Every country and every nation, in one way or another, is bound to be defined as a united group. And in order to prosper and strengthen, it needs to have a definition, some fundamentals to unite the citizens or members. The lack of such a unity would render a country, or supposed nation, either unsustainable or properly unworkable. There is ample evidence to support this like the Soviet union or the former British empire.
Historically, because of a lack of real competition, empires could survive primarily based on the strength and ability of the emperor. There were so few educated people the very few of them scattered around could rule and manipulate the rest quite easily. There were rather few empires and they often had reasonable stability.
The period of stability I am referring to goes back to the great times for Egypt, Persia, Babylon, Greece, and of course the Roman empire. Later smaller and smaller states sprang up and competition got stiffer. None of the later states survived for long without a popular support because there were always huge threats looming from the neighbouring states.
Democracy became irrefutable as competition grew greater and greater, especially that technology allowed more and more people to be more educated through an abundance of publications. The age of huge unpopular states was nearing a definite end in the West at aroung the beginning of the 20th century. Germany, Japan and a few others made some attempts to disregard the inevitability of popular rule, or democracy, and they ended in utter humiliation and defeat.
Unfortunately, as the Middle East stayed backward, the same thing did not happen to the mainly Muslim populations of this area. Governments still ruled without a real need for national identity or popular legitimacy. Interestingly the Middle East up to about 80 to 50 years ago (Afghanistan up to now) did not even perceive many quite old Western notions about nationality or ethnicity.
People in the Middles East had their own languages and traditions but discerned very little about their differences, boundaries and so on. The very low level of education often led to a very ambiguous sense of unity in tribalism, which could very easily be defined simply because almost everyone in the tribe knew each other. Beyond this, ethnic groups knew very little for instance about the boundaries of the ethnicity they belonged to. This was an unnecessary and useless notion for them.
However the greatest uniting factor, as was the case for Europe a few centuries earlier, was the fear of God. This was the best way to manipulate mass populations in the Middle East, at least at the beginning of the creation of a country, in order to exercise real clout.
Times changed as governments, often unwittingly, educated their own populations. Although they also tried to put a huge amount of propaganda and manipulative subjects in to the educational system, they didn’t, and couldn’t possibly, get it right all the time.
The result was that the unity the governments were trying to create through the controlled media and the educational system, in many cases became actually the main pillar for disunity, as it unveiled many flaws in the existing systems. There are so many cases but Iran is a very close one to our own understanding.
As the Qajar were terminated forever, Reza Shah tried to do his best to modernise a very backward country, which was about to disappear, leaving only a name in the history books about what was known to be Persia.
What he thought, as many other Western (e.g. Germany) and also Eastern (e.g. Turkey) leaders, seemingly successfully, had already accomplished, was to create and foster nationalism through mass education and manipulation. What he did, i.e. the result of his efforts, are still prevalent in Iranian society and the prejudices of a great number of Iranians.
Reza shah got many things right in the very explicit and iron-handed execution of his plans but he actually got the whole idea wrong in what he thought possible; to build an Iran based on nationalism.
And what sort of nationalism was that? The nationalism he, and his son after his dismal end, propagated was based on two main areas, the Aryan origin of the Iranians, and the glorious past of the Persian empire. The former was rather true as a general matter of fact. Persia was indeed a past glorious empire.
But were Iranians really Aryans anyway? Or was the old Persia really representative of the present Iran (Reza shah had even changed the international name of Iran, from Persia to Iran in order to show to the northern Europeans, especially Hitler, that Iranians were their old relatives)?
Old Persia was an empire, often based on simple use of military strength in order to suppress as large a land as possible. That is a fine thing for Persians as a matter of history but is it representative for the entire Iran at its present stage?
The fact is that, even as official statistics show (which are by a great probability irrelevant) those Iranians who speak Farsi, and who are most probable to be the descendants of the ancient Persians, are less than half of the whole population of Iran. But the whole national identity was supposed to be based on the Aryan origins rather than Persia. Is that a real case?
Iran has many ethnic groups which scientifically and historically have little link to what we may call either the Indo-Europeans or the Aryans. I am sure that many will say that what I am saying is not good for Iran. I strongly disagree. Iran can be a prosperous and very strong country but first it should solve and settle the dilemma of identity.
We should forget about the old prejudices of Aryan pride, get on with the present realities, and try to find common grounds based on respect, understanding, and finally, freedom. As long as a country tries to stand on prejudices, lies, and unpopular beliefs, the only chance to make it last as long as possible would be to keep the people as uninformed and uneducated as possible. This would not work in today’s world of the Internet and free education.