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IRAN: Ebrahim/Simon

Thursday, April 27, 2006


Your mention of deserts reminded me of a strange text (brilliant too I think) by the German philosopher Immanuel Kant in which he is discussing the right of strangers to visit the society of others: a right to hospitality, or as Kant puts it, negatively, 'the right of a stranger not to be treated with hostility when he arrives on someone else's territory'. (I suddenly wonder: where are we now, here?). Anyway, Kant says this:

'All men are entitled to present themselves in the society of others by virtue of their right to communal possession of the earth's surface. Since the earth is a globe, they cannot disperse over an infinite area, but must tolerate one another's company. And no one originally has any greater right than anyone else to occupy any portion of the earth. The community of man is divided by uninhabitable parts of the earth's surface such as oceans and deserts, but even then the ship and the camel (the ship of the desert) makes it possible for them to approach their fellows over these ownerless tracts, and to utilize as a means of social intercourse that right to the earth's surface which the human race shares in common.'

There are three things that strike me here.

First, that the deserts are not regarded as part of man's 'communal possession' even if they are within the boundary of a state (and the same would be true of the 'waters' (sea-spaces) that states may regard as 'within' their territory). The 'communal possession' is only that part of the earth's surface which human beings inhabit non-nomadically. Imagine them all scattered in various concentrations over the globe: wherever feet touch the surface in the mode of settled 'dwelling there' or settled 'being at home', wherever there is what Kant calls 'residence' on some part of the surface of the earth, there we can outline the space on the globe of that communal possession for which any man should be granted the right to visit 'so long as he behaves in a peaceable manner in the place he happens to be'.

Second, what is common here is strictly, literally, superficial: the surface. Everything above the surface; institutions, architecture, construction, in general 'culture' and hence also, today more than ever, what you aptly called 'the scientific environment' (and, as you suggest, everything that 'takes place' in this superficial place - or does not 'take place' there - depends on this non-natural environment) is not naturally common property and there are (we know) different regimes of 'rights of access' here. What is naturally common is only the (non-nomadically habitable) natural surface.

Third, doesn't this all suggest that Kant does not consider that the right of hospitality might be rooted in something like a nomadic right (something I think that Islam might more confidently acknowledge)? And is that right so superficial?

posted by Simon @ 2:40 pm    0 comments


Although I've always been considering Iran's climate as one of the most varied ones in the world, your post about the changing weather in a specific place during a day really surprised me.
A specific aspect of Iran's climate is its dry deserts which I think European people are not so familiar with. Two vast deserts in my country are "Dasht-e-Kavir" and "Kavir-e-Lout" that are gray colored in the middle and eastern parts of Iran's map I've already uploaded.
Here are some pictures of deserts in Iran:
(Sourse: CHN photo agency)

posted by ebraz @ 11:23 am    0 comments

Scientific Environment

My mind has been engaged with your post about politics of friendship more than the others. I'm not only talking about the interesting notes you had written in "Politics of Friendship", but also - and specially- a reality behind your notes, your books and all the scientific pieces that are being published day to day. What I'm more concerned with in this matter is a considerable difference between our two countries in the scientific environment.

What turns a country into a pleasant and pioneer environment in science - I think- depends on the institutions involved in this matter.

The first and the most important institution is the degree of interrelation between the academicians in a society. Universities, seminars, journals and books are the most dominant institutions in this respect. The last two are effective tools for academicians to get related to each other. On the other hand, universities can provide some academic relation between the two generations of professors and their students. These two, altogether cause a more permanent growth in science. The reading and writing cycles you mentioned are important indices expressing an active scientific environment in your society - or at least in your mind as an academician of that society.

Although the existence of these foundations is a necessary condition for making a sustainable and continuous path in the science, it is not sufficient. While universities, journals and books can be seen in a lot of countries, they don't have the same performance. For instant, there is a significant difference between them in the number of published scientific pieces as an index for performance of scientists. This is what can be considered as a major distinction among countries in their scientific.

Another institution in this respect is the interrelation between the academic institutions and the society as a whole. Generally speaking, academic organizations are researching to find some methods to facilitate the people's life, so people are willing to finance their activities. Supposing that government as a representative is responsible for mastering this relation, the government policies will turn into an important factor in the scientific institutions in a country. In this point any inefficiency in government systems will affect the science environment.

In my country not only the interrelation among academicians is not so effectual, but also there is not any firm government policy toward improvement of academics systems. On the other hand, although our society is paying the price of establishing and maintaining these institutions in the country, the payoffs are insignificant.

posted by ebraz @ 9:57 am    0 comments

Monday, April 24, 2006

Back to Work

I came into the LSE today for the start of term. I confess that it is a relief to be relieved of looking after the children at home...

At British universities most of the Summer term is taken up with examinations so my teaching duties are light. I have to take some revision classes - and mark exam scripts later, but that is about all.

Somehow time always gets filled up and one finds one still has 'no time'.

At the moment I am looking through applications for a new degree programme which is starting up next year called 'European Identities'. One of the basic questions for that degree is: Where does Europe end? This is a particularly sharp issue at the moment because of the rapid expnasion of the European Union, and the 'Turkey issue' is massive in that. I have always wanted to hold apart questions like 'What is Europe?' from questions concerning membership of the European Union - but that can never be a simple distinction and I find it all extremely hard to think through well. Do you have a view as to whether it would be either good or right for Turkey to join the European Union?

posted by Simon @ 12:34 pm    0 comments

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Politics of Friendship

The new term starts on Monday and I have returned to my office after the break. When I got back from the Peak District I had 173 emails to attend to. By 'attend to' I mean, mainly, 'delete'. So it did not take too long.

I have recently finished two book projects. One on 'The Idea of Continental Philosophy' which will be coming out with Edinburgh University Press in the next few months and a much larger project called 'The Movement of Phenomenology' which (I hope) Routledge will publish later in the year.

Having come to the end of a period of writing I am giving myself some time for reading. I have not read much in the area of political philosophy before, so I thought I should do something about that - espeically now I am in a European Institute and not just a philosophy department.

To make a start I started close to places I already am. I have read alot by the Algerian born French thinker Jacques Derrida and began by reading his last book 'Rogues' which is about so-called 'rogue states'. It is a brilliant critique of the concept - and the political reality that comes with it.

That book contained a number of references to other books which I then followed up - the most interesting of which was to an earlier book, also by Derrida, called 'Politics of Friendship'. Why talk of politics in this context? Because the friendship relation has, forever, been conceived as a relation between equals and so has served in the European tradition as a kind of model for democracy.

One of the most interesting aspects of the book was the way it mapped out the tendency, at least in Europe, to identify 'the friend' with 'the brother' - the brother here being construed non-naturally of course, but the supposedly natural relation is not utterly negligible: there is a strong impulse to suppose (political) 'brothers' are connected to each other by some kind of quasi-natural tie (of blood, of nation, of people).

Derrida looked at how the friend, and the politics of friendship (democracy) has then been conceived as a distinctively 'virile' concern, the concern of (virtuous) men (the concern of brothers and so not sisters and not women in general, and so not between women and men either). He wanted to ask whether one could think an equality and a friendship outside that 'androcentric' order.

At the end of the book there is a passing reference to 'Moslem brothers' which suggested that a comparable structure belongs to traditions other than the Greco-Christian one Derrida is focusing on in his book - but (wisely no doubt) he did not try to insist on that.

Another notable aspect of the book was the way it engaged with a text which represents or expresses a deep current of European political thinking: one which sees the concept of the political in terms of the friend/enemy contrast. In the European tradition that is in play there (no one will be suprised to see that we are still right in this today too, the signs are everywhere), this contrast is peculiarly fundamental because the 'enemy' is defined as a state (always a state) with whom the 'real possibility' of 'actual conflict' (ie killing, death) arises.

Derrida tries to show that this friend/enemy contrast is internal to and also emerges out of the conception of the friend as the brother. The brother, that is, is also 'the other' with whom the possibility of enmity is 'real'. (How many stories of brothers killing brothers are there in the world?)

Again the crucial question is whether we can retain a politics of friendship beyond the classical embedding of it within a 'fraternal' relation. Crucial, that is, if we are still democrats - committed to equality and the finitude of every institution.

He finishes the book with a revision of a classical or canonical saying attributed (in a way mistakenly) to Aristotle (we can come back to Aristotle another time - his great text 'Politics' is, I understand, not in the Islamic archive): 'Oh my friends, there is no friend.'

Derrida closes his book with a call (a hailing, a conjuration even) to a democracy to come:

'Oh my democractic friends...'

posted by Simon @ 9:36 am    0 comments

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Talking about the weather

Sorry not to have been able to get online.

I have spent a week away with my family in an area in the middle of England called the Peak District.

I will tell you more about it when I have a chance to write a proper post - but I wanted to make a quick comparison with the weather variation in Iran.

As you know the British are famous for talking endlessly about the weather. There may be many reasons for this but one is this: we have weather (not a climate). And one of the features of our holiday in the Peak District was the variation in the weather. In fact, on one day we had all four seasons: a spring morning turned windy and autumnal, then wintry snow and hail followed by a warm and summery afternoon. Ah that's British weather for you.

I'll write again soon.

posted by Simon @ 5:35 pm    0 comments

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The North of Iran

Before writing about my trip, it would be useful to have a look to Iran's climate. Maybe I could share my sense better, in this way.
Iran is mostly considered as an arid or semiarid country, but because of its size and variety of altitude, it undergoes great extremes of climates. It can be experienced all four season in Iran at the same time. For instance in these days the weather in northwestern regions is really cold ,while a hot weather can be experienced in the southern sections and temperate climate can be seen in many other places. Anyway, the mildest weather and greenest land can be seen in the North of Iran, where is surrounded by Caspian sea from the north and Alborz mountains from the south.
Tehran is situated below the Alborz mountains and pretty close to the North,where we spent our holiday. To arrive there, we drove more than five hours along the mountains. The mountains that are rather drain in Tehran side, snow covered overhead and completely mild and green in the other side.
Some pictures have reminded in my mind in this trip; windy seaside with a lot of people walking there ( eager but no dare to swim due to the cold weather) , jungle with fresh and shiny colors and newly budded trees, some long waterfalls in the jungle that I never forget them, small villages and their beautiful houses, dense farms, ranches and gardens along the way in various colors, fires that I made for barbecued chicken , specially the ones made in the jungle, ... , and some crowded roads particularly in some large cities.
Not only were people completely fresh and merry, but also the nature was clean, fresh and shining. The harmony of new year celebration with nature rebirth could be seen everywhere .

posted by ebraz @ 11:00 am    0 comments

Sunday, April 02, 2006

London Cycles

Welcome back to the Blog!

I look forward to hearing what you did on your break. Term finished last week at the LSE as well, so now I am writing this from home instead of from my office at work.

I would usually be surrounded by my three noisy children but today there are five children here because friends of ours came over with their two children for dinner yesterday and stayed for the night.

They are quite old friends and used to live close to us here in London. Last year they moved out - as many people do - to a small village in the countryside. I envy them their peace and quiet - they envy me life in the fast lane of London.

This is not a tradition or a custom but there is something deeply ritualistic about the cycles of life in and around London. For many generations, young people have come to London to start their adult careers. Many will meet and marry and start a family. The very wealthy can afford to stay in London and make use of very expensive private schools, but most families start to think about moving out of London when their eldest children are approaching their tenth birthday - and so are coming to the end of Primary School and their parents are thinking about what to do next. As I say, many move out to villages and small towns in the countryside near London.

As they move out so new people move in. London cycles itself, absorbing and then expelling from itself what lets it work.

At present there is a question whether Anglo-Saxon white people are moving in and out in the same ritual pattern as previously or whether London is moving into a new - and very traditional and cyclical - stage of immigrant re-configuration. I said - uncomfortably - 'Anglo-Saxon white' - because the new immigrants are not only from the Moslem and particularly the Arab world (though a fair proportion are, and there are many more Arabic-style Moslem dress-codes and norms on show in London today, an Arabification that I know some of the Pakistani's round here who have been in London a lot longer are having to come to terms with) or from the West Indies (very few arrive now and some older folk go back to the islands of their birth or leave to suburban districts - in West London where I live there are fewer black families than there were fifteen years ago) but from the new member states of the European Union, especially Poland.

It is funny seeing shops owned by Pakistani families putting up signs saying the are 'specialists in Polish food'. This is London.


posted by Simon @ 9:08 am    1 comments

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