For the past decade or so, Hamid Dabashi, the increasingly prolific Iranian-born but New York-based sociologist of religion and cultural critic, has been working on an ideology of resistance that defies the new globalised world order and challenges the allegedly inevitable Clash of Civilisations thesis. Samuel Huntington’s proposition is supposed to have replaced the East-West binary of the Cold War Era, as well as the colonial and postcolonial North-South divide, with an irremediable dichotomy between Islam and the West. Rejecting such projections as outcomes of the totalising aspirations of both Enlightenment modernity and parallel tendencies found in Islamist ideologies, Dabashi has developed a counter narrative. The books published between 2006 and 2013 offer a contrarian – and often counterintuitive – account of an emerging world order that is no longer just postcolonial and postmodern, but also post-Orientalist, post-western and post-Islamist. Dabashi’s interpretation declares the metaphysics of identity underlying the binary of Islam vs the West outdated. With that, it also renders obsolete the epistemologies that have so far shaped the Eurocentric understanding of historical events and that have informed ideologies like Bolshevism, but in equal measure the two-hundred years of Islamic responses to colonisation and subjugation in the name of Enlightenment modernity. All these regimes of knowledge have not just totalising ambitions, but also harbour totalitarian tendencies.
By way of alternative, Dabashi formulates an oppositional discourse imaginatively attuned to the new geography of what has become in effect a decentred world. Facing a truly global form of ‘Empire’ without any identifiable epicentre or gravitational point. Dabashi adopts Negri and Hardt’s term, but criticises their exposition as ‘pathologically Eurocentric’. In a similar vein, he dismisses Julia Kristeva and Susan Sontag’s writings on ‘the phenomenon code-named globalisation’ as provincially European, because in this new world order the colonial is as much in the metropolis as the metropolis in the colonial. Instead, Dabashi sides with Arundhati Roy, Judith Butler, and W.E.B. Du Bois. Their writings open up the prospect of an emancipatory remapping in which the binaries of centre-periphery and coloniser-colonised collapse along with the meta-narratives of nationalism, liberalism and Islamism.
In relation to the Muslim world, Dabashi’s mission is to replace the metaphysics of identity with a hermeneutics of alterity, which he presents as a cross-cultural and non-essentialist ‘guerrilla’ ideology opposed to the nomocentric orientation of Islamism, as well as the logocentric and homocentric aspects of Islam’s philosophical and mystical traditions. Aside from a new geography of liberation, this decentred world also needs a new language. Dabashi suggests that, historically, this has been best articulated in the cultural traditions of Muslim literary humanism – or what is called adab in Arabic. In his two latest books, The World of Persian Literary Humanism and Persophilia, Dabashi showcases Persia’s heritage of poetry as exhibiting the worldly cosmopolitanism, which he considers the most suitable disposition for that decentred ‘post-everything’ world.