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What's next--the 'Arabian' Gulf?

by HANA H. in Tehran

17 Mar 2010 05:0924 Comments
chahar_3__2.jpg[ comment ] Whenever officials of the Islamic Republic start paying too much attention to something it usually means that there is cause for concern, that a new fault has been found with the things people enjoy or believe in and there will be no rest until that pleasure or custom is abolished. Iranian officials have access to a bottomless reservoir of brilliant notions, and they are not fond of repose. They do not see the sense in leaving things that are fine the way they are in peace.

Not long ago, an Iranian official with too much time on his hands decided that the history of the dynasties should be omitted from textbooks and replaced by the history of "the people." He explained his rationale: "Students should not be forced to memorize so many names and dates." In a country with a 2,500-year history of monarchic rule, which until three decades ago knew no other system of governance, this decision meant fast-forwarding historical instruction from the age of dinosaurs to the reign of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and, of course, the victorious Islamic Revolution of 1979.

I remember criticizing this decision to rewrite Iranian history in the presence of a self-proclaimed revolutionary and practitioner of the regime's "true Islam," which apparently surpasses that of even the early Muslims. Shocked at my words, he used the wisdom acquired through years of loyalty to the Islamic Republic of Iran to ask me, "Where is the pride in having lived under kings? At least we can hold our heads up today and say we are living under the rule of Islam." I responded that there is no pride in denying your past. History is what makes a people; the collective experience of the past makes the future. Without an understanding of its heritage, a nation loses its identity.

Iran might be a republic today, but it is still a kingdom at heart. A king is a male monarch, a man with sovereign authority over a country and its people who is endowed with that status for life. The Islamic Republic has one such man who holds the keys to power and calls all the shots. He also happens to come up with some of the most ingenious ideas in the country.

On March 14, Iran's chief authority took an interest in the ancient fire festival known as Chaharshanbeh Souri, traditionally held on the eve before the last Wednesday of the Persian year. It had been rumored that the opposition would use the festival as an excuse to once again take to the streets and openly defy the governing party. The ayatollah-in-charge announced on his website that Chaharshanbeh Souri has "no basis in Sharia [Islamic religious law] and creates a lot of harm and corruption. It is appropriate to avoid it."

The Islamic Republic's officials are inveterate team players -- if one of their own takes a stance for or against something, the rest follow suit. Chaharshanbeh Souri had been celebrated by Iranians for centuries as a symbolic act of leaving the previous year's suffering behind and welcoming good fortune in the coming year. But, taking their cue from the Supreme Leader, one by one the little old ayatollahs in Qom, known as the Sources of Emulation, came forth to shun the fire festival. Ayatollah Nasser Makarem-Shirazi said, "Such practices are not befitting of a Muslim." Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi-Golpayegani said the celebration was "wrong." Tehran governor Morteza Tamadon joined in, declaring, "With decisive action, we will try to wipe the problem called 'Chaharshanbeh Souri' from the mind of society within the next two years." Even the deceased Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Bahjat was quoted as saying that it "lacks legitimacy."

The collective denunciation of Chaharshanbeh Souri is clearly a measure taken to ensure that the authority of the Islamic Republic remains unchallenged. The regime can pretend to have the backing of "the people" for only so long. When every significant celebration or other public event in the country is turned into a protest during which ever greater numbers of Iranians are arrested, the legitimacy of the regime's actions inevitably falls under question by even its staunchest supporters.

For now, the attack on Persian custom is limited to Chaharshanbeh Souri. There is, as yet, no sign that officials intend to impose a ban on all such traditions -- they have had 31 years of opportunity if that was the primary goal. In the words of Ayatollah Makarem-Shirazi, "The Chaharshanbeh Souri ceremony is a superstitious act and baseless, and pious and sensible Muslims will stay away from it. But many other Eid [Nowruz] festivities are reasonable, beneficial, and good."

However, the rulers of the Islamic Republic will stop at nothing to remain in power, as the events of recent months have proved. Survival is the bottom line. If the survival of the regime means banning an ancient festival to prevent the opposition from raising its voice, so be it. If, in the future, maintaining their hold on power necessitates giving up the "Persian" in the Persian Gulf, it is not hard to imagine that they will readily find religious justification for informing us that the Persian Gulf was Arab all along. In the Islamic Republic, the ends always justify the means.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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When these despotic regimes over-focus on leisure activities....its the end.

The Stasi started to oulaw theatre and soviet union its ballet stars.

Some mullah in 2050 will decry this folly as he sips his gruel in a CNN prison interview.

Anonymous / March 17, 2010 6:46 AM

This isn't very different from certain local and state ordinances in the US, prohibiting personal fireworks during the Fourth of July. It's in the interest of public safety. In the Iranian case, you not only have dangerous fireworks at play, but also numerous bonfires set throughout the metro! Not hard to imagine the inherent hazards, as well as the numbers of personal injuries.

Regardless, though, in the case of the US, just about every street corner on July 4th, there are numerous illegal fireworks set off, and in certain instances, a fair amount of firearm discharges, all to the chagrin of local and state US authorities.

Not very different from the Iranian example.

Pirouz / March 17, 2010 11:05 AM

What did the 'self proclaimed reveloutionary' say in response to your comment about kings? It seems the conversation ends abrubtly when his response would actually tell us something instead of giving an oppertunity for you to express your views. Did he not say anything?

Mehdi / March 17, 2010 11:25 AM

why you have changed the topic?

shahryar / March 17, 2010 8:39 PM

Great great article. But please remove the name arabic from the title. why don't you write "persian gulf" instead and would convey the same message.
let's make the world wide web free of that expression. thank you

ali / March 17, 2010 9:58 PM

Note this dear fellow countrymen, Israel is Irans best friend in the region, for instance during the war with Iraq, amongs the few countries who supplied Iran with weapons was actually our friend Israel, and few days ago I read a article about middle east which both Israel and Iran were mentioned, but also Persian Gulf, so the referred to the Persian gulf by its true name, the same Israelis that the idiot mullahs want to destroy. But if you listen to american and arabic media, the either call the forever lasting Persian gulf for nonsense such as the gulf or the arab gulf, which both are totally wrong. May Israel and Iran live and rule the area forever and ever, but hopefully a Iran with true Iranian leader and hopefully these arab rulers days are counted.

Long live Iran and Iranians (and our friends the Israelis)

True Aryan of Iran / March 19, 2010 4:33 PM

Pirouz: your statements are a joke man. All your comments on Tehranbureau seem in blind defense of the traitorous Islamic Republic.

The "fatwa" was a spit on our ancient Iranian heritage. An insult to our people. A lack of humility and an abuse of religiosity for the sake of a political agenda.

Khamenei made a judgement about Chaharshanbe soori itself - his issue was not with fireworks, as you seem to make it seem!

Your arguments and comments in defense of this callous regime are pathetic.

Who is Khamenei to claim authority over Iranian history and culture? He has distanced himself even further from the Iranian spirit with this move. Iranians value the Nowrouz tradition very much and this additional instance of betrayal of the Iranian people will not be forgotten.

Saeed / March 19, 2010 7:39 PM

The world is becoming divided into regional blocks. If Iran's leaders are serious in wanting to lead the Muslim bloc and maybe form a Muslim Union (MU), then maybe they could propose renaming the Persian Gulf to the Islamic Gulf. That could act as a nexus around which all the Muslim countries of the Gulf could form a mutual security pact and an EU like economic union. If the Muslim countries of the Gulf could assure each other's security and open up their internal markets and made it easy for their citizens to cross borders, it would solve a lot of problems that arise out of instability provoked by external powers. Yes, rename it but rename it to that which will overcome the mostly parochial nationalism which is actually destructive to the longer term interest of all the citizens of the region i.e. if the rulers care about them!

rezvan / March 20, 2010 4:06 AM

To all,
Anyone noticed Pirouz is the first to come up with some bogus reasoning to change the conservation. It is always the same song and dance. Blaming USA and Israel. Too much snow, blames the USA, Too little snow, blame Israel.
Too much rain, blame the USA, Too little rain blame Israel.

Dylan / March 20, 2010 6:24 PM

change the topic
or it seems you are willing to get some money( ops,donation from some Arabic countries )
i said change it you
parvaz. Iran .loristan

parvaz / March 20, 2010 9:31 PM


Nationalism is the only thing that has stopped Iran from becoming extinct... To call it the Islamic Gulf would be the ultimate betrayal of our heritage.

Sam / March 21, 2010 1:58 AM

Whats going the happen to the persian gulf? Well Iranians will become like Saudis,Qataris,and the other Arabs who receive oil and gas allowances from American compnies. And they will use this allowance to buy Mercades and eat KFC. Its the great future i see for the "persian empire". Then French Engineers can come and build the biggest tower in the world in Tehran, sounds great huh... Every Nation in the middle east has lost their self dignity and culture except for Iran, but I guess thats what Iranis want. Go ahead loose your self Identity

Anonymous / March 21, 2010 4:25 AM

To all,

I am predicting Pirouz’s next comment on the next imaginary commentary that has not yet been written. Here we go: "How about the … in USA. Why not …blame … about Israel. Nobody talks about … in USA. It is fault with…Israel. And on and on and on.

Dylan / March 21, 2010 6:47 AM

If you are an Iranian then I am deeply shocked and saddened by your ignorance. Firstly, the Persian Gulf has its name rooted in thousands of years of history and until a bunch of ignorant Arab nationalist dictators driven by their greed started whining about it a few decades ago, every literate person in the world knew this body of water as the Persian Gulf. The name Persian Gulf doesn't owe its genesis to Iranian nationalism (legitimate or otherwise); it is simply a reflection of the realities of history and geography.
Secondly, if by your twisted logic we decide to "rename it to that which will overcome the mostly parochial nationalism which is actually destructive to the longer term interest of all the citizens of the region", surely naming it after an intolerant religion that is responsible for much of the backwardness and ignorance of the people of the region is not the way to go!
Thirldy, if you are to get your dark wish of renaming the Persian Gulf to that awful name you suggested (a wish that you share with Bin Laden and Khomeini's ghost, by the way), it might be fair to start calling the Arabian Sea the "Sea of Zoroaster" and Saudi Arabia "Buda land"!

Cy / March 21, 2010 9:13 AM

Wow, the author is ingenious in making irrational slippery-slope arguments. First you hype the evident, that sources of emulation on religious grounds are against - what through the lenzes of the Abrahamic religions could be considered a pagan practice - the Chaharshanbeh Souri. Secondly, you pursue your slipperslope propagandist argumentation by insinuating that just because a bunch of mullahs have made clear statements that this celebration has no basis in Islam, which it doesn't, they (The Islamic Republic) will relinquish the name of the Persian Gulf if their survival is at risk. Let me chip in with my two cents. Mullahs can express disregard of Charshambeh Souri as much as they like, they have the right to do so. But eliminating (read prohibiding) the celebration would be a much larger risk to the Islamic Republic than the celebration being used by the opposition for protests. Matter of fact, all of the festivals hitherto used for protests were festivals of Islam and the Islamic Republic. People didn't protest on Yalda they protested on Ashoura. So if the IR are worried about festivities being used for protests they should wipe out all of the Islamic festivals and not the ancient Persian ones. Finally, The Islamic Republic has been firm on the Iranian people's historic right to the name of the Persian Gulf. This propaganda that IR cares nothing about the Persian Gulf is baseless. Their actions prove the opposite and as a matter of fact I really cannot see how giving up the Persian Gulf would contribute to the longevity of the Islamic Republic? Could you be kind enough to explain that? Sincerely Safe-Adel

Safe-Adel / March 21, 2010 11:43 PM

Why did Jesus come to the Middle East and not say what is now called Arizona? Because the people are a thick headed mess...

Paul Whatley / March 22, 2010 12:36 AM

Religion is the Bane of Mankind and will be the cause of his ultimate demise.

Achmed Mossir / March 22, 2010 2:38 AM

To all,

Pirouz dispatched his Basigises / Hezbulalahs /tea-beggars lackies in aka "Safe-Adel".

Dylan / March 22, 2010 10:06 PM

Long live Iran! If someone was to talk about the "Arabic Golf" in Germany, noone would know what he or she was talking about. We know it as the Persian Golf, that has always been so. Persia has by far the longest and most impressive history in the region. Great nation!

Ralf Peter / March 23, 2010 12:03 AM

No nation is an island. Iran has benefitted much more and strengthens its influence and power by taking a leadership role that it has taken amongst Muslim and 'Third' world nations. Iran has had a deep and powerful role in the development of Islamic civilisation and learning in all parts of the Islamic world. Today it is a respected voice in many international forums as a representative of Third world nations. These are things in which there should be national pride. Despite the 'end' of the British empire, Britain through the Commonwealth, its national church, through the institutions it has bequeathed other nations and most importantly its language, which even the staunchly nationalist Persians in these columns express their woes in. This is something that a nation should be proud of. Iran has since the Revolution and the establishment of the IR done many good things for many nations in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America and is well respected in these places. Its independent mindedness and staunch defence of its lawful rights is admired by many people the world over. This is what diehard Persian nationalists should be proud of and you should take pride in your Islamic heritage as there is much good there. Of course there are many things wrong in the IRI, but which nation does not have its problems and at least you are fortunate that you can and are doing something about it. The attitude of mind that comes through from some of the columnists would indicate that even if the IR were to go they would probably find something else to be unhappy about and maybe they would be complaining how no one has any respect for Islam any longer and if only we could bring the Islamic Republic back!!

rezvan / March 23, 2010 6:09 AM

The article is misleading. The IR has defended the name "Persian Gulf" relentlessly. The record stands in sharp contrast to the articles proclaimations.
The IR has always been wary about anything with nourooz. It has always been attempt to severe Iranians affinity toward a kingdom.

Pouya / March 23, 2010 11:14 AM

To Rezvan and Pouya. It feels good to know that there are other discerning Iranians who see beyond the exiled-iranians nationalistic propaganda against the Islamic Republic. There's so much unfounded speculation and hypothesizing going on about the IR that is makes me sick.Übernationalistic Liberal Iranians (who are often anti-arab racists at heart although they might have arab friends and listen to arab music - indicates their level of cognitive dissonance)just love to put forth unfounded speculations and hypothesize about the IR in matters which have very little significance with arguments that have nil substance.

To Dylan. I see you attacked me by name so I will respond. Next time, instead of being condescending towards me try to respond to my arguments. Liberal Iranians think so highly of themselves that they rarely even try to tackle the argument one puts forth, they can only retort by saying that you are a basiji or hezbollahi or arabzadeh and what have you.

Safe-Adel / March 24, 2010 7:45 PM

I think a number of people are taking this too literally. I don't believe that the government of Iran would accept the ridiculous "Arabian Gulf" name; neither does the author of this article. He's trying to make the point that Iranian identity is secondary to maintaining power.

Ardashir38 / March 25, 2010 8:19 AM

Being an Afghan-American, I'm definitely not surprised reading this article.

Afghans know of Iranians as "the donkeys that claim all is theirs." This is typical of their inferiority complex. The world must deal with their baby tactics.
While the world advances with a futuristic outlook, Iranians claim to the demise of their glory days with such zeal. I suggest it's time to wake up, Iran, and come up to par with the rest of the world.
You put the true Dari-speaking Persians (Afghans) to shame by using our label.

Ameer / April 13, 2010 10:13 PM