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Trilogy of Iran’s Concept and Presence in the World

Monday, August 18, 2008

Kioumars Ahmadi

Introduction

In the ever-changing world of today, multiple political, economic, scientific and technological factors are involved in creating concepts, terms, and discourses. This change in concepts and discourses, more than anything else, is a function of the speed of political developments, amazing expansion of scientific disciplines as well as development of communication technologies, satellite networks, and Internet. Developments are so rapid that few political, social, and economic realities can be recognized after a short period. A glance at politics and international relations in the past 15 years has shown that termination of the Cold War, emergence of a unipolar world, new groupings, terror attacks on twin towers and subsequent attack on Afghanistan and downfall of the Taliban have radically changed many political and international relations concepts and have given birth to new ones. This situation exists with regard to creation of millions of new concepts as well as countless changes in former concepts and discourses especially in the field of culture and arts.

The present paper focuses on changes in meaning of the word “Iran” during the past three decades to shed more light on various aspects of those changes as well as the reasons behind its conceptual and political alterations. Then attention would be paid to number, characteristics and influence of those changes in the world.

Which Iran?

What concept of Iran do we have in mind when we talk about Iran? Do we mean an Iran with several thousands of years of cultural and civilizational background, or Iran under the Achaemenids, or under the Safavids? Are we talking about the Islamic Republic of Iran? Do we talk about an Iran which is known by Imam Khomeini or one which has been homeland of Hafez, Mowlana, Sa'di, and Ferdowsi? Is Iran represented by the Persepolis or by Shiite teachings, carpets, pistachios and caviar? What do we mean by Iran? Or is it represented by Iranian land, culture, civilization, peoples, or political system and its religious rule? What does a foreign Iranologist or politician mean by Iran? When governor of California lauded Iran during the new Iranian year ceremonies in 2007, which Iran did he honor? Did he praise the land of Iran or its culture, civilization, and Islamic Revolution? What does President Bush mean when he praises Iran and with which Iran is he in conflict?

Clearly, it is not easy to answer the above questions. Every definition of Iran would represent a facet of the country, but not all its faces. Therefore, not any definition of Iran will be able to present a relatively complete description of the country with all its mysterious features and it is necessary to come up with more comprehensive concepts to enclose various aspects of this sacred land as well as all its political, cultural, social, and historical elements.

Concepts of Iran trilogy

Studies show that when talking and thinking about Iran, three concepts usually occur to the mind: 1. Land and political borders of Iran; 2. Culture, civilization, and history of Iran and its cultural and civilizational area outside political borders; and 3. Islamic Revolution or the Islamic state in Iran.

All the three concepts demonstrate their own specifications, friends, enemies, heroes and symbols and point to three special characteristics of Iran. The first concept is Iran or territorial Iran which only refers to the land and political borders of Iran. The second concept is related to culture, civilization, and history of Iran and international domain of Iran outside its political borders which reflects Iranian languages and religions, thoughts of mystics and poets, feats of Persian literature, carpet and different types of Iranian arts, as well as historical and archeological works. The third concept or political and religious Islam pertains to mottos and goals of the Islamic Revolution and the ideas of Imam Khomeini such as religious government, guardianship of Muslim jurist (Velayat Faqih), political Islam, fundamentalism, fighting US hegemony, justice seeking, nuclear program, and so on. Therefore, three concepts of Iran can be differentiated on the basis of these characteristics which include: territorial Iran, cultural and historical Iran, as well as political and religious Iran.

In this way, Iran would not remain a simple concept, but three intertwined and multilayer concepts which have commonalities in word while being differentiated in meaning.

It goes without saying that theoretical, political and emotional orientation of Iranians toward that concept is a function of knowledge, ideology, beliefs, religious beliefs and their location in Iran and overseas as well as their awareness of their country’s history and culture. Similarly, understanding of those concepts by foreigners is directly related to their political, historical and cultural knowledge as well as theoretical and political tendencies. However, there is basic difference between the concept of Iran in the mind of an Iranian and a non-Iranian. This is also true about Iranians living inside and outside the country, so that, differences are found in understanding of political and religious Iran by Iranians living inside the country and those who live overseas. First, history and reasons behind emergence of three concepts of Iran should be discussed before going into elements, symbols and specifications of every one of them.

1. Concept of geographical or territorial Iran

Iran means the “Land of Aryans”. The word “Eran” in ancient Pahlavi language meant the same. “This name has been, at least, in vogue, since the time of Sassanid kings when people of Aryan descent lived in Sassanid domain.”(1)

“Iranians founded the first major empire in the world and continued state building since the time of the Achaemenids up to the Qajar dynasty. In a large part of that history, different peoples with different races, languages, cultures and subcultures lived on a vast land from Central Asia to India and Anatoly under a single rule. Persian language and Islamic faith were also important unifying factors in addition to that political and cultural empire.”(2) The existing land of Iran is part of that big empire. “That big Asian empire lost much of its territory to Russian and British empires” (3) and what remained of it, is currently called Iran. At present, remnants of that empire, with an area of 1.648 million sq km is the homeland of Iranians which also hosts huge oil and gas reserves of the world as well as different climatic conditions from green and lush forests in the north to beautiful deserts in the south.

This is a land which is bounded in books of geography by Persian Gulf, Caspian Sea, as well as neighboring states such as Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. The concept of “homeland” in its new form was introduced to Iran under the rule of Nasser-ed-din Shah and during the Constitutional Revolution as a result of contacts with the Western civilization and was imported as a cultural element.”(3) Later, this concept was included in the main motto of Pahlavi regime, that is, “God, Shah, Homeland” and was called “Motherland”.

After the invasion of Iran by Iraq and an eight year war which was supported by regional and international allies of Saddam Hussein, and after claims were raised by the United Arab Emirates over the three Iranian islands in the Persian Gulf, this concept found a new meaning in the minds of Iranians. Thus, the concept of the Iranian land in the mind of Iranians is associated with countless memories and events such as the Islamic Revolution and the imposed war whose consequences have touched them.

In fact, territorial claims raised by Iraq and the UAE, the imposed war, and frequent threats posed by enemies, especially the United States have strengthened the meaning of homeland in the minds of Iranians. In other words, due to serious developments and the bloody war as well as frequent threats by enemies, the meaning of this concept has become more profound in the minds of Iranians compared to what it was under the Pahlavi regime.

Another factor which has caused the Iranians to have a clearer picture of their land and country is the amount of information and reports which have been published on Iran during the imposed war and after the victory of the Islamic Revolution. As awareness of Iranians about their homeland increases, their interest in their country rises in parallel.

The third factor which has deepened the concept of Iran in the minds of Iranians is development of roads and abundance of vehicles as well as changes in human geography, which has helped the Iranian people know more about their homeland. Therefore, Iranians have become more aware of the past history of their country and their understanding of their homeland has greatly increased. In general, the aforesaid factors have led to a better sense of patriotism in Iran. Feelings shown by people when they hear the old national anthem of Iran attest to this fact. Then it can be said that the relation between Iranians and this concept of Iran, which focuses on Iranian territory and its political borders, is an informed relation based on true understanding. The name of Iran for Iranians is reminiscent of their past memories, history of various Iranian peoples as well as their own relatives and ancestors. This concept reminds us one of the places where Iranians have lived or been raised. This concept is associated with a cat-like map with which every Iranian is familiar; a map whose green north, oil-rich south, and Persian Gulf are tied to thousands of memories.

Contrary to many countries which are not older than three decades, the name of Iran and the country date back to several thousands of years ago and Iranians have always held a special concept of Iran in their minds; “a concept, which at least, has been reflected in the epic poems of Shah Nameh some 1,000 years ago.”(5)

The many things which should be clarified with regard to this concept is that every Iranian, both those living in the country and outside, and those who support or oppose the existing political system, are not against this concept and love it by all their hearts. They love to belong to this land and consider its enemies as their own.
On the whole, the interest shown by Iranians in this concept of Iran is special to Iranians and cannot be generalized to foreign nationals. Even if a non-Iranian has all the knowledge of an Iranian of this land, they cannot have the same feeling of nationality and belonging to this country. Therefore, understanding of a non-Iranian of the concept of Iran would be a neutral one with no emotion and cannot be profound.

His/her only information of Iran would be limited to its oil resources and that it is a Persian Gulf littoral state or that it is a neighbor of Iraq and Afghanistan. Therefore, every foreigner with an understanding of Iran should either travel to this country or study it through books and media, or interact and have relations with Iranians.

2. Cultural and historical Iran

Historical, cultural, and artistic Iran is another concept of Iran which is known to many Iranians in and out of the country, non-Iranian Iranologists and Islamologists, and a great number of people in other countries. The expanse of this concept goes well beyond the current political and geographical boundaries. Its expanse includes a large part of the known world for thousands of years, which included Central Asia, Mesopotamia and India (6) as well as Central Asia. However, application and reputation of this concept outside Iran is not as much as territorial Iran and the foreign media and press are not familiar with all its aspects. Some foreign academics and graduates of history, literature and arts as well as foreign diplomats who have served in Iran or foreigners who have been in direct contact with Iranians both in and out of the country have known aspects of Iranian culture, civilization and thought and are familiar with it. Among them, some are familiar with Iranian arts, handicrafts, carpets, and traditional music; some are familiar with turbulent thoughts of Mowlana and Attar Neishabouri; some are well-versed about love or mystic poems of Sa'di and Hafez; some know about pre-revolution Iranian films; a group knows about national and religious festivities and occasions; and some of them know Iran through its ancient culture and civilization. When they are told about Hafez, Sa'di, Mowlana, Nezami, Ferdowsi, carpets, traditional music, miniature, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Aliqapou, Persepolis, as well as Iranian traditions and rituals the image which takes shape in their minds is quite different from the concept of territorial Iran.

The concept of cultural and historical Iran reminds that during its long history, Iran has had profound effect on foreign cultures and civilizations, especially on neighboring countries and immigrants. In fact, this concept of Iran has not only transcended borders between countries and continents, but also has gained much support from political experts and has given birth to thousands of buildings as well as artistic, cultural, linguistic, and historical works, inside Iran too; invading peoples have been so assimilated in the Persian culture that after a few decades no signs of invading culture could have been found.

Yes, cultural and historical Iran is the common denominator among all Iranians. All through the country, from north to south and from east to west, the concept of cultural and historical Iran is associated with indexes which are quite different from those of territorial Iran.

Therefore, the heroes of this concept are poets, mystics, writers, artists, as well as cultural and civilizational symbols, literary masterpieces and artistic, historical and archeological monuments.

Features of cultural and historical concept of Iran

1. This concept refers to Iranian culture, civilization, languages, as well as cultural and historical heritage of Iran in addition to Persian language and literature and different types of Iranian arts as major elements that make up the Iranian identity.

2. This concept can be recognized and identified with Persian literary masterpieces of Iranian poets, mystics, and writers.

3. This concept is a cause of unity and relationship between Iranians living in and out of the country and nobody is averse to it.

4. This concept starts from a very high cultural, literary, artistic and aesthetic level and ends in folkloric literature, national and religious rites and rituals, and handicrafts.

5. This concept is very attractive for foreigners, especially Iran scholars, and attracts them more than before.

6. This concept connects Iranians to Persian speaking people elsewhere in the world as well as those who live in the cultural and civilizational realm of Iran.

7. The core of Iranian identity is identified through this concept.

8. Language and cultural unity of Iranians is based on these concepts.

9. Ideas embedded in this concept can be offered to foreign audience and new generation.

3. Political and religious Iran

The third concept of Iran which is usually reflected in international media, for which the US government establishes a special committee and the Israeli government sets up a ministry of strategic affairs, and which is respected and endeared by oppressed Palestinians, blacks, and countless number of Muslims in the world, though it is despised by a minority of Iranian expatriates, is political and religious concept of Iran.

In other words, this concept has been met with two types of different reactions: a religious reaction and a political reaction. Religious reaction has been shown by Shiites and other Muslim groups and personalities while political reaction has been shown by governments as well as political groups and figures. As for the religious reaction shown to the Islamic Revolution or the political and religious Iran, a large group of Shias and other Muslim groups and religious personalities have supported the Islamic Revolution and its leadership. On the other hand, due to some issues and instigations by enemies of Islam, some bigoted and radical Sunni Muslims have been critical and opposed it and have sometimes presented argumentation against it though their arguments have been later proved to be baseless (8). On the opposite, there has been another group which has shown their love for this concept of Iran since its inception and their enthusiasm about the Islamic Revolution has not decreased. A great number of Muslims, Shiites, and those who are familiar with fundaments, goals and values of the Islamic Revolution have been sympathetic to Iran and Iran issues. Their support for Iranian nation and government on issues which have been of import to them has been constantly shown at various points of time. (9)

Features of political and religious Iran

1. Religious and political considerations in ideas of Imam Khomeini and the theory of Velayat Faqih (guardianship of Muslim jurist) constitute its core.

2. This concept has been brought up from political viewpoint in political circles and international bodies as well as international media and news networks and, in religious terms, it has been discussed by religious circles, groups and parties and Shiites across the world.

3. At present, this concept is the core of three concepts of Iran and the concepts of territorial as well as historical and cultural Iran have been overshadowed by it.

4. Misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and distortions of this concept are quite possible in the jargon of politicians as well as audio and visual media.

5. Its presence is more complicated, more effective, deeper and more pronounced than territorial and cultural aspects of Iran.

6. It is a justice-seeking, anti-repression, and ideological concept.

7. Its promotion will lead to politicization of Muslim and Shiite groups.

8. Its major foes are the United States, Israel, groups affiliated to foreign elements, those who are against religious and ideological governments, some groups of Iranian expatriates such as those supporting monarchy, followers of Bahaism, communists, Mojahedeen Khalq Organization, Kurdish Democrat Party (KDP), some smaller groups, as well as people who cannot tolerate Islamic values, cultures, and government.

9. This concept promotes the idea of religious rule in Islamic countries.

10. It is opposed to hegemonic system of the world and is adversary of traditional monarchies and dictatorships.

11.  Its religious opponents are usually found among radical Sunni groups and personalities such as followers of Wahhabism and some reactionary Shiites.

Source: Cultural Relations Perspective Journal

طراحی و توسعه آگاه‌سیستم