Iran: When is history important?

There was a participant in the FWE project who, being an expert on Byzantine history, took every opportunity in the forum for lengthy recitals, which in vague ways were supposed to presage and explain events in the modern Middle East. I could never understand the connections, though the word counts of the posts were amazing. Now, knowledge of Byzantine history is or was a favorite measuring stick of people with big hat sizes. The more you knew, the more brilliant you were, proven in competitive recitals like chess matches. I myself was humiliated by the lawyer  just starting out in the upstairs office who didn’t have enough clients.  I hear he’s doing well.

But even though the Ottomans laid claim to Byzantine legitimacy, and they lasted until 1922, this history doesn’t seem to explain much, if anything. The slate of grudges, obligations, entitlements, and destinies was wiped clean, and replaced by contemporary material. Apparently, people can be very unsentimental about their history:

  • In China, builders are creating idealized facsimiles of American suburban villages, complete with spired Protestant churches. I can’t find the citation where a buyer is quoted as buying the whole package, including religious conversion, so look at the Nine Towns instead.
  • During the70’s,  an often cited survey of West Germans indicated that, if offered the opportunity, most Germans would move to the U.S., “because they could make more money.”
  • In Russia, the prevailing sentiment among the cognoscenti is, “Let’s get outta here!” The spirit of Russia, Stolichnaya, is highly portable.
  • Attempting to engage the local Chinese restaurant owner about Chinese politics, she indicated that she didn’t know and didn’t care. She did tell me that Chinese restaurants in China are much more palatial, “because, why go out?”

Against this, there are the billions who will fight to the death for the right to chant their chants, wear their hats, speak their tongues, and do their Morris Dances.  The relevance of history is tied up with this, somehow. Possibly many citations of historical relevance are in error. So, if the claim is made that Iran’s current behavior is historically influenced, is there a litmus test? Or is it a case of, “I know it when I see it” ?

The books of Azadeh Moaveni, Lipstick Jihad, and Honeymoon in Tehran, are great reads, highlighting what, by lack of exposure in the historical trade, is the equivalent of physics “dark matter”. Everything she writes about, largely preserved by the XX diploid,  winds up in the heads of young men in some sublimated form, perhaps invisibly tempering the natural male inclination to coerce and kill. It’s a whole other side, revealed in the course of Moaveni’s personal struggle to disentangle the  cultural from the religious.

The metal of a key glints: in Iran, there is a distinction between the cultural and the religious. Before proceeding any further, this provides a clue that in Iran, history is very relevant. But proceed we must. It is the contrast agent required to see the mullahs clearly.

More later…


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