Orientalism 101

Here’s an oldie but goodie from today’s Wikileaks release.  I’m quite sure that somewhere Edward Said is doing reverse backflips in his grave.

This is a pretty gosh darn appalling cable from the negotiations during the hostage crisis in 1979.  I’m not quite sure why it was classified until today, but that’s for another day.

 INTRODUCTION: RECENT NEGOTIATIONS IN WHICH THE
EMBASSY HAS BEEN INVOLVED HERE, RANGING FROM COMPOUND
SECURITY TO VISA OPERATIONS TO GTE TO THE SHERRY CASE,
HIGHLIGHT SEVERAL SPECIAL FEATURES OF CONDUCTING
BUSINESS IN THE PERSIAN ENVIRONMENT. IN SOME INSTANCES
THE DIFFICULTIES WE HAVE ENCOUNTERED ARE A PARTIAL
REFLECTION ON THE EFFECTS OF THE IRANIAN REVOLUTION,
BUT WE BELIEVE THE UNDERLYING CULTURAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL
QUALITIES THAT ACCOUNT FOR THE NATURE OF THESE DIFFICULTIES
ARE AND WILL REMAIN RELATIVELY CONSTANT. THEREFORE,
WE SUGGEST THAT THE FOLLOWING ANALYSIS BE USED TO BRIEF
BOTH USG PERSONNEL AND PRIVATE SECTOR REPRESENTATIVES
WHO ARE REQUIRED TO DO BUSINESS WITH AND IN THIS
COUNTRY. END INTRODUCTION. 

3. PERHAPS THE SINGLE DOMINANT ASPECT OF THE PERSIAN
PSYCHE IS AN OVERRIDING EGOISM. ITS ANTECEDENTS LIE
IN THE LONG IRANIAN HISTORY OF INSTABILITY AND INSECURITY
WHICH PUT A PREMIUM ON SELF-PRESERVATION. THE PRACTICAL
EFFECT OF IT IS AN ALMOST TOTAL PERSIAN PREOCCUPATION
WITH SELF AND LEAVES LITTLE ROOM FOR UNDERSTANDING POINTS
OF VIEW OTHER THAN ONE'S OWN. THUS, FOR EXAMPLE, IT
IS INCOMPREHENSIBLE TO AN IRANIAN THAT U.S. IMMIGRATION
LAW MAY PROHIBIT ISSUING HIM A TOURIST VISA WHEN HE HAS
DETERMINED THAT HE WANTS TO LIVE IN CALIFORNIA.
SIMILARLY, THE IRANIAN CENTRAL BANK SEES NO INCONSISTENCY
IN CLAIMING FORCE MAJEURE TO AVOID PENALTIES FOR LATE
PAYMENT OF INTEREST DUE ON OUTSTANDING LOANS WHILE THE
GOVERNMENT OF WHICH IT IS A PART IS DENYING THE VAILIDITY
OF THE VERY GROUNDS UPON WHICH THE CLAIM IS MADE WHEN
CONFRONTED BY SIMILAR CLAIMS FROM FOREIGN FIRMS FORCED
TO CEASE OPERATIONS DURING THE IRANIAN REVOLUTION. 

4. THE REVERSE OF THIS PARTICULAR PSYCHOLOGICAL COIN,
AND HAVING THE SAME HISTORICAL ROOTS AS PERSIAN EGOISM,
IS A PERVASIVE UNEASE ABOUT THE NATURE OF THE WORLD IN
WHICH ONE LIVES. THE PERSIAN EXPERIENCE HAS BEEN THAT
NOTHING IS PERMANENT AND IT IS COMMONLY PERCEIVED THAT
HOSTILE FORCES ABOUND. IN SUCH AN ENVIRONMENT EACH
INDIVIDUAL MUST BE CONSTANTLY ALERT FOR OPPORTUNITIES
TO PROTECT HIMSELF AGAINST THE MALEVOLENT FORCES THAT
WOULD OTHERWISE BE HIS UNDOING. HE IS OBVIOUSLY
JUSTIFIED IN USING ALMOST ANY MEANS AVAILABLE TO EXPLOIT
SUCH OPPORTUNITIES. THIS APPROACH UNDERLIES THE SOCALLED
"BAZAAR MENTALITY" SO COMMON AMONG PERSIANS, A
MIND-SET THAT OFTEN IGNORES LONGER TERM INTERESTS IN
FAVOR OF IMMEDIATELY OBTAINABLE ADVANTAGES AND COUNTENANCES
PRACTICES THAT ARE REGARDED AS UNETHICAL BY OTHER
NORMS. AN EXAMPLE IS THE SEEMINGLY SHORTSIGHTED AND
HARASSING TACTICS EMPLOYED BY THE PGOI IN ITS NEGOTIATIONS
WITH GTE. 

5. COUPLED WITH THESE PSYCHOLOGICAL LIMITATIONS IS A
GENERAL INCOMPREHENSION OF CASUALITY. ISLAM, WITH ITS
EMPHASIS ON THE OMNIPOTENCE OF GOD, APPEARS TO ACCOUNT
AT LEAST IN MAJOR PART FOR THIS PHENOMENON. SOMEWHAT
SURPRISINGLY, EVEN THOSE IRANIANS EDUCATED IN THE
WESTERN STYLE AND PERHAPS WITH LONG EXPERIENCE OUTSIDE
IRAN ITSELF FREQUENTLY HAVE DIFFICULTY GRASPING THE
INTER-RELATIONSHIP OF EVENTS. WITNESS A YAZDI RESISTING
THE IDEA THAT IRANIAN BEHAVIOR HAS CONSEQUENCES ON THE
PERCEPTION OF IRAN IN THE U.S. OR THAT THIS PERCEPTION
IS SOMEHOW RELATED TO AMERICAN POLICIES REGARDING
IRAN. THIS SAME QUALITY ALSO HELPS EXPLAIN PERSIAN
AVERSION TO ACCEPTING RESPONSIBILITY FOR ONE'S OWN
ACTIONS. THE DEUS EX MACHINA IS ALWAYS AT WORK. 

6. THE PERSIAN PROCLIVITY FOR ASSUMING THAT TO SAY
SOMETHING IS TO DO IT FURTHER COMPLICATES MATTERS.
AGAIN, YAZDI CAN EXPRESS SURPRISE WHEN INFORMED THAT THE
IRREGULAR SECURITY FORCES ASSIGNED TO THE EMBASSY REMAIN
IN PLACE. "BUT THE CENTRAL COMMITTEE TOLD ME THEY
WOULD GO BY MONDAY," HE SAYS. AN MFA OFFICIAL REPORTS
THAT THE SHERRY CASE IS "90 PERCENT SOLVED," BUT WHEN
A CONSULAR OFFICER INVESTIGATES HE DISCOVERS THAT NOTHING
HAS CHANGED. THERE IS NO RECOGNITION THAT INSTRUCTIONS
MUST BE FOLLOWED UP, THAT COMMITMENTS MUST BE ACCOMPANIED
BY ACTION AND RESULTS. 

6. FINALLY, THERE ARE THE PERSIAN CONCEPTS OF INFLUENCE
AND OBLIGATION. EVERYONE PAYS OBEISANCE TO THE FORMER
AND THE LATTER IS USUALLY HONORED IN THE BREACH.
PERSIANS ARE CONSUMED WITH DEVELOPING PARTI BAZI--THE
INFLUENCE THAT WILL HELP GET THINGS DONE--WHILE FAVORS
ARE ONLY GRUDGINGLY BESTOWED AND THEN JUST TO THE
EXTENT THAT A TANGIBLE QUID PRO QUO IS IMMEDIATELY
PRECEPTIBLE. FORGET ABOUT ASSISTANCE PROFERRED LAST
YEAR OR EVEN LAST WEEK; WHAT CAN BE OFFERED TODAY? 

7. THERE ARE SEVERAL LESSONS FOR THOSE WHO WOULD NEGOTIATE
WITH PERSIANS IN ALL THIS: 

- --FIRST, ONE SHOULD NEVER ASSUME THAT HIS SIDE OF
THE ISSUE WILL BE RECOGNIZED, LET ALONE THAT IT WILL
BE CONCEDED TO HAVE MERITS. PERSIAN PREOCCUPATION WITH
SELF PRECLUDES THIS. A NEGOTIATOR MUST FORCE RECOGNITION
OF HIS POSITION UPON HIS PERSIAN OPPOSITE NUMBER. 

- --SECOND, ONE SHOULD NOT EXPECT AN IRANIAN READILY
TO PERCEIVE THE ADVANTAGES OF A LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP
BASED ON TRUST. HE WILL ASSUME THAT HIS OPPOSITE
NUMBER IS ESSENTIALLY AN ADVERSARY. IN DEALING WITH
HIM HE WILL ATTEMPT TO MAXIMIZE THE BENEFITS TO HIMSELF
THAT ARE IMMEDIATELY OBTAINABLE. HE WILL BE PREPARED
TO GO TO GREAT LENGTHS TO ACHIEVE THIS GOAL, INCLUDING
RUNNING THE RISK OF SO ALIENATING WHOEVER HE IS DEALING
WITH THAT FUTURE BUSINESS WOULD BE UNTHINKABLE, AT
LEAST TO THE LATTER. 

- --THIRD, INTERLOCKING RELATIONSHIPS OF ALL ASPECTS
OF AN ISSUE MUST BE PAINSTAKINGLY, FORECEFULLY AND
REPEATEDLY DEVELOPED. LINKAGES WILL BE NEITHER READILY
COMPREHENDED NOR ACCEPTED BY PERSIAN NEGOTIATORS. 

- --FOURTH, ONE SHOULD INSIST ON PERFORMANCE AS THE
SINE QUA NON AT ESH STAGE OF NEGOTIATIONS. STATEMENTS
OF INTENTION COUNT FOR ALMOST NOTHING. 

- --FIFTH, CULTIVATION OF GOODWILL FOR GOODWILL'S SAKE
IS A WASTE OF EFFORT. THE OVERRIDING OBJECTIVE AT ALL
TIMES SHOULD BE IMPRESSING UPON THE PERSIAN ACROSS THE
TABLE THE MUTUALITY OF THE PROPOSED UNDERTAKINGS, HE
MUST BE MADE TO KNOW THAT A QUID PRO QUO IS INVOLVED
ON BOTH SIDES. 

- --FINALLY, ONE SHOULD BE PREPARED FOR THE THREAT
OF BREAKDOWN IN NEGOTIATIONS AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT AND NOT
BE COWED BY THE POSSIBLITY. GIVEN THE PERSIAN
NEGOTIATOR'S CULTURAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL LIMITATIONS, HE
IS GOING TO RESIST THE VERY CONCEPT OF A RATIONAL
(FROM THE WESTERN POINT OF VIEW) NEGOTIATING PROCESS.

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  1. #1 by tinadot on December 2, 2010 - 3:41 AM

    I came across this document earlier, and as a Persian, I fully lol’d at this: ” PERHAPS THE SINGLE DOMINANT ASPECT OF THE PERSIAN
    PSYCHE IS AN OVERRIDING EGOISM. ITS ANTECEDENTS LIE
    IN THE LONG IRANIAN HISTORY OF INSTABILITY AND INSECURITY
    WHICH PUT A PREMIUM ON SELF-PRESERVATION. THE PRACTICAL
    EFFECT OF IT IS AN ALMOST TOTAL PERSIAN PREOCCUPATION
    WITH SELF AND LEAVES LITTLE ROOM FOR UNDERSTANDING POINTS”
    OF VIEW OTHER THAN ONE’S OWN.”

    Being totally full of pride for my nation etc etc….that quote is spot on lol

    What other wikileak articles have you looked at?

  2. #2 by tinadot on December 2, 2010 - 3:46 AM

    Also lol @ edward said comment 😛 he indeed is…

  3. #3 by Keith Spillett on December 2, 2010 - 1:54 PM

    This article illustrates a pretty bizarre mentality (as opposed to the bazaar mentality that was referred to in the cable). It strongly reminded me of some of the descriptions of Mohammed Mossaedegh used by US diplomats when they were trying to make the case that the dude was a stone cold lunatic and couldn’t be reasoned with. Stephen Kinzer has some great examples in his amazing book “All The Shah’s Men”. With this sort of pseudo-psychology masquerading as insight I’m surprised the hostages ever got freed.

    I had fun reading this because I had no idea that I was Persian. I mean, I am preoccupied with the self, have always had trouble with cause and effect and am obsessed with self-preservation (silly me) Bang!!! Who knew?!?! Come to think of it, according to this cable most people I know are Persians and not even aware of it.

    The Wikileaks thing is extremely interesting. There are some interesting details, but the major feeling I have gotten from them was “WOW…we classify EVERYTHING!!!” For example, I read a secret cable that revealed the astonishing truth that the leader of Turkey is”autocratic and hard working”. There have been a few surprises, but the overriding experience I’ve had is a sense that the US government classifies things not for a threat to national security but from a fear of personal or professional embarrassment. (I felt this way before, but this really drove the point home). I really think there should be a significantly higher threshold for what gets classified. Have you found anything fun in there yet?

    • #4 by tinadot on December 2, 2010 - 5:43 PM

      Yeah lol the ones about Canada hahaha. In terms of classifying everything….reminds of an essay I read by Edward Said actually…..probably the one you are referring to here? About the other and the oriental. It’s as if classifying things is a mode of being able to gain control over them. They no longer remain frightening, unmanageable, wild and strange. It’s like the classifications are a way of colonizing the differences in a way that gives Westerners (aka the US) peace of mind, conquering unknown territory an forcing it to be knowable. Does this rant even make sense? lol I hope it does

  4. #5 by Keith Spillett on December 2, 2010 - 11:06 PM

    Yes! Makes total sense. I think you really got to the root of it here. The whole facade is built on the belief that we can control things by naming them. If we can name it, then we know it. If we know it, then it can’t be so bad. It is no longer an abstract universe with undefined features but a knowable commodity that can fit into the box labelled “what we already know”. Those who have the power to classify are able to attain a higher status because they know what we don’t and therefore can protect us. But, at the base of the whole thing is a world where no one really knows or can know.

    The idea reminds me of a scene from the remake of the TV show The Prisoner. Everyone keeps repeating the expression “More Village”. They put signs up everywhere and repeat this mantra for most of the episode. Everyone in the Village thinks that expanding their little village is a good thing, but know one knows why they expand. They just expand because the expansion feeds the illusion that their world must be stable and correct. If it expands, it must be real. At it’s core it can’t be all chaos and disorder because it’s expanding. If we can classify everything around us as part of our village, then eventually all the things that wake us up sweating in the middle of the night will fade and we will not feel so frightened. Maybe I can get Wikileaks to publish this as a Top Secret “Summary of the Western Mind”. More Village!!!

    All right, I’m going to sleep now because I don’t have a clue what I am talking about anymore.

  5. #6 by Sarah Elgindy on December 10, 2010 - 11:06 PM

    I am not sure if you remember me mentioning my having met people with this Eurocentric view, but this thread an online example:

    http://theinfinityprogram.com/showthread.php?t=3662

    The moron no longer posts on the forum.

    • #7 by Keith Spillett on December 10, 2010 - 11:26 PM

      That Lodge speech is unreal! Amazing illustration of some of the nonsense that was being spouted by tinpot imperialists during that era. Lodge is a particularly unpleasant human.

      Great back and forth on those posts. You really ate that dude’s lunch.

      • #8 by Sarah Elgindy on December 10, 2010 - 11:44 PM

        Yeah. That Lodge excerpt was appalling to me.

        Thanks. That guy was just so deluded that it’s unreal to me.

  6. #9 by Keith Spillett on December 10, 2010 - 11:48 PM

    I taught a unit on the Philippine American War last year and that speech would have fit perfectly. I plan on using it next year when I do the unit again.

    • #10 by Sarah Elgindy on December 10, 2010 - 11:57 PM

      That’s great. Give kids something to think on. Maybe ask them to write a paper analyzing that speech objectively, as well as, from their personal opinion.

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