South (West) Asia

I’ve been transfixed for the last three days by the news coming out of Pakistan’s neighbor to the west, Iran. And I’ve really really wanted to blog it, but honestly, there just isn’t a desi angle.

Unlike Burma, which is similarly just outside the region, South Asian countries don’t play a large role in Iranian politics, and what’s happening in Iran is unlikely to have direct consequences for either Afghanistan or Pakistan. While Surinder Singh Karkar played an important role in the Burmese democracy movement, there seem to be no desis involved in the Persian protests; a difference most likely due to the fact that there are close to 1 million Burmese desis and only a few thousand desis in Iran:

Between the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many wealthy Parsis began to travel to Iran to revive the Zoroastrian faith and traditions among the stagnating Zoroastrian community in Iran at the time … In 1950s, more Indians migrated to Iran and settled primarily in Tehran. They consisted Sikhs and some Gujaratis. In the 1960s and early 70s, about 10,000 Indian Doctors, Engineers and Teachers moved to Iran as a response to the open policies initiated by the Shah of Iran, but most of them left Iran after the Iranian revolution.

Now, there are several hundred people each concentrated in and around Tehran and Zahidan, primarily engaged in various businesses. A majority are still Indian citizens. They continue to maintain strong links with India, especially in matters of children’s education, marriage and property acquisition. [link]

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p>Over at Ultrabrown, Manish does a better job of connecting to recent events from a South Asian perspective, including this useful observation:

Mir-Hossein Mousavi is the political hero of the moment. But he’s recycled, and his reform credentials are suspect, like Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan. He served as prime minister in the ’80s, during which he was implicated in a massacre of 30,000 political opponents, supported seizing hostages from the U.S. embassy and wanted Salman Rushdie killed. [link]

but honestly, there’s still not a lot of brown in these recent events. If you’re interested, I suggest The Lede and Andrew Sullivan’s blog (The Daily Dish, but nobody calls it that) for breaking developments. Juan Cole’s blog has some good analysis, and I suggest FiveThirtyEight for a fairly geeky analysis of why the official election numbers are fairly improbable. Lastly, the best photos I’ve seen (warning, some are quite graphic) are at the Boston Globe.

95 thoughts on “South (West) Asia

  1. this is definitely Andrew Sullivan’s finest moment.

    Another coloured revolution, eh? No liberation of an oppressed people this time?

  2. But he’s recycled, and his reform credentials are suspect, like Nawaz Sharif in Pakistan. He served as prime minister in the ’80s, during which he was implicated in a massacre of 30,000 political opponents, supported seizing hostages from the U.S. embassy

    I would have thought this would have been typical of most prominent pro-Revolution figures at the time. They weren’t exactly liberal reformists. Perhaps something to note is that all the major candidates support Iran’s nuclearisation policy; the only difference is that Moussavi is less confrontational in his stance towards the US. He also has a better track record of economicmanagement which was his primary role as PM during the 1980s whereas Ahmadinejad’s approach seems to consist of firing Central Bank governors and economic ministers who try to tell him that printing money will lead to inflation and that artificially lowering interest rates won’t automatically lead to higher growth. Ahmadinejad has also interefered with the national football team and wrecked Persepolis FC, unforgivable in my eyes ;)

  3. I know some Iranians who have never been to India, they live in USA, and they claim, “we are Indian”. OK just 2. A couple who, after seeing all the similarities between the cultures declare “we were Indian before”. (they are not Muslims but members of a religion which has Krishna as a quoted prophet in their holy book – B’hai faith)

    LOL…I just met my plumber who came over to my apt to fix something. He asked me if I was Indian and he said (he spoke in broken English) that he was Zorastrian, “Parsee” and he went on to say “you know Parsee, you have in India”. Anyways he went on to tell me there was a big Parsee community that goes to a temple around here and they are filled with Iranians and Indians. It’d be interesting to go to that temple…I mean what is the dominant language they speak, the food for events, there must be people dressed in saris mixing with people who have never wear a sari.

    As for the Iranian fetish as boston mahesh goes on – I don’t want to insult another group, which prevents me from saying many things to comments like the one boston mahesh says, but let’s just say I haven’t heard that one.

  4. Bubba said:

    abhi: thank you for the great round-up, and particularly for the link to the photos on the globe website.

    I know we all look alike, but Abhi’s the handsome one, I’m the quiet one.

  5. The indian connection with iran/central asia is two fold. First, there is the historical connection Veda/Zend Avesta and the obvious pattern of immigration from central asia to india.

    The second one is that of the tens of thousands of slaves taken from punjab and sindh during the islamic invasions of 1000-1200. As the original Al beruni puts it, the ground became black with the movement of hindus being taken to be sold in the marketplaces of central asia. So it wouldnt be surprised if many iranians, afghans and Uzbeks have a physical similarity to north and central indians. Unfortunately, given the circumstances they are not likely to acknowledge it – more like a matter of embarassment – as in the case of the fictional Khomeini connection.

  6. Alberuni – weren’t there 1000s of Persians used as slaves too and many of them probably would have ended up in South Asia – for the Muslim rulers? Wasn’t iran conquered by the Arabs, which is why it became Islamic, but many of the population there, since they weren’t Muslims were used as slaves – as was the same thing in South Asia.

    So it wouldnt be surprised if many iranians, afghans and Uzbeks have a physical similarity to north and central indians. Actually given the range of looks from north to South in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, there would be overlap in looks thruout the subcontinent. The current Iranian president in the looks department, could easily be mistaken as Latino, Indian, Arab, and even Native American or perhaps Southern European. My plumber could easily be an Indian in India or a Latino or Iranian imo.

  7. History of slavery in Iran -

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_slavery_in_Iran

    From article:

    Historians say the Arab slave trade lasted more than a millennium.[20][21]. After the Islamic conquest of Iran, Iranians were taken as slaves or so-called “mawlids” by the victorius Arabs. The Arab or Middle Eastern slave trade is thought to have originated with trans-Saharan slavery.[22][23] Arab, Indian, and Oriental traders were involved in the capture and transport of slaves northward across the Sahara desert and the Indian Ocean region into Arabia and the Middle East, Persia, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent.[24]

    After the 8th century CE, Muslim Arab and Persian traders controlled the export of East African slaves toward North Africa, Middle East and India[25]. Slavery was practiced among Arab and Persian seamen and this contributed to the commercial supply of African blacks in the Middle East for centuries[26].

    Male slaves were employed as servants, soldiers, or laborers, while female slaves were traded to Middle Eastern countries and kingdoms by Arab, Indian, or Oriental traders, some as domestic servants.[27][28][29] Some historians estimate that between 11 and 17 million slaves crossed the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and Sahara Desert from 650 to 1900 AD.[30][31]

    Racist opinions occurred in the works of some Persian and Arab-Muslim historians and geographers.[32]

  8. My mommy thinks I’m really dumb, but her argument doesn’t go much beyond saying “Those people cannot have a nice government, they are real barbarians.”

    When you can’t bash directly, go the indirect route.

  9. Rumors suggest the Iranian regime has brought in thugs from Lebanon to beat up protestors–same people that are bashing desis in Australia.

    I don’t believe that the Lebanese thugs bashing the desis in Australia are Hizbullah. The Lebanese Diaspora around the world is mostly Christian and they are not exactly Hizbullah.

    Hizbullah members are almost all Shia in Lebanon and moslty from very poor slums of Lebanon.

    The Lebanese diaspora is mostly Christian and some Sunni and Menonites.

  10. Guys, let’s keep this off Australia and Lebanese, please. I think Rob was mocking himself when he posted that earlier, but either way there’s no reason to be derailed by this. This is about India and Iran.

  11. My mommy thinks I’m really dumb, but her argument doesn’t go much beyond saying “Those people cannot have a nice government, they are real barbarians.”

    I hope you sat down and educated your mommy on not calling Iranians barbarians considering they are ahead of Indians in every variable they use to calculate the Human Development Index. Iran is ranked 84. India is ranked 132 right after Congo and Bhutan. Bring up these statistics to mommy and see what she says.

  12. I hope you sat down and educated your mommy on not calling Iranians barbarians considering they are ahead of Indians in every variable they use to calculate the Human Development Index. Iran is ranked 84. India is ranked 132 right after Congo and Bhutan. Bring up these statistics to mommy and see what she says.

    It’s amazing what scads of oil money and wheelbarrows full of US military and developmental aid (during the Shah’s reign) can do.

  13. When are you going to learn that exceptions prove the rule? A random group of iranians in India would stand out like sore thumbs and vice versa. No one with a clue would mistake a crowd picture from Iran for a crowd picture from India. Watch your TV.

    That depends on the part of India you’re talking about. They would not be at all out of place in a Parsee community, for example. Or even a Kashmiri one come to think of it.

    Vast and diverse country.

    And Razib is right that Iran is large and diverse too. So it’s really more like a polka-dotted venn diagram.

  14. As my Iranian friend’s ultra-secularist father said to me yesterday, they’re all equally bad. Moussavi just seems more palatable to young urban Iranians who believe he’s going to fix their country’s image issues . As far as the west is concerned anyway, it wouldn’t be more than a cosmetic change. Western media support for Mousavi stems from the convenient belief that every conservative has to be mirrored by a liberal.

  15. “they’re all equally bad. Moussavi just seems more palatable to young urban Iranians who believe he’s going to fix their country’s image issues”

    I heard that alot in the Obama/McCain election too. There are always people who saying politics (of any country) are useless, I guess. For the record, I am one of those idealistic young (for a few more years, anyway.)

  16. I am still confused by why the rigging of the election results was so hamfisted all around! Were the Iranians so spooked by the results of the election in Lebanon that they wanted to seem like they won in an overwhelming sweep?

    Thats part of the Obama effect I say. His ice-cool passive aggressive approach to politics drives his enemies to hysteria, resulting in them fatally overreaching. Just look at how McCain and Clinton, former masters of politics, were reduced to carooming around recklessly from one incendiary remark to another, blissfully unaware that as they did so, they were delegitimizing themselves by appearing unpresidential. My man Bam knows how to manipulate.

    The Iranian regime is now effectively delegitimized. First Bam talked over various regimes heads, going directly to the people thus empowering the opposition without appearing to meddle in internal politics. No other American politician has the cunningness to walk such a tightrope.

    By passive aggressively appearing conciliatory–right to wear hijab, nuke pwr, america was involved in the coup, etc–he’s effectively stolen from the regime its identity: the defender of Islam from the Great Satin. Just as importantly, he’s now sits back almost silently as if he had nothing to do with it, thus allowing the enemy to self-destruct without appearing to be the puppetmaster…for that could reestablish the regimes legitimacy.

    meanwhile, the loyal opposition criticises Bam for being too hands-off, unaware that the best course of action is to avoid aggressive statements. in response, they blabber on with mindless platitudes about freedom and democracy. Bams a chess master while my party’s still trying to figure out the checkers board.

  17. Thats part of the Obama effect I say.

    I didn’t posit this only because I don’t really know what the real impact of this is in the Middle East, as opposed to the constant tom-tomming of the Obama effect stateside.

  18. Except, Obama is the poster boy for idealism.

    Moussavi, on the other hand, is capitalizing on the support of people who are too young to remember his role in Iranian politics in the ’80s.

  19. I know we all look alike, but Abhi’s the handsome one

    Dang, did you just tell me that you’re one of a pair of look-alike hotties? I’d like to make it up to you two, you know, for hurting your feelings. Seriously though, sorry about that mix-up.

  20. Moussavi, on the other hand, is capitalizing on the support of people who are too young to remember his role in Iranian politics in the ’80s.

    Moussavi gets the support he does from the youth, not just because he is Ahmedinejad’s opponent, but in large part due to his wife (helpfully portrayed by American media – when it feels the need to talk about Iran – as “Iran’s Michelle Obama”) who played a visible role in his campaign, and advocates such radical ideas as increasing the role of women in society, and making the hijab optional.

    It is generally believed that Khameini had been hedging his bets in approving Moussavi as a candidate, because he wasn’t seen as too radical in the event of Ahmedinejad’s loss. But I am guessing that the tone of his campaign changed over time and made him a less attractive option.

  21. manju sez:

    meanwhile, the loyal opposition criticises Bam for being too hands-off, unaware that the best course of action is to avoid aggressive statements. in response, they blabber on with mindless platitudes about freedom and democracy.

    It’s my understanding that the U.S. has been waiting a decade (or a little more) for something like this to happen in Iran – with the understanding that it would ultimately be a youth revolt. And how else for the U.S. to act except patiently and offhandedly? Otherwise all that anger will get focused at the Western devil.

    From PS:

    The current Iranian president in the looks department, could easily be mistaken as Latino, Indian, Arab, and even Native American or perhaps Southern European.

    Native American? oh hell no. Need I find a photo of a pretty native american to show you we aren’t that hairy? ; )

    as opposed to the constant tom-tomming of the Obama effect stateside.

    I think you meant “tam tamming”, Rahul.

  22. I hope you sat down and educated your mommy on not calling Iranians barbarians considering they are ahead of Indians in every variable they use to calculate the Human Development Index. Iran is ranked 84. India is ranked 132 right after Congo and Bhutan. Bring up these statistics to mommy and see what she says.

    His mum is clearly unbalanced and delusional. Just like him.

  23. The indian connection with iran/central asia is two fold. First, there is the historical connection Veda/Zend Avesta and the obvious pattern of immigration from central asia to india.

    Immigration? They came as conquerors and stayed as overlords. They still have an unshakeable superiority complex towards indians and indians an inferiority complex towards them.

    The second one is that of the tens of thousands of slaves taken from punjab and sindh during the islamic invasions of 1000-1200. As the original Al beruni puts it, the ground became black with the movement of hindus being taken to be sold in the marketplaces of central asia. So it wouldnt be surprised if many iranians, afghans and Uzbeks have a physical similarity to north and central indians. Unfortunately, given the circumstances they are not likely to acknowledge it – more like a matter of embarassment – as in the case of the fictional Khomeini connection.

    Yes, tons of hindus were enslaved by the muslim invaders and sold cheap in the slave markets of Kabul, Samarkand, Bukhara, Baghdad and other places. Ahmadinejad could be partly descended from indian slaves for all we know.

  24. Dilip, Thanks for the link to the Bhadrakumar article–it’s really provocative–I’m not sure what to think, to be honest. I guess I just don’t have enough context to have a sense of whether that’s correct.. I did know that Rafsanjani’s family has a huge network of businesses.

    I think Rob was mocking himself when he posted that earlier

    Yes, Ennis, I was! Sorry to anyone who didn’t pick up on that!

    I’m not usually Pollyanna-ish, but just imagine how much better the world would be with a normal gov’t in Iran–you’d get rid of the risk of Israel attacking them, with whatever chain-reaction that might set off, you’d have more peace in Lebanon w/out the mullahs funding Hezbollah, it would be really great! I’ve got my fingers crossed!

  25. That depends on the part of India you’re talking about. They would not be at all out of place in a Parsee community, for example. Or even a Kashmiri one come to think of it. Vast and diverse country.
    1. Parsis number around 100,000 in India which has a population of 1.170.000.000. They are a vanishingly miniscule percentage of India’s population

    2. Kashmir’s population of almost 8 million is way less than 1% of India’s total population and they are mostly muslims who do not consider themselves part of India and who are in the midst of a long struggle for independence from India.

    When are you going to learn to think rationally?

  26. It shows how clueless the western media is for painting this as a revolution against theocracy when in reality this is a power struggle between two factions within the iranian theocracy. It is a struggle between the Ayatollahs: Khamenei vs Rafsanjani.

  27. 1. Parsis number around 100,000 in India which has a population of 1.170.000.000. They are a vanishingly miniscule percentage of India’s population

    Nice to know that you don’t think small minorities matter. Are Parsis Indian or not?

    2. Kashmir’s population of almost 8 million is way less than 1% of India’s total population and they are mostly muslims who do not consider themselves part of India and who are in the midst of a long struggle for independence from India.

    I’m not going to derail this thread by pointing out all the ways in which this statement is ignorant, but I do have to ask once again. Even if they are 1% of the total population, are they Indian or not? I really don’t see how talking about percentages of the population negates my statement that India is a vast and diverse country and your hamfisted attempts at homogenizing it are just plain false.

    (P.S. There are a lot of Hindu Kashmiris, they just don’t happen to live in Kashmir anymore.)

  28. 75 Dilip,

    Immigration? They came as conquerors and stayed as overlords. They still have an unshakeable superiority complex towards indians and indians an inferiority complex towards them.

    Iranians did not rule in India at anytime. The Delhi Sultanate and the Mughals were Turkic from Central Asia who did use the Persian language though. Nadir Shah of Iran did opportunistically raid Delhi and looted and killed, but went back. So did Ahmed Shah Abdali who succeeded Nadir Shah, but he was a Pashtun.

    The few Iranians I have met were very respectful and always spoke well of India. Try a few articles like this. As for Indians having an inferiority complex it must be something personal on your part or the area of India where you come from. Most Indians especially in the South (except for Hyderabad and Bangalore where many study) are unaware of Iran to hold any views on them except as part of the Muslim world. Many Iranians in India did vote in these elections though.

  29. Are Parsis Indian or not?

    who cares what they are? i just toss ‘em aside and dig right into my steak.

  30. 83 · Naattaan Iranians did not rule in India at anytime. The Delhi Sultanate and the Mughals were Turkic from Central Asia who did use the Persian language though. Nadir Shah of Iran did opportunistically raid Delhi and looted and killed, but went back. So did Ahmed Shah Abdali who succeeded Nadir Shah, but he was a Pashtun. The few Iranians I have met were very respectful and always spoke well of India. Try a few articles like this. As for Indians having an inferiority complex it must be something personal on your part or the area of India where you come from. Most Indians especially in the South (except for Hyderabad and Bangalore where many study) are unaware of Iran to hold any views on them except as part of the Muslim world. Many Iranians in India did vote in these elections though.

    Actually, according to Wiki, Nadir Shah was a Turkic speaker from Iran and not an ethnic Iranian. This is analgous to Ghazni who was also a Turk but from Afghanistan. BTW, Iranians RULED DIFFERENT PARTS OF INDIA FOR A LONG TIME. “Punjabi” is an Iranian word, and not an Indic word. They ruled Sindh and I think parts of Gujarat for a long time. I know some gujjus surnamed as “Shah” who took pride that their surname is Persian.

    Also, the court language for several centuries in Delhi was Farsi (Daari dialect, and not the Persian dialect). Many of our words in Urdu have their etymologies in Farsi. As a matter of fact, there are more Farsi words than Turkic and Arabic words.

    Here is something in Wiki about a Brahmin community with an Iranian fetish: “The S*******a Brahmin community of India identify themselves as having Iranian roots…”

    So we see that Indans have been influenced by Iran for a while. And more over, there are many many Indian communities, including the Coorgs/Kodavus of S. India, who claim to be from Persia.

    However, these days, the fastest growing religion in Iran is Hinduism!!! I’ve met an Iranian lady here in Boston named “Shiva”.

  31. However, these days, the fastest growing religion in Iran is Hinduism!!! I’ve met an Iranian lady here in Boston named “Shiva”.

    Do you have a citation for that?

  32. However, these days, the fastest growing religion in Iran is Hinduism!!! I’ve met an Iranian lady here in Boston named “Shiva”.

    Shiva is a common name for girls in Iran, a quick google search tell me that it means “beauty” in Persian :) .

    BTW, I met an Iranian girl named “Sholey”, does that mean that Bollywood is the fastest growing religion in Iran ;-)

  33. Ennis-

    for what it’s worth, I say blog away anyway. There may be no “clear” Desi angle, but when the thin reed of democracy gets battered like this and the lines of communication get slammed closed- this is bad news for everyone. If nothing else, pass on what we learn in drips and drabs from friends who get calls for Tehran, the cousin who snuck out a tweet, etc. Even a revolution expressed in 150 characters is STILL a revolution- with a voice and a body and a will. And, whatever one thinks about the candidates- at least the younger electorate did something. What did the US do in 200 and 2004? Sat on its hands for 15 minutes and then went shopping. To hear is also to be a witness- and to act as the conduit for those voices is to also do shehad, if only for moment.

  34. 88 · kal on June 17, 2009 01:17 PM · Direct link However, these days, the fastest growing religion in Iran is Hinduism!!! I’ve met an Iranian lady here in Boston named “Shiva”. Shiva is a common name for girls in Iran, a quick google search tell me that it means “beauty” in Persian :) . BTW, I met an Iranian girl named “Sholey”, does that mean that Bollywood is the fastest growing religion in Iran ;-)

    I actually met an older man who was very familiar with Bollywood who told me that his daughter is named “Sholay”. “Sholay” means fire in that language, and “no”, they are not fans of Amitabh Bhachchan (i.e. they wouldn’t jump through a sewer system to see Amitabh like most of us and the Slumdog).

    I’d like to see Indian and Iran to engage in more cultural and economic interactions.

  35. supported seizing hostages from the U.S. embassy and wanted Salman Rushdie killed
    In 1950s, more Indians migrated to Iran and settled primarily in Tehran. They consisted Sikhs and some Gujaratis. In the 1960s and early 70s, about 10,000 Indian Doctors, Engineers and Teachers moved to Iran as a response to the open policies initiated by the Shah of Iran, but most of them left Iran after the Iranian revolution.

    Interesting how Sikhs and Gujartis have been able to establish themselves in places like Iran and Brazil…

  36. Well for a long time, abut 500 years or so; the high culture of the elite in northern India was heavily influenced by Persia and regardless of religion many sections of the literrati were very Persianised. I think that most of the bureacrats and administrators that the Mughals brought with them were of Persian origin, who helped run the empire; one of the reasons, along with Sher Shah’s adminsitrative reforms; why much of land revenue adminsitration of governance is still based heavily on Persian concepts and terminology.

  37. Well for a long time, abut 500 years or so; the high culture of the elite in northern India was heavily influenced by Persia and regardless of religion many sections of the literrati were very Persianised.

    Look no further than Bollywood to see the remnants of the persianized Mughal high culture. Even the look and color preferred by Bollywood is more persian/afghan than indian.

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