Iranian-ness (3)


Saideh Pakravan
by Saideh Pakravan

Respect is earned, not forced at gunpoint

Few things make my blood boil as much as remembering the assassination of Theo Van Gogh for his documentary “insulting” Islam or the threats against the Danish cartoonist Lars Vilks for his “disrespectful” depiction of Mohammad, or the Turkish family in Italy burying alive a 16-year old girl who had committed the abominable crime of talking to boys. Get over it, people. Honor is an ugly concept good for primitive societies, washing offenses in blood is uncivilized. You consider yourself insulted? Take it to the courts. I know, I know. The courts are biased against Muslims, Iranians, Middle Easterners in general, they get their marching orders from Jewish lobbies or from governments only out to get our oil, etc., etc. In which case you may want to move back to countries such as Iran where the rule of law is vigorously upheld. After all, why live in these Western countries that lack essential values, that have no civilization and no culture (remember, they were still wading in marshes when we were building empires) and that not only exploit you but insult all your moghadassat— all that you hold sacred?

I once attended—I can’t remember why—a rambling and incoherent disquisition by Abdol Karim Soroush (that such a charlatan would acquire followers says as much about us as it does about him). During the Q&A, I asked him what he thought about the fatwa on Salman Rushdie (this was a while back). Eyes cast down and voice low in proper akhound mien, he replied that because he, Soroush, believed in free will and choices, he respected Rushdie’s choice to die, which was what the author had done by insulting Mohammad. The jaw-dropping argument was wildly applauded by the audience.

The part of the world we come from should not condemn us to lack of logic and idiotic knee-jerk responses. In 1999, an Egyptian pilot with serious mental problems committed suicide by downing Egyptair flight 990, killing the 217 people on board. After a two-year investigation, the U.S. NTSB reported that the crash was caused by pilot “flight control inputs.” Immediately, Egypt was up in arms, accusing Americans of having insulted not only their national honor but that of Muslims in toto. Wow!

We Iranians buy into the same kind of absurdity when we argue nonstop that we are being insulted, our honor violated, our values trampled on. I remember the hoopla over the film “300” that Iranians took as an insult to all things Persian (One irate viewer told me that, taking exception to the depiction of Iranians as barbarians, he had written to various papers to “educate viewers about the greatness of Persian civilization.”) This about an unpretentious romp based on a graphic novel with an audience that didn’t care a hoot about where the villains came from. When Shohreh Aghdashloo played the part of a terrorist in “24,” remember the accusations that she was making audiences buy into the myth that all Iranians are terrorists? The furor was such that our most talented actress couldn’t make herself heard when she countered that no one thought Anthony Hopkins was a cannibal for having played Hannibal Lecter.

I recently visited an elderly Iranian exile, a much discussed and controversial figure even now. We talked about the numerous fake memoirs published in Iran and attributed to him, the inventions about him on the internet, the discussions about whether he had written this or that. He said that he never responded to or cared to deny anything that came out of Iran, a futile exercise, but that he didn’t mind taking to court people who make up things about him in the West. I was impressed. Foaming at the mouth and washing offenses in blood, no. Quiet dignity and trust in the rule of law, when warranted, absolutely.


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The making of Iranian 'intellectual'

by benross on

Unlike the ambitious, even pretentious title of this comment, I have no intention to study Iranian intellectuals. I don't even intend to produce a coherent 'intellectual' comment -and hopefully you'll see why- but simply a sketchy perspective on the subject matter.

As a teenager, fourteen sixteen years old, I used to read Shari'ati frequently. That was the time when he was giving speeches in a packed Hosseinieh Ershad, with people standing outside in the street listening it through loud speakers.

Your image of Soroosh and his audience, your question and his response, brought me back to that memory. Then I thought maybe your search of identity, Iranian or not, but addressed to Iranians anyway, should start from reviewing that image and that scene about Soroosh.

The connection I make is because of distinct memory that I have from that period. I used to read Shari'ati books and transcripts of his speeches, but I used to read them as comic books! I could see, but I couldn't imagine how possibly those hallucinations could be taken seriously.

So my remark is not about Soroosh or Sari'ati. It's not a study of our 'intellectuals'. It's about how these intellectuals are seen by us. Instead of looking at intellectuals, I'm looking at us looking at them.


Street gang mentality


If you have not seen them personally, you were probably exposed to some of extensive researches and reports and observations about this social behaviour. The gangs have generally a leader, very smart and naturally very street smart. The role of this leader is to keep the bonding of gang members alive. And the more he is smart, the more successful he is in doing so.

The gang members are not expecting a well thought out 'reasoning' and sophisticated thought processing from their leader. They expect something that get them going.

They are territorial and they tag their territory. They fight with other gangs, or unite with other gangs, based on what gets them going.

Now Iranian-ness is not what I'm talking about. You might think this is also a gang territorial tag (signature). It might be, but that's not important. What is interesting is the person who goes and draws a tag on a wall. Not the tag. The person who draws the tag, needs motivation, not substance.

We used to call those who provide motivation, 'intellectuals'. And by recognizing them as intellectual, we create a distance between what their functionality really is, and what, in our 'intellect', we expect from them. This is what makes you furious about what Soroosh says about Salman Rushdi and how the audience reacts about his answer. Misplaced expectation.

Now suppose you are studying a street gang behaviour. You observe what their leader says and how he motivates his members. Will you really get furious about some of his comments? You might find them stupid, intriguing, funny or very smart. But you won't find that emotional 'connection' that makes you furious. In fact, if you imagine the same scene of Soroosh and his audience, as if it was a reunion of a street gang members, you could find very interesting patterns in their behaviour, without creating such emotional concern that makes you furious.

What Soroosh replied to your question, was a typical gang leader behavious in keeping his gang motivated. He didn't say anything different from what any loud mouth akhoond would say in this regard. Absolutely no difference, and completely according to Shi'a concept of blasphemy. Hell, one of the comments right here has absolutely no difference in substance with what an akhoond would say. The difference is in behavioral pattern, protecting the gang members, in a street smart context. For that audience, in that situation, it didn't look good, nor motivational enough, if Soroosh was using exactly the same wording of a common akhoond. His gang should feel good about killing Rushdi therefore it should look like a stance on higher ground, not like those mobs in Pakistan and Iran shouting death to Rushdi.

In Iran, we don't have any intellectual. Not that we have few. We don't have any at all. What we call intellectual is someone who can read and write and who use it occasionally. This is something I wrote some twenty years ago and I don't see any change.

The behaviour pattern of 'litterate' Iranian bunch is mimicking the behaviour pattern of illiterate Iranians, warped in mumbling words. All they are looking for, is to tag their territory.

This is why someone like Mehran Khaghani is considered a comedian, and someone like Soroosh, with a fraction of a fraction of his intellect is considered 'intellectual'... and it's good to be that way. As long as we have not changed our perception of 'intellectual'.

What is the point, really, to argue with our intellectuals? this is a misplaced expectation. What is the point of arguing with one of the comments here? He tagged his territory and you tag yours. This is the language everybody understands.

A friend of mind reminds me that many American scholars studying Persian language or history, are ardent supporters of Shari'ati 'thoughts'. This reminds me of the time I was trying to learn French language. With my half baked French, I used to listen to French songs, not understanding half of the words, but substituted by my imagination. (I was -and still am- too lazy to look-up a word in a dictionary) and the songs were wonderful. Later, when I could understand French somewhat better, I was deeply disappointed understanding the real meaning of those songs! this is how I suppose, these scholars become attracted to Shari'ati! What Shari'ati -and Soroosh- were doing is using archaic words and tangled phrasing to express mundane thoughts. This is how they let the imagination of their gang members fly and motivates them to go around and tag their territory.

If you look at all these with detachment as if you were observing a social phenomenon, unrelated to you, maybe you could find your Iranian-ness completely related to you, without any misplaced expectation.


I wrap this half baked -but long enough- mumbling. I should take off now. I noticed that someone has sprayed on my tag in my territory and posted a blog entitled 'referendum'!



by Midwesty on

"Midwesty, your answer to SP is a little naive and your world is so black and white".

Would you elaborate further.



Criticism vs Demonetization

by capt_ayhab on

There is a fine, at times blurred line between criticism and demonetization, but the difference is huge.

It is one thing to write a book to open a healthy dialogue between the faiths and totally another to call an entire faith [satanic]. It is one thing to make a film  with some subtle historical disparities, and it  is totally another thing to make a film  that rewrites history in a 180 degree fashion[The movie 300] just to present one of the most progressive, just and modern cultures of time in an inhumane [animalistic worrier character] way.

Do we as Iranians have grown rather sensitive to the subject of historical LIES about our nations heritage? Answer is yes. HOWEVER,  ignoring the underlying reasons for this sensitivity would result in one sided analysis such as this article.

Simple example of this attitude can be seen in the reaction that African Americans show when they are referred to by the N. word[rightfully too], or the reaction we saw from Jewish community when the story about alleged organ theft by IDF was first published, which immediately[rightfully too]Jewish leaders, community cried foul by claiming [blood liable], allegations that was later proved to be truthful.

Peoples' belief should NOT be demonized under the holy names of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Just as the same, NO one should  shout FIRE in a crowded cinema.

Thanks for the article enjoyed reading it nonetheless.




Response to SP and to Midwesty

by QuentinBabinot on

tout d'abord, bravo SP pour un bel article. Well done, SP, for a great blog post. I agree, too, that too often the concept of honor is used as license to commit much foolishness. The murder of Theo Van Gogh was done in the name of mentally ill people everywhere. Muslims? I don't think so. If you want to prove me wrong, I'll need you to point me to 10 Muslims who feel vindicated by the murder. To believe so is to think less of them.

When the movie 'Borat' came out and the diplomats from the Kazaki embassy gave a press conference to offer a counterpoint to the movie, who ends up looking like a fool? The Kazaks, obviously. They end up looking foolish because they believed that movie-going audiences actually thought, 'this is what Kazakis are like.'

Midwesty, your answer to SP is a little naive and your world is so black and white. If you tried to read the SP article a second time, more slowly, you'll find that the issues at hand are a little bit more complex than you might think.

I applaud Ms. Pakravan for saying what others may think. Bravo!





Ms. Pakravan,

by Midwesty on

You remind me of my family. They are never happy with anything. Criticizing everything and everyone. They are never happy with any government, they got jailed during Shah, got jailed now and will be jailed if anybody else grabs on power in Iran. However it is quiet admirable that my family have a noble idea of Utopian society. But it doesn't happen with nagging.

Please step out of your glass house, feel the fresh air that also stinks from time to time.

This is what you say about Iranians, I wonder what have you said about
Americans? I try to see the west through your eyes. The society that you admire for its rule of law is nothing but people who are always fearful of disproportional punishment. The kids are forced down and drugged up at school in order to make orderly workforces for the capitalist ideas.

The super rich are always under the law's radar and if, repeat, if, they get caught they will buy and fight the law to get away. The court houses are the displays of money marathon. Whoever has more money will endure last and eventually win.

Again, I am not against having the idea of Utopian society, but let's have a positive approach to it.

Azarin Sadegh

Nice blog.

by Azarin Sadegh on

I think my blood is boiling too at Soroush's argument against Rushdie (which I really like and admire as a great author)...and there are people who call Soroush a "thinker/philosopher"! Such a joke!

Thanks for sharing, Azarin


Very good

by benross on

Thank you.

I like to participate but I didn't read your earlier posts. I'll get back to you if I had anything in mind.