Behrooz Ghamari-Tabrizi, (2009) “When Life Will No Longer Barter Itself”: In Defense of Foucault on the Iranian Revolution. In Sam Binkley, Jorge Capetillo (eds) A Foucault for the 21st Century, Biopolitics and Discipline in the New Millennium, Newcastle, Cambridge Scholars Publishing pp.270-290
When Michel Foucault’s journalistic accounts of the Iranian Revolution appeared thirty years ago in Italian and French papers, friends and foes alike thought perhaps the author of Madness and Civilization had gone mad. The philosopher of the land of laïceté was enamored with the spirituality of a massive political action. His defense of the revolution––in spite, and, more importantly, because of its Islamic character––turned him into the butt of French ridicule. The intelligentsia interpreted Foucault’s fascination with the Iranian Revolution as being kin to, at worst, Heidegger’s Nazi temptations, and, at best, Marx’s Orientalist stab at India.
Public attention to Foucault’s reflections on Islam and Iran was confined to the French circles during the years of revolution in Iran itself, 1978-1980. Although a number of essays engaged Foucault posthumously in the early 1990s, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 renewed interest in his musings on political Islam. One might reasonably ask what Foucault had to do with these acts of atrocity. But as I shall demonstrate, a host of Left and liberal philosophers, sociologists, historians, and essayists exploited the atrocities of 9/11 and other recent violent encounters of Muslims in Europe as the basis for launching a feverish attack on the proponents of what they dubbed “cultural relativism.” They warned that nihilism and the awakening of the antiquated regimes of power were the inevitable consequence of the erasure of the Enlightenment as the Universal Referent. But it was not until Janet Afary and Kevin Anderson published Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism, that Foucault was tried and convicted as the chief perpetrator of malefic cultural relativism. Afary and Anderson raise fundamental questions about Foucault’s critique of modern disciplinary power in order to prove the consistency between his philosophical oeuvre and his revolutionary sympathies for what they call pseudo-fascist Islamism.