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Anti-Iranian sentiment also known as Anti-Persian sentiment, Persophobia, or Iranophobia refers to feelings and expression of hostility, hatred, discrimination, or prejudice towards Iran (Persia) and its culture, and towards persons based on their association with Iran and Iranian culture. Its opposite is Persophilia.
In the Arab world
The word "ʻajam" is derived from the root ʻ-J-M and refers to "unclear, vague and/or incomprehensible" as opposed to "ʻarabi", which means "clear, understandable; with perfect Arabic tongue". ʻAjam came to mean "one who mumbles" (کند زبانان), similar to the Slavic ethnonym and their usage of "mutes" to refer to Germans. It came to be "applied especially to Persians", and the distinction of the two terms is found already in pre- and early Islamic literature (ʻAjam Temtemī). "In general, ajam was a pejorative term, used by Arabs because of their contrived social and political superiority in early Islam.", as summarized by Clifford Bosworth. Although Arabic dictionaries state that the word ʻajami is used for all non-Arabs, the designation was primarily used for Persians.
Anti-Iranianism in early Islamic period
Patrick Clawson states that "The Iranians chafed under Umayyad rule. The Umayyads rose from traditional Arab aristocracy. They tended to marry other Arabs, creating an ethnic stratification that discriminated against Iranians. Even as Arabs adopted traditional Iranian bureaucracy, Arab tribalism disadvantaged Iranians."
Many Arab Muslims believed that Iranian converts should not clothe themselves as Arabs, among many other forms discrimination that existed. Mu'awiyah, in a famous letter addressed to Ziyad ibn Abih, the then governor of Iraq, wrote:
Be watchful of Iranian Muslims and never treat them as equals of Arabs. Arabs have a right to take in marriage their women, but they have no right to marry Arab women. Arabs are entitled to inherit their legacy, but they cannot inherit from an Arab. As far as possible they are to be given lesser pensions and lowly jobs. In the presence of an Arab, a non-Arab shall not lead the congregation prayer, nor they are to be allowed to stand in the first row of prayer, nor to be entrusted with the job of guarding the frontiers or the post of a qadi.— Mu'awiyah
Mistreatment of Iranians and other non-Arabs during the early period of Islam is well documented. Under the rule of Umayyads, although many of the mawlas (non-Arab Muslims) employed by a patron enjoyed favourable position as equal to an Arab Muslim, they were generally victims of cultural bias and even sometimes considered to be of an equal footing of a slave. According to sources of that time, the mistreatment of mawlas was a general rule. They were denied any positions in the government under Umayyad rule.
The Umayyid Arabs are even reported to have prevented the mawali from having kunyahs, as an Arab was only considered worthy of a kunya. They were required to pay taxes for not being an Arab:
During the early centuries of Islam when the Islamic empire was really an Arab kingdom, the Iranians, Central Asians and other non-Arab peoples who had converted to Islam in growing numbers as mawali or 'clients' of an Arab lord or clan, had in practice acquired an inferior socio-economic and racial status compared to Arab Muslims, though the mawali themselves fared better than the empire's non-Muslim subjects, the Ahl al-Dhimmah ('people of the covenant'). The ةawali, for instance, paid special taxes, often similar to the jizyaا (poll tax) and the kharaj (land tax) levied on the Zoroastrians and other non-Muslim subjects, taxes which were never paid by the Arab Muslims.
References in Persian literature
Zarrinkoub presents a lengthy discussion on the large flux and influence of the victorious Arabs on the literature, language, culture and society of Persia during the two centuries following the Islamic conquest of Persia in his book Two Centuries of Silence.
Suppression of Iranian languages
After the Islamic conquest of the Sassanid Empire, during the reign of the Ummayad dynasty, the Arab conquerors imposed Arabic as the primary language of the subject peoples throughout their empire. Not happy with the prevalence of the Iranian languages in the divan, Hajjāj ibn Yusuf ordered the official language of the conquered lands to be replaced by Arabic, sometimes by force. According to Biruni
When Qutaibah bin Muslim under the command of Al-Hajjaj bin Yousef was sent to Khwarazmia with a military expedition and conquered it for the second time, he swiftly killed whomever wrote the Khwarazmian native language that knew of the Khwarazmian history, science and culture. He then killed all their Zoroastrian priests and burned and wasted their books, until gradually the illiterate only remained, who knew nothing of writing and hence their history was mostly forgotten.
It is difficult to imagine the Arabs not implementing anti-Persian policies in light of such events, writes Zarrinkoub in his famous Two Centuries of Silence, where he exclusively writes of this topic. Reports of Persian speakers being tortured are also given in al-Aghānī.
Shia Islam and Iranians
Predominantly Shia Islamic Iran has always exhibited a sympathetic side for Ali (the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad) and his progeny. Even when Persia was largely Sunni, this was still evident as can be seen from the writings remaining from that era. Rumi for example praises Ali in a section entitled "Learn from ʻAli". It recounts Ali's explanation as to why he declined to kill someone who had spit in his face as ʻAli was defeating him in battle. Persian literature in praise of Ali's progeny is quite ubiquitous and abundant. These all stem from numerous traditions regarding Ali's favor of Persians being as equals to Arabs.
Several early Shiite sources speak of a dispute arising between an Arab and an Iranian woman. Referring the case to ʻAli for arbitration, ʻAli reportedly did not allow any discrimination between the two to take place. His judgment thus invited the protest of the Arab woman. Thereupon, ʻAli replied, "In the Qurʼan, I did not find the progeny of Ishmael (the Arabs) to be any higher than the Iranians."
In another such tradition, Ali was once reciting a sermon in the city of Kufah, when Ash'as ibn Qays, a commander in the Arab army protested, "Amir-al-Momeneen! These Iranians are excelling the Arabs right in front of your eyes and you are doing nothing about it!" He then roared, "I will show them who the Arabs are!" Ali immediately retorted, "While fat Arabs rest in soft beds, the Iranians work hard on the hottest days to please God with their efforts. And what do these Arabs want from me? To ostracize the Iranians and become an oppressor! I swear by the God that splits the nucleus and creates Man, I heard the prophet once say, just as you strike the Iranians with your swords in the name of Islam, so will the Iranians one day strike you back the same way for Islam."
When the Sassanid city of Anbar fell to the forces of Mu'awiyeh, news reached Ali that the city had been sacked and plundered spilling much innocent blood. Early Shi'ite sources report that Ali gathered all the people of Kufa to the mosque and gave a fiery sermon. After describing the massacre, he said, "If somebody hearing this news now faints and dies of grief, I fully approve of it!" It is from here that Ali is said to have had more sympathy for Iranians while author S. Nureddin Abtahi claims that Umar highly resented them. However, a hadith on Ali's banning of the game of shatranj (chess), narrates that Ali said "Chess is the gambling game of the Ajam"
It was in Baghdad where the first Arab nationalists, mainly of Palestinian and Syrian descent, formed the basis of their overall philosophies. Prominent among them were individuals such as Mohammad Amin al-Husayni (the Mufti of Jerusalem) and Syrian nationalists such as Shukri al-Quwatli and Jamil Mardam. Sati' al-Husri, who served as advisor to the Ministry of Education and later as Director General of Education and Dean of the College of Law, was particularly instrumental in shaping the Iraqi educational system. Other prominent Pan-Arabists were Michel Aflaq and Khairallah Talfah, as well as Sati' al-Husri, Salah al-Din al-Bitar, Zaki al-Arsuzi and Sami Shwkat (brother of Naji Shawkat). These individuals formed the nucleus and genesis of true pan-Arabism.
Sati' al-Husri's campaigns against schools suspected of being positive towards Persia are well documented. One dramatic example is found in the 1920s when the Iraqi Ministry of Education ordered Husri to appoint Muhammad Al-Jawahiri as a teacher in a Baghdad school. A short excerpt of Husri's interview with the teacher is revealing:
- "Husri: First, I want to know your nationality.
- Jawahiri: I am an Iranian.
- Husri: In that case we cannot appoint you."
Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti forced out tens of thousands of people of Persian origin from Iraq in the 1970s, after having been accused of being spies for Iran and Israel. Today, many of them live in Iran.
Early on in his career, Saddam Hussein and pan-Arab ideologues targeted the Arabs of southwest Iran in an endeavour to have them separate and join 'the Arab nation.' Hussein made no effort to conceal Arab nationalism in his war against Iran (which he called "the second Battle of al-Qādisiyyah). An intense campaign of propaganda during his reign meant that many school children were taught that Iran provoked Iraq into invading and that the invasion was fully justified.
"Yellow revolution", "yellow wind", "yellow storm" were thrown as slurs by Saddam Hussein against Iran due to Hulagu's 1258 sack of Baghdad during the Mongol wars and the terms "Persian" and "Elamites" were also used by Saddam as insults.
On 2 April 1980, a half-year before the outbreak of the war, Saddam Hussein visited Al-Mustansiriya University in Baghdad. By drawing parallels to the 7th-Century defeat of Persia in the Battle of al-Qādisiyyah, he announced:
- "In your name, brothers, and on behalf of the Iraqis and Arabs everywhere, we tell those [Persian] cowards who try to avenge Al-Qadisiyah that the spirit of Al-Qadisiyah as well as the blood and honor of the people of Al-Qadisiyah who carried the message on their spearheads are greater than their attempts."
Saddam also accused Iranians of "murdering the second (Umar), third (Uthman) and fourth (Ali) Caliphs of Islam", invading the three islands of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs in the Persian Gulf and attempting to destroy the Arabic language and civilization.
In the war, Iraq made extensive use of chemical weapons (such as mustard gas) against Iranian troops and civilians as well as Iraqi Kurds. Iran expected a condemnation by UN of this act and sent allegation to UN. At time (-1985) the UN Security Council issued statements that "chemical weapons had been used in the war." However, in these UN-statements Iraq was not mentioned by name, so that the situation is viewed as "in a way, the international community remained silent as Iraq used weapons of mass destruction against Iranian as well as Iraqi Kurds" and it is believed that the United States had prevented UN from condemning Iraq.
In December 2006, Hussein said he would take responsibility "with honour" for any attacks on Iran using conventional or chemical weapons during the 1980–1988 war, but he took issue with charges he ordered attacks on Iraqis.
On the execution day, Hussein said, "I spent my whole life fighting the infidels and the intruders, [...] I destroyed the invaders and the Persians." He also stressed that the Iraqis should fight the Americans and the Persians. Mowaffak al Rubiae, Iraq's National Security adviser, who was a witness to Hussein's execution described him as repeatedly shouting "down with Persians." Hussein built an anti-Iranian monument called Hands of Victory in Baghdad in 1989 to commemorate his declaration of victory over Iran in the Iran-Iraq war (though the war is generally considered a stalemate). After his fall, it was reported that the new Iraqi government had organized the Committee for Removing Symbols of the Saddam Era and that the Hands of Victory monument had begun to be dismantled. However, the demolition was later halted.
Al-Salafi magazine, quoted in The Times, states, "Iran has become more dangerous than Israel itself. The Iranian Revolution has come to renew the Persian presence in the region. This is the real clash of civilizations."
In response to the anti-Arab remarks from Iran's supreme leader when he accused Arab authorities of killing Muslims, Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al ash-Sheikh, Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, stated in 2016 that Iranian leaders are descendants of Zoroastrians and are "not Muslims."
Al-Qaeda has been increasingly singling out Iran and Shiites, describing the "Persians" as the enemy of Arabs and complicit in the occupation of Iraq.
According to the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA), nearly half of Iranian Americans surveyed in 2008 by Zogby International have themselves experienced or personally know another Iranian American who has experienced discrimination because of their ethnicity or country of origin. The most common types of discrimination reported are airport security, social discrimination, employment or business discrimination, racial profiling and discrimination at the hands of immigration officials.
The Iranian hostage crisis of the US embassy in Tehran in November 1979 precipitated a wave of anti-Iranian sentiment in the United States, against the new Islamic regime and Iranian nationals and immigrants. Even though such sentiments gradually declined after the release of the hostages at the start of 1981. In response, some Iranian immigrants to the US have distanced themselves from their nationality and instead identify primarily on the basis of their ethnic or religious affiliations.
Hollywood's depiction of Persians and other Iranians
Since the 1980s and especially since the 1990s, Hollywood's depiction of Iranians has vilified Iranians as in television programs such as 24, John Doe, On Wings of Eagles (1986), and Escape From Iran: The Canadian Caper (1981), which was based on a true story. Critics maintain that Hollywood's "tall walls of exclusion and discrimination have yet to crumble when it comes to the movie industry's persistent misrepresentation of Iranians and their collective identity".
Not Without My Daughter
The 1991 film Not Without My Daughter was criticized for its portrayal of Iranian society. Filmed in Israel, it was based on the autobiography by Betty Mahmoody. In the book and film, an American woman (Mahmoody) traveled to Tehran with her young daughter to visit her Iranian-born family of her husband. Mahmoody's husband then undergoes a strange transformation in Iran, ranging from an educated and sophisticated citizen to an abusive, backwards peasant, eventually deciding that they will not return to the United States. Betty is told that she can divorce him and leave, but their daughter must stay in Tehran under Islamic law. Ultimately, after 18 months in Iran, Betty and her daughter escape to the American embassy in Turkey.
Several Western critics, including Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times and Caryn James of The New York Times, criticized the film for stereotyping Iranians as misogynistic and fanatical. According to Ebert, the film depicts Islamic society "in shrill terms", where women are "willing or unwilling captives of their men", deprived of "what in the West would be considered basic human rights". Furthermore, Ebert says, "No attempt is made—deliberately, I assume—to explain the Muslim point of view, except in rigid sets of commands and rote statements". Ebert then contends, "If a movie of such a vitriolic and spiteful nature were to be made in America about any other ethnic group, it would be denounced as racist and prejudiced."
According to Jane Campbell, the film "only serves to reinforce the media stereotype of Iranians as terrorists who, if not actively bombing public buildings or holding airline passengers hostage, are untrustworthy, irrational, cruel, and barbaric."
The film was also criticized in Iran. A 2002 Islamic Republic News Agency article claimed that the film "[made] smears...against Iran" and "stereotyped Iranians as cruel characters and wife-beaters". In a Finnish documentary, Without My Daughter, film maker Alexis Kouros tells Mahmoody's husband's side of the story, showing Iranian eyewitnesses accusing the Hollywood film of spreading lies and "treasons". Alice Sharif, an American woman living with her Iranian husband in Tehran, accuses Mahmoody and the filmmakers of deliberately attempting to foment anti-Iranian sentiment in the United States.
The 2007 film 300, an adaptation of Frank Miller's 1998 graphic novel, was criticized for its racist portrayal of combatants in the Persian army at the Battle of Thermopylae. Reviewers in the United States and elsewhere "noted the political overtones of the West-against-Iran story line and the way Persians are depicted as decadent, sexually flamboyant and evil in contrast to the noble Greeks". With bootleg versions of the film already available in Tehran with the film's international release and news of the film's surprising success at the U.S. box office, it prompted widespread anger in Iran. Azadeh Moaveni of Time reported, "All of Tehran was outraged. Everywhere I went yesterday, the talk vibrated with indignation over the film". Newspapers in Iran featured headlines such as "Hollywood declares war on Iranians" and "300 AGAINST 70 MILLION" (Iran's population). Ayende-No, an independent Iranian newspaper, said that "[t]he film depicts Iranians as demons, without culture, feeling or humanity, who think of nothing except attacking other nations and killing people". Four Iranian Members of Parliament have called for Muslim countries to ban the film, and a group of Iranian film makers submitted a letter of protest to UNESCO regarding the film's alleged misrepresentation of Iranian history and culture. Iran's cultural advisor to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called the film an "American attempt for psychological warfare against Iran".
Moaveni identified two factors which may have contributed to the intensity of Iranian indignation over the film. First, she describes the timing of the film's release, on the eve of Norouz, the Persian New Year, as "inauspicious." Second, Iranians tend to view the era depicted in the film as "a particularly noble page in their history". Moaveni also suggests that "the box office success of 300, compared with the relative flop of Alexander (another spurious period epic dealing with Persians), is cause for considerable alarm, signaling ominous U.S. intentions".
According to The Guardian, Iranian critics of 300, ranging from bloggers to government officials, have described the movie "as a calculated attempt to demonise Iran at a time of intensifying U.S. pressure over the country's nuclear programme". An Iranian government spokesman described the film as "hostile behavior which is the result of cultural and psychological warfare". Moaveni reported that the Iranians she interacted with were "adamant that the movie was secretly funded by the U.S. government to prepare Americans for going to war against Iran".
Dana Stevens of Slate states, "If 300, the new battle epic based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s, it would be studied today alongside The Eternal Jew as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war. Since it is a product of the post-ideological, post-Xbox 21st century, 300 will instead be talked about as a technical achievement, the next blip on the increasingly blurry line between movies and video games.
The requests of the Ministry of Education and Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands to monitor Iranian students has led to a situation that Iranian students cannot study at the University of Twente in the city of Enschede and Eindhoven University of Technology in the city of Eindhoven. The latter university had even asked the AIVD, the Dutch intelligence service, to monitor Iranian students. AIVD stated that it was not its duty to do so, and the University has decided to stop admitting any applicants from Iran, regardless of the degree sought. The Dutch government says that if fears the theft of sensitive nuclear technology that could assist the Iranian government in constructing nuclear weapons. After protests were lodged, the Dutch government announced again that Iranian students and the Dutch citizens of Iranian heritage are not allowed to study at many Dutch universities or go to some areas in the Netherlands.
Additionally, several other universities stated that the government had prohibited them from admitting students from Iran, and technical colleges were not allowed to give Iranian students access to knowledge of nuclear technology. It was noted that it was the first time after the German occupation during the Second World War that ethnic-, religion- or racial-based restrictions were imposed in the Netherlands. Harry van Bommel, a parliamentarian of the Dutch Socialist Party (SP), condemned the berufsverbot, deliberately using a German word associated with the Second World War.
Although the Dutch authorities state that the UN security council's resolution 1737 (2006) authorises them and obliges all member states of the UN to take such a measure, it remains the only country to have done so.
On 3 February 2010, a court in the Hague ruled that the Dutch government's policy to ban Iranian-born students and scientists from certain master's degrees and from nuclear research facilities is overly broad and a violation of an international civil rights treaty.
According to a 2013 survey 75% of Turks look at Iran unfavorably against 14% with favorable views. Political scientist Shireen Hunter writes that there are two significant groups in Turkey that are hostile towards Iran: "the military establishment and the ultra-Kemalist elite" and the "ultranationalists with pan-Turkist aspirations" (such as the Grey Wolves). Canadian author Kaveh Farrokh also suggests that pan-Turkist groups (the Grey Wolves in particular) have encouraged anti-Iranian sentiments.
Historically, the Shia Muslims were discriminated in the Ottoman Empire as they were associated with their Iranian/Persian neighbors. In Turkey, relatively large communities of Turks, Kurds and Zazas are Alevi Shia, while some areas in Eastern Anatolia, notably Kars and Ağrı, are Twelver Shia.
According to political adviser Eldar Mamedov, "Anti-Iranian policies [have been] carried out by various Azerbaijani governments since the 1990s." Azerbaijan's second President Abulfaz Elchibey (1992–93) and his government has been widely described as pursuing Pan-Turkic and anti-Iranian policies.
According to a July 2007 poll in Armenia, Iran is viewed largely as an important partner (23%), rather than a political and economic threat (8%). According to a 2013 poll, the overwhelming majority of respondents opposed women marrying Iranians (89% vs 10% approving). In contrast, a slight majority approved doing business with Iranians (52% vs 46%).
|Country polled||Favorable||Unfavorable||Neutral||Fav - Unfav|
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|Look up Iranophobia in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
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