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Profile: Mehdi Mozaffari

Despotism in its various forms (tribal, military, religious, and kingship) is the general and invariable trend of the Middle East. Faced with this hopeless and dangerous situation, a liberal external intervention seems to be right and just. It is in this perspective that President George W. Bush's initiative to the democratization of the greater Middle East must be situated - Mehdi Mozzaffari

The Blanket will feature a biography of each of the 12 signatories of Manifesto: Together Facing the New Totalitarianism, along with each of the Danish cartoons their number represents.

This is the last in the series.

Anthony McIntyre • 18 June 2006

Mehdi Mozaffari is an Iranian exile who now works as a professor of political science in Denmark's University of Århus. Before the 1979 theocratic reaction in Iran, he worked as head of the Department of International Relations at Tehran University. The author of many articles and books on Islam and Islamism, he received much critical acclaim for Fatwa: Violence and Discourtesy. In it, drawing on the work of Erich Fromm, Mozaffari compared Ayatollah Khomeini to Hitler by identifying two common characteristics: a love of death, and an extreme egocentric character. Such views have not seen his ratings soar amongst the audience of Theocratic TV's Mullah and Mufti show. He has been subjected to many death threats from those irrevocably opposed to free enquiry.

Much of his motivation is born of personal experience. He has often spoken of how he and thousands of others fled burkas, sharia, blood money, honour killings, imams and Islamism in the Middle East, only to witness the emergence of the same phenomena in Europe. As witness he is determined to bear it. He warns that:

historical experience has shown that those whom people fear will win, eventually. We saw this in Nazi Germany. There were too many Nazis, and people were scared. I fear that this is where we are heading, once more.

He has campaigned against Islamism in Denmark, site of the anti-theocratic cartoons that led to much controversy, murderous and racist violence against the Danes and Norwegians, and the inversion of enlightenment values by the Irrelevant Left. He seeks to protect the openness of Danish society which Islamicists are contemptuous of. In 2004 a leading Danish mufti, for example, claimed that Danish women not wearing the veil 'were asking for rape.' This type of sentiment was considered okay by people who sent themselves into paroxysms of rage over cartoons of little artistic merit but which questioned the subjugation of women by Islamicists. Medhi points to what he sees as the irony in such perspectives

It is astonishing that each time claims on freedom of speech, free elections and gender equality strongly arises, Arab and Muslim leaders immediately resort to counter attacks, considering these claims to be in contradiction with their culture and identity. What they are saying is actually that despotism and repression is more conform to Islamic and Arab values than democracy and liberty.

He views Islam as a totalitarian ideology which aims at world domination. He rejects the notion that change in Islamic societies will come as a result of indigenous factors. Mozzaffari explains that leaders such as Mubarak of Egypt, Assad of Syria and the Saudi royal family have tried to build a refusal front and have argued that democracy can only come from within. This he sees as self-serving because it allows the autocrats to remain secure in the knowledge that no internal attempt at democracy will succeed.

Islamic leaders are not seeking democracy but "Islamocracy", or Islam and democracy. "Islamic democracy" as president (Mohammad) Khatami of Iran formulated it means selection instead of election, a parliament without real attributes, a judiciary without independence, political parties without liberty, and mass communication without a voice.

The most contentious position held by Mozzaffari, and which separates him from many of his co-signatories to the Manifesto Against Totalitarianism, is his support for the US led war in Iraq. While Maryam Namazie, Antoine Sfeir, Caroline Fourest and Taslima Nasrin have all signed a Third Camp manifesto against US militarism and Islamic terrorism, Mozzaffari allows for no such equivalence, arguing that war is essential because no internal democratisation option is available. He contends that:

Four interrelated factors are hindering a successful internal and autonomous change, Oriental despotism, the rentier economy, the domination of Islam, and external interventionism. These elements constitute a Gordian knot that can only be cut off by Alexander's sword.

In such a context war must be understood 'as an imperative chirurgical intervention to break this vicious chain.' Rejecting any suggestion that US plans to democratise the Middle East are an American fantasy he argues that 'the fantasy is rather to await the process of democratisation to start by itself and to progress slowly, gently and peacefully from within the Middle Eastern societies.' He does not deny the existence of democratic sentiment within the Middle East but maintains it is so thoroughly suppressed that the unaided flowering of any democratic movement will be crushed.

As a result of the US invasion 'for the first time in history, democracy figures on the agenda … it is not fully conformed to Max Weber's ideal type of democracy; but there is no doubt that it will be moving in this direction.' Despite the death of the theocratic fascist, Sarqawi - some may find a historical precedent in the 1942 Prague assassination of Reinhardt Heydrich - many democrats and anti-theocrats will have difficulty accepting that democracy is the goal of the US in the Middle East. Experience, good teacher that it has proven to be, is littered with examples of democracy being suppressed by the US. Sarqawi's implacable opposition to democracy and freedom was hardly as developed and fine tuned as that practiced by Henry Kissinger, a notorious war criminal wanted for questioning in a number of countries but now harboured by the United States.

In opting to tackle the Islamicists Mozzaffari holds that it is necessary to view Islamism as an ideology and not a religion.

In this way, we put forward the real face and real nature of Islamism. The Muslims, especially among the young people, who are potentially ready to give their lives for the sake of Islamist ideals, will find out that their struggle is not a part of a religious duty but purely an ideological and political one emanating from a dangerous utopia.

He has also called for 'an international tactical or ethical consensus' particularly in the West where some political leaders employ anti-Islamic discourse for political ends. This undermines the purpose because it plays into the hands of Islamicists who want to establish two things in the mind of Muslims: 'Islamism is the true face of Islam … the West is an enemy of Islam.' For this reason it is essential that politicians avoid attacking Islam the religion.

Mozaffari, demonstrating that it is political Islam rather than religious Islam he attacks, has, despite signing the Manifesto Against Totalitarianism alongside Salman Rushdie, in the past been critical of the author of Satanic Verses on the grounds that freedom of speech is not absolute and where it is employed it should not be understood as license to insult the feelings of those who have deep religious beliefs. He identified a major tension between the West's uncritical support for Rushdie's right to free expression and the fact that in practice within the West freedom of expression is not practiced.

Mozzaffari has a very uncompromising stance towards Islamicists, feeling that dialogue has proven a waste of time as Islamicists only see it as a sign of weakness. 'Nothing positive has come out of different dialogues of diplomacy with totalitarian regimes and groups in general, and nothing positive with Islamists either.' He makes no bones about the alternative to dialogue: 'the answer is short and brutal: pressure … war should not be excluded as a last resort.' If Islamicism is to be avoided without at the same time confronting Islam, there are three interrelated options for achieving this: 'continuous pressure on Islamists and, if necessary, conduct of war; dialogue and cooperation with moderate Muslims; and effective support to democratic forces inside the Muslim world.'

Mozzaffari does not buy into the clash of civilisations thesis propounded by Samuel Huntingdon some years ago and which still remains influential to this day. 'If there is a clash, the clash is not between civilizations or between religions. The real clash occurs between democracy and despotism.' In the West theocratic despotism battles it out in structural conditions that weakens its effect. Muslims there, according to Mozzaffari, are far too dispersed to form a compact bloc. There are two groups: Muslim Believers and Cultural Muslims.

Islamists are predominantly issued from the first category. Cultural Muslims represent an agglomerate of peoples embracing agnostics, liberals, socialists and so on. In general, Cultural Muslims do not represent any tangible threat. The attention therefore must be oriented to the Muslim Believers who roughly are divided into Moderates and Radicals. Both are potential sources for Islamism; the former lesser than the latter.

His advice on how to identify a Radical Muslim today in the West would, with eminently good reason, produce convulsions in the human rights and civil liberties communities:

Now, how to identify a Radical Muslim today in the Western countries? In this regard, there are a number of helpful indices. First, a Radical Muslim is of course a believer, who practices the rituals of Islam. But, this alone is not enough. A Radical Muslim is a man (rarely a woman--perhaps because Prophet Muhammad expressed his skepticism over women's capacity to hold a secret!). A Radical Muslim is constantly in communication with others. He can be a lonely man in the city and locality where he lives, but is with permanent communication with the outside world. Communication goes through mail, e-mail, fax, telephone (mobile and public) and so on. He is also a man who reads much and is generally a quiet person carefully avoiding clashes with the police and other public authorities. He is also traveler, a globetrotter! He is a young man with an average age of 25-27 years. In Southern Europe, Radical Muslims are issued from North Africa (Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia). In the U.K. essentially from Pakistan. In Scandinavia, from Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and Pakistan. Iranian Islamists are working under the auspices of Iranian authorities, generally as diplomatic personnel or as business persons.

It is not explained by Mozaffari how disseminating such a typology could possibly avoid lending itself to racial stereotyping and the emergence of a surveillance society in which people are monitored, tagged and targetted on the basis of their ethnic and age profile. Activities, considered normal in most societies, such as avid reading, e-mailing and avoiding clashes with public authority, are suddenly imputed with sinister and malign intent when indulged in by those with olive skins.

Moreover, if there is any such thing as humanitarian military intervention, the situations which demanded such a course of action - with a stronger claim to it than was ever made on behalf of Iraq - and which were spurned, such as Rwanda in 1994, can only cause many to cast a jaundiced eye over narratives that depict the war in Iraq positively. Whether for purposes of power and security in a world where nation states remain key actors, or for reasons of imperialist expansionism in search of new markets and resources, either of these two strands as explanations governing the Western penetration of Iraq seem more robust and convincing than the notion of helping the natives who for long Western foreign policy exploited.

It is against such a background that the contribution of Mehdi Mozaffari is to be evaluated. He has been at the forefront of resisting Islamicism. His challenge to the theocrats and their fascism feeds into a discourse that is conducive to wider democratisation. But it is difficult to juxtapose within the same conceptual democratic framework his articulation of democratic values alongside the creation of typologies that seriously undermine freedoms ostensibly guaranteed by democracy. Furthermore, his endorsement of the war in Iraq cuts him off from a hinterland of thinking and sentiment, that would otherwise find his activism and writings laudable from a human rights perspective, but suspect when situated midstream of a flowing strategic current, pumped out and directed by those most central to the construction of neoconservative perspectives.

There is much that his critics can learn from Mehdi Mozaffari, not least his insights into the nihilistic content of an eschatological Islamicism. If he in turn is willing to listen to them, in particular to their discourses on the limitations of military intervention as currently structured, a crucial dialogue of dissent may open up, out of which more realistic and humanitarian strategies for human emancipation may burgeon.





See also:

MANIFESTO: Together Facing the New Totalitarianism
Freedom of Speech

Mehdi Mozaffari
Caroline Fourest
Bernard Henry-Levy
Salman Rushdie
Ibn Warraq
Chahla Chafiq
Philippe Val
Antoine Sfeir
Maryam Namazie
Taslima Nasrin
Irshad Manji
Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Considering a Multi-Faceted Approach to the Middle East
A Welcome End
The Blanket, the Cartoons and the End of Left and Right
The Blanket and the Cartoon Controversy: Anthony McIntyre Interviewed
Le « manifeste des douze » fait réagir
English Translation by Liam O Ruairc
BHL: Bernard Henri-Levy
The Muslims America Loves
Freedom of Expression: No Ifs and Buts
Manning the Firewalls
Ulster Muslims' Fury at Web Cartoons
For Freedom of Expression
Muslim News Interviews The Blanket
Who Fears to Speak
Cartoons and Caricatures: An anarchist take on the cartoon row
Taslima Nasrin (2000)
The Clash of the Uncivilized
Misunderstandings Abound
A Vital Question Not Easily Washed Away
Zen and the Heart of Blasphemy
Closer to Home
The Right to Offend
Wrong to Claim Freedom of Speech
The Parameters of Free Speech
Unreal Paradigms
Cowardice on Cartoon Controversary

The Book & Its Meaning
Standing Up to the Enemies of Free Speech
Irish Republicanism and Islam
Real human rights - without any religious blackmail
Resisting Censorship
Controversy over the publication of cartoons
Stereotypes Must Be Challenged Openly
New Convert
About the Possible Posting of the Muslim Cartoons
Well Done
A Muslim's Response
Straight Talk vs Orthodoxy

One Man's Terrorist is Another Man's Prophet
Christ Collage
An Eye for An Eye
Glad to See Someone is Not Afraid
There Are No Sides to Peace
Rights and Responsibilities

Censorship: The Blanket's first article (2001): Silence is Not Golden; It is Complicity



Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles

22 June 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

The Framing of Michael McKevitt
Marcella Sands

Foreward to 'The Framing of Michael McKevitt'
Fr Des Wilson

Demagogues and Demigod
Tommy Gorman

Getting It Tight
John Kennedy

The Restoration of Restorative Justice
Marcel M. Baumann

DUP Analysis
Dr John Coulter

Father Faul
Fr. Sean McManus

Aiden Hulme Repatriation Picket
Paul Doyle

Prison Protest Begins
Republican Prisoners Action Group (RPAG), Republican Sinn Fein, Newry

New Hero, and a Legacy
Dr John Coulter

Charlie's Angel
John Kennedy

The Letters page has been updated.

Profile: Mehdi Mozaffari
Anthony McIntyre

The Blanket, the Cartoons and the End of Left and Right
Gabriel Glickman

The Blanket and the Cartoon Controversy: Anthony McIntyre Interviewed
Martyn Frampton

A Welcome End
Mick Hall

Anthony McIntyre

Freedom of Speech index

14 June 2006

The Mark of Cain
Anthony McIntyre

Debris of the Dirty War
Mick Hall

More Claims
Martin Ingram

Case Unproven
Anthony McIntyre

Chain Gang
John Kennedy

Better to Put the Past Behind US
David Adams

The Gamblers
Dr John Coulter

Diarmaid Ferriter's The Transformation of Ireland
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Profile: Caroline Fourest
Anthony McIntyre

Le «manifeste des douze» fait réagir
Caroline Fourest

Reaction to the Manifesto (English Translation)
Liam O Ruairc

Freedom of Speech index



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