A lost cause
global minority, the majority will see me as they choose
August 10, 2004
In the middle of a busy schedule, and with a deadline
drawing near, I read a very good article [A
new language?] by Mr. A.R. Beglie
Beigie discussing the issue of Persia versus Iran and Persian versus
Farsi. The familiar subject was so close to my heart it felt as
if the words had been written by me, only a decade ago. How feverish
my defense used to be. How passionate were my words way back then.
How I defended the beloved name of Persia and my Persian language.
Persia! With a name so profound, not only did I feel
more dignified, but there was no confusion between my nationality
and that of Arabs.
It also sounded better and no one mispronounced it. I lived in
my Persian bubble for most of my life, until the reality of the
world around me began to sink in.
This isn't to say I disagree with Mr. Beglie Beigie. In fact,
deep down, I could not agree more with him. But having let a few
more strands of hair turn white in useless arguments, like most
Iranian immigrants, I have come to the conclusion that being a
global minority, the majority will see me as they choose, which
is not necessarily as I would like them to.
By the same token that the word 'shah' (Persian for king) now
refers to one person only - as if it were the late shah's given
name - the Western world will also give us names that may not be
true at all, but simplifies their reference. I wish it would stop
at the name, but through bad media coverage and its repetition,
we now have a whole new identity. We are the evil ones, the dangers
to humanity, destructive elements and indeed the villains who need
to be stopped before they end the world.
You see, Mr. Beglie Beigie? It is much harder, perhaps impossible,
to hate a Persian. How could you hate someone related to Cyrus
the Great, Omar Khayyam and Rumi? How can you forget the ancient
fine miniatures, the tiles, the turquoise and hand crafted carpets?
Can we delete the fascinating saga of Shahnameh and the mesmerizing
tales of Shahrzad? And if you live in America, where most roads
have a gastronomic end, is any feast the same without the elegance
of Persian caviar?
Our problem is not in the name of Persia. It lies within its
metaphoric connection. The mere mention of Persia is too poetic
and depicts too much beauty to justify the unpleasant labels we
have been given. The more we are disassociated from our true name,
the easier it is for the world to believe the negative propaganda.
As a true believer of the conspiracy theories, I think this to
be the fact underneath all the little errors that you and I try
so desperately to correct.
The British never wanted Persia to be Persia. They would have
loved a Commonwealth of Iran. As far as the ignorant is concerned,
Farsi is a wonderful name for our language. It may even imply that
what we have to say is nothing but a farce!
People like Mr. Beglie Beigie and all those who continue to wear
their national pride (and their hearts) on their sleeves, will
face only ridicule. Nearly three decades past the Islamic revolution,
regardless of twenty five centuries of history, to the eyes of
the world we are but a backward fundamentalist nation. "What
do you mean, Persian Gulf?" they say. As far as the western
hemisphere is concerned, more Arab oil comes through those waters
than anything Persian. And, as for Persia, didn't Alexander the
Great take care of that one?"
The average person in the western world doesn't even bother to
pronounce Iran (eeron) properly. To them, I-ran sounds better and
it rhymes with I-raq. Besides, "I ran" may indicate that
we are, and will be forever, on the run.
The fact is, those who are educated enough already know the difference,
and those who don't know any better don't care to be educated.
As rewarding as it may be to educate others, in order to succeed,
first and foremost they should want to learn. After bashing my
head for years against the brick wall of ignorance and participating
in heated discussions that got me nowhere, I've come to a peaceful
conclusion. I've decided that no matter what I think or say, no
matter how hard the last generation of Persians may try, Persia
will have a place alongside Mesopotamia in the history books of
I guess aging does have some good aspects. As the years go by,
I begin to realize what peace is all about. It isn't about setting
things straight. It isn't about who is right - never has been.
It's about forgiving and tolerance. That may explain why young
people argue, demonstrate and express their opinions, while old
people stand by and don't say much. It has nothing to do with energy.
But perhaps they know that no matter how passionately they want
to, it is impossible to swim against a strong current. Ignorance
is a fierce current and for three decades it has pushed us around.
I, for one, have given up.
The other day, I was shopping at Walmart. The clerk took my credit
card and said, "Nice accent. Where're you from?"
I responded with pride, "I am Persian."
Her eyes lit up and she smiled. "Ooh, I love Paris!"
For a second I had the urge to deliver my well rehearsed sermon.
But instead, I smiled back and said, "Me, too."
Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a freelance
poet and artist. She lives in San Diego, California.