What does colonial actually mean these days?

I left Iran to pursue an academic career where I could have better access to knowledge and collaborate with international scholars. Instead, I feel increasingly trapped in Germany. My political identity defines my role as a scholar, even in the seemingly democratic, liberated environment of academia.

Projects which depict an oppressed, exotic other – for instance, through examinations of topics such as physical violence in Islamic rituals or the persecution of women in the middle east – tend to be well-received by lecturers and students. But these projects play into deeply problematic expectations of colonial narrative. My friends have joked that I should take my camera to a village and film a strange ritual, and my career would be solid as a rock.

It’s not just academia where the colonial gaze drives how we work.

Germany? Iran? Colonial?

Actually, Iran, colonial? Well, maybe Arabs, Turks, Mongols, but that’s not usually what we mean, is it?

13 comments on “What does colonial actually mean these days?

  1. Look, Western culture must be undermined and eventually destroyed. They aren’t going to get this done by examining the dirty washing of other cultures; hence, it is racist and colonialist to do so. What those two words actually mean is irrelevant.

    Academia should return to its core aim.

  2. Sadaf “I want to research material and sensory perceptions of home, in a way that is unrelated to immigration or asylum.”

    Herr Sheiskopf.: das vaterland? We tend to leave that one alone around here. Plenty of interest in what all the recent arrivals perceptions are though.

    Sadaf: eff that i’m off to write for the guardian about by perception of the Germans relating to immigration or asylum.

    (post script – actually apart from the snowflakey aspect, i applaud Sadaf’s stated intent of just trying to investigate stuff without linking it to her own baggage – bigod she’s an exception in that regard.)

  3. I’m sorry to appear to be an unreconstructed old bigot, but my first thought on reading the article was “third-rate academic looking to find somewhere to apportion the blame for failure”.

    The fact that it is in the field of “social sciences” virtually implies second-ratism at best.

  4. even in the seemingly democratic, liberated environment of academia.

    HA HA HAHAHAHAHAAH.

    Yerwot?

    Wow. An environment characterised by gatekeepers with huge power, groupthink and the suppression of different viewpoints? Strange definition of “democratic” and “liberated” there…

  5. Democratic? I don’t remember ever having a vote on university policies and practices when I was a student.

  6. People remain patriotic about the countries of their birth, often depite ( or because ) of the ruling regime.

    I had a friend who is of Persian descent, but has lived nearly her whole life in USA and Germany . Her father was a doctor who married a German lady and left Iran during the Shah’s reign, but she has no truck with the mullahs.

    In a heated exchange ( being the Zionist that I am ), I said that Iran was a country run by maniacs for whom blowing up the world was a small price to pay for destroying Israel.

    She hasn’t spoken to me since, except for rather frosty e-mails.

    ps I have to admit to some ambivalence towards Iran’s plans to blow up Saudi Arabia.

  7. ‘… democratic, liberated environment…’

    In anything or anywhere in authoritarian, order-obeying, guilt-ridden, anally retentive Germany?

  8. “Instead of working on your current topic,” the professor continued, “why don’t you base your research on why Iranians remain in Germany in search of freedom and safety? Some 50 years ago, our women fought for their rights – and if we had escaped our country then, like you did, we wouldn’t be here right now.”

    Them Germans are some smart people.

    ‘I was bewildered.’

    Cos you aren’t used to dealing with smart people.

    ‘I left Iran to pursue an academic career where I could have better access to knowledge and collaborate with international scholars.’

    Bullshit. You left Iran because of oppression of women.

    ‘I wanted to research material and sensory perceptions of home, in a way that was unrelated to immigration or asylum.’

    You wanted to characterize Iran as a nice place for women.

    ‘I don’t deny that endemic suffering exists in certain parts of the world. But I believe that repeatedly characterising national states, races or religions as dangerous or unsafe leads to the negative assumptions which drive international attitudes and policy-making.’

    So oppression of women is okay.

    I see an invader looking to destroy Western Civilization.

    ‘My political identity defines my role as a scholar, even in the seemingly democratic, liberated environment of academia.’

    You care nothing for democracy or liberation; you wish to destroy them.

    ‘I don’t deny that endemic suffering exists in certain parts of the world. But I believe that repeatedly characterising national states, races or religions as dangerous or unsafe leads to the negative assumptions which drive international attitudes and policy-making.’

    The Mullahs couldn’t have said it better. Iran is dangerous and unsafe. She is telling us to disregard reality. Germany should deport her as a dangerous insurgent. She displays the cognitive dissonance of her home being a nice place in spite of utter religious constraint. Her solution is to get you to believe it is a nice place.

  9. @Gamecock

    I’m not sure that she wanted to push a view of the home in the middle east. If we look at what the prof said

    “If you decide to stay in Europe and enjoy your freedom here instead of going back, nothing will change. So why don’t you consider going back to your country?”

    I’d guess that she wanted to make a movie about kitchens and gender roles in Germany. Not surprising really, since boring crap about migrants and oppressed people in Iran is a niche business, whereas being an avant garde gender studies feminist in Germany has a wider audience. The author’s problem is that she is seen to have a comparative advantage in the former.

    The rest of the whinging about oppression etc in the middle east is more about the fact that some messages sell (or the suits think they sell) – so good news stories about female musicians in Iran not exciting, oppression exciting. Possibly true, but really cover for her inability to persuade her supervisor to back her jump into the mainstream of oppression studies rather than the backwater of the middle east.

    And reading her stuff closely, she really does mean “Orientalist”. For someone with a doctorate she really is careless in her use of words. (possibly because her doctorate is in video malarky).

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