It was almost midnight in Rotterdam (Holland), when I drifted into a Turkish Kebab shop down the main retail drag to find food! Standing there waiting, I am asked where I am from by the Turkish-Dutch (immigrant) dude behind the counter. Naturally, Iran! (Yes, I live in the U.S., but I am originally Iranian). He becomes all excited and tells me about his trip to Northern Iran, and how they speak Azeri. How he has traveled to Azerbaijan too. And other countries in Central Asia. I tell him my mother is from that part of Iran! And that I have visited Turkey several times. I throw out a few Turkish words, start counting in Turkish and his eyes light up.
He then proceeds to tell me there are at least one hundred million people that speak Turkish and maybe 1 billion people that speak Turkish as a second language! That Kazakh, Uzbek and several other languages are all part of the larger Turkish language family including Mongolian and Manchu-Tungus languages! Turkey, he dwells, is a shadow of its former self; and should be a much larger country spanning all Central Asia! Even half-of-Syria, half-of-Arabia, he declares is really part of Turkey. My new friend at the Kebab shop was clearly pan-Turkish!
The next day, I am at a conference and I am casually introduced to a dude originally born in Afghanistan by some other attendees (that I knew); and we are both proud to speak a little Persian together. Everyone at the table is a little surprised, we then turn magically into Kebab shop tellers, and declare – Oh, there are at least 100 million people in Central Asia that speak Persian – from Iran, to half of Afghanistan, to Tajikistan… even Kurdish! Persian, I declare, is an important language. And (wait for it), if it wasn’t for European meddlers, these nations would all be united! I suddenly became Pan-Iranian! I didn’t even know I was an “Iranian Pan”, before I boarded my plane to Europe, but I suppose I became all cooked up to become one when I ate my shish kebab in pita bread! Suddenly, I am dreaming of a Greater Iran!
I get back to my Airbnb, watch the news. It’s Israel again (when isn’t it?). Trump has just recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and there is mass demonstration in Gaza. Israeli soldiers just shot a female doctor tending to an injured demonstrator and kill her! There is visible outrage. The next day demonstrations spill over to the West Bank. There are Israeli soldiers involved there too. And I am reminded by comments my Israeli-American friends in Brooklyn made: “Judea and Samaria are historically part of Israel”! And it is clear, that far from being satisfied with what Israel ‘owns’ today, there are a good number of people (including significant Trump backers like Sheldon Adelson) who won’t sleep at night – every night – unless they have done something to expand the borders of Israel. There are many who dream of a “Greater Israel”.
To write this article, I then went on the internet, and started looking at other regional “Pans”. There are those who are cooking up the concept of a Greater Pakistan (taking over almost all Northern India). And there are others who dream of another Arabian Empire stretching from Spain and Morocco, across to Southeast Asia.
No-one it seems is satisfied with what the have. Everyone has a chip on their shoulders. There is wide-scale inferiority complex across the whole region. Everyone is seeking Greatness… including, I suppose, me. As Dr. Maslow, so rightly, observed – the ultimate in Human quest (after you’ve been fed, and loved) is to develop self-esteem and self-actualize. Greatness, it seems, is programmed into human DNA.
There is, a biological manifest destiny, to conquer everything! And it comes easily to those who feel down-trodden and humiliated. i.e. my friend at the Kebab shop; and to some extent me (yes, I feel just a little trodden down by Trump’s Iranian travel ban and constant attacks on Iran and Iranians). I now, want Iran and Iranians to be more – much more than we have ever been. The greatest, the best, the most incredible nation that has ever walked the earth.
If nothing else, Trump has offended enough people, that everywhere I hear people with the same spirit Americans had as a young nation in the 19th Century of a “Manifest Destiny”! It was this spirit that led the U.S. to establish vast military programs to conquer the continent. It was “continentalism” at play. Its 1812 and 1845 all over again in Central Asia!
Remember your high school history books? The phrase “manifest destiny” is most often associated with the territorial expansion of the United States from 1812 to 1860. This era, from the end of the War of 1812 to the beginning of the American Civil War, has been called the “age of manifest destiny”. During this time, the United States expanded to the Pacific Ocean—”from sea to shining sea”—largely defining the borders of the contiguous United States as they are today. It was a well document ‘spirit’ with countless essays (such as the one by John O’Sullivan in 1845, titled Annexation in the Democratic Review). In this article he urged the U.S. to annex the Republic of Texas, not only because Texas desired this, but because it was “our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions”! Most Americans don’t really know it, but at one-point American troops were all the way down to Mexico City!
It is common for many countries to conquer others for economic, religious, ethnic or other reasons – that is Imperialism. But what is not so commonly understood is this need to become “Greater” for purely psychological motivations. Even without economic gains, there are many who simply want to be “Greater”! It is programmed into many human being’s DNA.
Go to a soccer game in Europe and there will be a live display of this emotion at play! You see it displayed in sports all the time. It’s very real.
These days its prevalent especially among nations that might feel weak and unable to defend themselves. Nations also harbor nationalist grievances related to a series of invasions or occupations. The human reflex is to then react instinctively to perceived slights or unfairness. The vociferousness of the reaction relates back to a feeling of cultural inferiority. The situational, contextual roots of insecurity lead to extreme patriotic identification and thus the desire for ‘Greatness’!
It’s very real.
Downtrodden and humiliated, everyone in Iran’s region now has a manifest destiny. It’s an emotion many shrewd politicians have been and will be exploiting. It’s a powder keg! Very dangerous. The “West” really isn’t helping the situation at all – with constant attacks, humiliation, sanctions, etc. Constant wars, invasions, and negative rhetoric are feeding it. And the Mullahs now have control from Tehran to Beirut.
It’s now feeding Iranian expansionism. It’s now feeding Turkish expansionism. Humiliation and death at the hands of Europeans has been feeding Israeli expansionism for 70 years!
The truth is, enduring “Greatness” is only reserved for those persons or nations that make other nations Great. It is the value you add to others that makes you Great. Neither Turkey, nor Iran, nor Armenia, nor Pakistan, nor Arabs, nor anyone deserve greatness if they do not help, support, add value to the people they ‘absorb’. You associate ONLY with those that make you better, stronger, more prosperous, etc. This is a simple fact.
The form of Greatness my friend at the Kebab shop was talking about was a selfish greatness – it was designed to address his own hang-ups, his sense of inferiority, his own short-comings. But the Greatness we truly need is the greatness that helps others succeed.
Those who seek peace, would be smart to find solutions where all parties win, and feel Great together.