Folan fellow shodeh
A few thoughts about adaptations
December 21, 2006
It is the first day of winter and of course the talk among the Iranian community is the commemoration of the Shab-e Yalda, as if it is the birth of spring! According to Wikipedia and other internet entries, the word yalda apparently is of Syriac/Babylonian origin and means birth, of light and longer daylight. I think that is probably a meaning based in the metaphoric significance of the occasion. The word probably means “long” as the night is the longest night of the calendar. Query: Is Yalda the basis for the toponym Yalta?
The word yalda is not Persian, but the name of the month of Day that begins with Yalda is. There is some indication that Light, it being the embodiment of divinity, makes this a godly season, if not in Persian lexicon then in other languages where the word dei and deus refers to god.
There are a many concept that we grow up considering as quintessentially Iranian and then find out much to our surprise that it is really of some other origin.
Maryam wrote to give news of an astonishing find in her daily conversations on the island. “Did you know that fulano means the same thing in Spanish as folan does in Farsi?” I did not know that, like a lot of other things (I know, it is hard to believe that I should not know something).
I checked the Spanish-English dictionary to find out that the word means “such-and-such person,” like folani or folan-kas in Farsi. As I kept repeating the word in my head, I kept thinking of all the other uses of the word that I could recall from my childhood – felan or folan, meaning literally the “thingy,” anywhere from a thing to penis to other. There was the term folan-folan shodeh that was meant like a non-descript cuss word. Or so and so stuck his folan in the folan. Can something of such variegate use in Farsi be Spanish? Or is it of Farsi origin? It turns out apparently that the term is Arabic and that explains the occurrence in Farsi and Spanish, as the Arabic language bridged Iberia and Persia. I happen to think that folan is probably the basis for “felon” and even “fellow” in English.
The Iranian often takes from others and makes it all her very own, often with great excess. Consider the name of Kourosh, which the Greeks wrote as Kyrus but the Romans made into Cyrus, which then became Syrous in Farsi, which many Iranians called their sons in the belief that the name is an authentic Persian sound. I digress.
The fact of taking from others speaks in the first place to the vacuous void of a culture that is rendered au fond destitute by the destructive forces of nature and man, of unforgiving intolerance, of not repair but replacement. The foreign import therefore conveniently fills the avoid. The other side of this national trait is the readiness and hospitality of the culture as a matter of temperament to receive and embellish and often destroy the essence of the import beyond recognition. “We are the world’s greatest incubator of isms,” father once said to Brezhnev. He replied, “considering what you have done to Islam, please promise that Iran will never become Communist.”
One thing that is Persian, and for the better, is the Iranian’s imperial mindset -- that the whole world is one’s oyster. Ever wonder how is it that the Iranian settles anywhere, geographically and intellectually, with relative ease? The notion of ja khosh kardan (being a happy squatter) is quintessentially ours and it permits us to adapt, blend and often in time take over the landscape. In twenty years hence, in the United States, Yalda will be right there with Kwanza and Christmas and Chanukah, as will Norouz with Easter and Purim and Rosh HaShanah.
In retrospect, Communism did not need Iran to ruin it. The Soviet Union did just fine by itself. The USSR proved to be the worst thing that ever could happen to Communism, as the national interest of the Soviet state eventually clashed with and often compromised the very essence of an ideology that made Communism so attractive and “international” in its ideological appeal and reach. This happens with other isms, too. The democracy and civil liberties that drew most of my generation to the United States is being ill-served by the requirements of a state under siege. By the same token the creation of the state of Israel and, in particular, its national state security needs after 1967 has worked to render the world a more anti-Jewish place. In time, the national and state needs too will temper Islamic fundamentalism as its demands begins to clash with state requirements of life, liberty and property.
Shiism too is not Iranian in origin. It was born in Iraq and yet it is being portrayed by the Western media as if it is quintessentially an Iranian folan (read, phenomenon). Shiism is an Arab and Iraqi phenomenon at its core, but since the sixteenth century it has been Iran’s state religion and an instrument of its foreign policy, even under the secularist Pahlavi dynasty. In the days of Shah Ismail, the Shii missionaries were active in what is today Pakistan, much to the dismay of the Portuguese and later British colonials. Whenever geoplitics permitted, the Iranians used Shiism as a poke in the eye of the Ottoman Turks, especially, you guessed it, in Iraq. In my generation’s memory, the Shah gave financial support to the Shii societies in Lebanon. The Qajar/Pahlavi Constitution had made it also incumbent on the shah to spread the Twelver Shiism.
For a long time now, the United States in its typically myopic and ignorant way has missed the point in the rise of Shiism in Lebanon and Iraq. It keeps looking at these movements as a scourge – so it supports the minority government of the Christian and Sunni coalition in Beirut and insists on the Sunnis to be let into the game in Iraq. As long as the US opposes the Shii ascent, directly or indirectly, it provides Iran with leverage.
The Shiism in Lebanon and Iraq are ideal countervailing and centripetal forces to the Iranian influence, as they are imbued with a non-Iranian geography and ethnicity. They are at their core an Arab phenomenon. Given time and opportunity they will fall out with Iran and marginalize the Iranian claim to the present leadership of the Arab and non-Arab Shii world and, arguably, even the Sunni street.
Washington has known this for a while, but it is not ready to do the right thing lest it be accused of handing Iraq in a platter to Iran. This is a misbegotten and misguided and prideful nonsense. There are Turkey, Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia sitting around the platter too and not for a moment are they gonna sit and wait for Iran to pounce the goodies. There will be a reciprocal and communal “hands off” agreement among the neighbors and the US knows this.
The United States will do itself a great favor in the long run by allowing the Iraqi Shiite leaders, including Moqtada al-Sadr, to takeover Iraq, but with the unmistakable pledge that if they screw up “shock and awe” will rain on them like it did on Saddam Hossein. “So go forth and govern,” should be the message and “We will saddamize you, if you mess up.” There is no point in wasting US money and life money on an Iraqi national police force and army when the sectarian militias are and will be for a considerable period of time the only effective force on the ground.
My guess is that come January (after Saddam Hussein’s trial is over and he is brought to the US for life imprisonment), the Bush Administration will begin to withdraw from Iraq, leaving the Shii in charge of the country.
Presently, the American presence is simply preventing the chilling effect of the realization that a huge bloodletting will ensue in its absence. The Iraqi realization of an impending doom may well provide a sudden moment of sobriety for the embattled Sunni minority – to sue for peace. The meetings among the Iraqi, Syrian and Turkish dignitaries in November-December may well have been in preparation for this handover. The Iraqi dignitaries who visited Washington one after another in November-December were being apprised of the impending American withdrawal. The deployment of another naval task force into the forever Persian Gulf, while billed as an anti-Iranian move, is in preparation for the withdrawal and its unintended consequences. The US is talking to Syria and through Syria with Iran. The Turkish leader’s visit to Washington a few days ago too was in context of this withdrawal.
Persia is the land that gave the world love, if not as an emotion then as a word. Had this been a foreign import perhaps it would have been practiced and cherished with greater regularity than it is today. The land of luvu instead has become the venue for an international conference on the Holocaust, as if Holocaust or even the word holocaust is an Iranian folan. The word holocaust derives from the Hebrew ola, meaning “that which goes up,” like in smoke or flame. The Greek holokauston came to mean that which is completely burnt. In Middle English in the 14th century the term holocaust came to refer to the Biblical ritual of sacrificing and burning at the altar a male animal. The all too familiar term and practice of Holocaust in the context of Jews and Nazis is Christian and European as well. The only resonance of the word ola or holokauston in the Iranian history is perhaps in the name of the Mongol leader Holaku-Khan who laid waste to large parts of Persia and other lands.
Nor is the denial of the Holocaust an Iranian pastime. It too is a European and, of late, American phenomenon, and it is aimed at degrading or expunging the suffocating guilt that the Western populations feel for the plight of the Occidental Jewry. This complex sentiment often limits or defines the Western individual or institution from calling a person who happens to be Jewish to account in other aspects of national life for the fear that one be labeled anti-Semitic.
Iran’s recent hosting of Holocaust deniers and revisionists is born not out of hate but necessity. It is one political move among many anti-Israeli moves that is designed to piss off Israel and the US -- and it has succeeded to a large degree. It has forced Israel to admit that it has nuclear weapons. It has gotten the Iraq Study Group to recommend negotiations with Iran. The game that Iran is playing is the quest for recognition – recognition by the outside world that it is a player, it is important and its regime is legitimate and should be recognized as such. But when the US and Israel hint at regime change or military strikes against Iran, then Tehran is left with little other than to lash back by questioning the legitimacy of Israel and the US. To question the legitimacy of Israel, Tehran asserted that Israel as a country should disappear from the map and stated that Holocaust did not happen. This latter undermines the one folan that precipitated the creation of Israel as an ideological Zionist necessity and desire.
The US and Israel need to recognize Iran and its regime as a political reality – not for the sake of its “backward” regime but for the sake of their own. This will take away the reasons for an Iranian behavior that ultimately hurt Israel and the Jews everywhere.
President Bush is wrong in his construct that the US will sit to talk with Iran if Iran does X, Y or Z. Talking with the US is not a prize for the Iranians, the Iranian government could not care any less than to complicate its life in talks with the US. The US is the one who needs to talk to Iran because the US is the needier of the two. Iran is not the side that is spending billions every week in Iraq, in pursuit of a clueless war that is unpopular at home and abroad, a war that kills Americans on a daily basis and fuels anti-Israeli blowbacks, a war that potentially threatens the stability of the friendly Arab governments, another war in Afghanistan that is going nowhere. No Sir-ee, Mr. Bush, you are more in need of talks with Iran than vice versa!
The difficulty is that Iran and the US are led by individuals who are so smug in their respective sense of righteousness that nothing can happen bilaterally without one looking like he is losing face. In November the US electorate rebuffed the Mighty Mouse George Bush and a few days ago the Iranians rebuffed their Mighty Mouse Ahmadinejad. Both leaders need to take this as a sign to stop their ill-advised excesses.
George Bush has an obsessive-compulsive personality. His bout with excessive drinking (or even alcoholism) and the sudden “cold turkey” manner in which he gave up booze speak to his impatience with moderation. His overzealous and overboard acceptance of the substitute, in Christ, is another aspect of that OC personality. This sort of temperament breeds denial of the contrary, which is often mistaken for stubbornness. He has defined himself for so long as the War President that he has lost all notion what it takes to be also the Peace President. Because war and peace are mutually exclusive concepts in his mind, to sue for peace means he have lost the war, so warring on to final victory and outright domination of the other is all that he can relate to – as unrealistic as that outcome is in Iraq.
To know when to hold them and when to fold them, or knowing when to quit, is as apt a maxim in statesmanship as is in poker. The folding of a hand is not a strategy; it is a tactic that is designed to prolong the engagement in the hopes that one could salvage a win in the long run. Bush’s OC however compels him to go for broke. That kind of approach only works, if at all, when one has a bank so huge that one can drive everyone out of the game. That is not however the situation with the Iraq War. Just as the Afghanistan debacle showed off the hallow prowess of the Soviet Union, this Iraq War has revealed the economic and military limitations of American power. The US in Iraq has been reduced to a paper tiger, one that loses every day scores of young American lives and limbs to Iraqi firecrackers and RPG-toting flip-flop-wearing ragtag Iraqi insurgents.
George Bush the Father knew when to stop, at the gates of Babylon. Junior could have stopped after he declared “mission accomplished” but the high of war got the better of him. When the US troops arrested Saddam Hussein it was again time to stop and get out of Iraq. But the getting of that al-Qaeda guy was one more drink too good to pass up. When he was killed it was time yet again to leave. But one excuse after another presented itself and the US president like a junkie or imprudent poker player could not tear away from the fray. The good news, however, is that this same temperament is also capable of an abrupt, self-explanatory, unapologetic, complete and unabashed disengagement from Iraq. That will be coming soon, in January, in the folan theatre near you. Comment
Guive Mirfendereski is a professorial lecturer in international relations and law and is the principal artisan at trapworks.com. Born in Tehran in 1952, he is a graduate of Georgetown University's College of Arts and Sciences (BA), Tufts University's Fletcher School (PhD, MALD, MA) and Boston College Law School (JD). He is the author of A Diplomatic History of the Caspian Sea >>> Features in iranian.com