Wednesday, May 03, 2006

my first published freelance article

....I haven't wanted to announce anything until it was official, but as of yesterday, it is.. I've had my first official piece of writing published in the L.A. based online magazine, The Simon.
.....Here's a direct link to the piece I wrote: Arabs and Iranians: A User's Guide. The title wasn't my first choice.. in fact, it wasn't my choice at all. The title ideas I'd suggested to the editor were:
Lone Goose in a Duck Duck World
Iran – Square Peg in a Round Peg Region
Arabs and Iranians... and Iranians.
Arabs and Iranians... (vs. the “Fox news Iranians”)
.... I think those are a little more apropos to the article but I'm not complaining. Well, ok, I guess I am. Also, I'm not entirely happy with the article itself. I think it's a little disjointed and feels somewhat forced (I seem to be a little resistant to editing) but for a first published piece, I can live it it.
... hope you enjoy.

Arabs and Iranians: A User's Guide
By Kory Dayani, May 1, 2006
 I was at a flea market a few months back when a friend pointed to a table of fabrics and jokingly said “Hey, look – it’s one of those Arafaty headdress things you desert people wear.” After I stopped giggling at the comic awesomeness of his inventing the term “Arafaty” (and thinking about all the ways I would steal it and make it my own) I explained that Iranians don’t wear the Arafat-style headdress; Arabs do. In fact, for almost 30 years now, I’ve been trying to shed light on how Iranians differ from our Arabic Middle Eastern neighbors and (like many of my fellow Iranian-Americans) dispel some myths and misconceptions about Iranians. You’d think after years of practice it would get easier, but with the current political situation, our task is actually getting more difficult
 To begin, I should point out that the country name is “Iran” (pronounced: Eee-Ron, not Eye-Ran or IHh-Ran. It may seem like a small point, but it honestly does ruffle many Iranian feathers to hear it pronounced incorrectly. And while we’re at it, things are only “Persian” if who or what you’re talking about was born or invented before 1935, when the country officially changed its name (see: rugs, food, history). During recent times of crisis, however, many Iranians have sought to call themselves “Persian” as protection against the negative connotations associated with post-hostage-situation Iran.
 As for how Iranians differ from Arab people, the list is probably a mile longer than the points I’ll raise but here’s a few basics: Falafels, schwarmas, hummus, tabuli, cous cous and a dozen or more foods commonly associate with the Middle East – all Arabic foods. Kabobs, yogurt dips, stews for rice dishes, soups, quiche-like creations (most containing meat – much to the frustration of our vegetarian loved ones) are the foods I grew up eating. Persians of the seventh century adopted the Arabic alphabet but then saw fit to add four letters. We borrowed a good amount of their vocabulary but can’t converse with each other effectively enough to even ask directions. Iranians pray, as do Arabs - but then we kill each other over what amounts to an argument over who should succeed Mohammed's successor, Ali (Sunni vs. Shia). Heck, we don’t even share the same calendar (I know you all celebrated Persian New Year or Noruz on March 20 – tonight, we’re gonna party like it’s 1385). Arabs have to wait until Jan 20, 2007 for the Islamic New Year 1428. As to the Arafaty head scarf, the ghutra or kuffiyeh, as I mentioned... well, we don’t wear them, and like most Iranians, we don’t know why and we don’t care.
 By definition, Arabs are “members of the Semitic people of the Arabian peninsula” and “members of an Arabic-speaking people” (Merriam Webster). If location and language are the criteria, the real question then is, Where and when did Arabs and Iranians originally diverge from each other and why? The answers are long and not entirely agreed upon but are best explained by historian Bernard Lewis. His gist is that unlike the other countries conquered by the Arab nomads of the seventh century, Persians differed just enough in a few key areas not to be completely assimilated:

 Language – Farsi is Indo-European based, as opposed to the Semitic language of Aramaic that was spoken in many surrounding countries.
 Culture – the Persian people and their culture were older and more centralized, hence more contributions. (They were founded in 540AD by my namesake, Kuroesh, in fact – something I am unjustifiably proud of. Humanitarianism, art, poetry, mathematics – and beer, let’s not forget beer – were explored for all they had to offer.)
 Political and historical memory – Iran had been conquered by Alexander the Great but only briefly, as opposed to repeated conquests other modern-day countries have had to endure.
 Birth names – Persians/Iranians have always had a fondness for naming their kids with historical Persian names, as opposed to the conquered people of Arabic speaking countries using Koran-inspired names like Mohammed or Ahmed. (You’ll rarely find Iraqi Nebuchadnezzars or Egyptians calling their sons Tutankhamen.)

There are more recent historical road bumps that have kept cultural attitudes toward (and from) the West vastly different for Arabs versus Iranians as well. In 1953, the CIA coordinated a now well documented overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran, installing a resistant Shah Reza Pahlavi as the U.S. puppet, basically ensuring that the American voice would be heard at OPEC and cementing backroom deals with U.S. oil companies. This led to the 1979 taking of American hostages and the ushering in of the Ayatollah-led theocracy that struggles to keep its stranglehold on the people of Iran to this day.
 It’s been a crazy few news months for my people – another half-boycotted election sidelined dozens of legitimate candidates and brought to power one of the 1979 hostage takers, a man who keeps spouting almost hilariously frightening bits of playground-like logic. (“The Holocaust happened? Oh yeah? Prove it!” and “If you love Israel so much, United States, why not move it to Alaska? Huh??”) Were it not for the ratings of this fire-breathing puppet (remember that since 1979, Iran has been a theocracy led by their Ayatollahs – they make all final decisions, not the president) and a history and region spotted with confrontation with the West, the other hot-button issue of late (nuclear power) might actually be seen for what it undoubtedly is: a bid to become a legitimate nuclear power. Instead, the bearded marionette wields his saber, rattling it with the sounds of megaton explosions over Jerusalem, goading the U.S. into confronting a nation whose people would always rather embrace the U.S. than fight it. (Recall those candlelight vigils in Iranian cities post-Sept 11.) The mullahs of the country will continue to clash with modernity and call their enemy “The West” as they have since the ’79 revolution, while the people of Iran continue their resigned impersonation of the children of violent alcoholics, silently hating the situation they can’t seem to escape, always hoping for something better to manifest itself and make the nightmare go away.
 If I sound less than hopeful here, I am. Iranians at home and abroad have been hoping and waiting (and waiting) for the overthrow of an oppressive regime, employing election tactics so intimidating that a people so ready for change resign themselves to the reality of the theocratic totalitarianism that controls them. The national depression is understandable in many ways – Iranians in Iran have continued to run up against depressing choices come election time: a choice between right-wing fundamentalists or moderates too scared to fight the fundamentalists and completely powerless to enact any real change if they are elected. And so, the people boycott elections... call it “voting for Nader,” if you will.. call it not playing the conservative-vs.-slightly-less-conservative two-party game. Call it a soul-crushingly overwhelming feeling of political powerlessness. Whatever you call it, the people and the government of Iran are two separate entities with two separate goals – a difference, most Iranians would agree, is greater than any difference between Iranians and Arabs.

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