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Farsi is nectar but...
... what about Shi'ite?

October 13, 2004 unedited

My concern, heightened since September 11, has been with Arab Nationalism and since the latter tragic events, I have come to appreciate the Arab Nationalism inherent in Islam. But more of that later as I still have to come to grips with the loss of friends who worked on the 88th floor to write about it. If anyone has the magic answer of how to fight nationalism without sounding like one or a left wing intellectual, please let me know.

Anyhow the main purpose here is to reply to those who doggedly consider Iran and Farsi as an absolute must and anything else somehow unacceptable. As an aside, quite a few of the young Iranians now don't think Farsi is right and are using the correct term Parsi instead (in Persian - but then I guess they'll all be accused of being members of Sumka while all they are trying to do is preserve a culture).

When I wrote my original article, I had to make a fine balance in order to get the message across, and I removed some of the very blunt points showing the sheer lunacy of Iranian pride. Unfortunately, we Iranians, specially those educated, but not learned, of which there are plenty, are not very good at understanding subtle points.

Regarding the term Farsi, please consider how conceited is of us to insist other people adopting this word instead of whatever term they have used before. No German national would ever consider imposing the German work "Deutsch" on English speakers, and neither would it or should it be tolerated. But for some strange reason (possibly guilt resulting from their colonial pasts or lack of knowledge) Westerners tolerate it from third-world nationals.

Also there is another aspect to this senseless pride of trying to get others to adapt or conform to your "correct" view of the world. And a funny instance of that is we have done to the word "Shia", having turned it into "Shi'ite". Obviously some very proud person, similar to those who are trying to impose the term "Farsi" on the world must have talked some hapless journalists during the Iranian revolution into correcting "Shia" to a literal translation and its correct Arabic lettering, with the consequence that my religion's name is now SHIT! And it's become a common joke as many people now instead of using "sugar" say "Shiite".

What gives these people the right to change so abruptly the words and symbols of a culture? How could they criticise Reza Shah then acting in exactly the same manner, impose an abrupt change on others. Why would some albeit highly educated but culturally deficient Engineers impose the term Farsi on ISO the international standard organisation? No wonder Afghans and other persian nations want nothing to do with us, if it is not our religion we want to impose then it is something else.

The other much more serious point which I am sad to say is missed even by highly educated and respected scholars is as follows, what makes a nation‚s culture strong, is not its past as some have misunderstood but is its traditions and INSTITUTIONS. Unfortunately the path of Iran through history has been such that we have not been able to have lasting institutions (see Psychology of Fear from aeons ago in the Iranian). It has led to a highly individualistic approach to these issues.

Sometime ago Dr Milani wrote about some forum that highlighted the achievements of Iranians and Iranian-Americans in particular. I do not want to in anyway belittle this effort or those individuals but if we were to ask the question about our achievements as a group or what institutions have we established, I am afraid the answer is very little. 

When I was much younger, I picked an emotionally charged argument with my professor of History of Science. As all Iranian achievements and scientists are grouped under the Arabic "School". Typical Iranian becoming very hot under the collar "gheirati", I had to correct the ignorant foreigner (I remember it very well after so long as it was about Birounie and I had to correct him that Birounie was Iranian not Arab), my very-English professor calmly explained the importance of traditions and institutions, particularly the difference between individual achievements and schools of thought.

By the way I refuse to believe Dr Hoveida's assertions in his high gloss book paid for by a hapless American insitution (see earlier issues of The Iranian) that Iranian traditions are the religious superstitious nonsense he sets out and our that our only lasting institutions are Shia/religious ones. The sad fact is that we have had no continuity and ended up with the lowest common denominator (and having absolute monarchy did not help either). And it won't be fixed by a "disposable" mentality or disregard for history. Making abrupt changes just gives the impression of the being a banana republic (perhaps given how such things as foreign policy are conducted by the present regime we are getting there).

So before you all become gheirati and start imposing what you believe is the absolute truth on others, think about the consequences. But then we are the people who cannot help ourselves to cut our nose to spite our face, need examples? We are the nation hell bent on nationalisation of oil without regard for its finacial impact and replacing monarchy without one thought for its replacement.

Amir Rostam Beglie Beigie is a shipping industry professional living and working in Houston, Texas.

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Amir Rostam Begli Beigie



Book of the day

Iranian Nationality and the Persian Language
by Shahrokh Meskoob


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