Friday, February 16, 2007

Ahmadinejad's Discourse

First of all I would like to thank Al S. E. for providing a comment with a pointer to quotes from Iran's President Ahmadinejad. I think this is one of the best ways to pursue what, in an earlier post, I called "the way of Berlin" (which might also be called "the way of Appiah"); and, in the interest of following that way I would add to the quotes compiled that far the transcript of the interview that Ahmadinejad gave to Diane Sawyer. This transcript may be valuable, in part, because it is not a collection of excerpts; but, in all fairness, its value depends heavily on the reliability of the translation. Unfortunately, I am in no position to judge that reliability; and, presumably, any Farsi speaker watching the broadcast would not have been able to hear the original text very well (if at all). So, unless another version of the transcript is released by another source, what ABC provided is all we have.

Having said all of that by way of disclaimer, I can now put on my text-analysis hat! There is much to impress the reader here. Since the adjective "articulate" has become off limits, let me appeal to the Medieval Trivium and admire Ahmadinejad's command of both logic and rhetoric. (His grammar can only be evaluated in the original text.) Nevertheless, my initial examination of the texts revived a question I had raised about the "Presidential material" of the would-be candidates for our own forthcoming election. That question can also be attributed to "the way of Berlin," this time with respect to his "Political Judgement" essay. In this context I would argue that, while logic and rhetoric may be as important in today's classroom as they were when the Trivium was constituted, the classroom is not the political arena; and this is particularly important where logic is involved. It is not that we should disregard logic but that, in the worlds of politics and diplomacy, the force of logic inevitably gets pushed into the background, partly by rhetoric but more substantially by action. Thus, while President Ahmadinejad can be very skillful in his post hoc accounts of actions that many members of the world community (not just Americans) have taken as provocative, whether he likes it or not, those accounts take a back seat to the actions themselves. This is why Berlin's essay identifies Bismarck as a paradigm of political judgment while making it clear that there was nothing particular memorable about Bismarck's intellect!

Here again, however, we have to be fair about the limits of our understanding of what Habermas has called the "action situation" in Iran. Actions, after all, result from decisions; and, to draw upon recent White House jargon, we really do not know who the key "deciders" are in Iran. We do know that there are parallel political authorities, one secular and one religious. We also know that, while Ahmadinejad is the secular authority, he is a man of deep religious conviction, not likely to oppose the religious authority. This is not to reduce him to an apologist for actions over which he has little, if any, control but simply to call out our own ignorance of how decisions are made in Iran. At this deeper level of understanding, Ahmadinejad's texts, whether in translation or in the original Farsi, may not tell us as much as we would like!

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