My interest in German language led to an opportunity for study in Giessen, at that time West Germany, from 1971 to 1973. Upon arriving at Justus Liebig Universität I learned German as a second language with fellow students from Iran, Japan, Egypt among others. German was the tongue we shared, so that we could talk to the brain. Then we could join the citIzenry and talk to the heart.
Some people take on an alternate identity to ward off conversation. It was common for Americans traveling in Europe in the early 1970’s to attach a Canadian maple leaf to their person. This to avoid conversations about Vietnam. It was convenient to merge into the background. But such maneuvers may lead to a false sense of comfort: ease and convenience have long-term consequences. It is just as convenient to avoid discussions on long festering Middle East issues today. Are the sound bites you hear from a source without an agenda? Unfortunately, the truth can be hidden, often deliberately by perpetuating lies that simply make life more convenient or comfortable for the liar.
Under Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (Shah from 1941 to 1979) many Iranians studied at German universities such as Justus Liebig. Our Iranian fellows shared an ability to converse in German about Savak and the Persian experience. Neither Farsi nor English was necessary to bridge a gulf separating us from each other. Who knew that Pahlavi was complicit in dark matters. The Iranian people knew.
Imagine a monarchy that is 2500 years old, that began with Cyrus the Great and ended with Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s deposition. Might a civilization both ancient and modern have evolved a complex history and culture In 2.5 millenia? Might Farsi hint at subtleties in the Persian soul? What about the country name itself: Persia, Iran? Does its religion suggest potential geopolitical significance? Can we question the translation of the colloquial Farsi into English of the conveniently repeated Death to America (More accurately translated as Down with America).
Farsi speakers use this invocation to express transitory frustration, perhaps at stubbing a toe. In a future post I want to discuss the nature of curse words in Farsi, Arabic and Hebrew. Stay tuned.