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What would Rumi say?
Persian in the post-911 world

September 28, 2004

Confront your choice of a sophisticated literature professor at any reputable university in the States and it is almost a guaranteed that he or she will praise the value of the Persian language and its powerful presence in literature.

Good Farsi, excluding "kitchen Farsi" or "Finglish", is the all encompassing melodic language that has at once thrilled and inspired many great writers. The British prided themselves on translating Persian poetry and literature, and the French compared it to their own which they considered most superior.

Needless to say that Rumi, the Persian poet, is by far the most revered Eastern poet in America. Writers today will tell you that Farsi is indeed the language that the infamous 'play on words' was created for -- that if spoken correctly -- Farsi is the better language of the lover and the logician.

But let us not get carried away. Does Farsi have a role in today's post 911 era of mistakes!? Could Farsi be the new "terrorist language?" [See: "Note prompts flight cancellation"] Has the West stooped so low to stop a commuter plane from taking off simply because someone had decided to leave a line of Forough's poetry in the middle of magazine on a commercial flight?

I am not certain if it was Forough's poetry, Hafez's writings or ironically Rumi's. But it was two lines of writing, characterized by the spokeswoman of the unidentified airline, "as having a contemplative nature!" and of course it was in Farsi. Most notably, she admits to the media that she did not know what the writing meant.

It's amazing how in a country where there is so much advancement, the little note could not have been immediately faxed to an expert for translation and saved so much grief. But instead the plane returned to the gate, emptied its original 118 passengers and paid for the overnight hotel stay for all of them.

And most importantly, nothing was ever found on the plane.So we have successfully arrived at poor judgment influenced by "language profiling?" Is that really possible -- can we be hated and profiled now by the language we speak, and write?

Or on a rather comical note, can writers of Farsi stop all sorts of public transportation by writing little notes of love and leaving them everywhere. I think this is a question for the experts. What would Hafez and Rumi say?

I am not sure, but I would hope it reminds us to steadfastly hold to the truth that we harbor inside -- that despite absurd assaults our language remains pure and good.

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Faye (Fereshteh) Farhang



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Iranian Nationality and the Persian Language
by Shahrokh Meskoob

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