Strategic convergence of nationalism and racism in Iran

ByMohammed Alsulami

Nations of the region live beside each other and have a common destiny.

The reflection of torturing a number of Afghan asylum seekers and throwing them in Harirrood by Iranian border patrols – which according to the media has resulted in deaths of 10 asylum seekers and missing of 13 others – has sparked strong reaction by Afghanistan government and the citizens of that country, and even the civil activists in other countries too have condemned this move by Iranian border patrols. 

In reaction to this move, tens of civil activists, along with a number of Afghan citizens, gathered in front of Iran consulate in city of Herat in western Afghanistan, calling for serious investigation of the issue so that the perpetrators of this incident are punished.

On the other hand, 120 members of Afghanistan’s parliament and civil activists, in an open letter concerning the inhuman behaviors of Iranian border patrols towards Afghan asylum seekers, addressed Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani – a copy of which is in possession of BBC. Members of Afghanistan’s parliament and civil activists have asked Iranian government to apologize for the incident, and in addition to paying compensation to the victims’ families, punish the perpetrators of this crime.

Of course, a number of women Afghan lawmakers and members of Afghan women network and women’s rights activists too have sent a letter to Iranian leaders urging on following up the issue. Also, it is said that a copy of the letter is sent to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Likewise, Shah Hossein Mortazavi, senior advisor of Afghanistan president, pointed out to the recent incident, tweeting: “The neighbor’s expertise is in drowning!”

In spite of the fact that Iranian officials deny the Iranian border patrols’ role in this incident and claim that Afghans have been killed in that country’s soil, this tragic incident has instigated many reactions with respect to Iranian manner of confrontation with Afghan refugees, and even some Iranian citizens have reflected this issue in social networks.

In this regard, Dr. Abdullah Ramazanzadeh, former professor of political sciences in Tehran University who belongs to the reformist movement, wrote in a Twitter: “If the issue of drowning Afghan immigrants in Harirrood is true, it is an everlasting stigma on Iran and Iranians and is an irreparable crime. We must call for formation of a national fact-finding committee.”

In fact, the reaction to drowning Afghans has created controversy among users of social networks in and out of Iran, and there is increasing difference of opinion over this issue between the opponents and advocates of principlists and reformists within the Islamic Republic.  

By studying most of these comments, one realizes that some believe that the Islamic Republic establishment doesn’t represent Iran and Iranians’ high culture, while some hold that the performance of the Islamic Republic establishment reflects the culture and thought in Islam and Shiite religion. Meanwhile some go even beyond this and say that the government’s racist behavior towards Afghan refugees reflects Arabs’ mentality and manner of thinking, claiming that Islam is Arabs’ religion and mullahs represent Arabs and have no ties with Iran’s advanced civilization.

But some other users maintain that this kind of behavior is not limited to Afghans; rather the Islamic Republic government has the same violent behavior towards Iranians in most cases. The inhuman treatment of poor, unfortunate porters – known as kolbar – in the Iran-Turkey border demonstrates this fact – particularly given the fact that most of the porters are Kurd citizens who are living a tough life. As a result, a number of users point to porters’ painful conditions, saying that the Iranian nation should focus on the issue of this poor Iranian people, rather than addressing the issue of displaced Afghans.  

Some other users have in general criticized paying attention to this issue, emphasizing that nationalistic feelings have always had impacts on the humanitarian issues, and the way Afghans treat Iranian citizens in Afghanistan is much worse than the way Afghans are treated in Iran.

Dr. Sadegh Zibakalam, professor of political sciences in Tehran University, in an interview with Sobh Azadi weekly in 2011, had pointed to Iranians’ unfair treatment towards other nations and races in and out of the country, saying: “Unfortunately, many of us, Iranians, are racists. If you pay close attention to peoples’ cultures in relation to other nations, peoples, and ethnicities, you will see that most of our jokes are offensive towards Turks and Lors [ethnic groups within Iran].”

He added: “In my opinion, many Iranians hate Arabs, and there is no difference between religious and irreligious people in this regard. It is as if we haven’t forgotten our historic defeat by Arabs, and the defeat in Qadisiyyah war is still fresh in our minds after 1400 years. We have a hidden resentment towards Arabs which is like fire under ashes: it will spark whenever possible.”

I have studied this issue a lot and wrote my PhD dissertation on “Iranian Orientalism: Notions of Other in Modern Iranian Thoughts”. It was of course written in Arabic, but its English version can be accessed in the website of Leiden University in the Netherlands.

That is why I don’t want to deal with the issue of emergence of racist tendency and infatuation among some Iranians in their encounter with other nations. Unfortunately, this is engraved in the subconscious of many Iranians and it can be very well seen while they are discussing other nationalities.

After the end of World War II and fall of Nazism, the Germans let go of their theory of Aryan racial superiority, and this theory collapsed throughout Europe. However, this racial idea still exists in some Asian countries including Iran: many nationalists and racists in Iran accuse Arab people of being retarded, desert dwellers, naivety, eating locusts, and drinking camels’ urine. But interestingly several weeks ago, a video footage was released of an Iranian citizen on the internet while drinking camel’s urine to treat COVID-19 disease. Earlier, there were many footages in the social networks showing Iranians while eating locusts.

These points, of course, are mentioned to show that no country or society is perfect and without flaws; there are abnormalities everywhere. But we should not attribute individuals’ traits to a nation or a society. Also, accusing Arabs of being retarded compared to Iran’s advanced civilization is not currently consistent with truth. However, tendency towards cliché ideas that go back to tens of centuries ago – whether taken from a populist movement in the ninth century or as reflected in Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh – is nothing but escaping the reality and resorting to history.

So it is not fair to pin the performance of Velayat Faqih’s regime in Tehran on Arabs’ culture or Islam – even though the leaders of Iran wear black turbans, or Khamenei – and before him, Khomeini – sees himself as descendant of Prophet of Islam. Such claims can never tie them to Arab people, particularly now that the Islamic Republic regime has damaged Arabs more than Iranians. So how can Iranian leaders be affiliated with Arab world, or how can the measures of the Islamic Republic be pinned on Islam? This is absolutely unfair, and the regime’s performance has no consistency with the real Islam.

Just as late Ayatollah Montazeri had said: “The Islamic Republic is neither Islamic nor republic. Khamenei has no legitimacy, and whatever happens in Iran is abusing the religion for political goals.”

As such, just as Arabs hate these turban-wearing mullahs, Islam too has no affinities with the performance of this despotic regime. 

In the end, I do hope that our educated and cultured friends in Iran take steps in fighting racism, and no longer allow the Islamic Republic regime to take political advantage of racist slogans: we cannot change the geographical formation of the region, or take Iran to Europe or transfer Arab countries to another continent. There is no doubt that regional nations live side by side and have a common destiny that cannot be ignored. So it is better if we change the current unhealthy competition to a positive one in line with progress and modernity, discard the culture of supremacy, and pursue institutionalizing the culture of peaceful coexistence.

Source: Independent Persian

Opinions in this article reflect the writer’s point of view, not necessarily the view of Rasanah

Mohammed Alsulami
Mohammed Alsulami
Founder and President of Rasanah