Ali Deilami

Purim and my antisemitic education in Iran

Remembering your first memory of a specific subject might be challenging, especially when that subject had a daily presence in your life. But even if you can’t recall the first acquaintance, It’s usually not too hard to remember your first real understanding of the issue instead of being just a passive audience. Of course, no guarantee to ever gain such knowledge! Some brains seem castrated, incapable of fertilizing genuine thoughts. 

Bombardment by Antisemitic propaganda is part of Growing up in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Any Iranian child would have peculiar experiences on this matter during school. Igniting flags of Israel and the United States, also painting those on the ground so people may trample them, is routine. Besides that, Since elementary school, teachers told us stories about the sinful ethnicity of Bani Isra’il, who currently are Islam’s enemies. 

Do these teachers actually believe in their words and actions? I can’t say Anything for sure, but most propaganda are not part of the official education plan. Based on what I saw, school Principals and instructors coordinate themselves with the state’s programs to get promoted. It’s not like this that they will get shot if they don’t cooperate! My father was also a teacher and principal but never played in their game. So, he couldn’t achieve better positions in the chain of command. But it was just this, no harassment, no danger of getting fired! It makes me realize how easily people forget morality in exchange for a few benefits.

In high school, their efforts to pour ideas into our minds were on another level. Alongside forced slogans and fireworks with flags, the course “religion and life” teachers repeatedly dedicated a certain amount of time to spreading classic antisemitism, like telling us about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Although the textbooks of this course are full of harsh sentences against the Jews, insisting on some extra antisemitism, by the initiative of the teachers, is typical in an Iranian high school. So typical that different schools around the country use the same materials for this additional education. 

Most of the antisemitic stuff my generation heard was like other antisemitic plans in Islamic countries, which introduced Jewish people as the eternal enemy of Islam. Anything terrible happened because of the existence of Jews, and anyone we don’t like is a Jew or has Jewish ancestors. They only talk about citizens’ equal rights during elections to make a show of non-muslim Iranians (especially Jews) who vote. 

But one thing was unique, with Exclusive use for antisemitism inside Iran. The Purim! Or, as they told us, the Jewish celebration for massacring 75 thousand Iranians. From their perspective, Persians are victims of the story. I remember I was 15 when I heard about it for the first time. Our “religion and life” teacher used the class time to show us a lecture by Ali Akbar Raefipour, a media activist close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. “Israel wants to kill us again,” He claimed, and various people have shared this declaration on social media until today. 

The Islamic Republic is so bad at convincing the young generation without using guns! You can understand it from students’ participation in the recent protests against the regime. But the issue of Purim is something else. This regime’s propaganda overlaps with something that actually matters to the Iranian youths.

Emphasizing the Aryan race usually isn’t part of the antisemitism in the Islamic world. Arab people have nothing to do with it. But in Iran, the conditions are different. The last King (Shah) of Iran several times proudly announced himself and his nation as Aryans during the 70s! Not surprising, It commenced in the 19th century. When European scholars figured out the Indo-European languages and put Farsi in this category. Then they found the word “Aryan” in the Indian and Persian ancient texts. So, after that, they told Iranians that Iran means the land of Aryans! 

Tracing back the Iranian Aryanists is out of the scope of this note. And, after all, it had never been a serious feeling among Iranians. But in the past four decades, many Iranians obsessed with “Persia before Islam” as a reaction to the Islamic theocracy that ruled and ruined their country. This reaction escalated because the Islamic Republic actively tried to deny the national Identity of Iran. In June 1981, Ayatollah Khomeini declared that Nationalism is against Islam. First Islam, then Iran. 

My generation embraced archaic times to oppose the dictatorship in our homeland. We even start considering Cyrus as the father of our nation, which can be a stronghold in the friendship with Israel. But it also had this unwanted consequence that Iranians, even though they hate Ayatollahs, are still so sensitive about the stories of ancient Persia, like Purim. So Purim’s tale as bloodshed in the golden era is powerful propaganda and the one and only that may have a chance to accept by Iranian society. 

Preventing hate between Iranian citizens and Jews is crucial. Unfortunately, Some extreme approaches to comparing Purim to today’s events might be offensive even for those Iranians who are totally against the Islamic Republic regime. So, It can be constructive if Israeli friends consider these details when they post about Purim. 

About the Author
Ali was a journalist in Iran, working for ISNA (Iranian Students News Agency) from 2019 to 2021. He now lives in Milan, Italy.
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