September 21 2000
I read the article "Okay,
I'm a racist" with a pinch of salt. A few months ago at a Hafez
poetry night a friend of mine said that he had been thinking hard about
the fall of Persia to the invading Arabs. He said that the Arabs would
not have conquered the Sassanid empire had the Persian generals not betrayed
the king Yazdgird III. A similar reflection was made recalling the Greek
invasion where Darius III was murdered by two of his own royal bodyguards
for ten pieces of gold.
In someways the fall of the last Shah could be partly due to the divisions
that existed within the imperial armed forces that allowed the revolutionaries
to destroy the fifth largest military force in the world in 48 hours. My
point is that looking for scapegoats only serves to soothe bruised egos.
Being engaged to a beautiful Iraqi of Kurdish-Arab blood I realised
how narrow-minded our Persian chauvinism can be. The modern Arab - Egyptians,
Iraqis, Jordanians, Lebanese, etc - have a high appreciation of Persian
culture and in my dealings with them they have all quoted Hafez and Saadi
to me whilst to my shame I was hard pressed to quote any of their great
poets until my fiancee handed me Nizar Qabani's (Syrian diplomat) poetry
books which in parts was influenced by our culture. In fact despite the
initial shock of the Arab invasion, many Persians were to form the cultural
backbone of the Islamic empire.
We are all products of our roots, history and experiences. Maybe we
should also open our minds and hearts to what is good and beautiful in
life - and yes, Arabs have contributed to world culture.
When I first met my fiancee at a Persian film festival last summer in
London I recalled how we felt ashamed by the tragedy of the Iran-Iraq war.
An elderly Shirazi woman who introduced us by chance without knowing either
of us said, "What we need in this world is less politics and more
The beautiful Iraqi woman who captured my heart and who had studied
Sassanid history at Baghdad University later paused to think. Then as if
she had discovered a hidden meaning declared: "Yes..yes! Ensaaniyat...
we have that word also in Arabic!" It was then that I knew I was in
We spoke of Baghdad and Shiraz and the beautiful memories we had of
our cities. We spoke of happy days, the moon and wine. One day after our
engagement my fiancee took me along the Thames river and looking into my
eyes whispered: "With you I feel like there are no borders."
Call me romantic or mad but hey, that's what I call the start of civilization.