The Arabs and Iranians

What Went Wrong? And Why?

In: Sociology of Islam
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Using the longue durée approach to history, this paper reflects on the long history of Arab-Iranian interactions and identifies three key historical developments which had a defining role in shaping mutual Arab-Iranian perceptions – the fall of the Sassanian Empire at the hands of Arab Muslim army, replacing Pahlavi for Arabic script, and Safavid conversion to Shiʿa Islam, which correspond to three major relational themes – political, cultural and sectarian respectively. Such negative perceptions, loaded with rivalry, suspicion and at times animosity, have defined the trajectory of their relations over centuries, thus rendering their shared history a source of misunderstanding and conflict, rather than cooperation based on mutual understanding and common interests. By looking at each other primarily through the prism of political, cultural and sectarian rivalry as embodied in those three major historical events, Arabs and Iranians, due to the deep-rootedness of mutual perceptions, today fail to recognize their common interests and resolve their differences. Moreover, despite shared history and geography, Arabs and Iranians lack a proper understanding of each other and absent an open and honest dialogue, their relations cannot improve.

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