Foucault's Perspectives on the Iranian Revolution Essay

Pages: 15 (4586 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Political Science / Politics  ·  Written: August 6, 2017

SAMPLE EXCERPT . . .


Foucault’s support for the Iranian Revolution likely stems more from an anti-American worldview and sentiment than from a pro-Islam one. In his analyses of Iran, Foucault spends a considerable amount of time remarking on the role of the United States in creating the Shah’s regime, manipulating the government for self-serving and strategic goals. “Would the United States be ready to deprive itself of a position that...would allow them to intervene...or monitor the peace,” (Afary and Anderson 203). As Foucault is correct in his general assessment of the Shah and the American support of his regime, he still idealizes the revolutionary alternative. In his writing on Iran, Foucault claims that Persian Shi’ite Islam “never ceased to give an irreducible strength to everything from the depths of a people that can oppose state power,” (Afari and Anderson 203). Moreover, Foucault recognizes the importance of differentiating between Persian culture and Arab culture and also between Shi’ite Islam and Sunni. Yet his recognition of the diversity in Islam still leads to orientalism: “the light that is capable of illuminating the law from the inside,” (Afari and Anderson 205). Enamored with the prospect of an alternative to American or Soviet power, Foucault denigrates the capacity of Persian people to establish a secular government not dissimilar from that of 20th century Turkey.

Essay on Foucault's Perspectives on the Iranian Revolution Assignment

Religion and spirituality are not necessarily anathema to democracy, freedom, and equality. In practice, however, imbuing political institutions with religious authority creates rigid systems of law and order. Given the patriarchal nature of world religions, too, it is impossible to envision a genuinely egalitarian state that has a religious government. If patriarchy is encoded in religious texts, and those religious texts form the basis of even secular laws, then the subjugation of women will ensue. Foucault speaks of the potential to “open a spiritual dimension in politics,” (Afari and Anderson 208). Idealistic as it seems to welcome a spiritual tone in political discourse, it is impossible to do so also without isolating the large groups of those who do not hold the same spiritual beliefs, attitudes, or opinions. Foucault almost admits that prior to Islam, Persia created the social, cultural, and political institutions that helped it become a global empire. Yet no sooner does he admit to the need to separate mosque and state does he revert to orientalism: “it derived a religion that gave to its people infinite resources to resist state power,” (Afari and Anderson 208). It is impossible to resist state power from within an autocratic regime that by definition stifles dissent in order to perpetuate its rule.

There are several clear reasons why it is understandable that Foucault might have harbored some sympathies with the Iranian Revolution, given his postmodern worldview. Postmodernism critiques the tools and artifacts of modernity including the modern secular nation-state, the idealization of material, industrial, or technological progress, the almost deification of the legal and political systems of democracy. What Foucault saw in Iran was a similar disdain for the symbols of modernity, including a direct affront to the modern nation-state by creating a new, postmodern form of a theocracy. Reverting to a pre-modern state, Iran’s revolution was viewed as a reasonable solution to the shortcomings of modernity, a view held by both the Ayatollah and Foucault. Their respective male privilege allowed for the glossing over of the implications of perpetual patriarchy. Foucault also subtly supports the theme of authenticity: authenticity as it implies fundamentalist interpretations of Islam but also authenticity in individual reactions to capitalism or nationalism. When individuals become martyrs to a cause, they are acting authentically as well as celebrating the power of liminality.

In his writings, Foucault exposes his own disillusionment with secularism in general. By siding firmly with the Ayatollah on the need for a “spiritual dimension in politics,” Foucault shows that he perceives an emptiness in secular politics as if he misses the nebulous nature of decisions made according to whimsical and superstitious beliefs. Yet it is not an affection for superstition that necessarily drives Foucault’s fascination with Iran and Islam. Foucault equates secularism with Western hegemony, just as fundamental Islam does. Likewise, Foucault equates secularism with capitalism, which fundamental Islam also does. Foucault also equates secularism with hedonism, and believes that self-abnegation and denial are preferable paths towards resistance. Both Foucault and Iranian Islamism also shunned Marxism and left-liberalism because Marxism and liberalism simply replaced one form of power with another. Foucault never actually presents his views on the overarching goals of the Iranian Revolution, and does not clarify why he feels that irrational and religious sources of power and control are in any way preferable to the political institutions of the secular modern nation-state. If Foucault denies the power of the individual in favor of collectivism, he never says so, although doing so would seem to contradict his critique of state power.

For all his concern about the detrimental and devastating effects of unbridled state power and control, Foucault fails to recognize the Ayatollah as imposing a dreadful new order on the Persian people. Just as Marxism led to the erection of totalitarian state regimes instead of to egalitarian empowerment, the Iranian Revolution caused totalitarianism and authoritarianism. Foucault seems to believe that just because the Ayatollah was anti-communist as well as anti-Western and anti-modern that the Iranian Revolution offered a better alternative than any other option. It is possible that Foucault wrote his analyses because he had succumbed to propaganda messages, but it seems that the French philosopher actually does believe what he writes. As a result, Foucault’s reputation in France suffered. Because most of his writings on Iran were not translated into English, Foucault remains a darling of the Anglo academic world. Foucault’s discourse on power and control make perfect sense, and almost completely contradicts his view of the Iranian Revolution. Foucault might not be a feminist, but he did appreciate the ways power is wielded symbolically through sociological and political institutions, language,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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