Mansour Farhang: The Struggle for Democracy in the Arab World: Cultural Impediments to Pluralism

The Landmark College Academic Speaker Series enhances and promotes the College’s intellectual environment and facilitates discussion of important issues for the community.

The Struggle for Democracy in the Arab World: Cultural Impediments to Pluralism
(Oct.7th at 7p.m., East Academic Building, Brooks M. O'Brien Auditorium)

The contentious political developments following the promise of “Arab Spring” have compelled the peoples of the region to face the fact that obstacles to pluralist democracy cannot be reduced to the fall of autocratic rulers. There is a growing recognition among both native and international observers that traditional cultures in nations without democratic experience can put complex obstacles on the road to the creation of an inclusive and tolerant political order.

Attention to the nature of this challenge and what is to be done about it is preoccupying many activists and analysts in Middle Eastern and North African countries. Using the distinguished anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s definition of culture—“a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic forms by means of which men [and women] communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life”—the lecture will focus on specific cultural impediments to the struggle for democratic pluralism in the Arab countries where popular rebellions led to the overthrow of autocratic rulers.

Mansour Farhang has a Ph.D. in political science from Claremont Graduate School. In the 1970s he taught at California State University at Sacramento. Following the 1979 revolution in Iran, he served as an adviser to the Iranian foreign ministry and as ambassador to the United Nations. He resigned his ambassadorship in protest when his efforts to negotiate the release of the American hostages in Tehran failed. In the early months of the Iran-Iraq war, he worked with international mediators to settle the war. During this period he wrote and spoke about the threat of religious extremists who had come to dominate the course of the Iranian revolution. In June 1981, following the violent suppression of political dissidents, he was forced to leave Iran. In the fall of 1981 he returned to the United States and became a research fellow and lecturer at Princeton University. Since 1983 he has been teaching international relations and Middle Eastern politics at Bennington College in Vermont, where he has been awarded the Catherine Osgood Foster Chair for Distinguished Teaching. He is the author of two books and dozens of articles, in English and Persian, published in both academic journals and popular periodicals. Currently, he serves on the advisory board of Human Rights Watch/Middle East and is a member of the Columbia University Middle Eastern Seminar and has been a participant in the seminars of Council on Foreign Relations and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is a regular commentator on the Persian broadcasting of BBC, Voice of America, Radio Farda and Radio France International.


Geoff Burgess