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Islam and Human Rights ( 22 Jan 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The Cruelty of the Ruling Empire Is Not Through Military Domination Alone but By Posing As the Last Court Of Appeal

By Hamid Dabashi

22 Jan 2016

In two successive opinion pieces for The New York Times, the Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers have published two opposing views, charging each other's respective countries of mischief and misdemeanour.

On January 10, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, published a piece in which he warned against "Saudi Arabia's reckless extremism". He further amplified: "Saudi Arabia seems to fear that the removal of the smokescreen of the nuclear issue will expose the real global threat: its active sponsorship of violent extremism. The barbarism is clear. At home, state executioners sever heads with swords ... abroad, masked men sever heads with knives."

Shortly after that piece, on January 19, Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir retorted back in kind.

"In an outlandish lie, Iran maligns and offends all Saudis by saying that my nation, home of the two holy mosques, brainwashes people to spread extremism," the Saudi foreign minister declared on the same pages of the US newspaper. "We are not the country designated a state sponsor of terrorism; Iran is. We are not the nation under international sanctions for supporting terrorism; Iran is. We are not the nation whose officials are on terrorism lists; Iran is. We don't have an agent sentenced to jail for 25 years by a New York federal court for plotting to assassinate an ambassador in Washington in 2011; Iran does."

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The moral of these two pieces when put together for the readers of the "paper of record" in the United States is simple: Saudi Arabia mirrors the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in extremism and barbarity and Iran is a rogue terrorist state sponsoring terrorism. You will scarce find anyone among the US neo- and old Conservative warmonger Islamophobes who would disagree with that.

A Simple Question

Why do these two distinguished and articulate gentlemen write their accusatory pieces in English and publish them in The New York Times?

Why do they make their cases against each other in a major newspaper in a major city at the heart of a global empire that dominates them both and beyond?

Why don't the Iranian and the Saudi foreign ministers talk to each other directly - in Arabic, in Persian, or even in English if they must, but face to face, person to person?

Why do they make their cases against each other in a major newspaper in a major city at the heart of a global empire that dominates them both and beyond?

Why two sovereign nation states, and two Muslim countries at that, settle their differences in public, in English, in terms ("extremism" and "terrorism") determined by a language and rhetoric that rule them both, and on the pages of a leading forum from and for the normative ascendency of a far away and global empire? 

Don't they see what they look like standing next to each other on these two adjacent pages of the New York Times: Two medieval feudal vassals rushing to their mutual lord accusing each other of mischief, trying their best to endear themselves to their master, in terms determined by the master.

For their common warlord, these two columns achieve one thing: that they are both right that Iran is what Saudi Arabia says it is and that Saudi Arabia is what Iran says it is. The white interlocutor did not say so: the brown snitches said so themselves. 

The combined result of these two columns is one thing and one thing only: that the fictive white interlocutor, the real warlord, to whom they have both made their case, is the judge, the jury, and the executioner of arbitration, of justice, and of truth - that the Empire, the single most powerful military force that has wreaked havoc in the region in which these two countries reside is pure as the gold standard of truth, the tabula rasa of justice, the arbiter of reality, the true and reliable measure of separating fact from fiction.  

The Conceptual Hegemon

What are the concepts and categories by which Iran and Saudi Arabia take their respective cases to their common imperial court? "Extremism and terrorism": the terms and measuring tape concocted and manufactured by and for and geared to the best interest and towering hegemony of the self-same imperial interlocutor in the region.

"Look he is an extremist," declares one vassal. "Look he is a terrorist," retorts the other.

Iran and Saudi Arabia are not the only itinerants of these terms of the imperial hegemon. If Turkey wants to denounce and suppress the Kurds it calls them "terrorists"; if Egypt wants to discredit the Muslim Brotherhood to eliminate them en masse, it calls them "terrorists", even if Russia wants to discredit the entire gamut of opposition to the criminal Bashar Assad it calls them all "terrorists".

Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and even Russia represent an entire spectrum of political manoeuvrings that use the identical term of "terrorism" and "extremism", to discredit their internal opposition and external adversaries: the terms coined, convoluted, and turned into a currency by their common imperial interlocutor, ruling them all together, not just by military force but by ideological lexicography.

By taking their respective cases against each other to this imperial interlocutor the foreign ministers of Iran and Saudi Arabia are far more instrumental in generating Islamophobia than the most fear-mongering Islamophobes combined.

They are two Muslim states in high positions of power and authority to know Muslims, both Sunnis and Shias.

In his exquisite parable, "Before the Law" (1915), Kafka tells the story of a countryman who come to enter the court of law, but a gatekeeper says he has to wait. The man spends a lifetime waiting without access. Upon his moment of death he asks the gatekeeper why is it that all his time no one else came to seek entrance to the law.

"No one else could ever be admitted here," the gatekeeper tells him, "Here no one else can gain entry, since this entrance was assigned only to you. I'm going now to close it."

The cruelty of the ruling empire is not merely manifested in its military domination of the world. But far more debilitating in its linguistic and ideological lexicography of domination, in positing itself as the first and last court of appeal, of turning the whole world, all religions, all cultures, all languages, even all acts of defiance in terms determined by the master tropes of its own superior reason to dominate, its will to truth.

Before the court of the empire come two vassals spending their lifetime awaiting admission.

Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.