October 26, 2012

Persians vs. Arabs

So I'm trying to watch Aladdin, right? Everyone complains about all its Arab stereotypes, so I wanted to see them in action. But the problem is that it's not Arab. It's really more Persian. And I don't know why on earth I feel like it's necessary to make that distinction or why I see it, but I want to make it. Perhaps because in this region, that's the one general distinction that I've learned beyond the more recognizable East/West distinction.

In the Strait of Hormuz, between the UAE and Iran, there are these islands, Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunb. They're not particularly big and like five people live on them, but the UAE and Iran have often argued about who exactly owns them. Historically, the Persians controlled the islands and the Qasimi tribe (whose descendants are now sheikh families in UAE) controlled them at another point. And thus Iran claims them on the basis of the Persian possession while the UAE claims them on the basis of the Qasimi possession. And unless you've looked it up, I'm guessing you have no clue what the difference is between the Persians and the Qasimi, so why should they matter at all?

I think that it's easy to lump all of Middle East history into a clump of general Arabs. But before the Arabs, there were Persians in Iran and a lot of tribes in Arabia. And then Islam happened and united those tribes into "Arabs." And the Arabs began to conquer the surrounding lands, making them practice the religion and speak the language of Arabs. But the Persians were not so ready to let go of their own history and culture. And to this day, Iran clings to it's own variation of Islam (Shia) and its own language (Farsi) and its own history (Persian.) And the culture that I'm seeing in this Disney movie makes me think "Persian." But that's probably because it's the only distinction I know from "Arab."


  1. Back in high school, my history teacher made it clear that "Arab" is an ethnicity and "Islam" is a religion and that not all Muslims are necessarily Arab and that not all Arabs are necessarily Muslim. I think that Americans spend too much time studying Western European and American history, and as a consequence, I don't know very much about most other parts of the world.

    But thanks for telling us that Aladdin is Persian! I'll keep that in mind when my future offspring watch it.

    1. It's not even entirely Persian either. It's just a mix of all the "exotic" that makes up the historical "East" as the "West" knows it. I guess people just have problems with it because it's a bad stereotype of nothing specific. The original Aladdin story was complete fiction and took place in a fictionalized China, so probably simplifying it to Persian is bad too, haha.

  2. I think the distinctions are made more awkward and confusing to Westerners because Aladdin comes from One Thousand and One Nights (even though Aladdin was added later), which is called Arabian Nights in English - even though the main part is about Persian royals.

    Anyway, I will keep such distinctions in mind. :)

  3. I knew that Iranians are in a different branch of Islam and speak Farsi, differing them from the other people in the region. But I think people just make the general assumption that all Middle Eastern people are Arab. I know I do that sometime, just like people assume Chinese and Koreans are the same (we have different languages and religions, despite having extremely similar cultures). I guess most people don't care too much about people in other regions unless they are interested in those particular people (for example, the American interest in the Japanese). I know that sounds terrible but it's only the truth.

    However it is quite un-okay to mix things the way Aladdin did it. I was not even aware of it. I'm surprised that no one threw a fit, because Chinese people definitely would.