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Iran's double-faced soul defies popular catch phrases

By Hooman Moradmand

Once driving in the fast lane on a highway in the States, I noticed an impatient driver tailgating me. On the first convenient occasion, I changed lane to give way. While passing me by, I noticed a bumper sticker on the back of the car which read, "Follow, lead, or get out of way." I wondered if the world, apart from the motorists, is run by the same assertive three-option rule. Well, that has apparently been the mentality of the leading powers throughout the history. Then it occurred to me that there is a secret option number four: Iranian way. I refer to it as "Iranian," not because it is a uniquely Iranian characteristic, but simply because I cannot talk as confidently about other nations.

Perhaps except for two centuries that Achaemenians became the first ever world- expanding empire, Iran never led the world. Although the Parthians and Sassanians were quite formidable, they just managed to stop the eastward expansion of a mainly busy-elsewhere Roman Empire. The next most powerful period in our history was during the Safavides that was coincided by the mighty Ottoman Empire and consolidating or already-consolidated European powers. The rest of the country's history is filled with direct occupations or occasionally weak and de-centralized kingdoms tied to foreign administrations. However, our history stands out prominently because of its people's relentless struggle to stay proudly distinct from their numerous conquerors. That is what I refer to as the Iranian way; a way that certainly defies the bumper sticker's motto. Iran has not always been in its leading gear obviously, nor has it vanished altogether. It may have reluctantly followed the bigger powers. But there is an ego that has always asserted Iranians' unique identity and has kept the nation going. There are countless instances from the resistance to the Greek followed by the rise of the Parthians to more recent time. Enough is said about the old examples such as Arab and Mongol occupations, but one contemporary example is when the Pahlavites, with the help of the British, replaced Qajaries. The new Shah rejected Russian influence by threatening a treaty with the West. He equally resisted Western influence, and so a degree of national independence was achieved. Thus, ironically, the Shah took a good deal of control out of European hands, only then to force European values on the very fabric of Iranian society.

Some choose to charaterize our ego with the phrase "Defeat has made us invincible." However, a spirit like this always runs the risk of losing its grip on reality and falling into the zone of disproportionate arrogance. Our occasional failure to bite the bullet or at least scale back ambitions to match capabilities has cost us dearly. A pessimistic view even implies that we don't miss any chance to blow our opportunities whenever things look stable. We have plenty of examples confirming it, such as Reza Pahlavi's practical switching to German side that cost him his job and cost the country a military occupation despite country's official neutrality. Later on, his son's unrealistic arrogance alienated his backers in the West, and eventually made him pay for it. Of course, there is more to the context of each complicated historical event, but one aspect sticks out in those stories: An oversized ego eclipsing our talent. This ego is not something new. We all know about a short tempered Persian king who felt too civilized for an Arab messenger and his "stinky" camel, delivering message of peace from a new religion, whereas other recipients of the same message preferred to react less snobbishly and more civilized.

Asserting identity and obstructing talent are just two sides to the same coin of our psyche. Even though one side tarnishes the other one, we have always prevailed. We may never be able to run fast, because of one wobbly leg we have got, but we will certainly continue to walk. That is what makes the mentality behind the three-choice catch phrase on the bumper sticker sound na´ve and simplistic. How more na´ve, do you think, is it to cut the options down to, "You are either with us or against us?"

About the author:
Hooman Moradmand lives in Ottawa, Canada. He has 34 years old whose hobbies are reading, discussing, and writing about what ticks different cultures and societies.

... Payvand News - 1/23/03 ... --

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