Banishing the Ghosts of Iran

Fatemeh Keshavarz in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Screenhunter_05_jul_15_1238The recent arrest in Iran of Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has ignited a storm of protest around the Western world. To many Americans, it is but one more sign that Iran, in particular, and the Muslim Middle East, in general, are inhospitable to women and to freethinkers. For some years, America’s popular reading list has bolstered that view, ignoring political complexities of the region in favor of a simple narrative.

Best sellers like Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (Random House, 2003), Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner (Riverhead Books, 2003), and Åsne Seierstad’s The Bookseller of Kabul (Little, Brown, 2003) have enforced and embellished the one-sided picture of Middle Eastern culture. Call it the “New Orientalism.”

In the 1970s, Edward W. Said’s influential Orientalism (Pantheon Books, 1978) offered a decisive critique of entrenched Western assumptions that construed Europe as the norm, from which the “exotic” and “inscrutable” Orient deviates. Not infallible — but certainly profound and engaging — Said’s views fired the imagination of such influential scholars as Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, now central to postcolonial and subaltern studies.

More here.