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Everything You Know About Iran Is A Myth (Read 5500 times)
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Everything You Know About Iran Is A Myth
Sep 28th, 2009 at 10:47pm

By Lawrence of Cyberia
July 07, 2009 -

There are some terms that people in Islamic and Western countries should never say to each other, because they confuse and inflame more than they clarify. The most obvious ones would be “jihad”, “crusade” and “great satan”. All of them are used in somewhat innocuous ways by the people who utter them, but mean something completely different – and much more inflammatory – to foreign ears.

I would like to propose a topical addition to the list of words that should never be used, and that would be “myth”. Specifically when it is used in the context in which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Egyptian Brotherhood leader Mohammed Mehdi Akef have mentioned it in recent months, i.e. to speak of "the myth of the Holocaust" (Egyptian Islamists deny Holocaust; BBC News, 23 Dec 2005) . They know what they mean by the phrase, and I know what they mean, but if they think that most people over here are going to hear it and respond with anything more profound than “Holocaust deniers!” then they are deeply ignorant of how central is the Holocaust in U.S. perceptions of the Middle East, how superficial is the U.S. public discourse on relations with the Muslim world, and how much that discourse is framed by those who are pushing for a “clash of civilizations” and who are currently fixated on finding a justification to bring about regime change in Iran.

Everyone knows what a myth is, right? It’s just a fairytale; an unlikely, invented story featuring toga-clad heroes of the ancient past. So when Ahmadinejad and Akef talk of the “myth of the Holocaust” they are simply – as the BBC suggests in the report I linked to above – saying that the Holocaust never really happened, and can be written off as Holocaust deniers. Except that that’s not what a “myth” is. (And I must be getting old, because I actually remember the days when any reporter employed by the BBC would have known the meaning of the word, and made some effort to render it accurately).

Let me tell you what a “myth” really is.

Humans are complex beings who live in complex societies, and are capable of thoughts, insights and feelings beyond the mere physical needs of everyday life. Some of the intangible things that we feel about ourselves are difficult to articulate, so we express them by telling stories. And that’s what myths are. Myths are stories that groups of people tell to express and justify their most fundamental beliefs about themselves, their origins, their essential nature and their aspirations. The stories themselves can be historical or non-historical, but that is irrelevant to the myth. In the U.S., which for all its religiosity is basically a secular and demythologized society, we tend to think of myths as fairytales because the most common exposure we have to them is via the craptacular Hollywood spectacles of the 1960's like Jason and the Argonauts. But in fact a myth is a myth because it is a story that tells an underlying, existential truth about the people who tell it, and historicity is nothing to do with what makes it a myth.

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