Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Militant Zoroastrianism?

If we want to know why the Middle East has been subject to such political tumult in the past fifty years, we must enumerate and dissect some of the perverse ideologies and currents of political thought which have dominated the region. I thought it would be useful to take a critical look at some of these trends as well as propose several alternatives to existing ideological frameworks. Political ideologues, student activists, Thomas Friedman, and others invested in changing the political configuration of the Middle East (read: the Kurds) have been myopic in their assessment and have not embraced the more radical (possibly “subversive”) alternatives. Borrowing on Arkoun who writes about Islamic reform, I wanted to excavate the “unthought” in Middle Eastern political thought in order to find a new way forward. Below, I have proposed a couple of alternatives to Arab nationalism, Islamism, and secular authoritarianism.


If Islam really is hindering political and economic reform, why not embrace a more ancient, positively bizarre religion originating in the Middle East. Not only do most people not understand Zoroastrianism, its primary liturgical text is so opaque and strange that it could never give rise to a orthodox interpretation: there is no Zoroastrian equivalent of the Wahhabism or of jihad (trial by fire?) simply because nobody really has any idea what the Avesta actually says. The rise of Pan-Zoroastrianism would allow Iran to find its roots in its pre-Islamic glory days of Darius and Cyprus, while the Arab states would be able to capitalize on their oil reserves by organizing an enormous regional oil fire. Zoroastrianism is also monotheistic, so in that sense, it wouldn’t involve a radical shift in theology for anybody except upper-class Turks, who have no religion besides Europe-worship. Lastly, with the embrace of Pan-Zoroastrianism, Iran’s central role in the new regional configuration would be tacitly recognized without a brouhaha erupting over its religious differences with the rest of the region. However, Middle Eastern Studies centers in the U.S. and the Central Intelligence Agency would surely find themselves scrambling given the small number of specialists trained in Avestan language and ancient Iranian civilization.


A new ummah formed on the basis of adherence to an enlightened, father-like leader would resolve the problem of political authority in the Middle East and in the Islamic world more generally. The problem that afflicts Middle Eastern politics is not secular authoritarianism as such: it is that there are too many secular dictators who have shown themselves unable to coordinate with each other and who have made a half-hearted attempt to coopt Islam (read: Mubarak). Already president of the African Union, Qaddafi would be able to infuse the region with a stronger sense of anti-Americanism based on colonial and neocolonial grievances while he would also crystallize the absurdity of the pan-Arab political imaginary. The problem of illiteracy in the Arab world would disappear almost overnight as the Green Book and accompanying commentaries would be disseminated to elementary schools and Egyptian ministry offices alike. Far more interesting reading than Orhan Pamuk or Syed Qutb, the Green Book would give rise to a new literati based in Tripoli who would be able to move the revolution forward, one authoritarian step at a time. The only potential drawback of this new ideology is that it would not prepare the region for long-lasting but benign American hegemony imposed at the end of a barrel. Freedom hating would become the new national (transnational) sport of the Middle East and the freedom-haters and evil doers would find themselves reveling in their newfound unity (tawhid).

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