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Identity

A lost cause
Being a global minority, the majority will see me as they choose

August 10, 2004
iranian.com

In the middle of a busy schedule, and with a deadline drawing near, I read a very good article [A new language?] by Mr. A.R. Beglie Beigie discussing the issue of Persia versus Iran and Persian versus Farsi. The familiar subject was so close to my heart it felt as if the words had been written by me, only a decade ago. How feverish my defense used to be. How passionate were my words way back then. How I defended the beloved name of Persia and my Persian language.

Persia! With a name so profound, not only did I feel more dignified, but there was no confusion between my nationality and that of Arabs. It also sounded better and no one mispronounced it. I lived in my Persian bubble for most of my life, until the reality of the world around me began to sink in.

This isn't to say I disagree with Mr. Beglie Beigie. In fact, deep down, I could not agree more with him. But having let a few more strands of hair turn white in useless arguments, like most Iranian immigrants, I have come to the conclusion that being a global minority, the majority will see me as they choose, which is not necessarily as I would like them to.

By the same token that the word 'shah' (Persian for king) now refers to one person only - as if it were the late shah's given name - the Western world will also give us names that may not be true at all, but simplifies their reference. I wish it would stop at the name, but through bad media coverage and its repetition, we now have a whole new identity. We are the evil ones, the dangers to humanity, destructive elements and indeed the villains who need to be stopped before they end the world.

You see, Mr. Beglie Beigie? It is much harder, perhaps impossible, to hate a Persian. How could you hate someone related to Cyrus the Great, Omar Khayyam and Rumi? How can you forget the ancient fine miniatures, the tiles, the turquoise and hand crafted carpets? Can we delete the fascinating saga of Shahnameh and the mesmerizing tales of Shahrzad? And if you live in America, where most roads have a gastronomic end, is any feast the same without the elegance of Persian caviar?

Our problem is not in the name of Persia. It lies within its metaphoric connection. The mere mention of Persia is too poetic and depicts too much beauty to justify the unpleasant labels we have been given. The more we are disassociated from our true name, the easier it is for the world to believe the negative propaganda. As a true believer of the conspiracy theories, I think this to be the fact underneath all the little errors that you and I try so desperately to correct.

The British never wanted Persia to be Persia. They would have loved a Commonwealth of Iran. As far as the ignorant is concerned, Farsi is a wonderful name for our language. It may even imply that what we have to say is nothing but a farce!

People like Mr. Beglie Beigie and all those who continue to wear their national pride (and their hearts) on their sleeves, will face only ridicule. Nearly three decades past the Islamic revolution, regardless of twenty five centuries of history, to the eyes of the world we are but a backward fundamentalist nation. "What do you mean, Persian Gulf?" they say. As far as the western hemisphere is concerned, more Arab oil comes through those waters than anything Persian. And, as for Persia, didn't Alexander the Great take care of that one?"

The average person in the western world doesn't even bother to pronounce Iran (eeron) properly. To them, I-ran sounds better and it rhymes with I-raq. Besides, "I ran" may indicate that we are, and will be forever, on the run.

The fact is, those who are educated enough already know the difference, and those who don't know any better don't care to be educated. As rewarding as it may be to educate others, in order to succeed, first and foremost they should want to learn. After bashing my head for years against the brick wall of ignorance and participating in heated discussions that got me nowhere, I've come to a peaceful conclusion. I've decided that no matter what I think or say, no matter how hard the last generation of Persians may try, Persia will have a place alongside Mesopotamia in the history books of future generations.

I guess aging does have some good aspects. As the years go by, I begin to realize what peace is all about. It isn't about setting things straight. It isn't about who is right - never has been. It's about forgiving and tolerance. That may explain why young people argue, demonstrate and express their opinions, while old people stand by and don't say much. It has nothing to do with energy. But perhaps they know that no matter how passionately they want to, it is impossible to swim against a strong current. Ignorance is a fierce current and for three decades it has pushed us around. I, for one, have given up.

The other day, I was shopping at Walmart. The clerk took my credit card and said, "Nice accent. Where're you from?"

I responded with pride, "I am Persian."

Her eyes lit up and she smiled. "Ooh, I love Paris!"

For a second I had the urge to deliver my well rehearsed sermon. But instead, I smiled back and said, "Me, too."

Author
Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a freelance writer, poet and artist. She lives in San Diego, California.

.................... Peef Paff spam!

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