Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Winning back a peaceful Iran

In its last 1400 years, “Bilad Faris” (old Persia) has been controversial. It went from a fire-worshiping nation to one of the largest Muslim countries, with a new name — Iran.

During its long Islamic history, it fought with and against other Muslims — namely Arabs and Turks. During the expansion of the Muslim Caliphate, Persian soldiers fought alongside their brothers in faith against Indians, Mongols, Chinese and others. Some of them, like Abu Muslim Al-Khurasani, were larger-than-life generals. He helped bring down the Umayyad Caliphate and found the Abbasid Caliphate in its place. However, he was so successful and popular with his soldiers, so full of pride and vanity that the new Abbasid caliph was distrustful of him.

Unlike his predecessor, Abu Al-Abbas, the founder of the Abbasid caliphate, Caliph Abu Jaffar Al-Mansur thought of his Persian general as a threat rather than a loyal war minister. It didn’t help that the Persian asked for the hand of the Caliph’s sister, a direct granddaughter of Abdullah Ibn Al-Abbas, the cousin of the Prophet (pbuh). This was regarded as an insult since Al-Khurasani came from a humble background and was not an Arab. Angry at the rejection, he went to Haj at the same time as the Crown Prince, showing off his wealth by giving away gold and silver to Arab tribes on the way to Makkah. Al-Mansur was furious.

Al-Khurasani’s end was tragic. Al-Mansur invited him for a private audience, and after telling him why, ordered his soldiers to cut him to pieces and throw them into the river. Persians never forgot or forgave the Arabs for this treason.

History keeps repeating itself, not because we forgot its lessons, but because we remember them too well. Distrust on both sides continues today. Unlike the love-hate, up and down relations with Turks, the Arabs and Persians have always seemed inclined to fight until the last drop of blood. And there have been rivers of such drops.

Even Islam that united the two proud peoples is used by merchants of hate to divide them. Extremists on both sides are inflaming old fires, and fighting millennium old causes. The Shia sect is all about supporting the Prophet’s family — the direct descendant of his daughter, Fatima, and her husband, Ali, the Prophet’s protege and favorite cousin. The irony here is that the holy family comes from Arabia.

In modern history, Iran has gone from bad to worse in its relations with its Arab neighbors. The Shah was prouder than both the Abbasid Caliph and his Persian general.  He tried to dominate his Gulf Arab neighbors and to act as the region’s policeman on behalf of Western superpowers. The Islamic revolution went even further. The mullahs announced their intent to export revolution.

Today, Iran has a hand in almost every Middle East situation. It interferes in the affairs of Arab countries from Syria, Iraq and Lebanon in the north to Yemen and Sudan in the south, and from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in the east to Egypt and North Africa in the West.

With Western superpowers against it, Iran needs less enemies today, and many more sympathetic and supportive friends, especially in its immediate neighborhood. Ideological differences should be smoothed and worked out, not exaggerated and inflamed. They should not stand in the way of cooperation and partnership, as well as good neighborly behavior and attitude.

In turn, Arabs should invite, initiate and encourage any positive Iranian steps. The US should not object. It needs such friendly influence. The world would be a better place if we could win back a peaceful Iran.

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