|The great insult
Islam and Iranian National Self-Esteem
By Omid Parsi
April 1, 2002
While it is impossible to identify any concrete economic reason for the Iranian
Revolution of 1979, it should be quite obvious to anyone who took part in, or merely
observed the Iranian Revolution that it was an eruption against what felt like a
colossal "insult", a courageous effort to recover a degraded national self-esteem.
Over two decades hence, it is evident that Iranians managed to lose their esteem
in the eyes of others without gaining any real self-esteem of their own. The reason
for this grave failure is that the stupefied Iranian masses mistook a chronic disease
for a cure.
Revolutions can best be defined as the crisis of nations to achieve greater sense
of collective identity and self-esteem. Just as individuals may err gravely in their
actions to achieve prouder selves, nations may try and fail miserably as well.
A basic survey of Iranian history can reveal where the Persian national identity
and self-esteem was degraded and lost: A nation that was once a dominant empire over
two millennia ago was for the rest of its history conquered, ravaged and chopped
up by other warrior tribes and city states.
Though the author generally considers the tribal invasions of the early and middle
ages an inevitable and positive trend in the evolution of mankind to mix, diversify
and improve the human gene pool, the cultural beating can persist, analogous to the
suffering of a rape victim regardless of how robust and healthy the rape child turns
Devotion to Islam, by far the strongest and most foreign ingredient of the present
day Iranian psyche, is the result of the beating that the Persians received from
a movement originated by a primitive bedouin warrior tribe from the Arabian Peninsula.
There has been much historical commentary and justification for the "gentle"
nature of this domination and its historical necessity, but that would be irrelevant
to this argument. It suffices to say that the victors have always had the luxury
to rewrite history to glorify themselves.
It is easy to imagine that if Germans had prevailed in World War II, the Nazi ideology
would be a modern day religion of which Hitler would be the prophet, German would
be the holy language and the history books would rave about how the world welcomed
the domination of Nazis with open arms.
The plain truth is that the fault-line in the Iranian national self-esteem and psyche
is nothing but Islam itself with a holy book in a foreign language and historical
references that have nothing to do with Persians.
How can a nation raised on Arabic mumbo jumbo as the essential part of its culture
and education, ever have any hope of achieving self-esteem? What could be the meaning
of self-determination for a nation that is already occupied?
What Iranians try hard to suppress in their national subconscious is akin to the
bitter shame of a nominal matrimony that was announced to save face and cover up
a violent rape. Indeed the Iranian masses conceived the Islamic revolution as an
effort to rid themselves of the great "insult", the cultural domination
of the technology and media driven democratic "West".
However in fighting what was like a sleeping pill addiction
they resorted to Malaria. Moreover, it is now increasingly evident that their ill
condition will perhaps never be overcome by their own immune system and they will
have to accept more drugs from the same rogue pharmacists, adding apology to shame.
On an optimistic note, it is likely that every nation will eventually in one way
or another be dissolved and absorbed into the global capitalist system, though with
many lagging and dragging behind and plagued by ignorance, poverty and cruelty as
"developing" nations for a long time.
However most nations will not leave much of a legacy the way for instance the English
have with their culture, language and sports. In the end, one may have to search
very hard for traces of any real contribution that the Persians will have made to
the new world of global capitalism.