Obama’s Palestinian problem spells out the particulars of his own moral depravity and political cowardice, his having succumbed to the oldest, most racist, anti-Semitic, cliché on Earth — that you cannot win the US presidential nomination or election “without the Jewish vote,” and that fatal failure negates every single oration of “change we can believe in” that Barack Obama has delivered to his sincere and trusting young audience. He has already betrayed that trust.”

Nevertheless, Obama “is the absolute best that American politics has made possible… Obama is no George W. Bush. He is not the nightmare of American politics. Obama is its dream — and inside that beautiful dream dwells an ugly reality: The fear of Obama and of what he might be able actually to unleash in this country.”

Come election day, Dabashi voted for the first time: for Obama. He was delighted by Obama’s victory, and was hopeful about prospects for the future:

OBAMA MAY NEVER do a thing he has promised — but that will detract nothing from tonight. For tonight he belonged to eternity, to the succession of African slave ships brought to this shore, to the millions of African-Americans upholding their dignity against racism, sustaining their struggle, facing bigotry fiercely and awaiting victory. Along with millions of others, Jesse Jackson, an aging warrior of the Civil Rights Movement, was crying on television for the whole world to watch: the tears of African- Americans, young and old, remembering their parents’ sufferings, their bondage, their history, and now this cathartic moment. What an unsurpassed honour to have been alive, to have been part of it, to have witnessed it, to have cast a silent and humble vote for it!

This night belonged to Malcolm X, to W E B Du Bois, to Martin Luther King, Jr, to Booker T Washington, to Frederick Douglass, to Harriet Tubman, Miles Davis, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, and it belonged to every defiant soul who has stood up to the tyranny of white racism, has said no to injustice, and has upheld the dignity of an entire people on behalf of humanity at large, just in order to stay alive and see the dawn of this day.

I voted for Obama because the noble anger of Malcolm X resonates gently in his two books ( Audacity of Hope and Dreams from my Father ), and no matter how hard he now tries to conceal the cadences of Malcolm’s voice and speech patterns we can still hear the Muslim revolutionary emerge from under Obama’s sweet and gentle demeanour.

I voted for Barack Obama for the courage he once had to seek the company of Bill Ayers, the defiant voice of the Civil Rights Movement, whom John McCain and Sarah Palin called a “domestic terrorist.” If Bill Ayers once saw something in Obama worthy of his friendship, then there must have once been something good in Obama.

In June this year, Dabashi was disillusioned in Obama.

Obama’s actions in Iraq are not in the slightest way different from Bush’s, or even potentially McCain’s. Samantha Power had to resign as an advisor to Obama’s presidential campaign when in March 2008 she hinted at his making campaign promises about withdrawing from Iraq that he might reconsider as president. Now as president, Obama is doing precisely what Power suggested about a year ago. The pace of his Iraqi withdrawal is not a second faster than what Bush had in fact started doing, the rate of innocent Iraqi civilians slaughtered on a daily basis spiralling apace. So what’s the difference between Bush and Obama? Effectively nothing, when it comes to Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon or Palestine. I believe we have been duped, those of us who ignored all the signs and voted for him. Hoodwinked. Bamboozled. Led astray.

When he was announcing his early appointments many people began to wonder where exactly was the “change” he had promised with all these business-as- usual types. Obama is wont to say that he is the change; that the buck stops with him. Thus the blood of Afghan, Pakistani, Iraqi and Palestinian victims are all on his hands, as are human rights abuses in Guantanamo Bay.

If indeed there is a fundamental difference between campaign promises and the realities of governing, then what in the world is the function of those long and arduous campaigns, those billions of dollars and trillions of life hours wasted sorting out the difference between McCain and Obama if the Oval Office makes imperialist warlords — of one colour or another — of them all?

But then came the Iranian protests. Suddenly, Dabashi’s anger disappeared. He stopped talking about Palestine in the corporate media, which was happy to have this expert explaining things to them, showing of his knowledge of Islamic theology and Iranian history, not raising difficult questions about US imperialism and Iranian grievances against the West. He launched an attack on As’ad AbuKhalil in al Ahram, which pleased the Zionist fanatics of Campus Watch. Dabashi even complained that AbuKhalil was criticising the New York Times and Saudi media. Yes, AbuKhalil was right in pointing to double standards at the NYT: the people in Honduras are STILL struggling to restore the government they DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED, and there is practically no media coverage of this at all, anywhere. There couldn’t be a more perfect demonstration of the sheer hypocrisy of the mainstream media, in its pretence that it cares about human rights and thwarted elections in Iran.

Anyway, Dabashi went from Obama cheerleading, to skepticism, to revolt, and then back to worship at the Nobel Prize laureate. I sensed the latest metamorphosis during the Iranian protests. AbuKhalil’s position was to the left of Dabashi: AbuKhalil is a strict secularist, who rejects Moussavi and his calls for a return to the values of Khomeini. Right now, my suspicion is that Dabashi has been so excited by the process of mainstream media attention that he will hang up the concern for Palestine and opposition to US imperialism, and drift towards the right. Compare him to Zinn: a real leftist, who responded appropriately to Obama’s win.


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