Saturday, January 05, 2008

Books: An Iranian in India, Encouraging Dialogue

An article in the NY Times An Iranian in India, Encouraging Dialogue about Ramin Jehanbegloo's book: India Revisited: Conversations on Contemporary India, "a collection of 27 interviews with 27 remarkable Indians that the Indian arm of Oxford University Press has just published. The book is ostensibly about Indian subjects — dance, caste, Parsis, democracy — but it inexorably engages many of the issues that vex Mr. Jahanbegloo’s homeland, including tradition, pluralism, the West and freedom."

Kapila Vatsyayan, a cultural historian, offers an elegantly simple explanation of India’s survival. “India has so far demonstrated the capacity to hold together two lifelines, one an original, primal, or indigenous, almost immutable line, and the other of ‘change,’” she tells Mr. Jahanbegloo. “No single unit or dimension is totally ‘insular’ or ‘static.’”
Mr. Jahanbegloo finds this an especially trenchant lesson for Middle Eastern countries, which he says have not been able to accommodate a dialogue of cultures. Instead, he says, they have suffered either a modernization from above, as in the case of Iran under the Shah, or a virulent assertion of fundamentalism from below, as with the Taliban of Afghanistan.
“Iranians, like Arabs, have not been able to digest modernity because they did not find a way to create a permanent dialogue between the two concepts,” he said. “It’s either created authoritarian modernity or authoritarian traditionalism.”
Mr. Jahanbegloo credits Indian thinkers for their “soft reading of modernity, not a violent reaction to it.” Missing from his glowing appraisal is sufficient explanation for the violence that persists in Indian life, whether in the guise of Maoist insurgents or Hindu radicals or home-grown Islamist terrorist groups.
“This is what I think is so important to people of the Middle East, particularly Turks, Iranians and Arabs,” he said. “They want to keep their own identity. They want to be proud of their past. But it’s very important to open up to other cultures. Democracy is a result of this. Democracy is a government of dialogue.”