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Khiabani on the Arab Street


22 Jan 2010 11:1841 Comments
Triumvirate.jpg[ comment ] "It's not pleasant being Arab these days," Lebanese historian and journalist Samir Kassir observed in his posthumously published book, Being Arab. A stalwart of the Arab left, Kassir resisted the twin allures of Western fealty and political Islam, and penned one of the more trenchant diagnoses of Arab "malaise" over the last 40 years. Ever since defeat in the 1967 war and the long eastward re-centering of power in the Arab world from Cairo to Riyadh, with the accompanying shift in politics from one of pan-Arab nationalism to one of playboy sheikh internationalism, anything less despairing would be utopian. How does a sentiment like this mingle with the events of Iran over the last year?

I recently traveled to Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria, partly to see what Arabs of various stripes thought of the Green Movement and its effects on the region at large. I discovered not only that their opinions on Iran are more complex than often assumed, but also that it would be wise for Iranian democrats to be more conscious of how their own nationalist movement is being perceived elsewhere.

The Green Movement is nationalist, to be sure. It, like most democratic movements, would not exist without a sense of self that goes beyond the individual. After all, going out on the street with a low likelihood of being killed, a not-so low likelihood of being arrested, and a relatively high likelihood of getting knocked around by a riot cop or Basij is not a decision easily taken.

Nationalism is a dirty word in many circles, often by those who can afford to do without it. Nationalist myths are full of, as the anthropologists say, the "invention of tradition." Iran is no exception, whether via the myth of unbroken millenia of culture and statehood, the myth of a pre-Islamic heritage preserved in pristine form despite centuries of state manipulation, or the myth of an Islamic essence that makes Iran, as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently said, "the most important nation in the most important region in the world." These myths come from projects of community and state-building throughout history, some quite old, others surprisingly new.

Yet, in the recently proliferating lists of movement demands, whether from Mousavi's own pen or from others, one easily sees a positive side of nationalism -- a call for a set of rights to be universally granted to citizens of Iran, whether along the lines of the current constitution, or, if that is impossible, a new one. This is a civic nationalism that sees the current social movement in Iran as a collective endeavor to re-make the Iranian nation itself. The shock of the election results, the anger at the growing lists of political prisoners, the blatant repudiation of rights to assembly and free speech -- these are things that many Iranians believe Iran, as a nation, does not deserve.

However, there is another side of nationalism, one perhaps more negative. This is an ethnic nationalism that goes beyond the self-identification of a community and its culture, and posits other nations as inferior or deserving of animosity. Most nation-states have this sort of nationalism as well, usually residing at the level of jokes. It can be heard, or read, in a significant amount of the popular discussion of the Green Movement. I recall a recent outburst proclaiming that the movement is for the "Iran of Cyrus [the Great], not the Iran of Arabia." That such a comment and its implications belie any understanding of the actual history of the region and the long relationship between Islam and different parts of Iranian territory is, I would hope, obvious. That such a comment is heard so often by Iranians of a particular milieu, however, is a sign of its resonance.

Iran has a long history of ethnic chauvinism intertwined with various intellectual efforts that attempted to understand the country's place in the world. Ahmad Kasravi, perhaps Iran's most famous twentieth-century historian, is a notorious example. Kasravi argued in the 1920s, for instance, that the language of Iranian Turks in Azerbaijan, Azeri Turkish, was actually a dialect of Persian. This was not only historically inaccurate, but also insulting to the millions of ethnically Turkish citizens of Iran. Yet Kasravi wrote that his argument was "good for Iran." The entire promotion of the "Aryan people" as a superior ur-race of Persia, which was an idea only introduced in Iran's intellectual circles in Reza Khan's time, and borrowed from now-debunked nineteenth century European research, is still deeply embedded in the national culture.

I had this in mind when one young intellectual in Cairo told me, "I support the Green Movement," but he was also dismayed at a political cartoon he had recently seen on a Web site. In it, a hammer in the shape of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was striking the country of Iran, and was labeled "Nejad" instead of "Nezhad," using the Arabic letter jim. Arabs do not have a "zhe" in their alphabet, and the implication that this man read into the cartoon was one where Ahmadinejad, who he did not particularly like, was portrayed as some kind of secret Arab force of repression. In fact, the cartoon was produced by a London-based Arab newspaper, so the spelling was not the intended joke, but his feelings had been formed through reading about Iranian democracy efforts and uncovering a darker side of anti-Arab racism. A trip down to Khuzestan and a chat with a few of the million or so Arab Iranians, which I recommend to any self-proclaimed Iranian nationalist, will produce similar complaints about Persian chauvinism.

The young man also stated, "Imagine if millions of Egyptians took to the streets for democracy here. Not only is it so unimaginable that just saying it makes me laugh, but even if it did happen, the resulting bloodbath would dwarf the number of deaths seen in Iran. The Mubarak regime would literally be able to act with impunity, given its U.S. backing." Here was not only an understanding that Iran had produced a mature mass movement, one that Egyptian secular liberals were envious of, but also that the Islamic Republic's desperate attempts to shore up legitimacy amidst international isolation might actually produce political space for the Green Movement's maneuvers. In a country as tied into the U.S. project of re-making the Middle East for the last thirty years as Egypt, and where national memory is so traumatized and emasculated that the Egyptian flag is rarely seen except on state buildings, Iran was viewed as the rare Middle Eastern country where a nationalist movement could actually produce a democratic outcome.

In Lebanon, Iranian influence is not so distant. Yet, from the standpoint of southern Beirut, or other parts of Hezbollah-led Lebanon, it would be difficult to argue that political Islam in the Levant is an arm of the Islamic Republic. One wealthy Shia businessman told me, as we discussed regional politics over some very fine whiskey, "I don't personally agree with Hezbollah's stance on everything. But they were able to force out Israel after so many others promised and failed. Now I can go down to my village in southern Lebanon with my head held high. Hezbollah allowed me to do that." Due to giving voice and hope to a group long excluded within the Lebanese political system, as well as (in the eyes of many) winning the first war against Israel in the Middle East since 1967, Hezbollah is less an Iranian clone than a successful nationalist militia movement that is now in the governing Lebanese coalition. That being said, not everyone is a fan -- another Shia individual who desired a pluralist secular Lebanon said to me, "Hezbollah is good for the Middle East, but bad for Lebanon."

Iran sends several millions of dollars a year in aid to Lebanon. Many of the Israeli-bombed roads in the south of the country were rebuilt with Iranian help, and signs alongside the highways proudly boast "brought to you by the IRI." Yet there is an autonomous Shia establishment who separates its interests from the IRI's. "If Mousavi wins," another man asked me, "what would they do about Hezbollah?" I replied that it was very possible a Mousavi-led, more democratic government in Iran, given that it would be subject to all sorts of nationalist pressure from both the public and from other political elites to appear "independent" vis-a-vis the West, may keep the relationship with Hezbollah exactly the same. The man, well versed in Iranian politics and its players, nodded in agreement.

In this respect, the phrase "Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, my life for Iran," chanted by Green protesters in the post-election months, whether it reflects anti-Arab feelings or simple Iranian isolationism, was a political blunder. Not only did it give a freebie to the regime establishment, who could use it in Friday sermons and newspaper op-eds as a sign of the treacherous foreign influence on the opposition, but it also alienated democratic allies around the world who sympathize with the movement's goals. It was a completely understandable chant, given Iranians' exaggerated perceptions of IRI support of Hamas and Hezbollah, but it was not strategically savvy. Mehdi Karroubi disowned the statement soon after its emergence, but the damage had been done. Wherever I went on my trip, it was brought up.

I crossed the border into Syria, which I had always held as the ideal-typical "police state" in my head, compared to the rather incompetent security apparatus in Iran (they did not disappoint, tracking me down at my stated residence only seven hours after I had arrived there). Unlike Egypt, Syria is no socioeconomic basket case. It is a smaller country, but its infrastructure and standards of living were impressive for a middle income country. And, as it is often pointed out there, Syria never officially succumbed to capitulation to the West (Syria's actual foreign policies were always a bit Machiavellian, but it at least has a veneer of independence that is completely lost in Egypt).

I had a long conversation with a conservative small businessman -- religious, patriarchal, very nationalist, and a pan-Arabist of the old sort. It was obvious he did not care too much that people in Iran were getting thrown in jail for protesting, writing, or speaking out. What de-legitimized the current regime in Iran for him were the prison rapes. He repeatedly asked me if the stories could be true. "How could a government call itself Islamic if they allow this to happen?" he yelled. "After this happens to a Muslim girl, her life is over!" Lest we forget, this was also the deciding factor in defections by many Iranian conservatives back in June and July of 2009. Most important for my Syrian interlocutor was Iranian stability and continued independence -- all the Syrians I spoke with mentioned Iran as having "troubles," reminiscent of the way that the British shiftily spoke of Northern Ireland for decades.

While many in these countries like the current President of Iran, and told me so, the notion of unquestioned popular Arab support for the IRI's right-wing is a caricature of the truth. What seems more accurate is that, because of some combination of the 1979 Revolution, its independent survival in the face of international isolation, its vibrant intellectual and public culture, its written Constitution, its semi-democratic institutions that occasionally produced a surprising outcome, or its impassioned social movements, Iran is actually a proxy for the hopes of many others in the Middle East, whose nationalist dreams are still simply dreams. Allegiances can switch, be appealed to, and won over. As the Green Movement continues to mature in the months ahead, it would behoove them to remember the two faces of nationalism in their efforts.

Copyright © 2009 Tehran Bureau

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Interesting perspectives from someone actually traveling across the region.

The author brings up revealing topics, such as the anti-Arab racism reflected in a fair amount of anti-IRI commentaries, particularly from elements of the diaspora. Personally, I find these racist sentiments, voiced by certain declared secularists, particularly distasteful. It's definitely one of the reasons I remain skeptical of the Green movement as a collective whole entity.

I also completely agree that the "no Lebanon, no Gaza" chant was a blunder, initiated from a Wash. DC satellite source no less.

And I feel rather complimented by the Arab appreciation for the independent condition of Iran.

Pirouz / January 22, 2010 10:55 PM

There is no "exaggerated perceptions of IRI support of Hamas and Hezbollah." The IRI has very clear support of Hezbollah, which it helped create, as well as Hamas. In it's quest to determine strategies for asymmetrical warfare against Israel and the US, intensive support for these two organizations is the backbone of Iran's defensive strategy: against both the US and the Green Movement.

I have heard many people recount their experience on the streets with the Basiji, and that many of them were in fact Arabs and spoke with a deep Arabic accent. Would it be far fetched to assume that members of Hezbollah have come come to support their greatest supporter in it's hour of need??

It has less to do with feelings of cultural superiority (which does exist) and more with the actual fact that a great deal of the Arab world does support the enemy of the Green Movement. The Phrase "Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, my life for Iran" implies that the Iranian people are sick their resources being spent on foreign elements.

Azad / January 23, 2010 1:02 AM

Azad, I have encountered the basij MANY times and NEVER did one of them have a "deep Arabic accent."
Turk accent, Lor accent, Mashadi accent ... YES ... but "deep arabic?"

These folks come from all over Iran, and especially the impoverished regions ... But I think out of 70 million citizens, the IRI has enough resources to create and maintain its own band of thugs w/o a need for outside intervention.

Stop with this madness.

Pedestrian / January 23, 2010 2:15 AM


There is no question that the "the Iranian people are sick their resources being spent on foreign elements", but one does not hear chants against Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba, other countries which are on the receiving end of IRI's largess. The fact that Arab countries are being singled out in Green Movement chants reflects a deep and hidden racism against Arabs that exists within both the middle class, and lower socio-economic groups in Iran.

As an ardent supporter of the the Green Movement, I am the first to admit that it has a difficult job ahead not to succumb to ethnic nationalism. As the article notes, Iran doesn't contain only Kurds and Lurs and Azeris and Persians, but also more than a million Arabs. Like other ethnic minorities, they have been stifled in IRI and they voices and economic powers quashed. The Green Movement should aspire to represent these disgruntled voices of Iran, as well as all others.

Aryan / January 23, 2010 2:25 AM

This article is so full of mistakes and claims without any justification or any argument supporting the claims that I don't even know where to start. Let me just highligt one of the important mistakes. Mr. Khiabani claims that:

"Ahmad Kasravi, perhaps Iran's most famous twentieth-century historian, is a notorious example. Kasravi argued in the 1920s, for instance, that the language of Iranian Turks in Azerbaijan, Azeri Turkish, was actually a dialect of Persian. This was not only historically inaccurate, but also insulting to the millions of ethnically Turkish citizens of Iran. Yet Kasravi wrote that his argument was "good for Iran.""

My question is, has Mr. Khiabani even read Kasravi? Kasravi discovered that the ANCIENT Azeri language was an offshoot of Pahlavi language, and NOT the modern Azeri Turkish, which Mr. Khiabani seems to be confused about. Because of this discovery, Kasravi was granted the membership of London Royal Asiatic Society and American Academy. So who is "historically inaccurate", Mr. Khiabani or Kasravi?

Irani / January 23, 2010 2:57 AM

I also latched on to the comment about that slogan. But I would have liked Khiabani to have said something like 'well that's freedom of expression'. Something that all these other country's folks don't really have. What people express doesn't mean it's going to happen. It means that some people think that and they should have the right to claim it. We take this for granted, but often don't realize how others don't have that simple freedom. Check out the censorship list for internet. Check out how many bloggers are in jail etc etc. You are obviously in a position not to worry about that knock on the door.

The Egyptian guy choked me up, because, I don't know enough about it, but I've read that the people like Mubarak, in any case they don't know what democracy is, and like Algeria, nobody (the west nor the national gvts) want fanatical islamists in power.

All this is very disturbing but also a bit optimistic from the reporter's angle, that (as seems to be shown here and what I think many others believe) Iran, if it gets big reforms or a change of regime or whatever, will affect the whole region and everyone is interested. Obviously this is a huge burden on the green movement, so much at stake. But it will come sooner or later.

pessimist / January 23, 2010 4:08 AM

Azad has it. I am amazed by Iranian Government's proxity who are Arabs around the world who comments on behalf of the facist government of Iran. I feel sorry for Arabs countries who never had the testosteron to change their government. Arabs blame every things on USA and Israel. Arabs should look at mirror instead of blaming others. I hate to bring in the Japan's experince with being the only country beinng nuked. I admire Japan for dusting off and go back to work and make a country as they are now. Now, let's take a look at Arabs after losing the war to Israel. Instead of accepting the defeat and learning a things or two from Israel, they act with victimization mentality and turn to perpetual beggers. Arab beggers get hand out from any dictators or facists to name a few Saudi, Kuwait,...Iranian regime. One advise I have for any half intellectual Arab is if they make peace with Israel and just plain simply beg Isreali to teach how to implement democracy. When thing hit the fan believe for Facist Moslem dictators they would sell their mother to survice let alon Arab Cause.

Dylan / January 23, 2010 5:12 AM

"Arabic accent"...I can't believe these same dumb rumors are still being repeated more than half a year later. See http://brownfolks.blogspot.com/2009/06/iranian-rumors.html

Eskandar / January 23, 2010 8:24 AM

"No gaza, No Lebonan ... my life is for Iran"

is not a racist slogan. Most Greens relate to and support palestinians cause in the face of Israeli oppression. This statement is a well-deserved expression of ppl's frustration of IR's spending of resources, attention and crocodile tears on the suffering of people of this region while Iranians' rights, poverty and suffering are ignored.

2. Was the slogan a "blunder" because IR used it to label Green as Israili-backed in its propaganda? no more than these ones also denounced by karrubi:

"No East - No West - Iranian Republic;
Khamanai is murdered...his leadership is void;
This is our final word...separation of religion and politics"

Mr. Khiabani,

I have also spent time in Syria (2 months) and Lebanon (1 1/2 month) . I assure you, there is plenty of anti-Iranian sentiment and racism in the Arab world. Please, spare us the "nationalist" guilt trip.

5. The extensive political, military and financial backing of Hizbullah and Hamas by IR can not be disputed. make no mistake. These organizations would not exist in their current form without IR. Their popularity due to their fight with Israel has become a great PR tool of IR in the Arab world. Ahmadinejad was the second most popular politician in Arab World in 1997. Nassrullah was first.

If some Arabs are worried about "troubles" in Iran, it is because they know the faith of Hizbullah and Hamas are tied to the IR. To some Arabs (Sammy) and IR appologists (Pirouz) human rights, freedom and democracy issues in Iran take the back seat.
That is why Pirouz and Sammy have yet to condemn the killing of Neda and Sohrab or beating and rape of Iranian boys and girls in detention.

Ahvaz / January 23, 2010 10:42 AM


On the streets of Tehran you hear chants against China and Russia also. We all know where their economic allegiance lies.

I completely disagree that the Green Movement "singles out" Arab countries based on uber-nationalistic sentiments and racism. Rather its based on logic. Hamas controls Gaza, and Hezbollah controls Lebanon. BOTH are proxies of the IRI, and the IRI supports them with money and arms. This is logic...not racism.

Does ultra-nationalistic ideas exist? Yes, of course. Is it important that the movement incorporate all citizens, including the Arabic one? OF COURSE. However, let's not confuse racism with valid criticism of foreign groups and countries which support the IRI. These of course include Hezbollah, Hamas, China, Russia, and yes as you mention Venezuela and Bolivia.

Azad / January 23, 2010 11:29 AM

@ Pedestrian

Your point is well taken, and I unlike you, am not out in the streets. I get my info second hand. So I salute you for your courageousness in confronting those thugs. What you are doing is an inspiration to the world. Even if the Basij come from all over the country and are not composed of foreign forces, my point is that if it comes to it, the IRI's proxies will come to support it against Iran's own people.

Azad / January 23, 2010 11:34 AM

Thanks for all the good comments. An article that does not generate discussion is not worth writing. I just want to address the Kasravi contention. Kasravi, in his 1925 article ""Azeri or the Ancient Language of Azerbaijan," argued that the original Azeri language was unrelated to the Turkic linguistic family, and was instead an offshoot of ancient Pahlavi, or "Aryan." He had scant evidence for this claim, linguistic fragments that he "deduced" his Aryanist origins from. This has been challenged by linguistic and historical scholarship from inside and outside Iran (see Alireza Asgharzadeh's work). One's pride of a famous Iranian historian admitted to European bodies of scholastic elbow-rubbing notwithstanding, the cornerstone of science is ruthless critical inquiry against one's own assumptions. The fact that the commenter is so enraged by my suggestion is evidence that this is not just about scientific trivia.

Mohammad Khiabani / January 23, 2010 12:43 PM

As someone belongs to the Israeli left-wing I would like to recommend Dylan's comment.

I had an awful feeling reading some parts of the article, especially the part about Hezbullah winning the war against Israel in summer 2006.
I can't say I was supportive of the war then and I can't say I support it now. The feeling that Hezbullah has won the war is also very common among Israelis. But as far as I can see both sides lost in it, on contrary to 1973 ("Yom Kippur War" for Israelis or "October war" for Egyptians) where both sides where winning. Israel has managed to survive a fatal war while Saadat and Egypt has gained the upper hand in future negotiations for a peace process and retrieving Sinai, for the benefit of both Egyptians and Israelis.
About Hezbullah and Lebanon, after Israel withdrawal from South Lebanon the majority of the Israeli people hoped Israel will never have to invade there again, Hezbullah will lose it's popularity and support (due to the lack of IDF forces in south Lebanon). While in fact Hezbullah only got stronger and rose their aggressions against Israel (causing the 2006 war). One of the reasons for the steep rise of Jewish racism and the election of an extreme right wing government in Israel the last couple of years is Hezbullah's aggression which hurt the Palestinian cause for a 2 state solution more than aiding it.
Still many people in Israel believe in a two state solution and want to see it comes true (even though very few, nowadays, agree to the division of Jerusalem), but Hamas and Hezbullah actually aides the Israeli fascist right wing than to the Palestinian people.

Eitan / January 23, 2010 2:33 PM

Thank you, Mr. Khiabani, for this excellent, thoughtful piece, and for the elegant prose.

In part, Persian chauvinism towards our neighbors stems from a deeply ingrained inferiority complex toward the West, a desperation to gain esteem and acceptance by separating Iran from whatever Westerners hold in clear contempt, including Arabs and Islam.

If tomorrow, the West starts to develop an infatuation with Arabs and Islam, many secular Iranians would vie to prove their closeness to those 'prized' attributes.

The dynamic is broadly similar to what I observed among uneducated blacks of inner-city America, who had fully internalized the race values of the dominant culture by denigrating -- even ostracizing -- their darker-skinned brethren in a futile struggle for 'whiteness'.

Our rancid education system is also to blame. Even 'highly-educated' Iranians live out their lives without ever learning about -- much less appreciating or taking pride in -- the incredible aesthetics of Pharaonic Egypt, the visionary architecture of Mimar Sinan, the maritime and cartographic skills of the Ottoman seafarers, the urban cosmopolitanism of ancient Babylon, Abbasid Baghdad, Ummayid Cordoba and Fatimid Cairo, the haunting beauty of Jewish music from medieval Iraq to Morocco, the erotic poetry of pre-Islamic Hijaz, the stunning scientific and cultural accomplishments of Sumer, the Timurid spendour of Samarkand and Bukhara, the cultural and architectural flourishes of Balkh and Hyderabad, the glory of India's Mughals, the skills of the Damascenes in armoury and fortifications, and much, much else.

The outcome for Iranians is a very narrow, brittle sense of identity, an acute sense cultural of isolation, fear and insecurity, with no perception of the shared common heritage that binds together the peoples of the East in a remarkably rich and varied civilization, in the manner that an educated Briton, for example, feels Brunelleschi, Mozart, Plato, Augustus and Alexander as an intimate part of his/her own heritage.

No Iranian visiting Persepolis would recognize in the graceful symbol of Ahura Mazda adorning the palaces the adaptation of visual forms directly imported from Hittite, Babylonian, Assyrian and Egyptian deities. Few would realize that the lion motif is adapted from the Babylonian war-god Ishtar [minus its associations with sex and love, that our strait-laced Zoroastrian ancestors found hard to digest], or that the lunar symbolism of the bull is a Mesopotamian tradition 2000 years older than the Achaemenids, or even that the monumental lamassus adorning the Gateway of All Nations are identical to Assyrian antecedents carved in Khorsabad, Iraq, centuries before Darius was born.

What attracts me most to Persepolis is the Apadana. The immense, widely-spaced columns of the raised Apadana platform are a combination of Egyptian, Indo-European, Ionian and Mesopotamian elements, fused together with peerless artistry that heralds the lost genius of the Iranians: the ability to recognize, merge and refine the beautiful cultural variety of the East into a pleasing whole.

If and when we rediscover this genius and cultivate it once more, we will hopefully start to feel at home again in our region, our country, our history (actual, not fictional), and in our own skins.

Ali from Tehran / January 23, 2010 3:22 PM

There are both Jewish as well as Iranian Arab minorities in Iran. From that perspective, I don’t support IRI’s financial support of Hezbollah or Hamas. It has positioned Iran, wrongly and unwisely, as the enemy of Israel. Iran does not need a laundry list of enemies when it is falling apart itself.
"Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, my life for Iran," chanted by Green protesters, simply refers to our need to take care of our country first. It is not a blunder neither an anti Iran-Arab slogan. Most Iranians have some Arab blood just as they have blood of those who invaded their country.

Parivash / January 23, 2010 8:46 PM

I had no idea the pre-Islamic history of Iran is a myth. Please edit such anti Iranian references particularly by Arabs.

Anonymous / January 23, 2010 9:37 PM

I find it remarkable we can go from a chant towards Lebanon and Gaza to racism...regardless of how the Iranian government is acting towards these two states/regions. I mean from what I've been taught racism is when one group deems themselves superior to another. Again this chant has absolutely nothing to do with racial superiority, absolutely nothing.

Since when did nationalism mean racism. Funnily enough the Iranian people can be proud to be Iranian and demand action within our country without resorting to ethnicity, which we have. Again Iran is a nation not a race, thus it takes into consideration anyone with Iranian citizenship. For instance someone being proud to be British doesn't automatically make them hate British Africans.

And by sheer nature of the regime being an Islamic one has caused an increase in the influence of the Arabic language within our culture, Islam and the Arabic language do go hand in hand. Just look at school text books going from Iranian names to Arab ones like Akbar.

I find it remarkable that at this moment where our people are making small progress against such a repressive regime that DOES fund external forces, we have articles that are 'concerned' with elements of the Green Movement being feminist or 'racist.'

Seriously we have a movement still growing in Iran and our intellectuals are just bashing it again and again over such incredibly pointless things. It's pathetic. This movement might even resort to absolutely nothing yet its progression, I applaud the fact they are demanding democracy, frankly I couldn't care if they were actually being racist if it got more people out on the streets to help bring about change

There is absolutely nothing wrong with nationalism, funnily enough like religion it is a good way of harbouring support, judging by demonstrations all over Iran we haven't alienated any ethnic minorities.

Get a grip please, I want to start reading articles that make me feel proud of our people instead of just petty criticism, and it is incredibly petty.

Ashkan / January 24, 2010 2:56 AM


Well said brother. I've never been more proud to be Iranian. When I see our brave countrymen on the streets, in the face of tyranny, at the risk of death, fighting for their inalienable rights, it brings me to tears.

They are showing the world who we are. After years of being branded as terrorists, women-haters, and whatever else the ignorant ones across the world labeled us, they (being the Green Movement) are showing us as an educated and progressive populace who will fight courageously for the one thing that has eluded us for thousands of years: democracy and freedom. And they will document the entire thing on youtube, twitter, facebook and whatever other ingenious methods they come up with.

A little nationalism is what Iranians now need. A national identity regardless of race or religion that unifies everyone under the banner of a democratic institution. I have never seen such a glimmer of hope in Iran as I have seen now, and we must not weaken it by over critical analysis of how the movement attacks certain sensitivities.

azad / January 24, 2010 4:50 AM

To Eitan, Thank you very much.
The picture in this article cries for abjact poverty of the country, (thanks to you all Arab dictator lovers and their proxty Alavi foundation bribe collectors through out the USA and around the Arab world.)
Notice the Resturant's name "Castello."
Any one remember "Abbott and Costello" Comedy duo. I can see Ahmadinejad as the one and Nastrollah as the fat one. I have a hard time to name Dr. Dolittle from Syria.

Dylan / January 24, 2010 7:13 AM

Dear Azad,

Your short post of 24/01/2010 @ 4:50 AM speaks volumes.

One one hand, you say that we should not be too concerned about "how the movement attacks certain sensitivities", meaning the attitudes and potential goodwill of our 300 million Arab neighbors, with whom we share borders, history, culture and religion.

On the other hand, and in very stark contrast, you are moved "to tears" and "never been more proud to be Iranian", because the Green Movement has shown the "ignorant ones", meaning, I assume, the far-off, congenitally ethnocentric Westerners, what a "progressive and educated populace" Iranians are.

Perhaps I decipher your statement incorrectly, but it seems that your Iranian pride covets Western affirmation.

If so, my friend, this is an affliction, an inferiority complex, that we should have shed long ago.

The closer other people are to us geographically, historically, culturally, ethnically, the more we should care about their perception of us.

Iran, and the Green Movement, exist for a higher purpose than to raise the social esteem of Iranian immigrants and exiles in the West, and you should always -- unconditionally -- be extremely proud of your Iranian heritage. Period.

Think not what the Green Movement/Iran can do for you; think what you can do for the Green Movement/Iran.

Ali from Tehran / January 24, 2010 9:08 AM

That egyption 'intellectual' has no idea what he's talking about. If a million egyptions go out in the streets and there's a bloodbath, the US would not support it. It'd be all over world media, they can't. That's of course assuming there would be a bloodbath, when in fact US support means that the most extreme elements of mubarak's regime would be tempered by US influence as it did to the Shah, which then actually helped the iranian revolution of 79.

Of course this is all irrelevant, US 'support' is just something people put on a list to denounce america. Egypt is the way it is thanks to egyptions, as it is with all countries.

GeneralOreo / January 24, 2010 2:41 PM

Both the slogan of "Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, my life for Iran" (which is more isolationist than anti-Arab) and more clearly anti-Arab sentiments detected in the Green Movement (such as rumors of Arabic-speaking Basij) are an indication that the movement currently lacks a positive ideology of what it stands for that can be embraced by most of its participants (as it is, Green Movement participants have radically contradictory ideas about what they want and how they want to get it) -- hence its tendency to often define itself by what it is not, more specifically in reaction against the dominant ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran. So, if the IRI supports Hamas and Hezbollah, Green protesters say they don't support them. If Russia, China, and Venezuela recognize the Iranian presidential election results, they say, "Death to Russia, China, Venezuela!" That may be an understandable reaction, psychologically speaking, but politically it is likely to be a dead end (since it prevents the Green Movement from thinking seriously about what relation with other countries and movements the Green Movement wants Iran to have). The critique presented in this article is therefore cogent. However, it is likely to fall mostly on deaf ears in the Iranian diaspora, given its social and ideological composition. It may get a better hearing inside Iran itself (for that purpose, though, the article probably should be written in Farsi and published in a different venue).

That said, those of us who think that the Green Movement can and should develop (what in our opinion would be) a better ideology than it currently exhibits may be demanding the impossible. The Islamic Republic of Iran is a contradictory phenomenon (which has both positive and negative aspects), so if a contradictory phenomenon produces a contradictory opposition (which in turn has positive and negative aspects, just the reverse of what it opposes), it is not surprising.

Yoshie / January 24, 2010 3:09 PM

I'd also like to comment on this 'independence' BS. As if every middle eastern government having relations with the US and developing and not acting like some medieval clown is somehow not independent. There's nothing independent about Iran, it's as independent as the isolated taliban was. Simply stomping your feet and shouting slogans while your people live in misery isn't independence. All the while Iran did nothing but disrupt the peace process and instigate civil war in Iraq, killing hundreds of thousands. Syria is just as miserable, and the barbaric hezbollah too.

There is no rational basis to this, it's just an emotional view based on nothing but noise and ignorance.

GeneralOreo / January 24, 2010 3:22 PM

@ Yoshin,

RE "Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, my life for Iran" (which is more isolationist than anti-Arab)

This is neithor isolationist nor anti_Arab. It is a show of disaproval of IR's foreign policy regarding their proxies abroad. period.

RE : anti-Arab sentiments detected in the Green Movement (such as rumors of Arabic-speaking Basij)

Again your assumption of "anti-Arab sentiment" is wrong and exaggeratd. Those statements stem from an utter disbelief of some greens that fellow Iranians could show such savagery against their own people. e.g. "These bas--ds that beat iranian women men and children can Not be Iranian. They must be non-iranian mercenaries." Of course there are proven cases of lebanese Hisbollah agents involved in the crackdown. But these are isolated cases.

Re your statement "Death to Russia, China, Venezuela!... politically it is likely to be a dead end "
I agree with you 100%. What if venezuelan or chinese students yelled "death to Iran" because Iran does busniess with their leades?? we would freak out. Iranians need to stop this nonsense of "death to nations". It is very embarrassing.

Ahvaz / January 24, 2010 9:09 PM

Iran, from its 2500 years ago founding by Cyrus the Great, has been a multi-ethnic nation. Cyrus the Great most important accomplishment is his recognition of and awarding equal rights to all ethnicities, Arabs and Jews included.

The Green movement is a SECULAR DEMOCRATIC movement, which is demanding HUMAN RIGHTS. It is suppressed by a regime that uses the Qezelbash (Mongolian) brand of Shiism as a religious tool. Therefore, it is a total misunderstanding to brand the Green Movement as an anti-Arab movement.

Most Arabs are Sunni and if they lived under Islamic Republic rule, would be entirely oppressed, as are the Baluch, Kurds and Arabs in Khuzestan. The Islamic Republic is anti Sunni and therefore anti Arab. Arab nations, except for the minority in Lebanon and Syria are natural enemies of the Islamic Republic and would be natural allies of the unfolding secular and democratic revolution in Iran.

Maziar Irani (@maziari) / January 24, 2010 11:24 PM

It is sad to see that this slogan has been hijacked by those who live in their bubble of a politically correct world, as a means to provoke, and/or draw attention to their own cause.

At this point Iranians need nationalism. Nationalism has played an important role to manage their multicultural society throughout their history. NATIONALISM is not the same as RACISM.

Ali from Tehran referred to "Persian chauvinism." Ali can you explain the genealogy of your mythological Persians?

I suppose "the Persians" are the dominant race you are talking about--whose values are internalized by Kurds, Turks or Arabs, who happen to live in Iran. And the Persians are those who don't identify with their Arab brothers. And they are the bigots who don't want their country spending their resources on on Hamas and Hezbulah.

As Eitan said, Hamas and Hezbulah actually aide the Israeli fascist right wing and ultimately are not helpful to the Palestinian people.

Why not view the slogan, "Neither Gaza nor Lebanon, my life for Iran," as a statement addressing this paradox? And as a statement that displays concern for both Palestinian and Iranian people.

Parivash / January 25, 2010 1:34 AM

even if something is not perceived as racist internally, can a political movement understand how it is perceived externally? if the answer is, "I don't care," then you are not thinking strategically. "No Gaza, No Lebanon..." can totally be a non-racist statement, but it has very non-solidaristic overtones. when Greens are demanding the US to be in solidarity with their movement, how does it come off when they are saying "I don't care" about other movements in countries much closer than the US? it makes them look like what they are accused of being -- rich spoiled Iranian adventurists. that is why it was a political blunder.

greenish strategist / January 25, 2010 1:39 AM

@ Greenish Strategist

No Gaza...No Lebanon...my life is for Iran"
should be used in its context. It was a slogan used on Ghods (jerusalem) Day which is normaly used by hardliners to support hamas and Hizbullah and chant death to Israel/ US. etc.
Your claim that it was a "racist" blunder is a long stretch and incorrect. If it is interpreted by some Arabs as "racist", then I must say it is an inferiority complex and political ignorance on their part. To think Iranians are out to pick on Arabs in the middle of their fight for their civil rights is just nonsense.

Political blunder? Why? It was a legitimate complaint of greens against IR's support of foreign proxies while Iranians rights and welfare are ignored.

Had it said "No Arab...my life is for Persians" it would have been a racist comment. But it says my life is for "IRAN" ... Iranians are persian, turk, Lor, Kurd, Arab, etc. So when you say my life is for IRAN we are referring to the country as a whole, not just Persian speaking Iranians.

That is not to say racism doesn't exist in Iran. How many "Torke Khar" (Turk the mule) , Rashti and Ghazvini jokes have you told or laughed at???

Ahvaz / January 25, 2010 3:10 AM

@Yoshie First you say that the Green Movement has no defined goals, then you spell out their goal: getting rid of the current system! How could they possibly work beyond that in such a repressive climate? It's not like they can sit around drafting constitutions in a nice office someplace.

Democracy is not something you make up as you go along, it has definite principles and procedures, and there are clear ones for what to do if you have to start from scratch having just gotten rid of a dictator. Obviously, you must take a referendum, one citizen/one vote, to figure out what to do next. Recently, probably in response to Western accusations that they have no definite goal, some Green supporters have mentioned referendum, but really, they shouldn't have to spell that out for supposedly democratic countries.

The important thing is to get rid of the fake-theocracy that is actually a corrupt violent military regime, and then democracy takes care of itself from then on as long as there's transparency so citizens have trust that everything is really being done according to democratic principles.

RevMagdalen / January 25, 2010 7:02 AM

Dear Parivash @ 25/01/2010, 1:25 AM,

With your Zionist consultant Eitan giving you sound advice (gratis, I hope?) on the best interests of the Palestinian people, you have an unfair intellectual advantage over me.

Nevertheless, in my feeble opinion, a slogan such as "mardom chera neshasteen, Iran shodeh Felestin", chanted in earlier protests, was more attractive to that portion of the Green Movement which is in solidarity with the resistance of other peoples of the Middle East, less alienating to that section of regime supporters and fence-sitters which are wavering towards the Greens, and far, far more difficult for the regime to frame as American-inspired.

The point is to choose slogans and strategies that broaden and strengthen the Green base as much as possible, and to avoid any tactically satisfying moves that would strategically harm the movement.

Concerning what I mean by Persian chauvinism, it is set out adequately in my two previous posts, and Mr. Khiabani has expertly highlighted the advantage of civic nationalism over chauvinism in his article.

Further elaboration here would bore more diligent readers.

Ali from Tehran / January 25, 2010 10:52 AM

Iranians have EVERY RIGHT to resent all vestiges of ARAB INVASION. With all due respect, true Iranian do not think of Arabs as their "brothers". Is that a crime? Why do we care what the Arab street thinks of our democracy movement? They have done us no good in the past and they will not do in the future, except maybe plan another invasion... TO EACH HIS OWN. THAT IS THE MEANING OF INDEPENDENCE.

In the hypocrisy of left/liberal media, it is perfectly natural (if not admirable) for anyone to resent or fight the "Imperialism" of the "West", even where no "Imperialist boots" trampled their soil, as is the case with Iran. Yet a mere mention of not wanting anything to do with "Islam" and its "Jihaad against Zionism/Imperialism" (Of which Hezbollah and Hamaas are two representatives) is enough to drown us in cries of "Nationalistic Extremism"!

Spade Spade / January 25, 2010 10:19 PM

@ ALi from Tehran

You are correct that "mardom chera neshasteen, Iran shodeh Felestin" is a more effective slogan.

But since there is no free outlet and means of expression in Iran, Greens are using each public event to send a message that is relevant to that day.

Eact message should be seen in its context:
When armed to the teath anti-riot guards with their Robocup outfits were charging stone throwing youth, they were correctly compared to Israeli-Palestine conflict.

On anniversary of US embassy takeover The slogan was "death to No one" and "Obama, either with them or with us" and "Green Peaceful Iran needs no nuclear Bomb."

On Student Day it was "Jomhurieh Irani"

On Ashura it was "Khamanai is Yazid.

On Ghods day: "No Gaza-No Lebonan my life for Iran.

It is likely that the last one may have bothered some Hizbullah and Hamas supporters. But many people in Khoramshahr who still live in a war-ruined city 25 years later [while S. Lebanon was completely rebuilt -With Iranian $$$ within two years] would relate to this slogan.
So would those who endure Iran having one of world's highest road fatalities and 1/5th of world's aviation death while IR spends Billions on Ghaza and S. Lebanon infrastructure.
It hits a deep nerve of parents who put their children in rundown, understaffed and overcrowded Iranian schools while IR builds state-of-the-art schools in Palestine and S Lebanon with Iranian treasury.

This slogan may not broaden Green support in parts of Arab world, but it does all corners of Iran (regardless of language/heritage) which should be priority anyway.

Ahvaz / January 25, 2010 11:04 PM

I rarely comment and usually find articles on this site interesting and useful. This isn't one of them...this is garbage.

Shekamoo / January 26, 2010 12:58 AM

Dear Parivash,

I am so proud of you. Where are the Arab women? I assume under hejab and walking behind their proud husbands. I have no respect for any man who keeps his wife(s) covered. True Islam is equality of the human being (men and women.) Anyone knowing the Arab men knows how disrespectful they are toward women. They see women as a object of their misrable brain.

Dylan / January 26, 2010 6:36 AM

Could the slyly disguised Zionist Eltan, tells us that majority of Israelis will not accept division of Jerusalem. Was this before or after the war in 2006? To my knowledge majority of Israeli public have always been opposed to both the division of Jerusalem and the right of return being extended to all Palestinian refugees who were evicted from their land in 1948 and after. Does the Israeli left support this stance based on the principle of what is fair & stipulated in international law & norms? Further forget about the two state solution, which is unlikely to happen & even if it does the Palestinian state can at a moments notice have all its borders & economy brought to collapse by Israel and therefore is not a state worth having. The true test for the Israeli leftists like Eltan is if they are prepared to create a single secular state including all of Israel, Gaza & West Bank and give all its inhabitants citizenship under a new secular constitution giving equal rights to all inhabitants including the right of return. Most Iranian who are Moslems would accept such a solution based on a popular referendum of all Israeli citizens & the Palestinians based in the occupied territories & the diaspora.

rezvan / January 26, 2010 4:20 PM

Lurs are Persian actually so called aryan

Anonymous / January 26, 2010 8:13 PM

In defend of Eitan,
To proxy dictator lover Rezvan, I bet Israeli will accept your proposal with one caveat: only if Israli could count the votes the same way Islamic Republic counted the vote in last election in Iran.

Dylan / January 26, 2010 9:25 PM

"Had it said "No Arab...my life is for Persians" it would have been a racist comment. But it says my life is for "IRAN" ... Iranians are persian, turk, Lor, Kurd, Arab, etc. So when you say my life is for IRAN we are referring to the country as a whole, not just Persian speaking Iranians".


Your comment, albeit inadvertantly, brought up a topic which is important and to most Iranians living outside of Iran, it seems to be confusing.

For many centuries, Persia the country (which is now officially called Iran in the English language, and as of 1936) and Persians its people (Iranians in the English language, now), had stood for the name of all the people of Iran, not just a specific part of the people of it. From an internal (domestic Iranian) perspective, it represents a portion of the populace only, as you used it in your sentence above. I see that many Iranians are not aware of, or confuse the distinction.

M. Khiabani,
two notes,

1. You have observed the green movement as beng "nationalist" and continued your comment in that direction. I disagree, it is not nationalist at all, it is very rightfully patriotic. And there is a big difference between patriotism & nationalism. I'm sure you are aware of the distinction between the two.

2. The slogan "No Gaza...No Lebanon...my life is for Iran" wasn't racist at all and nor was it a blunder. It was carrying the message to those in power that they must take care of the welfare and quality of life of the people of Iran.

Behzad / January 27, 2010 8:40 AM

@ Behzad

You are absolutely correct. I must correct my earlier statement that unintentionally implied Lors, Kurds, Persians, etc as separate ppl.
Of course, "Iranian" people (racial and linguistics) stretch across current international borders and include cultures in former Soviet proviences, Afghanistan, and as far as Syria.

Ahvaz / January 27, 2010 10:46 PM

To Rezvan and Ali from Tehran, it's nice to be called Zionist for a change after a major portion of the Israeli society refers to people like me, or with similar opinion as Post-Zionist or Anti-Zionist.
Well Rezvan, I'm sad to say you're right that most of the Israeli people (and even late Yitzhak Rabin's government) are against the partition of Jerusalem, even though around one third of the population of the city are Palestinian Arabs. About the "Right of Return", think about it seriously, the same argument goes for the Jewish 2000 years diaspora, besides at 1948 there were less than a million exiled Palestinians while nowadays there are more than 4 and a half. I think applying the right of return to it's full scale will cause more damage to Palestinians than help them, this region (Israel/Palestine) is already overpopulated as it is. The U.N. has 2 commissions created to aid refugees UNRWA (for Palestinians) and UNCHR (for refugees from other ethnicities). While UNCHR objective is to aid refugees to settle and assimilate in other societies and countries, UNRWA doesn't aid the Palestinians doing so. The Kingdom of Jordan is actually the only Arab country who gave the Palestinian refugees full citizen rights. Personally (and it's not a common opinion in Israel) I would like the right of return to be applied partially only for regions in the west bank (and maybe Gaza without Hamas control), and Israeli funds to be send to Palestinians who are to remain in diaspora in order to aid them to assimilate and make their status better.
It's true that even before 2006 people were against the partition of Jerusalem (by the way, a lot of Palestinians are also against a Partition which will leave the Holy places for Judaism under Israeli control), but the war only made it worse achieving nothing for Lebanon or Israel except for raising popular support of the more extreme factions. Before the breaking of the 2nd intifada the majority of Jewish Israelis supported the foundation of a Palestinian country in the West-Bank and Gaza while now the common opinion becomes more and more in favor with an Apartheid or a full Palestinian exile (including Arab citizens of Israel). While the PLO and Fatah resigned the use of violence in order to advance the cause of a Palestinian state, and are supported by western and Arab countries, Hamas which is supported only by Iran and Syria have the objective of destroying Israel and massacring Jews (Racism applies both directions you know) more than they really care about creating a modern and advanced Palestinian country.

Eitan / January 28, 2010 2:37 PM

Rezvan, I didn't see your last comment.
About a secular state, I wouldn't mind it, I'm also willing to leave Israel in case it becomes Theocracy (I value democratic values more than Nationalistic Jewish values).
On the other hand Palestinians too do not desire a secular state (if you are interested I can send you the results of a survey made in Gaza and Israel about it by an Israeli-Palestinian peace movement). Christians were expelled from Bet-Lehem during the last Intifada, and Jews (even non-Zionist) were expelled from Arab Countries since 1948 (actually more than half of the Jewish population of Israel are of Arab origin). In case you wonder about Arab leaders who are calling for a secular state and the right of return, their real agenda is to create a democratic state with Arab majority, which will lead to a Palestinian national state in the long run. There are very few Palestinian leaders (and very few Palestinians) who really believe in a secular non-nationalistic state (Late Emil Habibi for instance).
And Hamas (which is supported by the IRI) is to create a Muslim "Republic" here and not a secular state by any means.

Eitan / January 28, 2010 3:08 PM