Friday, October 12, 2007

The Iranian inferiority complex - Nobel Prize edition

According to the Iranian Fars news agency:
The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2007 was awarded to Doris Lessing, an English writer of Iranian origin.

Lessing who was born in Iran's western province of Kermanshah is now a citizen of Britain.

Now, her real biography says:
Doris Lessing was born Doris May Tayler in Persia (now Iran) on October 22, 1919. Both of her parents were British: her father, who had been crippled in World War I, was a clerk in the Imperial Bank of Persia; her mother had been a nurse. In 1925, lured by the promise of getting rich through maize farming, the family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
She may have been born in Persia (not Iran), but she is far from Iranian. As the BBC says, she was a "child of the British empire," and she is British through and through.

For Iranians to have such a compelling need to pretend that a prestigious prize has anything remotely to do with them betrays a massive inferiority complex. Reading the Iranian press shows this to be true - the smallest accomplishments are trumpeted as huge victories and Iran is especially sensitive in the area of scientific and military research, trying mightily to show how advanced it is.

While the Iranian psyche is not the same as the Arab psyche - Persians are much harder workers and value education more - this inferiority complex is a trait that Iranians share with the Arabs. The common denominators is probably the honor/shame culture combined with the West's supremacy in practically every cultural and scientific sphere. The fact that Iran and the Arab world "loses" in most of these "battles" (as they would think of them) is a constant source of pain to their pride, so whenever they actually accomplish something, no matter how trivial or peripheral, it takes on a huge symbolic importance.

Life in honor/shame cultures is a zero-sum game - if they "win" a Nobel Prize, for example, they think they have also caused the West to "lose" it and therefore they think that they have "humiliated" the West. This is of course their projection of their own thoughts every time a Westerner (or, especially, an Israeli) does something that is way beyond their own abilities.