IRAN: This sixty year old book is heartily recommended for anyone who wants to know more about the current relationship between Iranians and Arabs.
‘Where are you from?’ ‘I am from Iran.’ ‘So you speak Arabic?’ ‘No, we speak Farsi. Iranians are not Arabs. We are Persian.’ This is a common exchange for Iranians encountering people lacking in knowledge about their culture and history.
In the beginning, Iranians followed the ancient Zoroastrian faith. Then, in the seventh century the Arabs conquered the Persian Empire, and the Iranians converted to Islam. The book, Two Centuries of Silence (Do Qarn Sokut), by Iranian literature scholar Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub (1923–1999), is a well written depiction of the early years following this decisive historic, political and cultural defeat. The book, first published in 1957, remains hugely important and quite readable. Today, book publishing and reading face certain challenges in Iran. Unfortunately, an Iranian reads, on average, only thirteen minutes a day, while the typical price of a book is almost four dollars.
Post-traumatic silence. Abdolhossein Zarrinkoub was an expert in Iranian literature and Persian culture and history, and taught at universities such as Oxford, the Sorbonne and Princeton. During the course of his life, he penned over twenty five books and translated at least another six, in addition to publishing seven scientific works. Zarrinkoub’s books are frequently read in academic circles and are viewed as the key sources in the study of mysticism and the mystical anthropology of the Persian Mowlavi. Mowlavi was a Muslim scholar, lawyer, lyricist and Sufi mystic living in the 1200s. He is also known as Rumi.
The English translation of Two Centuries of Silence contains ten chapters describing the various decades of this pivotal period, focusing on the challenges, wars and invasions the Iranians were subject to. Zarrinkoub terms the years ‘the era of silence’ due to the Arab victory over the Iranians, who traditionally had been cultural rivals of the Roman Empire. The silence that ensued was a reaction to the great cultural and political changes the Persians were going through.