The title of this volume by Dabashi, the contentious Columbia University professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature, calls to mind an argument made during the 1980s by traditional Catholics opposed to the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. Since all the monotheistic religions are founded on principles of liberation, why should a new "liberation theology," as imagined by the Sandinistas and other Marxists, be grafted onto any of them? Did not the defiance of pharaoh by Moses and the Sermon on the Mount by Jesus--undertaken by personalities who are both honored in Islam--along with Muhammad's battles against corrupt rulers, constitute an original and sufficient theology of liberation?
The motives for the novelty of liberation theology among Third-World Christians and in Dabashi's version of the Islamic intellect are the same. For protagonists of this outlook, traditional religion has proved wanting in addressing recent political questions, especially those posed by colonialism. Thus Catholic clerics in South America believed themselves impelled to armed action in guerrilla formations; thus Dabashi prescribes a reordering of Islam that would more clearly identify the faith of Muhammad with leftism. The parallel is boasted by the author, who, defying historical continuity, does his best to make the two variants, Christian and Muslim, inseparable.
Still, Dabashi seeks Islamic religious legitimacy for his conception. He therefore associates it with the 150-year old Salafi movement for modernization of the Muslim world. He writes that "the rise of Islamic liberation theologies dates back to the early nineteenth century" and the aftermath of "British, French and Russian colonial adventures." But with his specialization in Iran, he devotes a good part of this work to the ideology of the Islamic Revolution although offering little more than a rehash of Iranian religio-political literature. Overall, this volume is so clogged with fashionable but digressive references to everything popular in the contemporary academy, from the Frankfurt School to diatribes against George W. Bush, that it will be of little consequence to serious observers of the Middle East.
As with the Christian liberation theologians, Dabashi presents religion as a cover for a political extremism that courts being an apologia for terrorism. He begins the book with an equation of the atrocities of September 11, 2001, with what he calls "terrorizing U.S. military campaigns" and, in the footnotes, rants against "dilettantes" who link the views of the Egyptian radical Islamist Sayyid Qutb with "the actions attributed to Osama bin Laden." Such rhetoric, and little more, fills Dabashi's pages and, apparently, his mind. Such, it seems, is Dabashi's distinctive da'wa (proselytism).