Well dear readers, I am back from the historic city of Tehran, Iran. Since I am rather tired having just returned, I will just post two photos that are nonetheless important for a host of reasons. As you very well know, higher education in the United Kingdom is experiencing massive cuts, So, I had to make sure that I had proof that I actually delivered a lecture in Iran. (Dear LSE administrators, I will hand in my reimbursement forms later this week ;-) Above is a photo of yours truly at the main auditorium of the National Library of Iran. As you can see, a portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini watches over me. Below is another photo towards stage left under a portrait of the current Supreme Leader Khamenei:
Briefly returning to the subject matter of the conference, what did I make a presentation about?
(1) The Great Satan Did Itself In Via Subprime
(2) Death to America Was Self-Inflicted Through Financial Securitization
(3) Global Economic Imbalances: Real Axis of Evil
(4) The ASEAN Way as a Paradigm for Intercultural Dialogue
While potentially entertaining, the first three are clearly not what I was there to talk about but the fourth. Indeed, the terms "Great Satan," "Death to America," and "Axis of Evil" are precisely the sort of polemics we should get away from if there is to be any semblance of mutual understanding--especially between the likes of the United States and Iran. Professor William Beeman who I met at the conference is the author of the insightful book The “Great Satan” vs. the “Mad Mullahs”: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other. Great title aside, he believes that the use of such terms has, for decades now, poisoned attempts at communication between the two. With the Iron Curtain pulled back and Libya relatively docile, it's been Iran's turn to bear the brunt of American barbs. Even if both sides' bark has been far worse than their bite [1, 2], matters certainly aren't improving significantly.
Just as it is in so many other parts of the world, cross-cultural dialogue would ideally start by doing away with such mischaracterizations on both sides. Many leftover cold warriors (and not necessarily neoconservatives) criticize Beeman, but his is far from a one-sided perspective insofar as he also faults the obviously declamatory tendencies of Iranian leadership. He is no big fan of the rhetorical flourishes of the former mayor of Tehran and current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. the revolution may have been impelled by such rhetoric, the ordinary business of improving the lives of citizens is at the same time less grandiose and more involved.
Ultimately, setting a basis for cultural understanding that could lead to better results is what the conference was about. Aside from academics like yours truly, there were several civil society participants--do-gooders--working on such things as broadening the civic opportunities of economic migrants in host communities, fostering religious understanding among Buddhist and Muslims in conflict, and sensitizing media coverage of disparate cultures. Otherwise. it would have been another mundane conference--by academics for academics of the typically dull, real-world irrelevant sort.
Indeed, it is comical how there are so many American and British academics who just keep regurgitating leftist rhetoric from the comfort of their "imperialist" surroundings. Sadly, academia is littered with petty Marxists writing for audience of...each other. Meanwhile, it's centre-of-centre me who actually goes to Third World lands to listen to and speak of ways to improve cross-cultural understanding between historic oppressors and oppressed. For all my faults, I still know that you must talk the talk and walk the walk at the end of the day.