Discrimination and anti-Arab racism in the field of Persian art is widespread and a very broad topic that it is not possible to describe and explore briefly, but it is worth considering one example, a recent song by the famous Persian singer Dariush Eghbali, as a case study in anti-Arab discrimination.
Dariush, who has been living in the USA for over three decades, is a musician whose audience considers him a pillar of modern Persian music and an icon. Yet to non-Persian listeners, some of his songs contain terms which are purely racist, such as in his recent piece, released just two weeks ago, O Freedom [Ey Azadi] in Farsi. In this supposed anti-regime song, he describes the ruling mullahs as black-clothed and inheritors of an Arabic culture who invaded Iran and oppressed people in Iran for four decades.
Eghbali overlooked that the Iranian regime has been oppressing Ahwazi Arabs more than any other people in Iran, seeking to erase their existence by every means.
He equates Arab ethnicity with the Iranian Mullahs and links their heinous crimes with Arab culture. Here is a translation of relevant parts of the song: “Freedom came in the form of an old man in black clothes, with a white beard, and a black robe, with a strange accent and Arab culture, and cold eyes.”
His song has insulted millions of Ahwazi Arabs and has resulted in massive criticism on social media. In analysing the message of his song, we can see his deliberate promotion of the misconception that Mullahs are not Iranians but are ‘foreign invaders’, descended from the Arab nation, with black robes, bearded faces and cold eyes without mercy.
In his song, he describes the Khomeini and his fellow Iranian Shiite clergymen – who disguised themselves as the heralds of freedom in 1979, fooled people in Iran with the name of freedom and then revealed their bloody and brutal nature – as ‘foreign’ and ‘Arabs’. Moreover, his use of the colour black to describe the robes of the Mullahs gives the impression that black is sinister, threatening and antagonistic.
Recent events in America following the killing of George Floyd have awakened calls for the renunciation of racism around the world. On social networking sites. Racist terms or behaviours in society are highlighted & challenged, in turn receiving strong pushback on various communication platforms.
But despite the new generation’s rejection of racist language in general, the racism that this generation was exposed to and absorbed since childhood remains; we see Mr Dariush Eghbali – who is supposed to be awakened in this area – is repeating just such naked racism under the guise of being against the Islamic regime. Sadly, he has not only failed to see the reality of the regime’s oppression, but he has added a deep wound to millions of Ahwazi Arabs who are the primary victims of regime anti-Arab racism.
It seems that for Persian artists and opposition groups in order to be accepted as anti-regime, they first must express themselves as anti-Arab, in their mistaken quest to be qualified and legitimised as good Persian nationalists.
Persian opposition individuals and groups and Persian society forget that this regime killed and massacred millions of Arabs in Iraq, Syria, and other Arab countries and displaced millions of Arabs in those countries and within Iran, where regime policies against Arab peoples such as Ahwazis amount to colonisation and ethnic cleansing. Yet, despite this, they still choose to mislabel the regime as a foreign ‘Arab’ regime.
As usual, the Iranian Persians in the media not only did not denounce this racist song but also defended and justified it, and a number of Persian TVs even broadcast it on their tv channels.
Iranian thinker and professor at Tehran University Sadegh Zibakalam says: “I believe that many of us, whether religious or secularists hate Arabs.”
Zibakalam adds: “Unfortunately, there are many racists among us Persians. If you delve deeply into other cultures toward all peoples and ethnicities, you will discover that we[Persians] insult other peoples more than any other by hurling slurs at Turks and Arabs. Many Persian Iranian pundits and Shiite religious figures despise Arabs and show their hatred for them.”
The danger is right here when fascism and racial hatred come from society’s conscious and cultured elite, not from the illiterate and ignorant. Those who are aware, literate, and influential pose a greater threat than the illiterate and unaware.
In fact, expressing anti-Arab racism is the most effective shortcut for Iranian artists and those who claim to support democracy there to gain popular support among Persians. While the regime oppresses all of the people in Iran, the colonised and marginalised Balochis, Kurds, Ahwazis, and Turks endure by far the greatest levels of murderous oppression due to systemic injustice and persecution inflicted on the basis of their non-Persian ethnicity.
In some cases, this bigotry is double, inflicted not only due to the victims’ ethnicity but to their non-Shiite faith and sect, while religious minorities such as Baha’i are also subjected to persecution on the basis of their faith; over the past four decades, the regime’s fundamentalist Twelver Shiite doctrine has become so intertwined with Persian ultranationalism that it’s now an integral component.
The regime has consistently denied the fundamental cultural rights of Kurds, Ahwazis, Balochis and Turkmen, attempting to deny and eradicate these colonised ethnic minorities’ culture and identity so as to forcibly assimilate them into the dominant Persian culture.
In short, while the regime does indeed imprison, arrest and execute Persian dissidents for dissent, they are not persecuted, jailed or killed for their Persian ethnicity and have no need to campaign for education in their Farsi language; they’ve never faced torture and execution for attempting to preserve their culture or been threatened with arrest for condemning the racism they’re subjected to daily, but they were imprisoned and arrested and executed for demanding more civil rights, unlike Kurds, Balochis, Ahwazis who fight for recognition of their existence as well as for their rights.
During all these long decades of ethnic oppression on the colonised nations in Iran, Persians from all classes supported the social order status quo of Iran as a monoethnic country and censored and backed the regime and justified its brutal ethnic suppression, but they forgot that supporting a murderous regime one day ensues a backlash against them as we see now the regime after targeting and massacring Kurds, Balochis and Ahwazi Arabs turned to execute dozens of protesters of Persian ethnicity.
By Rahim Hamid
Rahim Hamid, an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate based in Washington, D.C. Hamid tweets under @Samireza42.