“Oh West”: Delinking from the Coloniality of Iranian Imagination

Payam Hassanzadeh Ghalebsaz

Almost six months after the start of what then came to be rightly known as “Women, Life, Freedom” revolution (I prefer revolution because although it has not yet toppled down the state, reducing it to the act of overthrowing the government is itself a reduction within the logic of coloniality, besides revolutions as events are manifestations of subterranean revolutionary processes of giving birth to new dissident subjects of history) after the state murder of Zhina Amini[1], a girl from one the utmost subaltern peripheries of Iranian nation-state killed in its capital city of Tehran by the morality police, I encountered a satiric poem, titled “Oh West”, by an Iranian exiled diaspora poet, Ms. Sepideh Jodeyri, commemorating March 20, 1951 nationalization of Iranian oil industry, which less than two years later faced the overthrow of Dr. Mossadegh’s cabinet, the only democratically elected government which Iran has experienced throughout its modernity, by the US and the UK instigated coup d’état, led mostly by Mohammadreza Shah Pahlavi’s army in favor of his return after he had escaped and of strengthening his absolute monarchical rule. Interestingly enough, I have to mention that, Dr. Mossadegh and his Cabinet was almost not an anti-Western government, if not a moderately pro-Western one. It just aimed to democratically stand against economic colonialism of, then, weakening British Imperialism.

Nevertheless, the poem manifested the mark a quality and difference from most of mainstream Iranian postcolonial literary works (which are not many, specifically, in relation to the bulk of academic works in the realm of postcolonial theory and also Marxist oriented theorizations in Iran) that makes it both speak precisely to the current historical moment of its production and also, by the same token, not be limited to a specified time or event, that is, its satire targets the whole logic of coloniality or the coloniality of being and imagination. It has well understood what is at work here is not just the exploitation of the resources of the colonized and even constructing its identity and otherness, but a colonization of the imagination of the colonized, namely, an epistemological coloniality. The West is not just a locus but an epistemic geographic topos that on one hand has universalized itself through the logic of coloniality and its interdependent rationality and on the other hand has graphed the map of the world into geographical determinisms of civilizational, national, and religious entities and collectivities. That is, it has produced and reproduced itself through its absences; the geographical determinisms it is presumably distinct from. Nevertheless, it has globalized itself through history as its modern discipline of knowledge. The opening lines of the poem starts ironically pointing to this negative dialectic by defining “lack” as the surplus that produces the Western identity, of course “on the age-long side of [its] history”, and thus, its others are determined to remain on the other side, the false.

The paradigm which renders history its unifying meaning is an endless progress towards a messianic telos, the criteria which articulates the imaginary embodiment of this messianic history are development, growth, and the accumulation of wealth. Therefore, the “coloniality of Modernity” as Mignolo defines it, provides the geographical collectivities with feeling a certain shared uniqueness driven by a nostalgia of a perennially determined identity, while simultaneously, it gives a general image of what humanity desires to be headed towards in its totality. That image finds its ideal figure in the West, its goal seems still to be achieving a full globalization the so-called free market economy, and its utopia to be fulfilled is (neo)liberal democracy (even once proposed as the end of history by Francis Fukuyama). Thus, the colonial temporality both looks back at an originary point of history against which points of origins of the races, nations or civilizations are determined, that is, on one hand both the colonizer and the colonized identify the chronicles of their histories through epochal categories constructed in the Western paradigms of knowing your history: Ancient Greek and Latin, before Christ and after the birth of Christ, the Mediaeval, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Modern and the Postmodern, etc. One the other hand, these plethora origins find their optimal unification in a future whose imaginary human is the embodiment of the code of the Western civility. The opening lines of the poem’s second stanza is a sarcastic attack on the adaptation this imaginary by the self-orientalists “raptured” and “numb” to sights of development in the West, as they ought to identify themselves as the underdeveloped or a third-world civilization vying each other to resemble the ideals which comprise the notions of Europeanness, or “Whiteness”. In other word, the poem tries to articulate that the colonized collectivities as “laboratories of modernity,” (Stoller 15) are more than just sites of exploitation, but the loci through which the imperial White bourgeois order shapes is paradigms of racial distinction, according to which the privileged classes of the colonized bourgeoisie identify their desire vis-à-vis the subaltern classes within. This coloniality of being has led to a biopolitical order that the optimization of the qualities of the lives of the colonizing bourgeoise within the imperial frontiers relies on the pauperization of more subaltern populations in the colonized geopolitical regions and nation-states, or entails a proliferation death and destruction, by their militant “condescension” within the discourses of the civilizing process, namely, humanitarian wars legitimizing themselves in the framework of a world war against terrorism and/or the exploitation of the so-called underdeveloped nations’ human resources by the philanthropist entrepreneurs.

As poem goes on, it puts more emphasis on what I term as ‘the colonized bourgeois elites’ stress of adolescence’, always knowing themselves and their compatriots as immature subjects in need of being “awakened” by the Western media, and thus they reproduce a kind of tacit “self-abhorrence” under the gaze the developed colonizer. The poem looks through geographically determinist imagination of the colonized awry, sees it contingent and deeply embedded in coloniality of the capitalism’s hegemony, even in its dewesternized versions (be it state corporate capitalism of China). Nevertheless, why is it that still the West is the target?

China as the most important rival of the West’s economic colonialism has not (still) appropriated a discourse of racial distinctive superiority to itself, even Russia failed in appropriating the West’s discourse of humanitarian militarism in its invasion of Ukraine. Perhaps, for that matter they should – as they already in some way or another try – become more similar to their counterpart to be capable of also colonizing the imagination of the colonized, for “the United States is not just one country, or one culture, among others, any more than English is just one language among others” (Jameson 58). Thus, we can better understand why seventy years after the US and the UK managed coup d’état against Iran’s single experience of a democratically elected government, the imagination of some layers of Iranian mostly centralist bourgeois populations can be, or at least is coerced, by the Western budgeted media to recall that coup d’état as a popular revolt against a tyrannical prime minister who had cracked down the constitutional law, and are making the son of the last Shah of Iran as the leading savior of the nation, and as the guarantor of the nations territorial integrity, apparently, against dissenting minorities, thus, effacing the Kurdish ethnicity of Zhina from the nationalistic memory. Becoming-woman is the utmost practice of becoming revolutionary, lest the woman itself is not defined as a preconfigured category in the instrumental reason of coloniality.

Oh West

Oh West, West!
Alas, ye detached sky, Oh West!
On the age-long righteous side of thy history, lack thy surplus identity, infidel to our senile frame of valiance, much ado and clamor yet devoid of uproar and dream.
Alas, West!

Wretched is an age having us behold thy public transportation
Raptured numb has us to be, Oh West!
Thy roads convenient for our comfortable drives!
A little farther and hilarious be,
That hatred and obliteration betide us
And in thy heaven, thou paddle our fortitude,
Our stature trampled be by thy condescension,
Oh West!

How sumptuous, how divulging, how gracious,
From ourselves awakened, self-abhorred make us be!

The East the grievous, the East prior to this, the East the heavenly afflatus summoner,
Rightly, indeed, to naught shall it come, Oh West!

Oh West, death betide us, Stones befall us, hates and arrows upon us shall be,
Depths of abyss be our common share, in sighs drowned we ought to be, murky incubus our sleepy nights be,
We who in thy mandatory claws, our death is chicly a la mode!
Count the pains, count the pains, as obliged we are!
That for the best our blood shines on thy hands
Oh West, Perennial is our blood!

A poem by Sepideh Jodeyri (Translation and Essay by Payam Hassanzadeh Ghalebsaz)


Balibar, Etienne. “Paradoxes of universality.” Anatomy of racism (1990): 283-294.

Jameson, Fredric. “Notes on globalization as a philosophical issue.” The cultures of globalization. Duke University Press, 1998. 54-78.

Stoler, Ann Laura. Race and the education of desire: Foucault’s history of sexuality and the colonial order of things. Duke University Press, 1995.

[1] I deliberately use Zhina rather than Mahsa because the systematic effacement of Zhina – the name referring to her Kurdish ethnicity, – in the media, and nationalistic discourses goes with Etienne Balibar’s discussion that how racism “embarks on the obsessive quest for a [national] ‘core’,” based largely on the criteria of “social class.” (284 – 285).

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *