Though never before a cyber confrontation, this cultural and historical rivalry has been long and often bloody. Now proponents on each side have created dozens of Facebook group pages that fans can “like” and comment on. Caustic messages on both ends have resulted in the removal of some groups from the site. There are Youtube videos historically validating the use of “Persian Gulf” and its origins and others defending the use of “Arabian.” A “Google bomb” that was created a few years ago on the terminology is back: Those researching the “Arabian Gulf” might click on www.arabian-gulf.info, a site highly recommended by Google. Once the site loads, the page reads, “The Gulf You Are Looking For Does Not Exist. Try Persian Gulf.”
This is not the first time that the Iranian international community has been up in arms about this issue. The Google bomb was actually created over the last Persian Gulf controversy in 2004. Customarily, National Geographic has used the name Persian Gulf, but that year, it published an updated version of the National Geographic Atlas of the World where “Arabian Gulf” was provided as an alternative name. Iranians around the globe protested heavily. At the end of 2004, National Geographic formally apologized to the Iranian people and reversed its decision. They published an updated amendment removing the parenthetical reference, still mentioning that the body of water “is referred to by some as the Arabian Gulf.”
So the question remains: why is the administration so keen on appeasing the Arab world? More importantly, where is the concern for further damaging the Washington D.C./Tehran relationship? Even if the argument can be made that the name change adoption was a rogue move against an even more rogue dictator such as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the distinction must be made that this is not merely a move against the government of Iran — it is a betrayal against the people.
But what’s the big deal? It’s one word, some might say. Persian. Arabian. To some they’re even synonymous. But to the Iranians, who value and revere their heritage and culture, it is viewed as robbery of their one last cherished possession.
Ever since the Iranian people have been on the international stage intermittently since the country’s election in June of 2009, there has been speculation and confusion about the overall political hue of the country. Are the people religious? Who actually voted for Ahmadinejad? Do they hate Americans? And while there are some religious, some fanatics, some supporters of Ahmadinejad and some brutally against the United States and its people, the media has been portraying them as a nation of freedom-loving, Internet-using, Tweeters and pop-culture consumers. It has been difficult to generalize 70 million people living in a diverse and expansive country. Finally, we have found a notion on which all Iranians will unite, and that is on their patriotism.
If we consider the political and social trials that the Iranian people have endured over the last three decades, as their country was uprooted by brutal, unjust Islamic fanatics who preached and violently enforced a religious ideology contrary to their own Iranian culture, their fascination and fixation with history, legacy and nationalistic pride gives a clear indication about the people’s homogenous love affair with Iranian heritage, dating back before Iran was a country and when the Persian Empire flexed its power and control over the region.
Delegitimization of that history, whether in the form of a government ban against the celebration of Mehregan, the ancient Zoroastrian celebration of the arrival of the autumn season, or by a U.S. directive to change the name of a geographically and emotionally significant body of water, shakes and the soul of every Iranian, wherever they live.
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