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Thus, for example, when responding to the question about the Western reception of Islamic ideas, I mentioned the importance of Jewish scholars like Ignaz Goldziher, the 19th-century father of German Islamwissenschaft, and the conservative political theorist Leo Strauss, a great admirer of the late medieval theologian Al-Farabi, who did so much to preserve and develop Greek rationalism in the Middle Ages while not turning it into an excuse for the domination of nature.Fueling my efforts was the memory of another episode in the 1980’s, when I was also engaged in a dialogue—or more precisely, a kind of question and answer exchange—with a young Iranian woman only a few years after the Iranian Revolution.My willingness to contribute a brief statement about the value of philosophy led several months later to a request from a journalist associated with the and the semi-official Mehr News Agency to respond to another series of questions.
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Or rather, nothing immediate happened, for there was, as it turned out, a delayed effect.In addition, I was happy to have the chance to promote certain values that might support those tendencies in Iranian culture and politics that were less repressive or authoritarian than ones dominant at the moment: religious pluralism and tolerance, the healthy role of critique rather than blind obedience to tradition, the clash of moral imperatives without a simple hierarchy dictating behavior, the importance of justifying values through rational argumentation, and so on.In addition to espousing these liberal nostrums, which are commonplace in our culture (although, alas, not always observed in practice), I sought to challenge in small ways the anti-Semitic slant that I feared too often informed Iranian anti-Zionist discourse.In contrast, my own involvement was premised on a tacit refusal to comment on anything topical, especially when it meant criticizing American positions, even those I did not in fact support.Thus, when I was asked my thoughts on an American military build-up in the Middle East, I politely declined to respond.The ones I did choose to answer were grand in scale and open-ended, reminding me of the kinds of “naïve” questions often posed by unselfconscious, curious undergrads before they learn to censor themselves to avoid looking foolish in the eyes of their more jaded counterparts.Among them, to the best of my recollection, were the following: Can you compare the relationship between theory and practice in the West and East? What is the place of tradition in the modern world?Launched in 1979 as a mouthpiece of the Islamic Revolution, the is a professionally produced “international daily,” printed in color since 2011, which has the appearance of a sober, straightforward newspaper rather than a biased tabloid.It often includes non-Iranian voices, among them Americans opining on a variety of subjects.Thus began an involvement that has lasted until very recently and produced ten appearances in the pages of Iran’s leading foreign-language newspaper.Although the results were published in English, I gather from Iranian friends that at least some were also translated into Farsi and appeared in other sites.