January 2005
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Nothing wrong with calling yourself Persian

In response to Roozbeh Shirazi's "Identity politics":

I call myself Persian not because that was what the country was called into middle of the last century. There is tons of material written about our culture during the ages about Persian culture, language and people. I call myself Persian and Iranian interchangbly to preserve a culture. I do not do it because I am a racist or anti-Turk or anti-Arab or becuase I am embarrassed being a moslem.

So there is nothing wrong with calling yourself Persian and don't make it so. If you want to take a dig at the posers in the US, there are other ways of showing them up.  Given the melting pot of our history it is simply a ridiculous for anyone to try and relate beign Persian to an ancient tribe or imply a heirarchy. It is laughable and will not gain currency.

With regards to the Iranian habit of joking about ethinicity, this is not limited to Iranians and it is no worse than American jokes about the Poles of English jokes about the scots, Irish, Welsh, Indians, Germans, French etc (in fact everybody except the English!). The accusation of bigotary is really taking it too far. Nobody can be that PC. The writer is cleverly inferring that calling yourself Persian is equivalent oto being a racist. His own way of rubbishing what is an innocuous term.

With regards to those who try and make this a racial term, a lot of those writing to me I have found to be either Arab or Turkish Nationalists. This is really interesting as it seems to be used the old tactic of slandering to discredit any opposition to your own ideas. As soon as one tries to defend our history or culture we are accused of being Persian nationalist etc. Taking a look at the history of both groups you will see it is they who introduced the Germanic ideas of nationalism in the region as their founding fathers were mostly military who were trained by Germans, and fought along them in the world wars. It is without a doubt one of the factors contributing to the present day mess in the region.

I leave you with another thought. Although the following is wrong but nonetheless there is a message in it that is inescapable and I have written about in the past, if you want the world to recognise the import of your culture then you have to work at its institutions and longevity, changing names and imposing what you feel is the right term from your own language (ie. Iran - "land of Aryans" gondeh goozi is more nationalistic and racial than Persia I would think - and Farsi)  foreigners just gives the impression of a banana republic. The following is an excerpt from a letter written by managing director of Worldscale Association (shipping body)  in response to a complaint about their use of the wrong term for Persian Gulf:

" The term '....... Gulf' has become the accepted nomenclature for that particular area in the international tanker industry at least since the Iranian government wished to dispense with any references to 'Persia'."

Interesting that by trying to belittle us culturaly he admits to the British encouragment of national differences (almost half a century later!). By the way he is wrong on a further point, using the erroneous term did not start when the Iranian government asked foreign governments to change it to Iran but BUT AFTER IRAN TRIED TO NATIONALIZE ITS OIL, and the first western body to use the erroneous term was The Times of London in 1958.

So before we Iranians become "gheirati" and act out of haste about insisting that it should be Iran and nothing else, or trying to imply people with other views are posers or bigots, we should think about all the consequences and not just home in on what we think should be right because of prevalent ideas of that instance in time.

Maybe we cannot help it. Maybe cutting our noses to spite our faces is in our genes now.


Amir Rostam

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