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Iran’s Racism Condemns Ahwazis and other Colonised People to be Voiceless, to Die in Silence


Iran’s Institutional racism against Ahwazis, other non-Persian minorities

While much has been written about the dangers of institutional racism in the West, there has been little or no coverage by Western media of equally toxic and very real institutional racism in Iran, promoted by Iran’s regime as a political tool.

One prominent indicator of institutional racism is the oppressing ethnic group in power, reserving access to cultural expression and representation for itself while denying them to the oppressed on the basis of ethnicity. Iran, under the rule of the governing regime, is a clear example of this in practice.

For instance, in the cultural field, ethnically Persian Iranians enjoy benefits and opportunities withheld from the country’s ethnic minorities. Radio, television, newspapers, cinema, education, universities, cultural and artistic institutions, in short every form of academic and cultural expression is geared towards the Farsi-speaking ethnically Persian population, deliberately snubbing and marginalising the ethnic minorities who make up over 70 per cent of the population. This supremacist monopolisation of culture, together with a relentless triumphalist emphasis on the greatness of Persian history and civilisation and the inferiority of all others, sends a very clear message to the country’s ethnic minorities; Iran’s culture serves the Persian people alone, everyone else must assimilate or be crushed.

Meanwhile, the country’s Ahwazis, Azerbaijani Turks, Balochi, Kurdish, and Turkmen people are deprived of media facilities and outlets, refused the right to celebrate their culture and history, and denied the right to education in their own languages, being treated as inferiors or alien interlopers, despite their long history. This institutional or systematic racism is deep-seated and used as a tool of division and rule by the regime, whose media and cultural institutions acknowledge and tolerate no difference in culture, language, customs, traditions; on the rare occasions these differences are acknowledged, they are depicted as demonstrations of these non-Persian ethnic minorities’ backward, primitive nature next to the supposedly more cosmopolitan and sophisticated Persians, or as a threat. The impact of this zealously maintained climate of monocultural Persian supremacism on Iranian society is profound, resulting in widespread contempt and derision for the language, clothing, history and cultural customs of the country’s ethnic minorities.

One example among many of this supremacist mindset came in a comedy series broadcast in recent years on Iranian state children’s TV which depicted Azerbaijani Turks in the most offensive terms as barbarians and simpletons incapable of grasping basic hygiene. The Fitilieh series began on 6 November 2015 as an offshoot of the children’s programme of the same name with an Azerbaijani character, speaking Farsi in a broad comedic dialect, shown on 9 November brushing his teeth with a toilet brush, indicating his status as an idiot incapable of distinguishing between a toothbrush and a toilet brush. As a result, hundreds of  Azerbaijani Turks citizens of Iran, for whom this was the last straw after years of racist mockery, participated in demonstrations in Tabriz, Urmia, Ardabil, Zanjan and Tehran. Police in Iran clashed with demonstrators and fired tear gas to disperse crowds, with a number of protesters being arrested. One of the protesters, Ali Akbar Morteza, reportedly died of his injuries in Urmia. There were also protests held in front of Iranian embassies in Istanbul and Baku.

After Azerbaijani protests spread, Mohammad Sarafraz, the head of the country’s state broadcasting organisation, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), apologised for airing the programme, which was cancelled soon afterwards.

Kurdish citizens of Iran have also expressed increasing anger in recent years over the racist insults and mockery of their heritage, dress and culture, resulting in a number of MPs speaking out to condemn this bigotry in parliament. A typical example of the contempt shown for Kurdish culture was a recent dismissive reference by a well-known Iranian media figure to the traditional Kurdish costume worn by a venerated Iranian historical figure as “shepherds’ dress”, causing widespread anger and protest on social media and in Kurdish regions by long-suffering Kurdish-Iranians.

The controversy arose when the media personality Mohammad Jafar Khosravi, a well-known host of a popular Iranian host of Channel 2 show, was seen in a clip asking a guest, “What’s this shepherd’s costume?” The guest replied witheringly: “This is Kaveh Ahangar’s dress and a symbol of freedom from the clutches of tyranny.” According to legend, Kaveh Ahangar is a venerated figure of 5000-year-old Iranian mythology who led a popular uprising against a ruthless foreign ruler, Zahāk. As with other famous Kurds, his ethnic background is expunged from Iran’s history. The host’s typical mixture of ignorance and arrogance led to widespread public anger in the Kurdish regions of Iran and on social media.

The regime’s racism towards the indigenous Arab population of Ahwaz is relentless, extending to every area of their lives. In media, music and TV, Arabs are routinely reviled and mocked with derogatory terms and insulting language.  In Farsi literature and even in news media, Arabs are routinely described as savages and brutes “who buried their women alive before Islam”. A typical recent front-page headline in the Hamdali newspaper(pictured below) stated that Arab women had gone from being buried alive to being miniseries in UAE’s current cabinet”, a grossly offensive and wholly untrue and irrelevant slur in a report on the appointment of eight women as UAE government cabinet consuls.

These and similar slurs and insults are routinely used against Ahwazis, with Iranian media even claiming that Ahwazis acquired their Arab ethnicity due to being “forcibly Arabised as a result of their proximity to Arab nations.”

When Ahwazis demand the right to establish cultural institutions to promote their own millennia-old Arab culture, they are denied and brutally persecuted in response, with even supposedly enlightened Persian Iranian writers and journalists supporting the regime in this overtly racist oppression and expressing similar anti-Arab bigotry with statements about Ahwazis such as “They’re not Arabs”, “We don’t have Arabs in Iran, “We have Arabised and Arab speakers which means they only speak Arabic, but originally they were Persian. ” and “If you want to be Arab, please get lost and go to Arab desert.”

The historical Persian poet, Ferdosi, best known for his Shahnameh, a long epic poem written between c. 977 and 1010 CE is still admired by many Iranians for his deeply racist poetry vilifying Arabs and Turks, with the Iranian regime even erecting statues of this infamously virulently anti-Turkish, anti-Arab figure in Azerbaijani Turkish and Ahwazi Arab regions, apparently simply to further insult these oppressed and colonised people or underline its own supremacist values. In response, Azerbaijani Turks tore down the statues of Ferdosi shortly after they were erected in Salmas and Ardabil, while Ahwazis did likewise to the statue erected in Ahwaz, toppling, burning and destroying it.

Further underlining its commitment to Persian supremacism, the theocratic regime, like the Pahlavi dynasty before it, has changed the Azeri, Ahwazi and Kurdish names of geographical features, towns and cities in their areas to Farsi equivalents celebrating Persian rule and Persian national icons, like renaming the areas conquered by Cyrus as ‘Kian Pars’ (land of Persians’), Arya Shar (City of Aryans) and many other names.

Iranian anti-Arab racism is clearly seen in the state’s legitimisation of the oppression of Ahwazis through land confiscation, arbitrary arrests, imprisonment and hundreds of executions of dissidents simply for the ‘crime’ of demanding human rights.

The regime, like its predecessors since 1925, has also changed Arabic place names to Farsi alternatives and encouraged a large-scale transfer of Persian Iranians to Ahwaz in an effort to change the demographic composition there, particularly in the three provinces of Khuzestan (the Persianised name of northern Ahwaz), Bushehr, and Hormozegan (southern Ahwaz). The regime has also constructed well-appointed ‘Persians-only’ settlements on land cleared of its indigenous Ahwazi Arab population to encourage this relocation; Persians are offered well-paid jobs denied to the local Ahwazi people at the oil and gas fields and refineries that blight the region (where over 95% of the oil and gas resources claimed by Iran are located).

During an official event held on 6 January 2022, Mohsen Haidari, the representative for Ahwaz in the Iranian Supreme Leader’s ‘Council of Experts’, admitted that the Ahwazi indigenous population faces serious racial discrimination at the hands of the Iranian authorities.  In his speech at the event, Haidari said, “There is an unacceptable level of discrimination against Arabs in Ahwaz. Although Arabs constitute the majority of the region’s population, they hold less than five per cent of the local management positions. In job interviews, when the interviewers check the identity card of an Ahwazi applicant and realise that the person is Ahwazi Arab they reject them. Young Ahwazis have started changing their names to hide their Ahwazi Arab identity in order to get hired.” This rare admission of the regime’s racism from a regime official reflects Tehran’s concerns over growing discontent among Ahwazi citizens and the increasing unwillingness to tolerate the regime’s systemic racism and injustice.

Iranian Persian nationalism is strongly based on anti-Arab and anti-Turkish sentiment. Reflecting this, regime officials refuse to even recognise the existence of Turkish and Arabic languages, dismissing them merely as dialects and variants of the Persian language family; for Iran’s leaders, recognizing ethnic minorities’ identities such as Ahwazi Arabs and Azerbaijani Turks as non-Persian people would create a frustrating and potentially far-reaching contradiction to the self-image of Persian nationalists who view Iran as a ‘pure Aryan’ Persian country.

These supremacists avoid any recognition of the reality of their own racism and of the deeply uncomfortable reality (for them) of Iran being reliant on oppressing minorities to maintain power, instead finding solace in implausible fantasies in which Ahwazi Arabs and Azerbaijani Turks only speak their native indigenous languages due to being misled, while in reality being Persian rather than Arab or Azerbaijani Turk. Any admission that Arab people do indeed exist in Iran’s political geography would mean acknowledging that Iran’s ethnic composition is fragmented and based on Persian oppression of these minorities; in order to avoid any such acknowledgement, the regime and its supporters instead prefer to create a fantasy in which these minorities are actually Persians who choose to be ‘Arab speakers’.

It’s noteworthy that while Iran’s celebration of this supposed Persian racial superiority granted by Aryan ‘racial purity’ is recognisable from Nazi mythology and celebrated by white supremacist admirers of the regime worldwide, including David Duke and Britain’s Nick Griffin, this overt racism has never been acknowledged by the regime’s other Western admirers, many of whom claim to be anti-racist progressives.

Racism towards Ahwazis and other non-Persian peoples has become so normalised under successive Iranian regimes that it is now effectively, if unofficially, the societal default setting in Iran, propagated casually and constantly across Iranian media, with many ‘liberal’ Iranians who righteously castigate racism elsewhere so inured to its presence that they either dismiss its prevalence, downplay it or simply claim it doesn’t exist. To Ahwazis and others who don’t have the good fortune to be able to indulge in this willful blindness, it is a soul-crushing injustice found in every area of everyday life which proscribes and poisons every aspect of their lives.

Activists both within and without Iran have been asking the same question for some time: “why is it that the world rises up at racism or single death in the United States or perhaps in Europe, yet says nothing of our decades of suffering? Why are we left to suffer and die in silence?

Ahwazis in particular, the Iranian messaging on race and equality reeks of hypocrisy. Notably, the Iranian regime does not even acknowledge the existence of a sizable black Ahwazi population, originally brought to the oil-rich region of Ahwaz by British Petroleum, the Portuguese, and other actors to essentially serve as slave labour. Iran’s oil company recently insulted the black Ahwazi community in Sheikh Shoeyb island by calling them ‘black-faced immigrants from Africa,’ refusing to recognise black Ahwazis or Ahwazis writ large. Such state-sponsored racism extends to all facets of Ahwazi life. Ahwazis are openly excluded from employment at oil refineries in their own homeland. If hired, they face arbitrary wage reductions, driving an alarming number of workers to commit suicide.

This normalised bigotry can be seen in the virulently racist Persian media, literature and art of the past eight decades, in which Ahwazis are routinely slandered, dehumanised and grotesquely caricatured as barbarous and uncivilised barefoot savages, backwards and violent “lizard-eaters” and “camel-milk drinkers” innately inferior to the sophisticated, cultured and civilised Iranian people.

Any Ahwazi hearing the regime’s daily impassioned denunciations of Israeli bigotry towards Palestinians can only wonder at the apparently complete lack of any self-awareness amongst an administration which treats Arabs in Iran with racist contempt as fifth-class beings, denying them the most basic rights, whilst overseeing a tightly controlled media which depicts Iran’s Arab population and Arabs generally in a grotesquely offensive manner reminiscent of Der Sturmer’s caricaturing of Jews. With all media and cultural output tightly controlled by the regime, there is no possibility that countless articles, TV programmes, books, songs, and more recently video games produced since 1979 celebrating Iranians’ racial superiority over Arabs and urging Iranians to beat and kill Arabs were not approved and encouraged at every stage.

Examples of this officially sanctioned racism are plentiful.  In 2011, for instance, Iranian websites admiringly shared a video showing an Iranian poet, Mustafa Badkoobe, reciting one of his viciously racist and offensive Farsi-language poems entitled ‘God of the Arabs’  in which he proclaims that he would refuse to enter Paradise if Arabs were present and would choose to go to Hell instead to avoid them (on a side note, it’s interesting that none of his admirers thought to point out that this unintentionally suggests that Hell must be filled with ethnic Iranians whilst no Arabs are present there).

The poetry recital, which also repeated the favourite Iranian trope suggesting that Ahwazis are not Arabs but Arabic-speaking Iranians who should revert to their “original” ethnicity, was met with the customary applause and encouragement from Badkoobe’s audience, for whom such casual bigotry is the norm, but was widely castigated by the Ahwazi audience as just one more offensive piece of fascistic racist propaganda masquerading as culture.

Poets like Mustafa Badkoobe are, unfortunately, the rule rather than the exception in Iran, with many of the most celebrated contemporary Iranian poets’ most famous poems filled with similar virulently racist anti-Arab imagery and language. This anti-Arab racism extends across the cultural field, with another typical instance being a recent hit by a popular Iranian rapper, Behad Pax, entitled Arab Kosh or ‘Kill And Fuck An Arab’ from his album ‘Kill Arabs’. Both came out shortly after the launch of a phone app game, ‘Fuck An Arab’ in which the object of the game is to force-feed a grotesque caricature of an Arab man before beating him unconscious: both the extremely popular song and game were approved for general release by the Iranian Culture Ministry, which routinely approves such offensive material; neither of these items were viewed by ethnically Persian Iranians as being in any way objectionable.

  A popular Iranian video game ‘Fuck an Arab’, was approved by the culture ministry

Behzad Pax’s album, ‘Kill Arabs’, which was sponsored by the regime’s Ministry of Culture, gained huge popularity among young Iranians. One of the songs encourages the beheading and annihilation of all Arabs worldwide. The writer and performer whose real name is Behzad Mahdavi Bakhsh, says contemptuously in the introduction to ‘Kill and Fuck an Arab’, “I’ve never liked these Arab locust-eaters.”; the phrase “locust-eaters” is a favourite Farsi slur for Arabs, alongside “barefoot savages”, “camel-riders”, “lizard-eaters” and other racist terms.

The song praises Qassem Soleimani, the slain commander of the Quds Force, the external arm of the Revolutionary Guards who has been responsible for leading the ethnic cleansing and slaughter of millions of Arabs across the region since 2012, comparing him to the legendary King Cyrus of Persia.

The lyrics alternate between labelling Arabs as terrorists and ‘parasites’, gloating over Suleimani’s ‘victories’ and threatening to massacre all Arabs.

“Qassem Soleimani’s army is everywhere… This is Iran, o Arab fools” and “This is the Cyrus Army, not Daesh (ISIS)… I swear by the Persian Gulf (Arabian Gulf) we will eliminate your name, o Arab parasites… We will decapitate the necks of all of you near Cyrus cemetery in Persia.”

The rapper follows this up with more threats, such as, “If you made a mistake, you will pay the price in Riyadh, and from today onwards my name is honored to be ‘the Arab-killer’”. The song also lauds the venerated historic Iranian King Cyrus, an iconic figure for Persian neo-fascists, saying, “Arise o Cyrus; it has reached us that we are threatened by the Arabs.”

With supreme irony, the culture ministry released the album shortly before President Rouhani’s office called for the normalisation of relations between the Iranian regime and Arab nations, particularly those in the Gulf region, primarily Saudi Arabia.

The regime has also used its recent regional wars and interventions to further ratchet up the already-high existing levels of anti-Arab prejudice amongst Iranians. On Thursday, 16 April 2015, for one example, the regime organised anti-Arab protests across the country in reaction to a fabricated news report of Iranian youths being raped in Saudi Arabia, with regime loyalists holding angry demonstrations, led by IRGC forces and Basiji personnel, outside the Saudi embassy in Tehran taking to the streets to chant racist slogans, including “Death to all Arabs”. The protests went ahead despite regime authorities being notified by their Saudi counterparts and by the “victims’” parents that the reports were false and no such attacks had taken place.

For the regime, of course, the veracity of the accusations was far less important than the welcome opportunity to divert the Iranian people’s attention from concern over domestic economic problems and rising unhappiness at the leaders’ massive expenditure on regional wars by whipping up public hatred against the Khomeinists’ Saudi rivals.

 The sign seen above was posted on the door of an ophthalmology clinic in the city of Kermanshah in western Iran, which is quite typical of the racism shown toward Arabs. It states ‘We apologise for not accepting Arab patients’; the apologetic tone is belied by the cartoon and by the inclusion of a stanza of poetry attributed to the famous Persian poet Abu Qassem Ferdowsi (935-1020 AD), which says: “After drinking camel milk and eating lizard, the matter reached the level to which those Arabs aspired to possess the crown of a King. Damn, oh time, Damn oh time.”

In the centre of the banner are two figures: on the right, a heroic regal figure represents the first kings of Persia under the Achaemenid dynasty which ruled there between the reigns of Cyrus I and Darius III (553–330 BC); behind him, a map of the Gulf reads in English “Persian Gulf”. On the left is a ludicrous caricature of an Arab sheikh swinging a golf club, with a camel and sack of money in the background, with text reading “Arabian Golf.” This poor pun, along with the straightforward racism of the sign itself, is a clear indication of the racism faced daily by the Ahwazi people.

Anti-Arab racism in Iranian movies and anti-Turk racist stereotypes in Persian society

Iran’s regime has made numerous deeply racist movies, depicting all Arabs as rich, stupid, uncultured, greedy and powerful sheikhs who view women as sex objects, in contrast with the morally pure Iranians; in a recent typical example, ‘As O Pas’, a wealthy Arab Sheikh made an Iranian man solicit beautiful women on his behalf, offering them vast sums of money to satisfy his depraved lust. In movies, as in music, TV shows and other media, Arabs and Turks are routinely depicted as uncivilised barbarians, terrorists, or idiots, with these offensive caricatures being normalised through years of repetition. This negative representation invariably affects every area of life; for example, anyone who fails to grasp a point or understand a topic will be insulted as a “Turkish donkey” to suggest they’re mentally defective, while Arabs, particularly the Sunni majority, are portrayed as primitives, extremists and terrorists such as Al Qaeda or ISIS.

This constant offensive racist representation of Arabs as either savages or wealthy sheikhs simply adds further grievous insult to the existing injury, more especially when it comes from a regime that brutally oppresses Ahwazis whilst stealing their oil, gas and water resources and takes great pains to ensure that they live under constant oppression and in medieval conditions of poverty. Meanwhile, the same regime has the temerity to weep copious crocodile tears over and profess solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and West Bank.

My personal story of racism in school and university

This racism has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. Like countless other Ahwazis, I was shocked at being verbally and physically assaulted by teachers in first grade who would viciously attack Ahwazi students simply because we couldn’t understand the Farsi language and spoke our own native Arabic. I’ll never forget one first-grade teacher’s very typical cruelty; a classmate, Ali, who sat next to me, was too nervous to ask the teacher if he could go to the toilet, even though he was desperate, so he asked me to ask the teacher on his behalf. I raised my hand and asked timidly if Ali might please be allowed to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately, I asked this in Arabic, with the teacher reacting by shouting at me and ordering me out of the classroom. A few minutes later, I heard loud laughter from the classroom because Ali, terrified and desperate, had soiled himself, with the same teacher responding to this petrified child’s humiliation by beating him. This continued throughout my education.

I also recall my first day at university where I studied English Literature, when the English lecturer ‘welcomed’ his class of mostly Ahwazi students with a barbed comment, saying, “I hope more Persian students will enrol to learn English since they speak it perfectly, not like these talentless Arabs who speak English with a disgusting accent.” Dozens of other Ahwazi students and I present walked out of his class in protest, refusing to be insulted in this way, and demanding that we be assigned to other lecturers. Adding insult to injury, the lecturer subsequently approached us, insisting, “I didn’t mean to insult you guys; I meant that the Gulf Arabs speak English badly with their clumsy accents, not you – you’re Arabic speakers, not Arabs.” When we took exception to this and to his grossly offensive attitude to Arabs generally, he lost his temper, saying, “Enough is Enough – we don’t have Arabs in Iran. We have a bunch of nomadic gipsy tribes!”

This ‘gipsy’ reference, intended to suggest that Ahwazis aren’t indigenous to the Ahwaz region, but are nomadic interlopers in Iranian land, has been enthusiastically promoted and popularised by the regime; a typical example comes from an editorial from the ‘Etil’at’ newspaper from 6 May 1985, which stated contemptuously: “The gipsy Arab tribes are scattered across Khuzestan[northern Ahwaz region]. Their main work is dancing and such stuff.” After Ahwazis learnt of this gross insult, thousands of protesters took to the streets in Ahwaz and other cities, expressing outrage at this racism and historical revisionism. These protests have gone down in Ahwazi history as the First Uprising of Dignity, with the regime cracking down brutally and arresting hundreds of the protesters, a typically savage overreaction to protests at injustice by the regime.

Ahwazi Intifada in 2018 against anti-racism

Protests broke out in late March 2018 over a cartoon aired on Iran’s national broadcasting network which boasted of Iran’s ethnic diversity but omitted Ahwazis from the list of main ethnic groups, effectively denying their existence. The protests that are dubbed “the Second Uprising of Dignity” began with a small demonstration on 28 March 2018 which was called by word of mouth following the broadcast of a short advertisement made to mark the Iranian new year and broadcast on state TV on 23 March, which was seen as the latest in a long line of insulting efforts by the regime to denigrate the Ahwazi people and deny their very existence.

In the short ad, children used dolls one of each sex, dressed in traditional costume to show the ethnic make-up of Iran according to each region; for the Ahwaz region, whose Ahwazi Arab population has been brutally oppressed by the regime for decades and denied even the right to speak their own Arabic language or wear their traditional attire, the two dolls shown were dressed in the outfits associated with the ethnically Iranian Lor nomadic peoples; this is a particularly grievous insult for Ahwazis since the regime has imported hundreds of thousands of Lor people, providing them with jobs, financial inducements and well-equipped homes in specially built settlements which are denied to Ahwazis, in an effort to alter the demographic balance of Ahwaz and rid it of its Ahwazi population, as well as to send an insulting message to Ahwazis of their own supposed racial inferiority.

The Iranian police and security forces fired heavily into the air and used tear gas against thousands of unarmed young protesters to break up the demonstration, with the regime thugs seen chasing protesters towards the Naderi Bridge in the downtown area.

Also, on 29 March, thousands more Ahwazi protesters took to the streets for the second day of mass demonstrations sparked by the insulting state TV ad and the regime’s brutal efforts to crush the previous day’s protests. The demonstrators chanted slogans denouncing the Iranian regime’s anti-Arab racism and what they said were efforts to “defame” the region’s distinctive identity. Activists uploaded multiple video clips showing at least 50,000 young Ahwazi men and women surrounded by police and security forces attending a demonstration in the centre of the regional capital, singing traditional folk songs and chanting popular slogans including “Ahwaz belongs to Ahwazis!” and “We die for Ahwaz, no place for settlers!”, with equally heroic young Ahwazi women chanting “I’m an Ahwazi woman and I won’t accept insults!” The regime’s thuggish police and security forces reacted with their customary brutality, arresting dozens of protesters, including women.

The demonstrators also protested against the Iranian regime’s massively destructive environmental policies in the region, including large-scale projects of damming and diversion of the rivers that once made Ahwaz a fertile agricultural area; with those waters now being redirected to other, ethnically Persian areas of Iran, Ahwaz is now plagued by desertification and ever-worsening sandstorms which, accompanied by the existing heavy pollution from the oil and gas refineries in the region, make for a toxic environmentally lethal cocktail. The Protesters’ chants and banners also reflected their concern at this environmental devastation, with slogans including “Stop destroying Ahwaz’ environment”, “Stop the destruction of Ahwaz’ heritage, and historic monuments”, “End water theft in Ahwaz”, and “Patience, patience people of Ahwaz, victory is coming”.

Irina Tsukerman, a New York-based human rights lawyer, responded: “Any nationalism that is based on ethnocentric superiority is not a healthy one nor will bring benefit to the country. For decades, Iran has treated Ahwazis and other non-Persian nations as both inferior and “separatist” or “terrorist” for demanding humane treatment and respect for basic individual and cultural rights. They have managed to project this image on the outside world by denigrating and oppressing the idea of other cultures, which instead of strengthening Iran’s diversity, has been used to cause divisions and incite bigotry and racial hatred among the public towards these nations and each other.”

“This report sheds light on institutionalised racism that starts at birth and creates nothing but hatred and rejection of the regime and of anyone who stands with the regime in silence and complicity with these abuses. The truth is, rejection of state structures does not appear spontaneously; it is fed by decades of extreme oppression and dehumanising racist processes no different from Nazi, Communist, or ISIS treatment of anyone deemed “different”.”

“The child abuse perpetuated by Iranian institutions on racist basis should be of primary concern to the entire international community, particularly Westerners who claim to care so much about minority rights in the US and Europe where these rights at least are protected by the justice system and where perpetrators will sooner or later stand trial for their crimes. In Iran, racist crimes are not only justified but celebrated, rewarded, and legitimised abroad. However, those who believe that their siding with the regime against the protection of basic rights will somehow result in an island of stability and somehow defend the fiction of “territorial integrity” imposed by the Shah in 1925 with British backing are blind to the reality. Oppression only breeds instability, dissatisfaction, and uprisings.”

“Stable countries with legitimate claims integrate their citizens, treat them as equals, and negotiate social contracts satisfactory to all of the populations, rather than thriving on deprivation, divisions, and economic monopolies at the expense of others. The regime is sowing the seeds of its downfall with such practices, however long it will take. The West can play a role in creating positive partnerships with the victims and survivors of oppression and work with them to create a stable, secure, peaceful, and positive vision of the future or they can continue to prop up the regime that is spreading racism and further disintegration internally and all over the world. “

Anti-Arab racism among Persian artists and anti-regime groups in the diaspora

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 occupying Iran.

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.

As the author of this article who experienced and witnessed all the racism, racial discrimination and ethnic oppression of my Ahwazi Arab people, I remember my father’s words when he said to me: look, my son, we Ahwazis, our voices are absent and oppressed inside and outside the country as being Arab itself is viewed as contempt, let alone expect this government and even its Persian opposition groups to support and recognise our plight truly, pausing for few seconds saying with a burning sigh, “yes indeed we are the same plight of Jewish people in Nazi Germany condemned to be voiceless and dying in silent far away from the eyes of the world”.

The reason for my father’s frustrating words is that he did not see any glimpse of change as we Ahwazi Arabs keep witnessing our news being heavily censored, the massive cases of the extra-judicial killing of Ahwazi Arab protesters are ignored, and in the best situation is confiscated by Iranian Persian speaking opposition groups who take advantage of the number of murdered Arab prisoners and killed protesters to get an international platform to their own activities avoid revealing the ethnic identity of the Ahwazi Arab victims only labelling them Iranian murdered protesters or Iranian executed prisoners.

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.

Iran’s oppression of Ahwazis, Baluchis, Kurds, and various Turkic peoples and others is part of its agenda to keep its population divided and unable to stand as one against its discordant and destructive internal and external policies. This race-based hatred is real and is documented in schools, state institutions, hiring processes, and every aspect of life. By ignoring Iran’s racism, Westerners not only help perpetuate gross injustices, but are turning a blind eye to a festering infection that can burst at any time and have a spillover effect no one will be able to predict or contain.

By Rahim Hamid

 Rahim Hamid, an Ahwazi author, freelance journalist and human rights advocate based in  Washington, D.C. Hamid tweets under @Samireza42.


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