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Okay, I'm a racist
I must shamefully admit that I don't like Arabs

Sepetmber 19, 2000
The Iranian

Let me first give you my definition of racism before I get to the main issue. Meanwhile I might remember the point I want to make. Nowadays we are very quick in labelling people racist. I think we all have the right (or even a social duty) to criticize what we think is wrong.

Criticizing a DEED can't be called racism even if the target of the critics is someone from another country or religion or ethnic group. You're not a racist if you criticize individual Arabs for bribing football referees, for i=instance, but you're a racist if you hate them because they are simply Arabs. You might not like it that they try to change the name of the Persian Golf but their skin colour should not be an issue.

I used to think that Iranians living in Europe can not possibly have racist tendencies because we are victims of racism on a daily basis. zehi xiAl-e bAtel! The situation in Nordic countries and Germany is worse than in Switzerland, where I live, but we are still the subject oif racism much more than Iranians in America.

These experiences though have not changed our sentiments towards other nationalities. We are famous for our hospitality. We have a false respect for Americans and Europeans (for whatever reason), but we find it difficult to offer the same respect to Afghans, for example.

We don't mind the U.S. having atomic bombs, but when we hear that Pakistan is an atomic power the first thing that crosses our mind is why don't WE have the technology when EVEN "Pakis" and "Indians" have them. We treat our Afghan guests in Iran like the way the Swedes treat Iranians.

Now, deny it as much as you want but we look DOWN at Pakistanis, Indians, Afghans, Arabs, Turks, ... And that's not because of what they DO but for who they ARE, and I call that racism. Even if Aryans existed as a race and we were all their decedents, even if we were superior to all other nations, even if we had blue blood with yellow stripes running through our noble Persian vanes, what good would that bring the world?

Are we better human beings because we are Iranians? Then why do we treat foreigners like Swedes treat non-Europeans? If we are superior to other races, why do we make the same mistakes? Why do we look down at Pakistanis? Why do we belittle Arabs? Are these the symptoms of having pure Aryan blood? If our race makes us better human beings, then we have to prove it by treating foreigners better than other nations do.

Having said all that I must shamefully admit that I don't like Arabs. yeki biAd bezaneh tu sar-e man. I just can't help it. I role all my logic and stick it in my ear, I wash what I preach in holy water (coming right out of the nearest "AftAbeh") and eat it three times a day but it doesn't help. I don't like them. Kill me. It gets worse every time I read a history book and get to the part where Arabs invade Iran.

I try to calm myself by thinking that they ended tyranny in Iran, or that the Islamic civilization that came later owed a lot to Iranian scholars and artists. But damn it, it doesn't help. I start fantasizing what great service we could have brought to humanity if the Persian empire was not destroyed by Arabs, or what great scientific achievements we could have had if they hadn't brought us Islam, and ... Okay, I'm a racist, bite me.

I even tried to convince myself that what I feel is not racism, after all it's what they have DONE and per my own definition I'm not a racist. No, forget it, that doesn't work either. Deep Inside I know it's racism. I've heard many Europeans who are familiar with Iranian history, saying that they feel pity when they think of that part of the Iranian history, my feelings though are much stronger than a simple pity.

But hey, I know I'm not alone, at least one other Iranian feels the same and that is the current Iranian president. He calls them "vahSi" and he thanks God that after the Arab invasion we became Moslems but not Arabs. I do feel guilty for thinking that way about an invasion that happened 14 centuries ago, but they don't let me forget it, you know. They tried it again 20 years ago.

In any case, Ferdosi wrote:

ze shir-e shotor khordan o susmAr
arab rA be jAyi residast kAr
ke tAj-e kiAn rA konad Arezu
tofu bAd bar charkh-e gardAn, tofu

Peeewwww... I feel much better now. So Ferdosi was a racist too. He didn't like Arabs either. A thousand years ago the greatest Iranian poet felt the same as I do today. Hmmmm... who am I kidding? No, that doesn't help either. Ferdosi wasn't a racist and he didn't dislike Arabs. To understand the meaning of these lines which are taken out of context and shoved down our throat for decades we have to analyse the cultural environment of that period.

The invasion was almost 400 years old but to my amazement the political situation was very similar to the one we have today. There were Islamists represented by Sultan Mahmud and nationalists represented by Ferdosi. He wasn't a racist, he was a nationalist. Nationalism is a dangerous thing though; it turns to fascism when it crosses the border, but Ferdosi never did.

Ferdosi praises kings of the past only out of his love for Iran. But he's not a fanatic monarchist either. After finishing the Shahnameh he goes to Sultan Mahmud and throws the book to his face and walks out. He was a nationalist. He loved Iran, and he wrote the greatest book in Iranian history to keep the Persian language and culture alive. But why did he say something like that about Arabs? Here is a quick review for those who are not familiar with the Shahnameh:

The Shahnameh begins with the first Iranian king Kiumars and ends with Yazdgerd. Almost every story starts with a description of the time and place or Ferdosi's views. Sometimes he gives his opinion in the first few lines and then starts telling the story. The above verses come from within a story and are not meant as Ferdosi's own opinion.

The story takes place in the time of the Sasanid king Yazdgerd. Omar sends his best fighter Saed Vaqqas to invade Iran. Yazdgerd orders Rostam to stop him at the border and defend Iran. Before Rostam departs, he writes a letter to his brother. It's a farewell letter and a kind of last testament. He talks about his fears. He's not afraid of losing his life, it's more a fear for Iran. He's afraid to lose the fight because thenIran would plung into a dark age.

Before the battle starts he sends a messenger to Saed Vaqqas with a letter that's more like psychological warfare. It was a last attempt to weaken the enemy's morale.

yeki nAmeh-i bar harir-e sepid
neveshtand por bim o chandi omid

Rostam praises Yazdgerd as the greatest king of all time and belittles Vaqqas. He tries to frighten him with the greatness of the king, to make him think that it's a useless war because Vaqqas is too insignificant to have the slightest chance of winning. And he curses him too. These two famous lines are a part of that.

"susmArkhor" is a simple "fohsh" from Rostam aimed at Saed Vaqqas. Again, these lines are not Ferdosi's personal views. And they are meant as kind of "trash talking" to unsettle the enemy at a time of war by a man who is worried about the future of his country. Ferdosi was NOT a racist. He did not dislike Arabs. He was a nationalist who loved his country.

Damn. I guess I have to keep Ferdosi out and find a poet I can recite when I'm swearing at Arabs. Besides, why do I stick to "susmArkhor" and make Ferdosi turn in his grave? There are much juicier swears than that.

Wait a minute, Ferdosi was a chauvinist too, wasn't he? He says women are only good enough to sit there and bear "ShirAn-e nar". Hmmm ... maybe I could use that in my chauvinist arguments. Or is that a misunderstanding too?

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