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Playing footsie with facts
For one thing, all things inside Iran are NOT Persian

May 11, 2004

Dear Mr. Bahmani,

I had to put in my two cents because a) I'm procrastinating from doing my work b) one of my students just came to me a while ago and said the Persian Students Society here are having a debate about changing their name to Iranian.

I frankly think you already know the flaws in your argument (which is different from the flaw in the argument to change from Iran to Persia). I say this because your article ["Persian vs. Iranian"] has a strange way of playing footsie with the facts that you yourself set out.

You present the question as whether WE (the people who somehow associate themselves with a land currently called Iran) should call themselves Persian or Iranian and the land Persia or Iran. But the first two thirds of your article presents the history of how Persia, a name used soley but people outside of the territory came to be called Iran. Only near the end do you say "That fateful decision in 1935 that changed the name to the outside world."

So my question then is are you making the historical argument that the outside world should call Iran Persia again or are you making the argument that Iranians should call it Persia (for the first time in modern history) or are you making the argument that Iranians outside of Iran should separate themselves from the Iranian inside Iran and call Iran Persia a la pre-1935 non-Iranians, since Iran has, for as far as I know (and granted, I'm most familiar with 18th century sources onwards) been called Iran-zamin by its inhabitants. (Even Persian speaking Indian such as Mirza Abu Talib whose family moved from Iran to Lahore and who was a part of the Mugal court talked about Iranians and not Persians, a word that oddly enough doesn't really translate into Persian/Farsi...)

If it's the first thing you're advocating, then you have to start a major diplomatic campaign and get the name changed officially. It's the official name of Iran zamin. If you're advocating the second, then you're calling for a major historical rupture that has no precedence since Iran because an identifiable territory and recognized itself (with varying degrees) as a bounded territory with a quasi-central authority. But if it's the last one you're advocating, then that's very interesting and I'm quite intrigued: Why shouldn't the Iranian diaspora name and thus relate to the land of Iran differently from those inside it? Oddly enough, even if this was not your intention, I find it very interesting in the sense that it will reflect in the word and usage itself the fact that when Iranians outside of Iran talk about it, they're talking about something completely different than those outside of Iran. It will be a major coup against the nostalgists and those who think that from Los Angeles, they have an unbroken tie to the land they came from.

Putting aside the fact that it's unclear what exactly you're advocating (since your stated question and your main argument as I said don't work together), the last part of your article seems only concerned with the adjective, i.e. you seem to be at a loss as to what adjective to use when refering to a wide variety of disparate things. You touch upon and yet don't deal with a major problem of calling all things inside Iran, Persian: All things inside Iran are NOT Persian, no matter how you define the term. Baluchis ARE from Iran, they are not Persian. zereshk polo though is probably Persian (though since you seem to have a problem with the Arabicness of Farsi, you may want to research the root of ALL things we think are ours in the interest of "purity." Who knows, maybe qormeh sabzi is Yemeni...)

Having bored you and myself to tears with this long email, I have to say, I don't care one way or another (I do care about logical gaps in arguments). People should have the right to call themselves whatever they want. And if somehow one's pride in one's country or heritage somehow depends on a word or on whether some nincompoop says Iranian or Eyeranian, then that person's identity is in deep poop itself. Frankly, I smile at the fascinating tension in the Iranian diaspora identity: On the one hand they're quick to exhalt their 2000-plus heritage (whatever that means) on the other hand they're constantly worried about how the rest of the world sees them. At the end of the day, actions speak louder than words and history means little when your present is unappetizing.

.................... Say goodbye to spam!

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