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The Illiterate Gulf
The Middle East, where the first books were written, is a region with very little interest in books and newspapers

December 12, 2004

The other day I was sent a letter to sign for the purpose of protestation against the recent National Geographic documentation “goof up” pertaining to the legal name of the Persian Gulf. The Persian Gulf was erroneously named the Arabian Gulf. No doubt this error is of legitimate concern and should be dealt with accordingly.

Apart from the legal aspects of it, there is a lot to a name, especially one carrying a long and glorious history, becoming even more valuable with time. It goes without saying that just as modern brand names, such as MicroSoft and IBM, carry copyright protection for prestige and marketing purposes, names pertaining to nations need protection as well.

Incidentally and unfortunately Reza Shah didn't see it this way and renamed Persia to Iran, but that's beside the point.

Surly, this is another example of a border/name dispute between neighbors, in this case, Persians and Arabs. That's fine and dandy. What concerns me, however, is the fervor and heat with which this issue is being raised and handled. It makes me wonder why neither side is similarly appalled at a more compelling issue, i.e. their national illiteracy and extremely low publication rates.

What is ironic is the fact that the Middle East, where the first books were written, is a region with very little interest in books and newspapers. Iran, being one of the more educationally advanced countries in the region, with a population of 70 million, published only 3.8 million copies of general interest books, in 2002! That's one book for every 20 people! [See stats]

Best sellers in Iran publish 5000 single copies at any one time! What's worse is that the price of an average book is only about $2, very affordable, even by current Iranian standards. No need to mention the situation in the neighboring countries since Iran is the best of the bunch.

In 2002, the number of published book titles, the total number of published books, and the number of compiled book titles based on their topics, in that order, were:

Generalities 935, 3796600, 725/ Philosophy 1044, 4046595, 636/ Theology 6787, 39478675/ Social Sciences 2742, 12349730, 2363/ Linguistics 2472, 14129398, 2367/ Natural Sciences and Mathematics 2136, 9346696, 1871/ Practical Sciences 3832, 14223894, 2768/ Art 939, 3432550, 675/ Literature 429, 15504460, 3753/ History and Geography 1545, 4976903, 1351/ Children and Adolescents 4937, 41388251, 3681 and the entire country 25925 compiled books and 5735 translated titles. The total number of published books had a 38.11% rate of growth. It was reported that compiled books had a 33.34% and translated books had a 48.49% rate of growth.

Also in 2002, the number of published book titles and total number of published books per capita respectively in Iranian provinces were:

East Azerbaijan 383 and 37.32, West Azerbaijan 47 and 4.62, Ardebil 55 and 13.1, Isfahan 529 and 53.14, Ilam 16 and 6.86, Bushehr 8 and 2.44, Tehran 24782 and 1155.54, Chahar Mahal and Bakhtiari 13 and 6.1, Khorasan 868 and 65.25, Khuzestan 45 and 1.65, Zanjan 40 and 8.56, Semnan 16 and 6.61, Sistan and Balouchestan 67 and 12.42, Fars 140 and 25.58, Ghazvin 69 and 30.58, Ghom 3901 and 1863.68, Kurdistan 72 and 19.39, Kerman 47 and 11.75, Kermanshah 59 and 6.23, Kohgiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad 3 and 1.47, Golestan 26 and 4.07, Gilan 146 and 6.36, Lorestan 14 and 1.63, Mazandaran 55 and 6.98, Markazi 24 and 3.75, Hormozgan 27 and 4.6, Hamedan 151 and 64.17, Yazd 32 and 8.77, and the entire country 31660 and 352.1.

All this makes me think and leads me to suggest a better name for the Gulf. Perhaps it should be called the Illiterate Gulf, that way everyone living on its coasts could relate to it, regardless of their nationality.

Perhaps if both the Persians and Arabs applied the same energy and commitment to remedy the more compelling internal issues and fundamental cultural problems, such as the lack of interest in self-education, then these border/name disputes would become non-issues and hence less of a weak spot for foreign powers to abuse for their own national interests.

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