On June 12, 2009, Iranians went to the polls to choose a president from among a handful of candidates approved by clerics who are not elected but rather appointed. As voters moved to toss out incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the government intervened to award the unpopular president a second term. The blatant fraud proved too much for ordinary Iranians who poured into the streets in a protest that rocked the Islamic Republic to its core. From this outrage was born the so-called "Green Movement," an amorphous group with nearly as many goals as leaders.
Dabashi, an Iranian studies and comparative literature professor at Columbia University, purports to analyze the Green Movement in this short book, which, in actuality, is mainly a compilation of op-eds and online essays he wrote as events unfolded.
Readers seeking to understand recent Iranian politics will be disappointed. Dabashi fails to illuminate the makeup of the Green Movement or its goals. Nor does he differentiate between ordinary Iranians who seek a freer Iran and the career politicians who cloak themselves in the movement but remain loyal to a theocratic system.
Rather than seriously analyze events, Dabashi indulges in potshots at authors whose books have received greater critical and public acclaim than his. He calls Azar Nafisi, the best-selling author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, a "charlatan," and he accuses Stanford University's Abbas Milani of purveying "Neocon chicanery."
And if the Islamic Republic, among the world's worst violators of human rights, is Dabashi's ostensible topic, Israel is his obsession. He decries Israel as "a racist apartheid state," and labels Israel's claim to be the region's only democracy a "ludicrous joke." Dabashi's obsession leads him down curious byways. He accuses Israelis and "American Zionists" of being disappointed by the Green Movement, a simple falsehood. Indeed, while Dabashi was shilling for the Islamic Republic, many of those he vents against sought U.S. policies to empower the Iranian people at the expense of the regime.
Dabashi is not just best known for his embrace of former colleague Edward Said and his own over-the-top condemnations of U.S. policy but he is also a wretched writer, unable to escape the jargon of academic theory to communicate a point. He substitutes polemic for research; his book is more rant than scholarship.
On many levels, then, The Green Movement in Iran is a terrible book. If it has any silver lining, it spectacularly illustrates why few outside the academy take Iranian studies professors seriously.