The Utopistics of Terence K. Hopkins, Twenty Years Later: A Postscript

The Utopistics of Terence K. Hopkins, Twenty Years Later: A Postscript
The Utopistics of Terence K. Hopkins, Twenty Years Later: A Postscript

[Note: The following is an editorial postscript written by Mohammad H. Tamdgidi, for the twentieth anniversary second edition of Mentoring, Methods, and Movements: Colloquium in Honor of Terence K. Hopkins by His Former Students and the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations, co-edited by Immanuel Wallerstein and Mohammad H. Tamdgidi, recently published on Jan. 3rd, 2017, by Ahead Publishing House (imprint: Okcir Press), Belmont, MA.]

I. Introduction

As a student of Terence K. Hopkins, I did not have the good fortune of attending the NYC colloquium organized by his students in his honor in August, 1996; I was visiting Iran at the time. However, when Immanuel Wallerstein subsequently invited me to co-publish with the Fernand Braudel Center (which he was still directing at the time in Binghamton) the proceedings of the colloquium following the sudden and untimely passing of Hopkins just a few months later on January 3rd, 1997, I could not be more appreciative and honored. The first edition of the colloquium’s proceedings was co-published in November, 1998.

As a doctoral student of sociology at Binghamton University, I had been attracted alongside my studies to the idea of developing autonomous publishing venues for the kind of alternative visions I was exploring in my research at the time. Immanuel’s gesture in inviting me to collaborate on the co-publication of the proceedings of the student-organized colloquium in honor of Terence was in line with the ways in which he and Terence conducted their mentoring and support of students—by building on the students’ own ways of defining and constructing their identities, studies, careers, and lives. Inviting me to help put together the collection was a kind and beautiful gesture in rounding out the Hopkins Colloquium and publishing its proceedings by involving an alternative, though at the time still preliminary, initiative by one of Terence’s students.

I recall when, a few years before then, I sent a brochure and regular newsletters of the publishing press I had established in Binghamton, NY, in 1991—called Ahead Desktop Publishing House at the time, now continuing as Ahead Publishing House, with an imprint as Okcir Press—I oddly found Hopkins sending me back in mail his usual margin notes on the brochure and the newsletters, offering his support and advice on how to go about building the project. He later gave me some of his margin-noted feedbacks on the newsletters while I was meeting him during “office hours” at his house. He was treating my initiative itself as a “term paper,” this one of a practical nature, to be commented on. Reflecting back on this matter now, twenty plus years later, I am struck by the boundless way in which Terence conceived of the mentoring of his students amid their own on and off campus ways of going about their scholarship and its dissemination toward building what I later called “othersystemic” movements.

Looking back now, I see that Hopkins was recognizing my involvement in building an alternative press to be itself a moment in what he regarded as efforts in appropriating movements. It was a way of turning the usually alienated and alienating conditions of mainstream (especially academic) publishing procedures and industry into ones that empower students, authors, scholars, and activists themselves. Consider how the embracing of such independent publishing efforts by Hopkins (and Wallerstein, of which the two editions of this volume are examples) compares with the stigmatized manner in which the effort is met in usual tenure and promotional review procedures in academia. After all, Terence and Immanuel (and colleagues) had their own experience of building the Fernand Braudel Center and its journal, and must have appreciated the self-empowering nature of those efforts. Claiming the publishing process for the producers of knowledge themselves is an instance of what may be regarded as othersystemic and not just antisystemic efforts in appropriating specific cycles of the publishing commodity chain. It challenges the system not through antisystemic rhetoric, but by the reality of its own alternative presence amid the mainstream (in this case, publishing) culture.

In fact, the independent scholarly journal I subsequently launched, Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge (27 issues of which were published from 2002 to 2013 and are accessible online and through major academic databases worldwide), was inspired and fundamentally grew out of a “class-book” project entitled “I” in the World-System: Stories from an Odd Sociology Class, which my students and I self-published in Spring 1997 (using a hypothetical publishing imprint proposed by a student in the class) while teaching a course at Binghamton following Terence’s passing in January 1997. The book was dedicated to him.

When a part of my dissertation whose preliminary draft Hopkins, as the chair of my dissertation committee before his passing, had marked as “do-able” in his characteristic pencil-marked notes—while, as he told me, traveling on a well-deserved post-retirement cruise ship with his beloved wife Gloria Hopkins—was first published by Paradigm (now a part of Routledge) under the title Advancing Utopistics: The Three Component Parts and Errors of Marxism (2007), I could not think of anything better to illustrate Wallerstein’s concept “utopistics” than by drawing on the pedagogical othersystemicity and utopistics of his lifelong friend and colleague, Terence K. Hopkins. The reflections had been originally presented in my dissertation account, later on being updated and included as an epilogue in Advancing Utopistics.

I recently approached Wallerstein, a few months short of twenty years following the passing of Hopkins in January 1997, to suggest publishing an updated second edition of Mentoring, Methods, and Movements to commemorate his memory and legacy again. I thought this would allow for a wider distribution of the valuable insights contained in the book by his former students about the role Hopkins played in their mentoring and in advancing world-systems studies more broadly. As part of the republication effort, I also wished to improve on its organization (later on found to be in need of an index, a works and citations bibliography for Hopkins, and biographical notes on the contributors which were lacking in the first edition) and to include some reflections of my own, by way of sharing again my earlier essay “The Utopistics of Terence Hopkins” which is included at the end of this postscript. Wallerstein kindly welcomed and encouraged the idea of publishing the second edition.

As I began writing this postscript to the colloquium proceedings, however, I realized that I could also, as a co-editor of this second edition, add a few notes regarding others’ contributions, sharing as well some reflections on my own experience in academia during the past twenty years since I wrote my essay on the utopistics of Hopkins.

II. Sociologically Imaginative World-Systems Analyses

In the essays included in this volume, contributors share, using illustrations from their own experiences of meeting and working with Terence K. Hopkins, their thoughts on whether, why, and how he succeeded in founding an alternative graduate program of sociology amid the mainstream academia.

Just consider what Lu Aiguo shares about her experience as a Chinese scholar and intellectual and how it relates to her experience moving back and forth between Beijing and Binghamton to study in the graduate program. Echoing what Arrighi, Hopkins, and Wallerstein (1989) have argued about antisystemic movements often becoming, upon seizing power, a part of the status quo in the postrevolutionary period and thereby resistant to further social change, Aiguo also argues that, in her view, movements that build their agenda on negative rejections of a system in hopes of a better future have lesser chances of success and survival than those relying on more patient and positive building of alternative social and organizational realities that empower people in the here and now. While Aiguo credits the graduate program in sociology founded by Hopkins for having provided an opportunity for her to deepen her realization of that important point, one should note that in many ways the reality of the graduate program itself as built by Hopkins signifies a self-empowering strategy and example of what Aiguo appreciates for being more effective in advancing alternative pedagogical outcomes.

Walter Goldfrank explains, amid his anecdotal commentary on the importance of rereading the sociology classics, why Hopkins succeeded in building such an alternative pedagogical environment amid the mainstream academia. Reminding us of the centrality of “relational thinking” in Hopkins’s teaching, Goldfrank lays his primary emphasis, when recalling Hopkins’s approach to the agency-structure dialectic, on the side of the agencies’ role in shaping relations and building new social structures. Without this emphasis it would be impossible to understand why Hopkins dedicated such efforts in building an alternative pedagogical enclave amid an existing (academic) world-system.

It would have been much easier, in other words, to resign to the fatalism of an existing academic systemic logic reproducing the wider educational structures of the modern world-system, and follow status quo academic procedures of coursework, doctoral examination, and research. However, by the example of what actually happened, we find a world-systems analysis at work that treats the larger system not as a supposedly functioning monolith but as a contradictory process that offers relatively short-term, small-scale, opportunities in its everyday micro (or even macro, during crisis periods) dynamics to build new “small group” structures—ones that can in time, as Hopkins stated in his own dissertation, undermine long-term, large-scale structures of the system as a whole.

Hopkins’s Columbia dissertation on small groups can thus be regarded as a conceptual dress rehearsal for the building of small, alternative graduate programs in the belly of a larger academic system. And for this, a recognition of the creative role played by the actors and agencies in building new pedagogical structures is crucial. In fact, it is interesting to ask and explore how the subsequent world­-systems studies program Hopkins founded in collaboration with Immanuel Wallerstein for the “study of long-term, large-scale social change” depended, simultaneously, on a mastery of knowledge about and the practice of relatively small-scale, short-term, social change in the spacetimes of the modern world-system’s everyday, here and now events—including those going on in the departmental offices, corridors, and class/seminar rooms of its mainstream academia.

Bill Martin significantly asks, for good reasons, “How did Terry do it?” and in doing so reminds us of two things. One, again, is the role of agency (in this case, that of Hopkins) in building new structures in academia and, second, that the other side of the Hopkinsian dialectic of relational thinking is also important for understanding how its large-scale/long-term and small-scale/short-term dimensions co-participate in perpetuating, challenging, or undermining the reality of the world-system. Martin reviews the structural and conjunctural trends in contemporary academia and points to the contradictory dynamics of failed traditional academic models of teaching, research, and department building amid ever more “globalizing” trends in the world-system that continue to open new opportunities for the kind of alternative academic programs Hopkins initiated at Binghamton.

However, Ravi Palat again reminds us, by specifying examples from the questions raised by Hopkins about his doctoral studies, that objectively contradictory conditions of academic life amid a broader global context and the opportunities they may present cannot automatically result in an Hopkinsian agenda without the minute everyday dynamics of mentoring, methodological guidance, and movement inspiration that characterized Hopkins’s pedagogy and the alternative program of graduate study in sociology he built in Binghamton. The subsequent joining of the sociology department faculty at Binghamton University by Bill Martin, Ravi Palat, and Richard Lee (who has also directed the Fernand Braudel Center) following the passing of Hopkins and the publication of the first edition of this volume, itself represents the methodological emphasis Hopkins and his students (alongside other faculty) laid on the role actors and agencies play in the continuation of the graduate program.

Wallerstein offers important insights regarding the unique nature of the pedagogical system Hopkins built at SUNY-Binghamton and the vital role the program played in the emergence and development of world-systems studies itself as a sociological tradition. Wallerstein’s synoptic tract reminds us of the intricate way in which various new threads in Hopkins’s pedagogy were woven into the tapestry of the program he invented at Binghamton. It was the openness and flexibility of the doctoral studies program and how it branched out in diverse ways, for those interested, into the research working groups and activities of the Fernand Braudel Center that allowed for the simultaneous building of new insights and skills among and across the involved faculty and students, and the deepening of discourses that shaped and continue to shape world-systems analysis. Various elements of conventional doctoral program procedures and structures were subjected to radical rethinking and redesign. The emphasis on the inductive procedures of moving from substantive to theoretical and methodological coursework, the mutually engaging dynamics of young and not-so-young scholars, the inventive nature and procedures of sociological specialization and new area study design, the transdisciplinary nature of the historical sociological inquiry advanced, etc., were elements of an alternative pedagogical system that offered coherence and an autopoietic logic to the new graduate study program—novelties that, as Wallerstein notes, are yet to be recognized for their worth in advancing critical and engaged social scientific and sociological knowledge.

The contribution by Beverly Silver reminds us of the close attention that was required from Hopkins’s students to appreciate the feedbacks received from him—comments that only revealed their value in persistent reading and rereading/reconsideration of his words (and/ or silent gestures). She also reminds us of the self-critical spirit of Hopkins’s pedagogy, inspiring students to be always on guard for not taking any ideas, including Hopkins’s own words elsewhere expressed, for granted as applicable in advancing particular research endeavors.

It is noteworthy that among the recollections of Hopkins’s students of their studies at Binghamton, the minute dramaturgy of personal interactions performed by Hopkins are as much recalled and cherished as the more substantive issues discussed in those interactions. While such “personal recollections” may seem marginal to the substantive discussions of world-systems analysis, I think it is worth considering—in terms of their mentoring, methodological, and movement-inspiring import considered within a Millsian sociological imagination framework—how personal troubles and public issues of learning are intimately interrelated, and their neglect often a cause of failures by social movements in appreciating the humanist content of their efforts at social transformation.

Commentaries by Reşat Kasaba, Richard Lee, and Phillip McMichael, as well as those by Rod Bush, Nancy Forsythe, and Evan Stark (plus Lu Aiguo, as commented on previously) offer important self-critical opportunities for world-systems analysis to continually rethink and reinvent itself.

Kasaba reminds us of how Hopkins did not dualistically separate the personal from the world-systemic in his pedagogy, and from the experience of his teaching about methods and movements. On the contrary, he illustrates well how for Hopkins the trees were the forest, and what made the forest worth understanding, improving, and recultivating. Kasaba shares the mentoring advice he received from Hopkins in terms of cultivating an ability to sift the crops from the weeds in anything we learn, including those offered by world-systems analysis, highlighting the need for adopting self-critical approaches to developing its concepts and analytical frameworks.

Richard Lee emphasizes the need for considering newly emerging insights on the nature of knowledge in an era marked by transitions beyond Newtonian scientific paradigms, in favor of imaginative, creative, and artistic practices of knowledge production and scientific inquiry. He particularly reminds us of the emergence of new scientific imaginations characterized by the erosion of objective/subjective dualism previously shaping our knowledges of systems.

McMichael turns the opportunity of his presentation into a research-sharing experience inspired by Hopkins, offering an example of how by being self-critical and open to questioning the inherited concepts and theories of labor, we would be able to consider more effectively how wage labor may be reconsidered in a new global context marked by the increasing predominance of informalized labor as the new “pedestal of capitalism.”

And the late Rod Bush, who sadly passed away in 2013 following decades of activism and scholarly contributions in the area of race studies and Black Liberation movement, offers valuable insights on how his own intellectual development was shaped by his meeting Wallerstein and Hopkins and the openness with which he, as a mature student returning to academia, exchanged views and learning with them. The self-critical approach to mentoring, methods, and movements Bush learned in the program offered him an opportunity to rethink his activism during his doctoral studies in ways that he found transformative and consequential for his many years of research and activism to come.

I think the self-critical insights offered by Elizabeth Petras, Nancy Forsythe, and Evan Stark in encouraging world-systems analysis to take more seriously questions of place/space, of gender, domestic violence and of problems with academia itself, further add value to this collection in advancing world-systems analysis as an open and self-reinventing scholarly tradition.

What Petras argues for is a world-systems analysis that pays attention to the specificities of space and place in shaping the identities and motivations of actors, small or large, amid diverse social, political, and cultural contexts. We should not forget, after all, that it was the opportunity opened up in a “place” called Binghamton that allowed for decades of scholarship from which world-systems analysis itself emerged and the specific scholarly culture and identities of its adherents shaped and reshaped.

Forsythe offers a rigorous and fascinating argument, worth many rereadings, for taking gender and women’s studies seriously, for it radically points to the need for revisiting the “unit of analysis” debates and discussions that shaped the structures of world-systems analysis itself. She argues that serious consideration must be given to incorporating discussions of self and society, the personal, and the private, in the foundational structures of world-systems analysis. In many ways, this is a further and deeper extension of Petras’s argument for appropriating the discourses of cultural place, space, and of microsociology for world-systems analysis, by expanding their notions to the inter/intrasubjective spacetimes of personal life that necessarily involve intimate questions of gender and sexuality.

Evan Stark’s vivid biographical reflections on issues of domestic violence and battery in women’s lives and studies offer further insights about how world-systems analysis is not just about “long-term, large-scale social change” but also, simultaneously, about the short-term, small-scale dynamics of personal self-knowledge and change in everyday here and now, and that the two can never happen apart from one another, so long as we consider the key role played, amid a dialectical and relational context, by agencies and actors in building alternatively better, utopistic futures amid and beginning from the presents of the modern world-system.

However, Evan Stark’s contribution stands apart from others in the volume in that he subjects academia itself to serious criticism, revealing the political and social constructedness of academia in highly graphic and personal terms, in order to make us aware of how often we take the university itself for granted, even when we acknowledge the unique and liberating ways in which Terence K. Hopkins personally and/or administratively outmaneuvered the academic system to make way for alternative mentoring, methods, and movements.

The questions that arise in my view from this latter vantage point are: should one always assume that the kind of experiment Hopkins and his colleagues led at Binghamton can and should be emulated at any cost as part of academia elsewhere? Should we be led to the conclusion that the only and the best way to pursue Hopkins’s legacy is to remain in academia at any cost and try to carve out similar spacetimes, no matter how temporary, for advancing liberating world-systems analyses? Would we, or should we, be looking down upon those who find “academia,” “scholarship,” and “sociology” to be much wider in scope than that found in their inherited institutional forms? Should we continue to regard universities and sociology departments as the primary, the pivotal, structures or arenas of knowledge production and dissemination so that we end up, like Hopkins, dedicating our lives to carving “makeshift trenches” amid them to bring about social change? And consider all the above while being aware of world-systems studies, such as those conducted by Wallerstein and Hopkins themselves, that shed important critical light on the structural limits of modern academia and its narrow and fragmented disciplinary organization and dichotomized science/humanities cultures, acknowledging the diminishing roles played by universities in the process of knowledge production and dissemination in the world today? Can alternative futures emerge from mainstream university realities, no matter how critically approached, or do they require (as well) experimenting with and building alternative university (research, teaching, and publishing) realities off the mainstream campuses?

Here, it may be helpful to briefly share my own thoughts on and experience in academia since graduating from Binghamton.

When I was completing my doctoral studies at Binghamton, I was quite ambivalent about pursuing an academic career. Having witnessed from a student’s standpoint the politics of the department, I wondered much about whether an academic job was something I should pursue. It was in consideration of advice from another dear advisor from my undergraduate years, Jesse Reichek (who also sadly passed away in 2005), and the practical example of Hopkins’s experiment in academia, that I found myself encouraged to give academic career a try, which resulted in joining the sociology department at UMass Boston in 2003 as a tenure-track faculty (following two years of full-time lectureship at SUNY-Oneonta and other teaching opportunities at Binghamton University previously).

Without the inspiration from Hopkins, one that essentially involved a commitment to regard mainstream academia as an arena for initiating new opportunities for alternative pedagogy, research, and practice, I would not have launched the kind of projects that helped me find my academic experience to a considerable extent enjoyable and rewarding—such as developing Millsian sociological imagination approaches to teaching and mentoring students and cofounding and launching an internationally recognized annual conference/publication series (the Social Theory Forum) at UMass Boston that during the initial four years of my involvement advanced transdisciplinary and cross-cultural sociological discourses and publications by revisiting the works of Paulo Freire, Edward Said, Gloria Anzaldúa, and Frantz Fanon.

However, I also personally experienced, first-hand, the oppressive aspects of mainstream departmental life that were often excused and enabled by a broader university system despite the friendly front-stage behaviors of some of its faculty and administrators. I often asked myself how much of the bitterness of my experience as a tenure-track and then tenured faculty at UMass Boston was a result of the behaviors of a few “bad apple” faculty members mixed in with several other tenure-track and tenure-trapped faculty who wished not to rock their boats to formally acknowledge even basic facts of administrative abuse, let alone the verbal and personal kinds. However, I was also reminded time and again of the structural embeddedness of most (if not all) such abusive, or abuse-condoning, behaviors on the part of academic actors who otherwise, in their annual faculty report reviews, remained duplicitously appreciative of the contributions of their hard working, “impressive,” “outstanding,” and “excellent,” “wonderful junior faculty.”

The fact is that in my academic experience I came to a deeper understanding of the tenure system as a panoptic trap that often serves well the functional needs of a mainstream academia for marginalizing, or at least tolerating and domesticating, if not silencing, alternative mentoring, methodological, and movement visions and energies of their new faculty. This is made possible by means of maintaining two-faced front-stage appreciations and back-stage stigmatizations/devaluations of critically-minded faculty efforts through, among others, pseudo­scientific mechanisms of “academic reviews.” And this is not simply a departmental or university practice, but extends to long-established, outdated “peer review” procedures that serve panoptic mechanisms of overt gate-keeping and subtle self-censorship that ignore, silence and marginalize subaltern voices under the guise of “scientific” academic review and evaluation procedures.

I am not against universities and academic ways of learning, generally considered. I have benefited from them, and hold degrees from it, though I do credit my academic experience to unconventional teachers such Hopkins and Reichek, among others, who practiced their mentoring in ways that are not typical for mainstream academic institutions. There is nothing wrong with conducting organized and collective efforts in science and search for truths. They are essential. But scientific pursuit does not take place in social, cultural, political, economic, and historical vacuums. The particular institutional and cultural forms in which the pursuit of scientific knowledge is organized can have significant contributive or fettering effects on the advancement of knowledge. This is especially the case when alternative and potentially more fruitful and liberatory modes of knowledge production and dissemination have appeared on our social horizons and may be already at hand but not embraced due to the perpetuation of outmoded habiti of intellectual and academic work.

I am proud of having passed my tenure review based on my own records of research, teaching, and service despite such outmoded structures prevalent in academia, and the ill-will of a few. However, I decided to retire early following my tenure and promotion so as to not waste more of my life, instead pursuing independent scholarship using the structures of research and publication I had wisely continued and further developed parallel to my academic work via OKCIR (The Omar Khayyam Center for Integrative Research in Utopia, Mysticism, and Science (Utopystics)) and Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge. I consider these—and the very way in which I created from scratch at Binghamton (and still continue to purse) their associated three-fold fields of research inquiry—the most important fruits of mentorship, methodological insights, and alternative movement interests I critically received from Hopkins.

Looking back, the advice and inspiration I received from Reichek and Hopkins in giving my academic career a chance served its purpose. It allowed me to experimentally gain an insider, intimate and personal, experience of academia as a tenure-track and then a tenured faculty. It also allowed me to experiment with alternative and liberating models of teaching, research, and service in collaboration with my students in the classroom and empathetic colleagues in other departments on campus and in other universities worldwide. However, in the process I also understood more intimately the nature of the sacrifices that mainstream academia demands from its actors, leading me to realize in a personal way that critical scholarship, mentoring, methods, and movements are not supposed to, and should not, be confined to university departments trapped in panoptic and intellectually incarcerating university systems and procedures. Utopistic universities do not have to always be confined in, nor spring from, rigidified academic structures as habitually associated with the university campus “places.” Today, more than ever in consideration of the digital revolution and the information age, there are increasing opportunities to liberate ourselves from the habita of outmoded “uni”­versity structures in favor of embracing new models of pluriversity that may include, but do not have to be confined to, the mainstream academia (for further discussions on this theme see the 2012 edited collection of Human Architecture on “Decolonizing the University: Practicing Pluriversity”).

It is in light of the above that I now read back into the utopistics of Terence K. Hopkins and appreciate the essential point of his legacy and coda. When he refers to his hope in movements, he is laying an emphasis on the hope (and not just a fatalistic belief, no matter how deep) for acting agencies to creatively question and transform inherited social structures and institutions that have consciously or subconsciously appropriated them, on or off campus. It is up to us, therefore, individually and collectively, to reappropriate, creatively, what defines our pedagogy, scholarship, and movements, and these can originate from or take place, but do not have to remain, within the bounds of traditional academia and its campuses.

I can now more fully appreciate the depth, rigor, uniqueness, creativity, and odd solidarity that characterized the program of graduate studies as founded by Terence K. Hopkins, a solidarity that includes loving and still enduring solidarity and friendships I established with my dearest friend and spouse, Anna Beckwith, and lifelong friends Satoshi Ikeda and Yoshie Hayashi, also close students of Terence, and other students, brought together through “enrollment” in his initiated program. The former students in this volume represent only a part of a wider community of students who benefitted from their interactions with Hopkins, many of whom took part in a lively and festive evening dinner gathering following the formal seminar sessions. I thank Terence for the gifts of these friends, and the generations of students and colleagues, distant or close, who found one another through his program.

As I have stated previously and elsewhere, I think world-systems analysis can significantly benefit from revisiting its formative debates on the question of its proper “unit of analysis.” The critique world-systems analysis persuasively launched against dependency and modernization theories—arguing that adequate understanding of any parts of the system cannot be achieved without an understanding of the system as a whole—can itself be applied to recognizing the limits of world-systems analyses that regard any historical world-system (including the modern world-system) to be understandable apart from human world-history as a singular whole and process. This will help us move away from Eurocentric and economistic macrosociological assumptions that result from a narrow focus on the modern world-system and lead one to assume that the latter can be understood on its own and apart from the larger-scale, and longer-term reality of the singular world-historical development of which it has been only a part.

On the other end, at the micro level, recognizing the social and cultural constructedness of the notion of singularity of the human “individual” can lead to fruitful investigations of the contradictory nature of human selfhood, and the significance of selves (and not presumed singular individuals) as the proper micro units of analysis of acting agencies involved in (or not) in small-scale/short-term and long-term/large-scale social change, intra/intersubjectively and more broadly in society at large. In other words, it will be fruitful to question whether presumed “individuals” (and/or groups of them) rather than selves amid fragmented and divided intra/intersubjective landscapes are the proper units of analysis and action on the micro side of the Hopkinsian agency-structure dialectic and relational thinking.

Adopting an approach to the “unit of analysis” that transcends a dualistic conception of the long-term/large-scale and short-term/ small-scale in favor of a relational, dialectical unit of analysis in which the singularity of world-history in the macro and the multiplicity of personal selfhood in the micro spheres are continually recognized can offer a richer, and more fruitful, opportunity for the development of world-historically and personally self-reflective world-systems analyses and actions. It will allow for the development of Millsian sociologically imaginative world-systems approaches to mentoring, methods, and movements. It can also lead to a deeper appreciation, by the way, of the role scholars such as Hopkins have played in the genesis and development of new world-systems analyses and perspectives. Gathered in this volume itself, in fact, are sociologically imaginative world-systems analyses of Terence K. Hopkins amid the world-historical public issues that deeply troubled him personally and are even more prevalent today. I often wonder what would have happened if C. Wright Mills, that other Columbia University faculty, had survived an early death and joined his colleagues Hopkins and Wallerstein in fusing a common, sociologically imaginative world-systems analysis.

Cultivating sociologically imaginative approaches that allow us to simultaneously consider personal troubles and public issues via a reconsidered unit of world-systems analysis—one that frames such an approach in terms of the macro/micro dialectic of singular world-history and multiple personal selves—promotes respect for the diversity of cultures and the diversity and psychological complexity of personal actor roles and associated selves that continue to become involved in mentoring, methods, and movements. Such a dialectical simultaneity of macro-micro units of analysis indeed can reveal the contributions of all those attending or contributing to the TKH Colloquium, whether or not their presentations were delivered or included in this volume. The photo gallery included in this volume offers a glimpse of a much wider community of scholars, activists, and friends who shared in Hopkins’s life story and work accomplishments.

Hopkins stated clearly in his last days (and also at the end of the colloquium) who the dearest two individuals were in his life, Immanuel and Gloria. And for Immanuel, the same also holds for the role played by Beatrice in his life and works. These micro realms of domestic life, love and friendship were and are as much a part of the story of world-systems analysis and contributive to its founding and continuity. A world-systems analysis that is mindful of both the long-term/large­scale scope of world-history and the relatively shorter-term/smaller­scale intra/interpersonal relationships of love and friendship among family and friends; of young and not-so-young scholars; of the more senior students at Columbia and Binghamton, and the less senior students celebrating Hopkins’s dinner gatherings at the colloquium and elsewhere with his wife Gloria especially before and during his last, post-retirement months; of the lives of close colleagues such as the late André Gunder Frank (d. 2005), Faruk Tabak (d. 2008), Giovanni Arrighi (d. 2009), Rod Bush (d. 2013), and Cedric Robinson (d. 2016), who were all present at the 1996 colloquium but are sadly no longer with us; offers a richer and sociologically more imaginative depiction of the life Hopkins lived and the work he accomplished amid the odd solidarity of the community he helped build during his lifetime.

When I was preparing this second edition of Mentoring, Methods, and Movements and including the original text of the program announcement of the 1996 colloquium at the beginning of the photo gallery included in the volume, I was struck by an exclamation mark (!) in the announcement text written by the organizers, one that followed a reference to Hopkins’s doctoral dissertation. It reads:

… And he completed a brilliant dissertation on small groups (!) in 1959.

I chose not to edit out the exclamation mark in the announcement for the gallery inclusion, since it illustrates well in a nutshell whether, why, and how Hopkins succeeded in building an alternative graduate program amid mainstream academia to help launch and advance world-systems studies in collaboration with Immanuel Wallerstein and colleagues. What appears as an oddity, and a seeming divergence from what world-systems analysis appears to be, is actually a hidden pearl inside its shell as a whole, if we remind ourselves of the Hopkinsian hopeful primacy of acting agencies in relation to social structures. The program of study of “long-term, large-scale social change” at the macro level indeed could not have advanced, and cannot in my view effectively advance, without simultaneous attention to the everyday “short-term, and small-scale” dynamics of inter/intrasubjective social change at the level of small groups of persons and selves at the micro level, of which the graduate program Hopkins founded offered an example.

The exclamation mark indeed sums up, in a lived way, the life and contributions of Terence K. Hopkins, offering us cherished memories of new seeds to cultivate and crops to harvest in further advancing and deepening world-systems analysis.

III. The Utopistics of Terence K. Hopkins

Wallerstein’s concept “utopistics” is innovative and consequential, since it marks an important break from long-held (Marxian or other) traditions that tend to dichotomize utopianism and science as different and mutu ally exclusive practices. Revisiting the dualism of utopia and science as such points to the value of utopistics as an important contribution world-systems studies can make in favor of sober social analysis and transformation, bearing significant implications for critical and applied sociology and historical social science, including the field of critical pedagogy.

What made Hopkins’s pedagogy utopistic and “othersystemic” were his efforts at the construction of alter native realities of sociological pedagogy despite and amid the everyday life of mainstream academia. In the alternative aca demic spacetimes he creatively built, Hopkins uniquely exercised the dialectics of scholarship on long-term, large-scale social change on the one hand, and the personalized dynamics of sociological pedagogy within the “small group”1 of his students and colleagues, on the other. Hopkins’s efforts at building an “odd solidarity” among his students and colleagues were an innovative experiment in humanist utopianism in the realm of academia, a “utopistic” approach to challenging the world-system that was not limited to reactive and merely oppositional modes of antisyste micity, but went beyond it to self-creative and autopoietic constructions of new, and substantively real, academic environments within which new theories and praxes of social change could be developed and exercised.

As the founder of the graduate program in sociology at Binghamton University (SUNY), Hopkins created a new and unique program which offered space and resources to many activist-scholars from around the world to join the program as students and faculty in order to develop the intellectual tools necessary for critical global understanding and transfor mation. Hopkins had a dynamic grasp of the relationship between ideas and reality: that ideas, especially of the academic and intellectual variety, do not spring from thin air, but out of people’s experiences. Refusing to create a traditional and conventional graduate program where students are treated as goods on the assembly line of academic production digest ing other scholars’ knowledge or research fields ready-made, Hopkins built a program that encouraged students to creatively design their own areas of scientific inquiry rooted in their own scholarly interests and findings and based on their personal and communal life experiences. Hopkins helped articulate students’ own voices. This was a radically different teaching approach. He guided students while believing in their ability to change themselves and the world.

Hopkins did not accept, and thus transformed, the academic environ ment that he entered. He was humorously fond of portraying the gradu ate program as a “guerrilla fighters’ camp” for building cadres in the struggle for “long-term, large-scale social change.” As a cofounder of the world-systems perspective, Hopkins was deeply aware that the modern world-system cannot be transformed in the absence of globally constituted movements whose members are trained to understand the nature of capitalism as a world-system. What was unique about his approach, however, was that he did not separate the struggle to transform the modern world into a just and humane system from the pedagogical dynamics of training his students. Although for him such a pedagogical style could not be borrowed ready-made from the existing academic institutions, he did not advocate abandoning the institution simply because it was a functioning part of the world-system itself. On the contrary, he advocated active engagement to creatively carve out of the academic environment such a clandestine camp where new pedagogical approaches and educational systems could be experimented with and formally established, even for a short duration as in a “makeshift barrack.” Hopkins’s ingenuity consisted in the fact that he actually and formally established such a new pedagogical environment in the graduate program. For him, the graduate program represented not just an antisystemic movement in the academic field, but in fact a new social and educational system in its own right.

The essential ingredient of Hopkins’s new approach to building the graduate program was flexibility. The flexibility of the graduate program was a direct result, and logical consequence, of its founder’s attempt to build an alternative pedagogical system within the academia. How can one challenge the rigid academic system which is resistant to change with an equally rigid and inflexible curriculum?! Hopkins built flexibility into the very core dynamics and self-identity of the new graduate program. In this new system, the system did not dominate the individuals, but was created so as to serve the needs of the individuals. Students were treated by him with personal respect as human beings, and not just “students.” Hopkins was deeply respectful of students’ integrity as whole persons, never judg ing them on the basis of the nature and tempo of their academic progress. Implanting guilt feelings among students who could not follow the “normal” content or temporal guidelines of progress in the department for any reason was characteristically alien to his pedagogical style. Students were treated as “young scholars” who come to the department to collaborate with the “not so young scholars” (faculty) in carrying out social research. They were empowered to form their own study committees (with the consent of the latter), and to be able to unilaterally remove any faculty member from the committee when they so decided through the mere submission of a written note to the departmental secretary.

In Hopkins’s world, the academic “social relations” served the per sonalized intellectual growth and development of the students’ (and fac ulty’s) “productive forces,” rather than the opposite characteristics of the “assembly-line” and “fast-food” procedures rigidified in university cur ricula elsewhere. As a cofounder of the world-systems perspective, Hop kins was consciously aware of the need not to impose his or anyone else’s viewpoint as the canon of truth on any student in the name of educating her or him. As the director of the graduate program he knew how impor tant it was not to allow differences of opinion with either student or fac ulty affect the proper conduct toward and guidance of the student. Beyond this he was an advocate for student voices in the program’s relation to the university administration and worked to ensure that university rules met the needs of the students’ intellectual and political growth, rather than the other way around. In Hopkins’s world-system, human beings rule the system, flexibly molding it to foster their intellectual productivity, not vice versa.

The most important and innovative manifestation of the flexible nature of Hopkins’s pedagogy was the design of the program’s guidelines and procedures for students’ demonstrations of competence for doctoral candidacy.

Refusing to follow the “normal” procedures in academia that, as a rule, require students to choose this or that pre-designed field within their host academic disciplines, Hopkins introduced the odd procedure of requiring students to creatively carve out, design, and demonstrate competence in their own personally defined areas of inquiry based on their sociopolitical and intellectual backgrounds and scholarly interests. This procedural innovation was deeply informed by the historical sociological methodology in whose instruction he himself specialized. The definition and conceptions of scholarly concentrations therefore became liberated from abstract theorizing and institutionally rigidified canons of scholar ship. He helped liberate sociology through a procedural innovation that is yet to be recognized by the academic community at large. Scholarly concentrations were made historically and biographically grounded and rendered theoretically flexible to serve the interest of long-term and long-range interpretation and transformation of an ever changing world-systemic reality. Inviting various scholars from diverse disciplinary backgrounds, Hopkins encouraged a method of research that was, to use Wallerstein’s term, “unidisciplinary,” not recognizing the rigidified disci plinary boundaries inherited from the past. The spatiotemporally singular world-system required, in other words, a unidisciplinary approach to intellectual inquiry which began from the fundamental premise that a holistic approach to understanding the reality of the world was not just a matter of preference, but of necessity.

Hopkins’s innovative approach to scholarly inquiry, his personal care, empowerment, and regard for students in the program, his holistic approach to disciplinary boundaries in academia, and his emphasis on the historical sociological method as a necessary approach to sociopolitically oriented research work, could not have been possible in a rigid academic environment. Only a flexible curriculum and organizational structure could sustain a creative tension between students and faculty, theoretical and historical research, empirical and theoretical/methodological areas of inquiry, and between the inner departmental affairs and external sociopolitical pressures and requirements of the rigid inter-academic system. The dialectical (read, in Hopkins’s words, “relational”) flexibility, and the ability to sustain and productively harness dialectical tensions, was essential for the pedagogical style of scholar-activists whose mission’s success depended on the productive harnessing of the dialectics of theory and practice for purposes of long-term, large-scale change in the modern world. The graduate program was in fact the progressive realization of Hopkins’s idea of a makeshift camp for the training of self-conscious, socially concerned, dedicated activists. And to the building of this new, this “odd” and flexible, academic and social movement Hopkins devoted his life.

To his students, Hopkins bequeathed a rich methodological vocabulary to study the dialectic of the very large and the very small, and a rich expe riential vocabulary that, through the exercise of his own humanist utopis tics in pedagogy, instilled confidence in them that the exercise of such dialectical utopistics is a “do-able” project. In a context of concerted efforts in the mainstream academia to increasingly incorporate or close out the makeshift trenches of academic creativity, flexibility, and resistance, it would be a great loss not to continue to decipher and expand upon Hopkins’s legacy in humanist utopistics, especially in the realm of pedagogy and praxis.

The intellectual achievements of world-systems studies can hardly be separated from the flexible organizational realities which made such contributions possible during the several decades it was launched— realities which would not have been possible without the dialectical tensions Hopkins endured personally as the founder and director of the graduate studies program in sociology at Binghamton University (SUNY).

1. In his dissertation on The Exercise of Influence in Small Groups (1959), Hop­kins seemed to have already been interested in the dialectics of the very large and the very small, and the potential transformative powers of the small group vis-à-vis the world-system. He concluded his treatise by stressing that: “Any type of social system can tolerate a certain degree of deviance. For each type a characteristic range exists within which the activities of the participants may depart from the norms of the system without occasioning any basic changes in the structure of the system. Departures outside of this range do, however, occasion fundamental structural changes, even, possibly, the dissolution of the particular system” (183).


Arrighi, Giovanni, Terence K. Hopkins, and Immanuel M. Wallerstein (1989). Antisystemic Movements. London; New York: Verso.

Hopkins, Terence Kilbourne (1959). “The Exercise of Influence in Small Groups.” Ph.D. Dissertation. New York: Columbia University.

Tamdgidi, Mohammad H., Editor and Contributor (1997). ‘I’ in the World-System: Stories from an Odd Sociology Class. Selected Student Writings, Soc. 280Z: Sociology of Knowledge: Mysticism, Utopia, & Science. Binghamton, NY: Crumbling Façades Press.

Tamdgidi, Mohammad H. (2007). Advancing Utopistics: The Three Component Parts and Errors of Marxism. New York and London: Routledge/Paradigm.

Tamdgidi, Mohammad H., Capucine Boidin, James Cohen, and Ramón Grosfoguel, eds. (2012). Decolonizing the University: Practicing Pluriversity. (Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge, X, 1, Winter). Belmont, MA: Okcir Press.

Professor Terence K. Hopkins and doctoral student Mohammad H. Tamdgidi, Binghamton, NY, mid 1990s.

Remembering Terence K. Hopkins (1929-1997): New Publication Announcement

Remembering Terence K. Hopkins (1929-1997): New Publication Announcement
Remembering Terence K. Hopkins (1929-1997): New Publication Announcement

Mentoring, Methods, and Movements: Colloquium in Honor of Terence K. Hopkins by His Former Students and the Fernand Braudel Center for the Study of Economies, Historical Systems, and Civilizations

Twentieth Anniversary Second Edition, Jan. 2017

Editors: Immanuel Wallerstein and Mohammad H Tamdgidi

Contributors: Lu Aiguo, Rod Bush, Nancy Forsythe, Walter L. Goldfrank, Terence K. Hopkins, Resat Kasaba, Richard E. Lee , William G. Martin, Philip McMichael, Ravi Arvind Palat, Elizabeth McLean Petras, Beverly Silver, Evan Stark, Mohammad H. Tamdgidi, Immanuel Wallerstein

About the Book …

Terence Kilbourne Hopkins (1929-1997) was a hidden gem of the field of world-systems studies who contributed indispensably to its foundation amid a lifelong collaboration and friendship with Immanuel Wallerstein. His pedagogical humanism, methodological rigor, and scientific commitment to social change, merged with his creatively flexible administrative skills to found the Graduate Program in Sociology at Binghamton University (SUNY). The student-centered, autonomous program fostered the formation of critically-minded scholars who pursue transdisciplinary sociology while fusing deeply personal commitments to long-term, large-scale social change.

In this significantly updated twentieth anniversary second edition of Mentoring, Methods, and Movements, Terence K. Hopkins’s former students organizing and contributing to a colloquium in his honor a few months before his untimely passing in January 1997 share key insights about what made him so unique and impactful in shaping their practices of engaged sociology—informed by an always open, dynamic, and self-reinventing World-Systems Analysis.

The new edition includes a comprehensive chronological works/citations bibliography of Terence K. Hopkins, a new postscript essay reflecting and building on other contributions in the volume, updates on the contributors’ background and works, a reorganized photo gallery and cover design, and a detailed subject index that can be a helpful guide to the many aspects of Hopkins’s thought and pedagogy from the points of view of his students/colleagues.

From the Inside Pages …

“… I knew instinctively from the moment I came to Binghamton that this whole system was right, but I couldn’t figure out why it was right. I knew also that it was different. And it’s only over the years that I came to realize what this has to do with world-systems analysis.

“Basically, the concept is based on the assumption that all of us — professors, graduate students, world-renowned scholars — are in a beginning learning phase of our scholarly existence, collectively as well as individually. This is precisely the opposite of the assumption underlying standard oral/written exams, that the professors are in an advanced phase of knowledge, and the graduate students have to be taught what the professors already know.

“There is indeed a second assumption, which is that graduate students have in fact something to teach the professors ­even in their first year, certainly by the third, fourth, or fifth year. The students probably end up knowing a lot more about the fields they invented than the people who were in fact questioning them. The idea that graduate students had something to teach was also linked, and I’ll come back to that, to world-systems analysis.

“The third assumption is that what the student is doing is very hard work. There should be no pretense that it’s easy. The student has to spend endless amounts of energy doing an awful lot of reading and thinking. There is no text metaphorically which one can just learn. The putative scholar has to invent. What this really says and comes back to our collective methodological concerns is that the scholar can’t be nomothetic. There are no sets of accumulated laws which one can digest and then proceed from that point. They don’t exist. And there are no canons. There are no sort of aesthetic models or intellectual models which the student just has to absorb.

“Hopkins was attacking the idiographic-nomothetic distinction through the pedagogy. The pedagogy assumed that the student had to work hard as a student “inventing” and then had to continue inventing forever after. …”

Immanuel Wallerstein, Yale University


[Note: To read the chapters and sections of this book in the Okcir Library, please visit here.]

Immanuel Wallerstein:
Introduction ix

I. Graduate Education: The Formation of Scholars

1. Walter L. Goldfrank
Deja Voodoo All Over Again: Rereading the Classics 3

2. William G. Martin
Opening Graduate Education: Expanding the Hopkins Paradigm 9

3. Ravi Arvind Palat
Terence Hopkins and the Decolonization of World-Historical Studies 27

4. Immanuel Wallerstein
Pedagogy and Scholarship 35

II. Methods of World-Historical Social Science

5. Resat Kasaba
Studying Empires: States, and Peoples: Polanyi, Hopkins, and Others 43

6. Richard E. Lee
Thinking the Past/Making the Future: Methods and Purpose in World-Historical Social Science 51

7. Philip McMichael
The Global Wage Relations as an Instituted Market 57

8. Elizabeth McLean Petras
Globalism Meets Regionalism: Process versus Place 63

9. Beverly Silver
The Time and Space of Labor Unrest 83

III. Scholars and Movements

10. Rod Bush
Hegemony and Resistance in the United States: The Contradictions of Race and Class 89

11. Nancy Forsythe
Theorizing About Gender: The Contributions of Terence K. Hopkins 101

12. Lu Aiguo
From Beijing to Binghamton and Back: A Personal Reflection on the Trajectory of Chinese Intellectuals 115

13. Evan Stark
Sociology as Social Work: A Case of Mis-Taken Identity 127

14. Terence K. Hopkins
Coda 143
[view in the video clip below Terence K. Hopkins’s final address to the Colloquium]

Mohammad H. Tamdgidi
The Utopistics of Terence K. Hopkins, Twenty Years Later: A Postscript 145

Colloquium Photos 169

About the Contributors 193

Terence K. Hopkins Bibliography 205

Index 309

From the contributors …

“For several years now we sociologists have heard much talk about structure and agency as if they referred to different phenomena or to radically distinct aspects of the same thing. This distinction can make little sense to students of Hopkins, who always insisted that social structures are formed, reproduced, and reformed by the agency of actors. …” —Walter Goldfrank, U.C. Santa Cruz

“How did Terry do it?” —William G. Martin, Binghamton University

“… Hopkins’s insistent questioning opened the door to the creation of an alternate apparatus of discourse, the very flexibility of which allows the emerging debates of world-scale historical social sciences to be joined however tenuously.” —Ravi A. Palat, Binghamton University

“… Hopkins was attacking the idiographic-nomothetic distinction through the pedagogy. The pedagogy assumed that the student had to work hard as a student “inventing” and then had to continue inventing forever after.” —Immanuel Wallerstein, Yale University

“… But then again I cannot think of a better way to reflect on Hopkins’s work than approaching it from a personal perspective. That is how he always approached his own work, after all, and he encouraged us to do so as well.” —Resat Kasaba, University of Washington

“… the subtext of that magnificent modesty which permeates the work of Terence Hopkins as scholar and teacher, and student of students, as I read it, has always been to go beyond established modes … The vision of methods Terence Hopkins has offered includes this invitation to a special sort of imaginative social action: think the past to make a past with the purpose of making the future by thinking a future.” —Richard Lee, Binghamton University

“This is not going to be a personal speech, but the invisible hand of Terence K. Hopkins lies about me and in most of what I’ve written since I left Binghamton. … (Somebody observed there are many Hopkinses. It’s very clear that Hopkins is a rich totality of many determinations and relations.)” —Philip McMichael, Cornell University

“The study of regionalism vis-à-vis globalism parallels the two poles of Terence Hopkins’s own intellectual development which began with the study of small group interaction and culminated with a focus on the dynamics of the world-system. …” —Elizabeth McLean Petras, Scholar and Author

“Hopkins’s comments are on his characteristic yellow-lined paper, handwritten comments with a #2 pencil. The first line reads “… It’s very good, but ….” Then comes the “but”—one, two, three, four pages of “but.” … even the Hopkins phrases were not immune to skeptical support. Exhibiting his characteristic penchant for sustained auto-critique, Hopkins wrote in the margins of the paper …” —Beverly Silver, Johns Hopkins University

“… my association with Terence Hopkins changed my life. He deepened my understanding of world-systems, he taught me what it meant to be a scholar who was deeply concerned about the movements; he was a role model for how to be a committed intellectual. … He was a tireless and merciless critic. Yet I never felt demeaned or belittled. … He pounded home time and again that it was not helpful to view race and class as binary opposites, ….” —Rod Bush (1945-2013), St. John’s University

“… key points in the work of Hopkins elucidate productive ways of meeting the criteria set by feminists for the study of gender. … World-systems analysis has thus far not dealt with subjective and objective, self and society as dimensions of the modern world-system. Critique of these as discrete units of analysis is implicit in world-systems analysis, but focused attention on these is the contribution of feminist theory to the discussion of unit of analysis.” —Nancy Forsythe, Feminist Scholar and Activist

“… The time I was fortunate to spend with him allowed me to have a sense of his profound concern about the welfare of humanity and commitment to the cause of the unprivileged ….” —Lu Aiguo, Inst. of World Economies and Politics, Chinese Academy of Social Science, Beijing

“It was not what Hopkins actually said to me that mattered, not his educational program nor even his parenthetical letters, but what he is (and now what he was), a style of being alive, a magical dance he does with his body or with you or with parts of who he was that had failed him, or weren’t there to begin with, a dance in which he laughs, turning away just enough to help you see it is not you he is laughing at, but us.” —Evan Stark, Rutgers University

“… It’s up to the movements to appropriate us. It’s up to us to appropriate movements. I wish only that there be a continuation of this, really if you think about it on a world scale, odd solidarity. It is worth continuing. Thank you.” —Terence K. Hopkins (1929-1997), Binghamton University

“Gathered in this volume … are sociologically imaginative world-systems analyses of Terence K. Hopkins, amid the world-historical public issues that deeply troubled him personally and are even more prevalent today.” —Mohammad H. Tamdgidi, UMass Boston / OKCIR

Front Pages and Index of this Book

To commemorate the life and preserve the legacy of Terence K. Hopkins on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of his passing on January 3rd, 1997, please recommend this book to your affiliated university/public library for acquisition in print and/or digital formats.

Now available for personal, course, or university/public library orders through Ingram, major online bookstores (including B&N, Kobo, and Amazon, worldwide), and Ahead Publishing House (APH):

Hardcover: ISBN-13: 978-1-888024-98-2 • ISBN-10: 1-888024-98-4
Softcover: ISBN-13: 978-1-888024-88-3 • ISBN-10: 1-888024-88-7
EPUB eBook: ISBN-13: 978-1-888024-92-0 • ISBN-10: 1-888024-92-5
PDF eBook: ISBN-13: 978-1-888024-91-3 • ISBN-10: 1-888024-91-7

334 pages • 6×9 inches
Includes biblio. references, photos, chronological bibliography, and index

Library of Congress Catalog Number (LCCN): 2016920666

Thematic Subjects for course assignment: General Sociology • Historical Sociology • World-Systems Analysis • Pedagogy • Mentoring • Methods of Social Research • Social Movements • History of Sociology • Graduate Sociology Program and Curriculum Development

Printed globally by Lightning Source LLC and its international affiliates. The paper used in the print editions of this book is of archival quality and meets the minimum requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (R1997) (Permanence of Paper). The paper is acid free and from responsibly managed forests. The production of this book on demand protects the environment by printing only the number of copies that are purchased.

Also available in print and epub ebook editions from major online bookstores worldwide.

“Je suis Henri”: Charlie Hebdo’s Tragic Caricature of the Principle of Human Liberty

“Je suis Henri”: Charlie Hebdo’s Tragic Caricature of the Principle of Human Liberty


تركيب‭ ‬پياله‌اى‭ ‬که‭ ‬درهم‭ ‬پيوست
بشکستن‭ ‬آن‭ ‬روا‭ ‬نمى‭ ‬دارد‭ ‬مست
چندين‭ ‬سر‭ ‬و‭ ‬پاى‭ ‬نازنين‭ ‬از‭ ‬سر‭ ‬دست
از‭ ‬مهر‭ ‬که‭ ‬پيوست‭ ‬و‭ ‬به‭ ‬کين‭ ‬که‭ ‬شکست

Breaking a wine cup whose parts are so intertwined
Would be unthinkable for the drinking inclined.
Who joined with love, then, and who broke so rashly
The tender heads and legs of many humankind?

—Omar Khayyam, 11th century A.D.


I. Is There a Limit to Liberty?

The satirist weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo’s basic reason for publishing defamatory cartoons of religious figures and symbols, including especially those of Islam, is that it wishes to practice freedom of speech beyond any limits in order to safeguard the principle of human liberty. At the heart of its argument, however, is a confusion of the meaning of that liberty.

Human liberty as a universal principle basically stands for the right to express one’s views to the extent that such expressions do not violate the right of all to do the same. Without considering such a self-limitation as a defining part of the principle itself, the principle becomes self-defeating, self-violating, absurdly tautological, and meaningless.

However, violating the right of others to freely express their views does not have to be violent to undermine the human liberty principle. Any seemingly benign, even “funny,” steps taken in that direction can potentially lead to material and social subjugation of others amid an imperial or asymmetrical power context.

That explains, for instance, why defamatory depictions of Jews and their Holocaust, of Armenians and their Genocide, of Blacks and their Slavery, of Native “Americans” (in all the “Americas”—the term itself imperially imposed) and their Genocides, among others, have become, rightly so, illegal, eschewed and/or problematized in mainstream global culture and politics. For, historical experience has shown that even seemingly benign orientalist caricaturing of “others” have served as effective ideological and subliminal instruments for provoking and practicing cultural humiliation, subjugation, or conversion of other groups as pretexts for the political domination, economic exploitation, and violent colonization or even annihilation of their lives in numbers unimaginable in human history.

Such imperial subjugations of others obviously violate the liberty of the subjugated because in violating their material, including social (economic, political, cultural), conditions and their rights of self-determination, their human liberty and rights of free speech are also violated—no matter how much and how far the “universal human rights” of the subjugated are trumpeted in imperial policy pronouncements.

II. Can Fanatics be Found Also Among Secularists and non-Muslims?

The fact that a secular group claims not to believe in a “god” does not mean it actually does not. One can be quite religious in believing in and practicing a secular and even atheistic dogma as a “sacred” belief. One can even be fanatic about it, by “religiously” (in the negative meaning of the term), obsessively, unthinkingly, inconsiderately, stubbornly, and in an “extremist” way holding on to it, no matter what others say and do.

There can be fanatic atheists and secularists as there are religious fanatics. Examples of these can be found in all ideological, political, or cultural trends. Fanatics may be found among Marxists or non-Marxists, Republicans, libertarians, democrats, the Left, the Right, Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, etc., without any of these groups being regarded as fanatic in general.

A fanatic secularist is one who considers his or her belief so absolutely true and “sacred” that such a belief itself becomes revered as a “god.” He or she believes in something so stubbornly, so dogmatically, so absolutely, that no room is left for its questioning.

The fanatic, secularist or religious, simply ignores that even those in the group he or she belongs may have differing interpretations of the same symbol, or of the same principle, they apparently share with one another.

III. Is Islam, or any Religion or Culture, a Monolith?

All cultures, religious or secular, consist of pluralities of contrasting, contradicting, and at times even openly antagonistic trends. Fascisms and (Neo)Nazisms were/are byproducts of Western extremist/fanatic secularism (even when they instrumentally use religious symbols), as much as ISILism/Al-Qaedaism and the Inquisition are/were byproducts of extremist/fanatic religiosity.

A figure like “Muhammed” or a term like “Islam” can have different meanings to different sects and branches of Islam and readings of the Qur’an. Simplification of religious meanings and symbols of any religion, as if they mean the same to all their diverse adherents, is not a reasonable thing to do and clearly not expressive of the best even Western scientific spirit has to offer in understanding human social and cultural realities.

The fact that a satire magazine is published in the West and in France does not necessarily mean it is the best that Western culture has to offer. An enemy of an enemy does not necessarily make a friend. Fanaticism can also be challenged by fanaticisms of other kinds. There can be conflicts among fanatics, and others do not have to take side with one, just because one does something more obviously wrong than the other. Just because a magazine claims to be secular and fighting others’ religious fanaticism does not mean it does so itself in a non-fanatic way.

Islamophobia does not have to offer a scary portrayal of Islam as a whole to achieve its aim. Presumably “funny” cartoons can do the same even more effectively by simplistically reducing the complex heterogeneity of a targeted tradition as a whole to particular interpretations and practices that are attributes only of one or another specific faction, sect, or trend in that tradition.

Even complex novels can fall into the traps of Islamophobia, let alone simplistic caricaturing that depicts religious symbols while presuming that the whole of a religious worldview can be reduced to a particular meaning fabricated in the mind of a most or least skillful Charlie Hebdo cartoonist.

IV. Is Religious Reverence Expressed Only One Way?

Peoples and traditions have different ways of and preferences for going about depicting their values, and respecting that diversity is a sign of maturity, that is, of an ability to put oneself in others’ shoes.

It is reasonable that religious cultures may avoid concrete personifications or depictions of religious meanings and figures, because by freezing a deeply spiritual cosmology or reverence in a tangible sign one may limit the spiritual insight or meaning being signified.

Spiritual traditions may prefer not to depict religious objects in order to avoid, from their point of view, cruder idolatrous customs prevalent in human religious prehistory. Such a preference that a satire magazine artist simplistically takes for granted as a sign of a whole tradition’s backwardness (in choosing not to depict the image of a religious figure it reveres) can exist for a completely different reason—one that a satirist from another culture cannot readily understand as much as those belonging to a culture or tradition appreciate.

Spiritual traditions who choose not to depict the objects of their reverence are not incapable of creating sophisticated and highly artful images and forms, let alone simplistic cartoons such as by those who selfishly take pleasure in practicing their childhood hobbies by insulting whole cultures. Spiritual traditions choose not to do so because they wish not to cast their symbols in such forms that may then be misidentified with particular human features and valuations. Was Jesus White? Did he have Black or Asian features? Did he look like a blond, long-haired Westerner, or was he a darker-skinned, Middle Eastern-looking, bald man? Why is Moses’ God reported to have said He is nameless? Why do some avoid spelling out “G-d,” and why do others capitalize “He”? Why not “She”?

In some spiritual traditions, creative mystics have developed their own ways of metaphorically representing their cosmologies in their art and poetry, such that not even the closest of their own friends, let alone those coming centuries later, can understand what the mystic meant to say. Even the artist himself or herself may not be sure how to convey a particular spiritual state he or she has experienced.

For instance, conscious building of ambiguous and multi-meaning tropes such as wine, drunkenness, cup, jug, and so on, in poetry and prose as found in Persian literature—which the British, the French, and Western audiences generally have for centuries admired so much (albeit in limited and often orientalist ways, unfortunately, due to the absence of proper verse translations of them, and due to the imposition of their own cultural meanings on the poems read/translated)—has been pursued exactly for the same reason, namely that deep spiritual cosmologies and feelings cannot be codified and frozen in rigid artistic expressions.

This does not mean, however, that religious traditions who choose to depict their reverent objects in visual representations are wrong to do so; However, if we listen closely to the deeper voices in such traditions, we find that they have a complex understanding that what their images depict are not to be taken literally but considered symbolic expressions of love and reverence for something they regard as most beautiful, yet so ungraspable.

And yet, we may also have cases where spiritual objects are depicted in unflattering or sectarian ways usually by those not belonging to the traditions they depict, causing divisions among the believers and/or non-believers, fueling their sectarianisms for the imperial purpose of ruling them, as in the case of Charlie Hebdo under consideration here.

Charlie Hebdo is presumably seeking to demonstrate its Western civilized nature, defending its interpretation of the principle of human liberty. However, the constant, pre-meditated, planned, intentional insulting and taunting of another culture presumably in the name of safeguarding human liberty principle—when those in the targeted culture almost universally say “Don’t do it!”—is expressive more of a spirit that seeks to impose itself on others than demonstrate respect for civility.

It is one thing to ridicule one’s own culture or religious group, and another to ridicule others’ traditions. To decide rashly, just for the fun of it, to impose especially unflattering images on the symbolic imaginations of other spiritual traditions who have repeatedly expressed their preferences for not being violated as such is an exercise not only of rudeness, but also of imperiality.

Disrespecting other tradition’s repeatedly expressed wishes not to be violated in what they diversely regard as their values can be an imperial form of religious harassment, of spiritual taunting, of cultural abuse and bullying in the global cultural playground.

V. Can Empires or Cultures be Tolerant and Intolerant at the Same Time?

The esoteric and deeper voices and practices in all spiritual traditions have been tolerant, understanding, and appreciative of their own and other religious traditions’ way of expressing their faiths, while some exoteric and extremist factions in their broader traditions may often differ and at times even quite violently suppress the more tolerant factions in the traditions with which they associate themselves.

Tolerance and intolerance amid Eastern traditions are as much facts of human history as are tolerance and intolerance amid Western traditions. Remember the recent cases of WWI and WWII, both originating from the West. In fact, if we look carefully at modern forms of imperiality we will find, adopting a broadly world-systemic perspective, that the presumably “proud” perpetuation of tolerance in the West has often been conditioned by and dependent on that same West’s “not so proud” perpetuation of support for intolerance in the semi/peripheries.

It is the same regarding wealth and democracy distribution patterns. That is, increases in wealth and democracy in the imperial centers in the modern world-system have often been dependent on the imperial powers’ perpetuation of policies that have increased poverty and repression in the lives of a majority of those living in the semi/peripheries. So, it is, for instance, that a West priding itself of its tolerance and democracy uses its intrigue and intelligence muscles to stage a coup in another nation (Iran), toppling a democratic government and bringing back to power a Shah’s regime, and supporting its intolerant, repressive policies for decades, and benefiting much from it.

In the age of globalization, one cannot assume that one’s own interpretation of human rights is exactly the same as that of others, nor that one can any longer contain it within one’s own borders; otherwise, insisting on a “my own way, or the highway” attitude is bound to become, and/or to be perceived as, imperial practicing of a “human rights” ideology which, like its “spreading democracy” counterpart, cannot be forced on others without negating itself in the process.

A dogmatic view of human liberty devoid of its own self-limiting content by definition, then, will find it difficult to explain why it engages in or condones one form of caricaturing of an “other” (Muslims), when, by law, it prohibits and eschews (and rightfully so) practicing the same against other “others” (Jews, Blacks, Armenians, Native “Americans,” etc.). The only difference here may be that in the latter cases, the historical record has proven that benign orientalist caricaturing, simplifications, and humiliations of others have contributed to their holocausts and genocides, while in other cases, their holocausts and genocides are (wrongly) presumed to have not yet come or that they may not come.

How do you think Gazans and (more broadly) Palestinians feel when their homeland is occupied and cyclically destroyed, the acts being often justified and accompanied by derogatory symbolic depictions of them as “Arab natives” who should be pushed aside by a cowboy-minded, Western backed state for decades pursuing its unending frontier expansion policy?

What can one do about an occupier who has not arrived (despite many voices from its own critically minded citizens) at the conclusion that it is in its own enlightened self-interest (especially having experienced such horror in the hands of Western Nazism and Fascism during the Holocaust) not to oppress and humiliate others, because it will just not work—since the human spirit of resistance to such oppression is much more powerful and enduring than any pens and weapons can repress?

Why are the West and Israel not learning the lesson that occupying others’ lives and lands and violating their human liberty is bound to lead to punches in return, as all just wars in self-defense are waged—horrible wars that can and should be avoided on all sides simply by letting sound reasoning to prevail?

It is unimaginable how a people so oppressed, as the Jewish people have been, can allow some in their midst to become so oppressive toward another people in the past several decades—simply to add just a bit of land over here and just a bit of land over there, and then trumpet such behavior as a civilizing mission and frontier achievement. Odd it is that the killings on one side are seen and widely condemned but the killings on the other side, perpetrated with such disproportional use of force, are conveniently ignored, and even lauded.

Western Enlightenment did not just presumably bring forth a respect for human liberty, but also a renewed call for the pursuit of human reasoning and the scientific spirit in the broad senses of the terms. What does it take for a West that is proud for having arrived at such a presumed enlightenment, and for having witnessed such horrors (ironically originating from amid its own side of the world) in the Holocaust against the Jews, the gypsies, and the communists in the Nazi concentration camps, to realize that it is just not a good idea, and not even in one’s own enlightened self-interest, to forcefully occupy and violate the lands and lives of others, and thereby their human liberties? Does it have to take the scale of a holocaust for the remaining survivors of the Holocaust to also loudly, emphatically, unequivocally, demand from Israel to stop the oppression of Palestinians, of turning their occupied homeland into a vast concentration camp?

The best of social science can demonstrate unequivocally that when you harm another, you are at that very same time harming yourself. An “other” cannot really be related to, in love or in hate, without relating to a self in one’s own subjective reality that represents that “other.” Hatred of the other is at the same time hatred for a self in you that represents that other. Your anger at an other, is an anger at a self in you that represents that other. Only soldiers who have gone on “human liberty” missions overseas and killed others can understand what the killing did to themselves. Peace can never come to oneself without making peace with others. Is Israel any safer than it was decades ago? What’s the point of all the Western science if it cannot come with a clear answer to that simple question?

Why is it so hard to realize that it is just not a good idea to make such oppressive and imperial acts easier, bit by bit, cartoon by cartoon, magazine issue by magazine issue, so crudely, yet so subtly, by disrespecting, humiliating, and violating the spiritual cosmologies and symbols of the still occupied and the still (neo)colonized?

VI. The Advent of “Comical Imperialism” and “Islamoridicula”?

The new phenomenon of “comical imperialism” is at the same time so new, and really not new, that it deserves its own new term. What one may also call “Islamoridicula” is fast becoming a new face of Western imperiality and orientalism in the 21st century.

“Islamoridicula” may be defined as perpetuating the “othering” of Islam as a whole not through fear, as in Islamophobia,  but by ridiculing a whole tradition in a comical way, unnecessarily bleeding all sides of the conflict to death in fanatic defense of an absurd belief that “I am liberating you by insulting your dignity”—hence the triple-puns on “ridiculing,” “ridiculous,” and “Dracula.”

Comically reducing the complexity of a whole cultural tradition to simplistic cartoons does with caricatures what Islamophobia does with fear. As the latter elevates the fear of violent extremist forces associating themselves with Islam to a fear of Islam as a whole, Islamoridicula reduces the whole of Islam and its shared symbols to the comicality of simplistic cartoons, both serving the same latent function of rendering a whole culture as being not civilized, as “not able to represent itself”—thus, deserving to be represented, kept in line, ruled.

The presumably “literary,” or more specifically comical, license helps protect Islamoridicula from the charges of orientalism, of committing prejudice and discrimination against a particular culture, since the French or others have already outlawed doing the same against some religious groups in its outright hateful expressions.

The literary/comical license is so handy that the same content in orientalist and Islamophobic arsenals can now be quite effectively repackaged militantly, stubbornly, and fanatically, as the symbol of a presumed Western human liberty principle, and fed to the millions.

The new imperial product seems quite pedestrian in form, but is in fact quite complex in content, a neo-orientalist way of enabling further neo-colonization of another culture by dividing and ruling it around a confused and caricatured notion of the human liberty principle.

Comical imperialism and Islamoridicula are not funny. They are quite serious, and can lead to severely tragic consequences for all sides. They are forms of imperial bullying that, when they meet fanatic extremists on the other side who are themselves in pursuit of their own form of imperial caliphate bullying of others for their own beliefs, can result in confrontations in which many innocents become victims.

Since the imperial content of Islamoridicula is disguised in presumably non-serious and funny symbolic arsenal rather than outright hatred and threats, it lends itself, its adherent so think, to a more effective way of ruling others by ridiculing them.

Does one really believe that a comical representation of a revered religious symbol cannot be at the same time an implicit expression of hatred for, and a subliminal expression of fear of, what it represents?

VII. And Then, There Were Free-Thinking Muslims … Or, … Were They Muslim?

Simplifications of Islam cannot in any way account for the seriously critical, scientific, philosophical, spiritual, literary, even at times humorous ways progressive and free-thinking trends in Islam have themselves historically critiqued the conservative, regressive, and extremist/violent trends in Islam itself.

Omar Khayyam’s is a good case in point. In his authentic scientific writings, he explicitly lamented about his time when scientists and scholars were marginalized, repressed, and even ridiculed by conservative and orthodox Islamic factions. So, facing life-threatening circumstances, and a free-thinker that he was, he preferred to be wise and prudent about the situation, to write and teach less so as not to jeopardize the lives of those students or peers seeking his knowledge, or even his own life.

Khayyam was not a man of duplicity. He was one who would rather remain silent, than express and write something he did not believe in. In the same passage of his scientific tract, he complained about others’ duplicity, which is telling of the higher values he himself espoused. It is an indication that when he did, so rarely given the harshness of his time, write scientific, philosophical, or religious essays, what he wrote could not be regarded as something unthinkingly said but not really meant on his part. There is nothing in Khayyam’s authentic scientific and philosophical writings that casts any doubt regarding his faith in Islam.

Those around Khayyam thought he was not generous with sharing his wisdom, teaching, and writings; but it is evident that as an Islamic free-thinker who may have even penned, among many quatrains, some satirizing his conservative foes, he leaned on the side of caution and realism, and preferred to be prudent in sharing them, if at all, or widely, simply because he valued life, of others and of his own. He lived long amidst a harsh and deadly era of rivalry among Islamic and political factions.

Even though he was severely critical of his times, living amid repressive forces of Seljuk imperialism and its Islamic orthodoxy, Khayyam remained independent and true to his faith as a Muslim—his scientific and philosophical writings, and many quatrains attributed to him, clearly telling of a free-thinking Islamic intellectual that is willing to subject all existence to criticism, sparing nothing from the sharp edge of his critical mind. Yet, he lived a Muslim and died a Muslim, reportedly praying just before dying, still in thoughtful reverence for the teachings of his also free-thinking Muslim predecessor, Ibn Sina (Avicenna).

So, critical and free thinkers within the tradition of Islam, such as Khayyam, did not abandon their basic faiths in Islam as a religious world-outlook when expressing their criticisms against conservative trends in Islam. They still expressed reverence in their scientific and philosophic writings not only for their God, but also for Islam’s prophet and his family.

When Charlie Hebdo targets and ridicules Islam and its symbols and figures as a whole tradition, it is collapsing centuries-old conflicts within Islam into a caricatured simplicity of a monolith, as if free-thinking Muslims such as Khayyam or Avicenna themselves have not been, for centuries, also both targets as well as challengers of the repressive trends within Islam.

However, the West that has presumably rediscovered Khayyam, albeit in an orientalist clothing, is inclined to believe that if Khayyam was a free thinker, he must not have been a Muslim—as if being free-thinking and being Muslim are incompatible. Avicenna was also a Muslim, and so were many Islamic scientists during the times when the West was still in the grip of its Dark Ages. It is the same story when the West, having embraced Rumi today, also asks whether “Rumi’s Islam” is the same as what Islam “really is.”

So, even the trends within Islam who have themselves been—amid the harshest of times, and having themselves endured significant hardships—harbingers and inspirers of much critical, free, philosophical/scientific thinking and creative literary writing and poetry in the West, are selectively set aside as if they don’t belong to the tradition of Islam.

Such attitudes, of course, serve Islamophobia and Islamoridicula well, since they help to conveniently set aside the trends whose existence within the tradition of Islam clearly complicate the broader culture’s heterogeneous and diverse intellectual landscape. This way the simplistic portrayals of Islam can be more easily caricatured into cartoons.

VIII. Tragicomicality of Matter-Mind Dualism: Is the West’s Attitude toward Islam Self-Defeating?

The irony of it is, those in the West who critique a whole religion for the intolerance or extremist violence of some of its adherents, self-defeatingly give up their own allies within that very religion who are also critical of such intolerance—because by so reductively, provocatively, imprudently, and simplistically abusing the universal figures and symbols of a religion as whole, they end up beating all those associated with that religion, including their own likely same-minded allies, with the same symbolic stick. In fact, conversely, by pursuing such strategies, they end up strengthening and fueling the fires of the very regressive trends in the broader tradition they are presumably seeking to silence.

Such simplistic reductions of a whole religion especially by caricaturing its founder is not a rational, nor a scientific, nor an enlightened, not even a modern concept, in the best meanings of these terms. It is just succumbing to the most disgraceful, pedantic, racist, intolerant, childish, and discriminatory levels of debate, beating whole civilizations with one stick, simply because it is fun to do, easy to draw, visually easy to communicate to broad masses so short of time in their already busy lives, and now, in many millions sold, quite lucrative.

But doing so is not even prudent to do, and is just simply careless toward one’s loved ones on all sides. The notion that one can just boundlessly and “freely” insult others beyond any limits in the sphere of the “mind,” without doing so having any effect on “matter,” arises from a deeply dualistic and binary philosophical tradition—that of separating matter and mind still inspiring the Western culture.

It is an ultimate, philosophically perpetuated caricaturing of our commonly shared cosmic, universal reality to think—now in the age of quantum science and the breaking down of simplistic boundaries of and disciplines about mind and matter—that one can separate liberty in all things mental from liberty in all things material.

Even Pope Francis, in his own pragmatic, prudent, and street-wise way, said, and rightly so, that if you insult someone’s mother, expect a punch in return. Not that the punch has to come, but it will likely come, given how unpredictable and diverse human lives and peoples’ upbringings are.

Social life is not a Newtonian, predictable, reality, but a quantal one. A seemingly benign, yet insulting, cartoon drawn in the tiny space-time of an editor’s desk can have butterfly effects everywhere all over the globe for years, decades, or perhaps centuries to come.

IX. “Je suis Henri”: The Other Charlie Hebdo?

Murdering the editorial board of Charlie Hebdo and those killed in related events was a horrible thing to do. Nothing justifies taking anyone’s life because of differences in mind. However, to expect that somehow the mental zone “up there” is completely out of touch with humans’ emotional and material lives “down here” also displays an impractical and immature attitude that is careless not just about one’s own life, but also about the lives of those inside and outside a magazine’s office.

Why did the police officer beside the editor, or the police officer on the street, among others, have to die so suddenly, and, as a victim’s tearful brother said, so wastefully? And yet, despite such sadness and such perhaps anger, he and his Muslim mother called for tolerance.

Those who regard “the sticking to the principle at no matter what cost” attitude as a sign of bravery, willing to give up their and their own peers’ and police protectors’ lives for it amid continual physical threats, are basically following exactly the same logic as the criminals who, in the name of “sticking to the principle at no matter what cost” take arms in the name of a faith to murder their adversaries in order to defend and avenge for their own beliefs.

What is missing in both is not just a pragmatic sense that mind and matter indeed are not as separate as one may think they are, despite having relative autonomy from one another, but also that both mind and matter, and the objects of their pens and weapons, are not solid and unitary things, are not monoliths, but consist of a whole diversity and multiplicity of views and adherents.

So, it happens that the murderers claiming to be Muslim end up killing a Muslim police officer in cold blood while another Muslim man hides Jewish customers in a freezer to save their lives, while, on the other end, we conveniently forget that even a founding editor of Charlie Hebdo, Henri Roussel, had for a long while been courageously critical of provocative cartoon wars waged by his former peers. So, neither “Muslims” were a monolith group, nor “Charlie Hebdo” a monolith magazine.

Why did the French President(s) not listen to this French citizen, Henri Roussel? Why do the millions of French not listen to this French man’s voice as well? Why did the magazine editors not listen to him? Why aren’t they, still? Was he not also a founder of Charlie Hebdo? Is he not being heard, simply because his is a single man’s voice in a minority, caught amid a sea of contrary majority opinions? One who, still, even after the tragedies, bravely insists on what he believed to be the principled position to take?

Where has gone the French and the Western respect for the individual, when Henri Roussel’s voice is sidelined, not heard, and reluctantly published, let alone sold in millions? Why not raise the banner instead of “Je suis Henri”? Where were the banners for him?

X. The New Cover of Charlie Hebdo: Is Charlie Growing Up?

But the most telling of the fact that nothing is a monolith is perhaps expressed in the cover of the post-murder issue of Charlie Hebdo. It is quite ironic and tragic that it had to take so many lives for a surviving editor of the magazine to learn the lesson, perhaps not intended as such, that even his caricatured “Muhammed” can be forgiving, and that even his caricatured Muhammed can be Charlie.

The Charlie of the post-murders magazine issue cover is not, whether we like it or not, the same Charlie as before. This Charlie has grown up just a bit under the pressure of unfortunate and quite preventable events. All Charlie Hebdo needed to do is to listen more openly to one of its own founding voices, that of Henri Roussel; but it didn’t, and it is still not listening.

A better cover could have portrayed Charlie himself as saying “I am not Charlie”—having learned that things in this world are not black and white, Us versus Them, but one in which there are grey areas in between things.

Why shouldn’t Charlie also grow up symbolically a bit more and realize that it will be helpful to calm down, to meditate a bit while learning some lessons about how to do it from the traditions he has bashed so mindlessly before—to sit and observe his breathing, to notice the chatter of such mindless rhetoric about “how to get back at them,” to become detached from such pedantic joke-mongering tendencies, to become a bit more mature and learn that there may be some value in also liberating oneself from the Cartesian dogma that “I am” merely means “I think.”

Some meditation can help one better realize that it takes much more than to “think” to be human and humane: to realize beyond the dualistic Cartesian mindset that to be human, “I am” should mean a plurality of “I think,” “I feel,” and “I sense” so that “I can experience” what it means to be in the shoes of the “other,” to be pained by insulting them as much as they are insulted by my cartoons—even, if I may still think they are wrong and I am right. It may help one to realize that there is always a grey area in between all things, between matter and mind, and that a seemingly benign “joke” here and now can lead to a crime in some other there and then.

But then, even the French law has learned this, albeit in a one-sided way, in the case of the Jewish Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide, for instance. Somehow, though, the case of Islam is deemed to be different, despite millions of the French and billions of the world’s Muslim citizens comprising the human family. Are not Muslims a part of the humanity whose liberty the editors claim to be also championing?

The tragedy of loss of so many lives associated with the Charlie Hebdo events is only partially so, however. The other tragedy was that in the heartland of Western Enlightenment, and amid the understandable shock of a tragedy just experienced, millions of grievers on the street did not wonder (by raising contrasting banners) whether it really makes sense for Charlie to be Charlie any more, that he should remain so static—to demonstrate instead that Charlie needs to also grow up just a bit from the tragic events.

And likewise, why not elevate the slogan from a Newtonian to a quantal point of view and say that “Somehow, oddly today, I am and am not Charlie, because I can grow up, I can change, I can learn.” To be honest with oneself and admit, “well, I feel ambivalent about it”? Why not ask, “look, a religious figure previously caricatured is now acknowledged to be capable of forgiving all those involved. Then, why did I ridicule him before?” “Why should I continue ridiculing the all-forgiver?”

A self-critical editorial perspective can advocate tolerance, forgiveness, and a realization that all faiths and unfaiths may have something useful and wise to offer the human conversation in the spirit of tolerance and love. Perhaps the magazine can turn to satirizing satire instead, not in an insulting and tasteless way but in a smart and tasteful way, satirizing those (including Charlie Hebdo itself in the past?) who pursue intolerance in the guise of advocating liberty, satirizing instead the tendency to simplify the complexity of the spiritual and/or secular cosmologies of humanity’s traditions by reducing them to childish cartoons.

Why not put cartoons to use for some healing on all sides? You know, meditation techniques taught in such diverse ways in the spiritual traditions Charlie Hebdo ridicules can be quite helpful in going beyond the fragmented mental chatters amid everyday life, and to improve one’s concentration and memory. It can help one to remember many things that otherwise are just left out of the comical portraits the cartoonists draw. In fact, it can even lead to some quite amusing ways of putting satire to good use.

For instance, as the French take up the banner of human liberty for all, it will be “amusing” to remind them in satire what they were doing in Vietnam or Algeria just a few decades ago. As they take pride in their Western tolerance while supporting those occupying others’ homelands in the Middle East, it may be “fun” to satirize how France itself was occupied by its Western neighbors just a few decades ago during WWII. “Amusing” it would be to satirize the West’s claims for respecting people’s rights of self-determination while reminding the readers, in millions now, of the history of Western colonialism. Oh, it would be just “fun” to remember how many perished and literally vanished during those years in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. And not many were left to come to the streets to protest those.

It may be also “fun” to relate how an ally in the Middle East complains of its safety, while having 200+ nuclear bombs in its possession, and the most sophisticated of today’s weaponry in its arsenal. And yet, is not safe from the stone thrown by a 14 year old girl, so it imprisons her for months. And nobody asks, let alone sanctions, it to also declare its nuclear arsenal. “Funny” it is that Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, and more recently ISIS, grew out of the regional and local allies the West were sought to arm in order to challenge their undesirable foe governments in power at the time (Soviets then, Syria now). Is it not “fun” to have allies who do not let “their women” even drive a car be such close friends in the region and such good allies in the fight against those violating the principle of human liberty?

XI. Is History Repeating itself as a Farce? A French “Un-Enlightenment”?

Human liberty is not an abstract, religious dogma, an absolutism, but a practical universalism such that logical limits to its meaning are by definition implied in its very principle. Doing otherwise is simply an act of caricaturing the universal principle itself.

A France that self-centeredly claims to be the fountainhead of modern notions of liberty and enlightenment for a whole humanity (as if other cultures have not contributed to the same in their own ways) cannot pretend to be so by outlawing one form of provocative humiliation of others while championing amid millions on the streets—with world leaders hand in hand leading them (among them many not too respectful of human differences, by the way)—the same provocative humiliation of others as the emblem of its self-proclaimed mission. Doing both at the same time is a tragicomic exercise in contradiction for which many French and Western generations down the historical road will have to answer.

Are we experiencing a French Un-Enlightenment today, history repeating itself as a farce? One would expect the French to practice the Western self-critical spirit that it claims to also share, and not rush into codifying a schizophrenic cultural and political legacy of Un-Enlightenment for centuries to come, by pursuing a double-standardized press policy. It should calmly sit around the nation’s editorial table, meditate a bit more on the matter before rushing into the streets, not fear being self-critical when listening also to the voices of its own Henri Roussels.

It should critique also its recent Syria policies, one that has contributed to such an armed expansion of regressive trends in Islam (itself, a microcosm of how the regressive trends in Islam we know of today have survived better and been strengthened because of the Western imperial policies in modern times in pursuit of the West’s economic and political interests in the region). It should critique its hitherto policy failures in legally prohibiting the Islamophobic caricaturing of its own and the world’s Muslim citizens this time before their holocaust comes—if it has not arrived already in its own troubling shape and form, judging from so many lives and heads shed everyday without a trace, with not as many coming to the streets to grieve for them as well.

Ultimately, the gallantry and bravery of the French will be judged not by fanatic and unthinkingly blind pursuit of a cartoon magazine’s misguided strategy to advance human liberty by insulting others, but by the extent to which it soberly, rationally and self-critically reviews its press policy and demonstrates that it is indeed unbiased, objective, and able to detach itself from the mental chattering of a fanatic desire to self-defeatingly continue a biased press policy built on pedantic harassment and bullying of others in the global schoolyard.

And do so in favor of a consistent adherence to the principle of advancing human liberty for all, and not just for the French or the West only—and in doing so, spare itself and Muslims in France and worldwide at least this completely uncalled for and unnecessary excuse for so tragically violating the rights and the lives of one another.

XII. What Was It That Made Voltaire, Voltaire?

The comparison between the caricatured human liberty principle as advocated by Charlie Hebdo today with that advocated by the Voltaire of the French Enlightenment is quite misplaced, ahistorically constructed, and simply cartoonishly drawn.

What made Voltaire special was not his willingness to stand up to his times’ religion per se, but his willingness to stand up to his times. What Voltaire advocated for then, is status quo now.

What Voltaire represents is the courage to stand up to the mass hypnosis of what passes in one’s own time and nation as a fashionable trend, and to have the courage to tell the truth to the face of one’s own cultural and political power and whatever passes as one’ own time’s and nation’s misguided common sense.

It is not a sign of bravery to go with the mainstream of the French culture and politics today and fanatically support a press policy that is obviously inconsistent in and of itself and prejudiced against a particular spiritual tradition.

The spirit of Voltaire lives in the brave voices of those like Henri Roussel who both before and after the recent tragic events stood and still stands firm, while grieving, on his own grounds insisting that using Charlie Hebdo to humiliate another culture was wrong.

“Je suis Henri” is a more apt expression of “Je suis Charlie.” Voltaire’s spirit is today represented in the voices of Henri Roussels, in the voices of anyone willing to stand against the absurd and fashionable mainstream and to speak for human liberty in a spirit of empathy, than that of ridiculing others for the imperial fun of it.

There is nothing honorable about imperial bullying and religious harassment via cartoons in the name of the principle of human liberty. It is very easy to ridicule others. It is much harder to examine and reexamine one’s own faults.

Is not being self-critical what made the French Enlightenment enlightening?

XIII. Don’t Other Cultures Have Their Voltaires?

Empires and Al-Qaedas (or ISILs) are two faces of the same imperial coin. The West regards itself as a beauty, desperately seeking to cleanse the images of the beast on the wall of Islam, not realizing that the wall is a mirror and the reflected images of the beast on the wall ever cross-morphing by-products of its own orientalist imperial adventures across modern world-history.

So, if one really wishes to do something serious about it, one has to be aware also of causes of monstrosities in oneself that are reflected as such in the mirror. This calls for a different kind of enlightenment.

Islam’s free-thinkers were clearly not Cartesians. Facing the harsh realities of their times ruled by conservative and repressive Islamic trends, they found it essential to express their wisdom not simply in thinking tracts, nor in simplistic cartoons, but in poetic forms that appealed not just to thinking, but also to feeling, to sensing, and to experiencing of themselves, “others,” and the universe. For them, matter and mind were not dual and separate, but related to one another as aspects of a unitary existence.

Before tragicomic acts take uglier turns, it may help listening again to such voices of Islam as expressed in Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, or in the Song of the Reed by Rumi, whom the West conveniently forgets when drawing its hateful caricatures on the face of its Islamophobic press policy and magazines.

All Rumi’s Reed is saying below is that the only way we can let the light of love, rather than spite, reach across humanity is by bravely wiping the rust off of our own mirrors. You cannot enlighten others, without enlightening yourself through serious critical introspection and meditation.

Otherwise, there will aways be a blind-spot in everything you think and do, missing those causes that are inside you, that will generate and regenerate the same monstrosities you are seeking to liberate yourself from by ridiculing others.

You cannot liberate others and the world, without liberating yourself from within. That is the heart of a different kind of enlightenment we have inherited from the genuine voices in all spiritual traditions of humankind—in so many beautiful expressions that can never, ever, be comparable to Charlie Hebdo’s simplistic cartoons, even if it so belatedly acknowledges a Muhammed crying.

And Rumi’s “Muhammedan” Reed cried a long while before the French Enlightenment.

XIV. Rumi’s Islam: Surrendering to Love—The Song of the Reed

Listen to how this reed is wailing
About separations it’s complaining:

“Since from the reed bed parted was I,
Men, women, have cried from my cry.

“Only a heart, torn-torn, longing
Can hear my tales of belonging.

“Whosoever lost his essence,
For reuniting seeks lessons.

“In the midst of all I cried
For the sad and the happy, both sighed.

“But, they heard only what they knew,
Sought not after the secrets I blew.

“My secret’s not far from this, my cry;
But, eye or ear lack the light to seek and try.

“Body and soul each other do not veil
But there is no one to hear his soul’s tale.”

What blows in reed’s not wind, but fire;
Whoever lost it, is lost entire.

What sets the reed on fire is love, love;
What brews the wine entire is love, love.

Reed comes of use when lovers depart;
It’s wailing scales tear love’s veilings apart.

Like reed both poison and cure who saw?
Like reed comrade and devout who saw?

Reed tells of the bleeding heart’s tales,
Tells of what mad lovers’ love entails.

With the truth, only the seeker’s intimate,
As the tongue knows only the ear’s estimate.

Days, nights, lost count in my sorrow;
Past merged in this sorrow with tomorrow.

If the day is gone, say: “So what! go, go!
But remain, O you pure, O my sorrow!”

This water’s dispensable—but not for the fish.
Hungry finds days long without a dish.

Cooked soul’s unknowable if you’re raw;
Then there is no use to tire the jaw.


Break the chain, be free, O boy!
How long will you remain that gold’s toy?!

Say you have oceans, but how can you pour
All oceans in a single day’s jar, more and more?!

The greedy’s eye-jar will never fill up;
No pearl, if oyster’s mouth doesn’t give up.

Whoever tore his robe in love’s affair
Tore free of greed, flaw, and false care.

Joy upon you! O sorrowful sweet love!
O the healer! healer of ills! love, love!

O the healer of pride, of our shame!
O Galen in name, Platonic in fame!

Earth’s whirling in heavens for love, love;
Hill’s whirling round the earth for love, love.

Love’s the soul in hill. It’s Love in the hill
That brought the hill down and Moses the chill.

If coupled my lips with friend’s on and on,
I’ll tell tales, like reed, long, long.

Uncoupled, though, these lips will cease wails,
Lose tongue, though remain untold tales. 

If the rose is dead, garden long gone,
No canary can recite her song along. 

The lover is veiled; beloved’s the all.
Veil must tear to hear the beloved’s call.

If you do stay away from love, hear, hear!
Like a wingless bird you’ll die, fear, fear!

How can I stay awake and see the road,
If lover’s light shine not on my abode?

Love always seeks ways to spread the light.
Why, then, does your mirror reflect a night?

Your mirror takes no tales—you’d like to know?—
‘Cause your rust keeps away all lights’ glow.


The voice recitation of the above Song of the Reed in English verse and Persian is available by clicking on the image above or by visiting The OKCIR Channel on YouTube. English verse translations of Omar Khayyam’s ruba’i (quatrain) and Rumi’s Song of the Reed are by Mohammad H. Tamdgidi.

Essay Author: Mohammad H. (Behrooz) Tamdgidi, Ph.D., an Iranian-American sociologist and a former Associate Professor of Sociology at UMass Boston, is a Founding Research Director at OKCIR: The Omar Khayyam Center for Integrative Research in Utopia, Mysticism, and Science (Utopystics) and a Founding Editor of Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge. |

[Note: The linking to, or reposting of, the above blog essay is free and permitted anywhere, on the strict conditions that (1) nothing is omitted from or modified in it, (2) its authorship is credited as signed, and (3) this and the above signature notes including a link to this blog posting as is included at the end of the essay.]

© Mohammad H. Tamdgidi, 2015.




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