CIWAS and the Dilemma of Mutual ‘Misundercepculations’

By: Dr. Mohammad R. Kalantari



Years ago, perhaps like many others in their early thirties, I experienced a personal transformation. I had been brought up in a conservative family and was among the so called ‘third generation’ of Iran’s Islamic Revolution. During my childhood I had personally witnessed the war with Iraq, Rafsanjani’s constructionism, Khatami’s reformism, and the rise of Ahmadinejad’s Apocalypticism in my country. At the time that I left Iran to go to the United Kingdom to pursue postgraduate studies, West Asia was a key battleground in the ‘war on terror’. I keenly monitored the news, read books, and followed scholarly commentary about the situation in the region that had been my home. The starting point of my personal transformation occurred at the same time. It was perhaps quite similar to what my predecessors had experienced, albeit with some differences. Those of us ‘Easterners’ who had the opportunity to observe our homeland from the vantage point of the West, all acknowledged that there was a problem. While for Seyyed Qutb, the problem was laid in the ‘America that he was seen’, for Edward Said, the problem was attributable to the ‘orientalism’ that had shaped all the region’s predicaments. Yet for me, the West and East both are equally accountable for what I rather call ‘mutual Misundercepculations’.

Over the course of decades, and to the dismay of each other, both the orientalists and the inhabitants of the orient themselves, contributed to a process of mutual misunderstanding, misperception, and miscalculation. For me, Afghan Jihadists and the US neo-conservatives were equally accountable for the miseries in which Afghans have been entangled since 2001; President Bush and Saddam Hussein are both to blame for the turmoil in Iraq today; and the list might go on.

Thus, there is a job to be done for those who are eager to mitigate this East-West gap in trust and understanding; and to elevate the awareness of both the oriental and occidental masses and elites. This was my, and my colleagues’, grand ambition when we established the Centre for Islamic and West Asian Studies at Royal Holloway.

Our CIWAS blog aims to look at the history of, and contemporary affairs in, the Islamic World and West Asian communities from the perspective of those who wish to contribute to a better understanding of the region. In fostering such an aim, and with the hope of opening up a constructive dialogue, we extend our hands to readers who, with their comments, wish to contribute to diminishing the dilemma of Misundercepculation that we still witness in East-West relations.

Dr. Mohammad R. Kalantari