A video of famous Iranian poet Mostafa Badkoobei reciting a poem that derides Arabs and Islam has been widely circulated on the internet, stirring much controversy and once more bringing to the forefront the long standing issue of discrimination against non-Persians in Iran.
The poem entitled “The God of Arabs” came in response to a statement made by a guest in a show on state TV that “Arabic is the language of heaven dwellers.”
In order not to provoke the five-million-strong Arab in Al Ahwaz, also called the Ahwazis, Badkoobei said that even though they speak Arabic, they know that they are Iranians and not Arabs, a statement that was met by applause by the audience listening to the poem being recited.
In the poem, recited in a government cultural institution in the western city of Hamedan, Badkoobei said, “Take me to the depths of the underworld, you Arab god, provided that I don’t find any Arabs there.”
He added, to the applause of the audience, that he does not need the heaven promised to Arabs then addresses God and asks, “Didn’t you yourself say that Arabs are the most hypocritical? Why then do the imbeciles praise Arabs?”
Badkoobei went on to praise the glory of Iran before the advent of Islam and alleged that Persians converted to Islam by force. He also praised Persian poets like Rumi, who he said was much more mature than “Arab tales,” an implicit reference to prophets’ stories of the Quran.
He also added that he prefers Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and the words of Gandhi to the “Arab gardens,” a reference to heaven as portrayed in the Quran.
Badkoobei then ends the poem with a plea to God.
“Please God save my country from the Arab plight.”
Hamed al-Kanani, an expert on Iranian Affairs, said that anti-Arab sentiments have become part and parcel of Iran’s psyche since the establishment of the modern Iranian state.
“The word ‘Arab’ has become an antonym for ‘Persian’ or ‘Iranian’ and in the case of Ahwazis, they will not be accepted as Iranians unless they give up their Arab identity,” he said.
Kanani pointed out that Badkoobei referred to Ahwazis as Khuzis, which means residents of the pre-dominantly Arab province of Khuzestan, whose name was changed from Arabstan by the Shah as part of a nation-wide Persianization plan that aimed to erase Arab identity in Iran.
It is impossible, Kanani argues to strip Ahwazis of the their Arab identity since Arabs in Iran constitute the natural extension of Arab tribes in the Arabian Peninsula and southern Iraq like Bani Kaab, Bani Assad, Bani Tamim, Bani Khaled, and Al Khamis.
“How could he strip all those tribes of their Arab heritage?”
It is not surprising, Kanani argued, that Badkoobei expresses through his poem the general animosity towards Arabs in Iran since this has been the case since the time of the Shah. Yet, he added, what came as a shock was that fact that the poet mocked God and Islam in an institution affiliated to the Islamic republic.
“How could a country that claims it is the guardian of Islam and Muslims allow someone to insult Islam and God under their very nose?”