The Iranian-Canadian Industry of Human Rights (Part II)
August 29, 2012
In the second half of this article, we return to Afshin-Jam’s book The Tale of Two Nazanins to briefly unpackage how a lack of intellectual sophistication and integrity has resulted in the exceptionalization of otherwise normative apolitical interventions and the triumph of mediocrity. When Afshin-Jam seeks to connect herself with those she perceives as being the downtrodden and wretched, she only discovers isolation, and when she wants her voice to remain independent and impartial, she is caught in a network of discursive and practical dependence. As emblematic of a dominating segment of the Iranian-Canadian human rights community, this type of condition, when combined with misguided reactions to Iranian-based activities in Canada (i.e. the supposed inroads being made by the Islamic Republic), only helps to instigate forces that seek to expand the West’s exploitative hegemony over the Middle East.
Let us return to the coincidence of names to unpackage this further. Rather than maintaining the pure coincidence of having her first name be the same as a young Iranian woman who was in dire need of communal support, the co-author of The Tale of Two Nazanins attempts to force a false identity. For Hegel, a false identity involves a forced union. “The one subjugates the other. The one rules, the other is subservient. The unity is forced, and forced into a relative identity. The identity which ought to be absolute, is incomplete. Contrary to its philosophy, the system has turned into a dogmatism.” This relative identity is perfectly reflected in an early part of the book when Afshin-Jam, knowing next to nothing about the young woman, wonders “what Nazanin in Iran is looking at.” In point of fact, the former cannot adequately respond to this question without compromising the feeling that was “stir[ring] deep” within her at the time, the sense that there was “some deep connection to this young woman with the same name as me.” It is structurally germane that after posing this question, Afshin-Jam reminisces about memories that are exclusively hers, cut off from Fatehi’s world, and it is in this shift of focus back to the self that we find an indirect answer to the question posed. Afshin-Jam’s take on that which the Iranian Nazanin is looking at is an instance of a subjective reckoning in which a pre-established but factitious sense of unity is shattered by its own incoherence. In other words, she is isolated or ‘independent’ from her–Fatehi’s election by Afshin-Jam was purely arbitrary.
The fundamental cleavage that exists between the two Nazanins at the beginning of the book is precisely what “dogmatism” means for Hegel: “Dogmatism consists in the tenacity which draws a hard and fast line between certain terms and others opposite to them. We may see this clearly in the strict ‘either–or’: for instance, the world is either finite or infinite; but one of these two it must be. The contrary of this rigidity is the characteristic of all Speculative truth.” The arbitrary election of Fatehi was in actuality Afshin-Jam’s own self-election, precisely due to the coincidence of names.
What we are left with is someone who wants to dogmatically assume an organic unity with the world (by identifying with those who are subject to human rights abuses) but by doing so from an independent standpoint. However, she appears to be failing even in this latter respect and it is from here that the first failure we just described becomes possible. On July 25, Afshin-Jam complained that a Maritimes journalist contributed to a trend that has been rendering her nameless due to her high-profile marriage to current Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay and, to a lesser extent, the aforementioned Miss Canada title. Traditionally, the wives of Canadian politicians are meant to be not so much passive, but rather be silent pillars of support for their husbands. Additionally, being crowned Miss Canada has contributed to her political positions becoming concealed behind a facade of appearances (or are they appearances in themselves?). Unfortunately, this runs contrary to the pledge that she made during the Miss World competition that “If I win … I would use my platform to speak on global issues so that people would see our interconnectedness, not our separateness.” While her initial aim (regardless of whether she won or not) was to become interconnected with the wretched, she has in actual fact integrated herself into the impersonal and anonymous world of discursive dependence in which one’s features are expunged under the weight of the watered down injunction to ‘uphold human rights.’ Thus, in those instances where Afshin-Jam wants to be interconnected, she is isolated, and in those instances where she wants to be independent, she is chained to specific ideological norms.
This deadlock, when combined with the irrational compulsion to simply ‘do something,’ has resulted in her becoming complicit in a whole series of measures and machinations that will eventually result in greater hardships for the Iranian people. By adopting the age-old activist mantra to publicize matters as quickly and effectively as possible, Afshin-Jam and her colleagues have sparked the dissemination of platitudes and paranoia, matters that play perfectly into the hands of conservative think-tanks, news organs and governments that are keenly interested in ratcheting up a jingoistic and uncompromising foreign policy which only seeks the full pacification and submission of the Iranian nation.
Unfortunately for us, Iranian-Canadian human rights activists have taken the helm of opposition efforts here in Canada. Activism of this variety is considered to be a profession geared toward social change but due to the sporadic and tediously repetitious nature of the human rights polemic, this profession has been able to reduce the debate to such pathetically narrow and specious parameters that any semblance of a possible creative intervention is deemed counter-productive and menacing.