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Glorious loneliness
Iran will never be what it used to. But Iranians can built a 'better' Iran

Ben Madadi
November 21, 2004

After having read quite many articles I always notice one striking similarity or preoccupation among most and that is what I may call an identity struggle. I shall convey my own view of the issue and I do not expect everyone to agree with me, though I would appreciate a fair and pragmatic critical evaluation.

I consider myself to be a human being first of all. I am also an Iranian, that means that I was born in Iran. As I grew up in Iran I met Islam, a relatively moderate, or even a very easy-going, type of Islam embraced by my family. My family looked at religion like a personal choice rather than a way of life for a community.

I even did not spot, at least among my family members or immediate relatives or friends, any kind of religious outrage at anything, gossiping about other people's religious behaviour and so on. I think a very large number of Iranians go along this way of viewing religion.

However when it comes to some popular prejudices, it's different. The behaviour of women, marriage, and family hierarchy, among others, are much more ingrained into the Iranian culture, not necessarily because of Islam, but largely having been influenced by it.

Beside religion I also started to think about what the word Iran meant and what an Iranian was supposed to be. When I was very little I thought Iran meant the whole world. As I grew up I understood that Iran was just a tiny portion of earth. However before leaving Iran I always thought that Iran was extremely special, not because it was my country, but because it simply was a different sort of country, a rather superior one.

Well, I knew that the West was much richer but I always thought that the reason was because we, the Iranians, were simply left behind, eventually exploited or suppressed, and it was other peoples' fault for our misery, as otherwise we would have definitely been the most prosperous on earth, as we used to be during the reign of Xerxes and Darius.

Then something happened. I left my homeland. I left Iran to study abroad. Some of my friends thought it was a bad thing to leave your country because it was a kind of betrayal. But I could convince them easily that studying abroad would only be beneficial for Iran as it would add value to what I would, not so philosophically, call an Iranian asset.

It took me a very long time to understand the West. It took me an ever longer time to understand the Westerners. My liberal family education was very handy. I tried to reduce (I shall not say eliminate because that is such a difficult endeavour I may even consider it impossible) the intensity of the prejudices I had about all kinds of things. As Einstein once said "common sense is a collection of the prejudices one learns until he is eighteen." I tried to adjust my common sense.

What I am most proud of though was an internal leap. It was about never blaming others, always seeking your own faults and misdeeds in order to fix them. I tried very hard never to blame anybody if something was not the way I would wish. I sought to find what was wrong with me and what I did not do right.

This was essentially the time when I also started to view Iran in a very critical way, not because of the leadership, but because of the most fundamental realities that have brought the Iranians to a rather undesirable stance for a nation. After having prepared the background please bare with me for evaluating the problem of identity for our country, for Iran.

First of all let's look at the past. I know that Iran has a glorious past. It should make all of us proud, but we cannot live in the past. We cannot talk about Xerxes and Darius all the time. It is time to look at the world as it is today. It has really changed. It has changed really a lot.

Back then, more than 2000 years ago the spread of populations was different. The climate was different and definitely the civilisation was different. More than 2000 years ago Iran had a much greater population compared to most European countries (or nations). America was not known about. The technology available at that time put the Europeans, and especially Northern Europe, in a great disadvantage simply because of their cold climate (which is also available today, just a bit milder).

Europeans were not able to compete so efficiently with the resources and the infrastructure that could be amassed in the Middle East so easily because they had longer and colder winters compared to the Middle East. This was also the main reason why only the nations in Southern Europe (Greece and Rome particularly) thrived while those in colder areas in Europe stagnated.

At those times the other world power was China, with its huge population, good climatic conditions and technological power. China was a drive for the technology in the world, not just thousands of years ago but also up until about 500 years ago.

Then a few things changed dramatically. Christianity appeared. The Roman empire, as it used to be, crumbled. Then Islam flourished and Iran fell into such a prolonged hibernation it never really get its previous glories back because while Iran was asleep the West, especially Northern Europe, was going through the Renaissance.

The world changed. It changed so much that I shall say, even if I may disappoint many, Iran will never be what it used to, not in our lifetime, not in our children's lifetime and not for any foreseeable future. Well, a catastrophe may wipe out the rest of the world and leave us alone to indulge in our glorious loneliness but otherwise it is not something I would bet on.

But Iran, and Iranians, can get their act together and built a 'better' Iran. First we need to come in peace with our past and move forward. We need to build a nation. Our nation is so fractured it is almost impossible to build anything great on its volatile fundamentals. We must find a basis of union, not based on the past glories of Iranian empire but based on the new realities.

Iran is a country of many ethnicities. These ethnic groups are simply not all Arians. They have different languages, beliefs and so on. Iran, as Reza Shah tried, cannot build its union based on its Arian nationalism, simply because it does not exist. America is a great country because its union is based on principles rather than origins. These principles are enshrined in its founding, based on freedom. Iran can also find a common ground in what Iranians believe in. One thing is clear, we cannot live always thinking about the past. The world has changed, even Iranians have changed.

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Book of the day

Iranian Nationality and the Persian Language
by Shahrokh Meskoob

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