Wednesday, January 26, 2005


I think I should get a few preliminaries out of the way first. Our friend, I feel, is absolutely right when he observes a "collective victim mentality" at work. Years of authoritarian rule and radical insecurity that come with having to live at the mercy of the arbitrary decisions and the whims of various structures of power have taken a toll on the Iranian psyche--some thing which has got to be confronted if there is to be any hope of a brighter future.

And I think our foreign friends can play their part by unabashedly tackling our (not so unique) pathologies. I'll have more to say on this later . Unfortunately, however, a particularly macabre alignment of the moon and the stars has prevented this much needed engagement when it comes to East-West encounters.

For one, our potential allies in the West are reeling from their own flirtations with radical victimology on the one hand and a crude demonology on the other.

The Left, sensitive to the burden of the past interventions and under the influence of various post-modern paradigms, appears ill at ease in confronting the odium emanating from various groups in its ever changing hierarchy of suffering. This mostly due to oscillations between the need to speak and act on principles and the urge to defer to different voices which should be privileged ostensibly by virtue of their myriad wounds and bruises—however real or imagined.

And the Right, of course, is becoming all the more sophisticated in its efforts to reconstruct the memories of its past interventions and their consequences hoping to further stifle dissent deemed counterproductive to its present policies, while simultaneously playing the victim. A venture, I occasionally feel, meant to beat the left in its own game by appropriating some of the language.

All this leaves our friend in the position of an ideal interlocutor. Some one who is capable of acknowledging both his own flaws as well as the destructive machinations of some in his country! Some one who also exhibits the admirable desire to avoid lecturing others while at the same time refusing to compromise critical faculties!

What we have here is a perfect partner for con-ver-sa-tion, i.e., a companion in that painful process of mutual turning. Now we can explore together. Something hard to do with all the know-it-alls around who can never do wrong ( have never done wrong and will never, ever do wrong either) in an era of fragmentation burdened as we are by a suffocating atmosphere of contentiousness.

As much as some of our tolerant, freedom-loving saviors might be disinterested in zoology, I feel we should start with some basics about Iran and Iranians since even our eloquent Satrap in the Anglo-American Blogospher has been getting it wrong, and in the process even managing to make some decent folk very uncomfortable. (Add Doothat to the list.)

Iran is an extraordinarily diverse country; something neither we nor some of our outside friends have yet to fully appreciate. While it is true that Persians are not Arabs and Iran technically not a part of the "Arab world," Iran is indeed an Arab land just as much as it is a Baluch country and Kurd and Azari and Turk, Turkmen, Ghashqhai, Lor, Armenian ,Assyrian, Jewish, and few others as well. We can debate language vs. dialects until we are all blue in the face, but the fact remains that there are upward of 70 living and dead languages listed for Iran.

And just in case you're thinking there are more languages and ethnic diversity in your local supermarkets, remember folks have been living here for centuries. They regard themselves fully entitled to all the amenities this country has to offer. There is shared memory spanning centuries and probably myriad nursed grievances.

There are 28 states in Iran and considerable miscegenation. Still, as hard as it may be to break down the population more exactly, our Arab states now boast about 5,000,000 residents. And as much as Persians think themselves masters of the domain, they are only a fraction of the population historically sucking up most of the country's resources.

We humor each other good naturedly all the time, but at least we are not at each other's throats constantly. Well, technically the Persians have been terribly nasty with the Kurds for as long as I remember. And Arabs and the Baluchis in particular haven't been getting their fair share of the resources. That said, like all cultures there are different ways of looking at things both because of one's unique ethnic group and more broadly because of one's political allegiances. There are decipherable patterns, though.

Iranians generally have a very peculiar relationship with political language-- something we'll explore in some other post. And sometimes we tend to be slow in dotting the i's.

But suffice to note for now that as odd as it might sound, one can, on the basis even of particular greetings exchanged and the farewells as well as the cadence of the speech and the by specific vocabulary employed, ascertain with frightening accuracy the political position of one's interlocutor. A profiling nightmare I know. But do some channel surfing with those expat. t.v. stations one day. You don't even have to know Farsi. Just be attentive to "the music" of the speeches.

This, my way of saying that there are a number of different ways we can analyze this "made in Britain mullah" conspiracy theory. One of them is by way of being attentive to all the excess baggage. It will read roughly as follows.

Iran has a glorious past thanks mostly to the institution of Monarchy, a Persian creation. Persians, of course, are the natural dominant group, O so very tolerant and generous. And then there are those nasty Arabs. They are not indigenous to our land, because, well, as everyone knows Iranians are not Arabs. Islam too is not indigenous to Persia, because well, that too got imported when the Arabs came.

The Persian wisdom did all it could to temper destructive proclivities of those "lizard eating Arabs," until, well, until the Ayatollah came up with his totally "alien" theory of "Valayate Fagih," and quite naturally with the help of the British wreaked havoc on the magnificent Persian civilization.

I'll close this section by noting a few aspects of this I personally find troubling. For one, it is a myth and a relatively modern one at that and so terribly chauvinistic. It fails to acknowledge some basic facts about Iran.

Secondly, its understanding of the Political to is too mechanical. Politics is normally reduced either to the administrative activities naturally formulated and implemented from above. And all that's left is either to be cheerleaders or the opposition, in point of fact the paid agents of outsiders operating in the shadows.

These notions are inherently counterproductive in a society in which the most irksome problematic to this day remains facilitating mass participation in the political decision making process and creating a cultural milieu more nurturing of individual autonomy.

As an aside, such a paradigm also creates a paralyzing circle from which there is no escape. If indeed the "rule of the jurisprudents" is an alien concept imported into our culture from abroad because of non-Persian influences and the prodding of the cunning British, then naturally, there would be no sense examining the Usuli-Akhbari controversy that spans many centuries and so we also have to ignore Shaikhi school of gnosis, and such pivotal thinkers as Shaykh Ansari, Shaikh Ahsa'i, Hajj Karim Khan Kirmani, etc.,

One of the more unpalatable consequences, of course, is that with all this history ignored, Babism and Baha'ism too will have been seen as having emerged out of no where. Probably the ex nihilo creation of those mischievous Brits. And there you have it, an entire religion and millions of believers all instruments of foreign adventurism in a blink. Such are the marvels of those conspiracies.

More later.

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