The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)
Dance and Music, Nationalism and Ethnicity, Part 3
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PART 3 NATIONALISM
The Nation, the State, and the Nation State
Nationalism is the third topic I wish to address in some depth in this study. I would characterize nationalism as an inclusive discourse about group and individual identity and the nation state and the individual's role within the nation. In creating citizens who believe in the special identity of the nation state and loyally serve it, respective governments inculcate the citizens of their particular specific nation state through various agencies educational, military, artistic, and political with strong, and patriotic, feelings about their nation. Nationalism scholar Elie Kedourie cautions, "It may serve to distinguish nationalism from patriotism and xenophobia with which it is often confused. Patriotism affection for one's country, or one's group, loyalty to its institutions, and zeal for its defense, is a sentiment known among all kinds of men; so is xenophobia, which is dislike of the stranger. . . " (1994, 49-50). Nationalism, therefore, involves the feelings that an individual has for the nation-state in which one lives, although, I will caution that not everyone in a nation state feels the same about it, and some individuals or groups who live in a particular nation state may have negative feelings toward their nation. So, then what is the nation state?
Following Coakley's definition, "A state is a self-governing territorial entity with a central decision-making agency which possesses a monopoly of the legitimate use of force in ensuring compliance with its decision on the part of all persons within its borders"., I adopt Coakley's definition of state, which is simple, readily grasped and will inform my arguments. It has the advantage of defining both historical and modern states. There is something "official" about a nation state, and, depending on the economy, there will be governmental buildings and employees, an official military in official uniforms, a flag, an anthem, currency, an educational system, a national theatre, a national dance ensemble, and so on.
I use the terms nation, state, and nation state as synonyms for the purposes of this study; even though nation certainly refers to the people as "the French nation," many use nation in the popular usage as a territorial unit as I will do from time to time. Many consider the formation of nation states to be inevitable and "natural." "But we must not accept the myth. Nations are not inscribed into the nature of things; they do not constitute a political version of the doctrine of natural kinds. Nor were national states the manifest destiny ultimate destiny of ethnic or cultural groups" (Gellner 49). In fact, to a large degree as Gellner suggests, nations and states, both historical and modern, are socially constructed entities, often supported by mythical origins and fictive genealogies promoted in order to build powerful feelings of patriotism and solidarity, in order to enable the nation state to coalesce and survive.
Of the terms "nationalism" and "ethnicity," I will argue that of the two terms, nationalism, in spite of all of its complexity, is the easier of the two to characterize, describe, and analyze because it is official. In this study I will also argue that there are many kinds of nationalism, and that, in addition to the modern nationalisms that scholars Ernest Gellner, Benedict Anderson, and Liah Greenfeld espouse, there also exist ancient and medieval nationalisms that share many elements of modern nationalism, but also differ in intensity and degree of public participation, but otherwise have a great deal in common. (See Plokhy 2006, 3, n. 2)
As to modern national identity, nationalism scholar, Liah Greenfeld, in her brilliant study (2016) has correctly stated, "Nationalism underlies all areas of modern reality" (2016, 4). From the passports we carry, the flags we salute, the anthems that makes us rise and sing in a specific national language, to national armies wearing specific national uniforms with national colors, seen in specific military environments, and national flags flying from governmental buildings at home and abroad, and one can see the national language(s) at ports of entry, in government buildings like post offices, one can quickly understand the ubiquity of national identity in individual contemporary lives and its spread around the globe since modern times began. In this essay I will also posit that, in certain cases such as Iran and China, nationalism and the concept of national identity arguably has ancient roots, depending on how one defines "nation." In this premodern conception, I join scholars Anthony Smith and John A. Armstrong, who propose premodern roots for certain nations.
I want to warn readers, however, that creators of modern nationalisms frequently built the basis of a specific national identity on questionable and romantic historical and philological data: "From the nineteenth century on, nationalism sought its justification to no little extent in a misconceived view of the peoples of the early Middle Ages" (Pohl 2018, 3). For example a question that still remains unresolved is the question of whether or not the Eastern Slavs are three peoples Belarusians, Ukrainians, and Russians or one who speak dialects of a single language. "The most politically loaded question is whether the East Slavic languages developed directly from a Slavic proto-language or whether there was an intermediate stage in the form of a common East Slavic language" (Plokhy 2006, 24).
The answer to that question hinges on whether the contemporary states of Belarus and Ukraine, or parts of them, rightfully belong to Russia or not.
Such questionable origin myths of nation continue to attract interest: "In many eastern European nations, ancient and medieval origin stories were used to elaborate modern national myths; results of scholarship were incorporated into these myths in eclectic ways. Few European countries, though, developed such a variety of national origin myths as Croatia: migration or autochthony; prehistoric, ancient, or early medieval immigrations; Illyrian, Gothic, Iranian, or Slavic origins. Predictably, the creation of an independent Croat state and the war in Yugoslavia led to a resurgence of pseudo-scientific narratives of national origin" (Pohl 2018, 311). And, from personal experience, I have met Croats who subscribe to all of these origins.
Certain nations seem to be fragile due to competing local or regional allegiances. I would therefore observe that there exist many states where national, regional, and local identities vie with one another for an individual's attention and affection, as in the Philippines and India. However, the former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia fell apart due to competing regional ethnic identities, and the national identities lost; regional, ethnic identities won. Catalonia, Scotland, Flanders, Quebec, and other regional, ethnic-focused identities often make the news due to the fact that they want a divorce from the national entity in which they are located. Thus, nationalism, in all of its complexity, becomes both a form of individual and communal expression, but national identity, as I have just shown, can readily reduce to ethnic identities: the latter trumps the former in almost every instance.
Various national states, of different complexities of political organization, especially those of authoritarian hue look for tools and vehicles with which to create strong passions of patriotism and nationalism in the service of the state, and the symbolic support of folk dance performances and vernacular dance activities resulted in the creation of state supported folk dance ensembles and systems of festivals lend themselves to evoking strong feelings of nationalism because the performers in colorful folk costumes evoke iconic images of national identity. Nationalism scholar Ernest Gellner states, "The self-image of nationalism involves the stress of folk, folklore, popular culture, etc. In fact, nationalism becomes important precisely when these things become artificial. Genuine peasants or tribesmen, however proficient at folk-dancing, do not generally make great nationalists" (1994, 58). That is because I argue that the dancing peasants do not represent the nation, but rather a local and regional portion of the nation. They often dance to represent local and regional pride; the government tends to use them as stand-ins for the total nation state; their usefulness to the nation is as one of the colors in the ethnic rainbow that constitutes the nation and as a mass with all of the other regional folk dancers.
Each human being has a unique identity, which consists of bundles of elements: gender and sexuality, marital status, age, religion, political belief, profession, ethnicity and nationality, language, among others. Identity is largely socially and contextually created; that is, each individual is born into a specific family, in a specific city or village, and into a specific neighborhood speaking a specific language, or as in my case, two languages; he or she has or does not have a specific religion, and other cultural traits. They may be members of occupations that only certain ethnic groups occupy, even in premodern times. A good example are the Eta (Burakumin), an outcast group that worked historically for centuries, and still today, with leather, as butchers, and handlers of the dead, that George A De Vos and Hiroshi Wagatsuma describe and analyze, and who have always served as a despised separate ethnic group, even though they are not physically distinguishable from the majority Japanese population (1995). In the De Vos and Wagatsuma analysis, they bear much of the same social burdens as African Americans.
Why are such concepts as ethnicity and nationalism exclusively modern or pre-modern? "And yet, if one accepts modernist theorist Ernest Gellner's definition of the nation as a rough congruence between culture or ethnicity and state, then nations are not confined to modern times" (Gat 2013, 2). In this study, I will argue that nation creation, and accompanying nationalist sentiments, occur both in the modern period and in antiquity. Archeologist Barry Cunliffe notes, "So it was that Rome was drawn on to conquer the disparate tribes and towns of Italy and bind the conquered, through rights of citizenship, into a nation state" (2008, 363). Even though Rome did not have the technical wherewithal to withstand the environmental overreach it practiced, it lasted nearly a millennium, and like the United States (which has not yet lasted three hundred years), facing its own disastrous environmental issues, the Roman Empire used Roman citizenship as a lure to bind its population to develop a national identity. "Italy was now identical with the roman State, which after a period of cultural and social fusion provided the closest parallel found in antiquity to a large national state in the modern sense, with a universal language and a single system of local government and civil law" (Gat 2013, 120-21).
Historically many, if not most people, did not live in nation states: Mankind lived in hunting and gathering groups, small subsistence agricultural communities, tribes, villages, religious states and communities, city states, kingdoms, chiefdoms, empires and all of the other settlement patterns that anthropologists have spilled much ink over attempting to describe and analyze. Perhaps that is why so many scholars of nationalism conceive of nationalism as a modern phenomenon. But Azar Gat notes, "Historical sociologists of the modernist persuasion hold that premodern empires were elite power structures, wherein the ruling elite were indifferent to the ethnic composition of its subjects. Yet this widely held view is highly simplistic, for very few historical empires, if any, were so construed or were ethnically blind" (Gat 2013, 5). Roman serves as a good example of opening Roman identity to others. "Rome had no policy of acculturation. Still, Roman acculturation throughout Italy had been steadily advancing, through Roman and Latin settlement, elite connections, military service, and the increasing attraction of belonging to the Roman state. And if ethnic differences in Italy were still noticeable at the beginning of the first century BC, they had practically disappeared by the end of that century" (Gat 2013. 120). So great was the desire for Roman citizenship and identity that even as Rome declined and was in increasing peril of barbarian invasion, "the fearful provincials clung to their Roman identity with greater fervor" (ibid.).
Nationalism scholar Liah Greenfeld makes claims for the phenomenon of nationalism as a modern phenomenon: "Nationalism underlies all areas of modern reality" (2016, 4). I will make more nuanced claims about the phenomenon of nationalisms. First, I suggest that nationalisms, in the plural form, constitutes a more suitable term because the nationalisms that exist in Armenia, Mexico, North Korea, Serbia, France and the United States vary, often dramatically. I argue that, from experience living in other nations, nationalism expressed in Norway, Iran, and Croatia are significantly different from that I had experienced in the United States. For example, people who live in small nations, who have hostile neighbors that have historically threatened them, feel significantly different about their allegiance to their nation state, experiencing often-stronger feelings of nationalism about their nation state than people in many Western European or North American nations. Certain smaller nations like Greece and Serbia have what Alkis Raftis, President of the Dora Stratou Greek Dances Theatre, characterizes as a "fortress identity" and the people feel threatened by outside forces that would potentially destroy national and ethnic identity (personal interview, February 16, 2000).
I will also argue that these modern nationalisms differ from premodern ones, and yet they hold much in common as the Roman example above illustrates. One of the reasons that many scholars who think of nationalism as a modern phenomenon, exclude it as an historical phenomenon, and eliminate the possibility of the nation as an historical entity, is because they claim that premodern political entities had only an elite population, and everyone else was excluded, rather than large-scale participation in the decision-making process and therefore participation in "national" life did not exist. (See Plokhy 2006) However, as we saw in the Roman and other examples that by "212, the entire free population of the Empire was given citizenship" (Gat 2013, 120). Emperors now came from every former barbarian ethnicity. While I cede the point that mass participation through elections and mass communication, as we know it today, did not exist with universal suffrage, mass political movements, nevertheless, large segments of the population, mostly free males, did participate in Roman public life, and eagerly embraced their new identity.
Frequently, as individuals we regard the elements of our unique identity as "natural," that is to say we regard our sexuality, our religion, our ethnicity, and other aspects of our identity as unchanging, and even as unchangeable. We feel that the elements of our identity are "natural" and inevitable. However, as individuals, we can change virtually every aspect of the elements that make up the bundles of identity markers, even though it might be difficult or unpalatable. Some elements are more easily changed than others: it is perhaps easier to change or evolve into a new profession, adopt a new political position, than change to a new religion, adopt a new language, or a new sexual status, and yet premodern individuals did. In this study, I consider national identity and national sentiment, especially in the context of nationalism, an emotion that is often deliberately created by political actors, often associated with national governments, as socially constructed and historically contingent.
In my conceptualization of identity, each individual experiences each part of his or her identity differently: for some individuals their religion is their most important identity marker, whereas for others his or her sexuality, or his or her status as a parent, or their identity as a businessman or businesswoman, or belonging to a specific ethnic group. In other words, identities can be experienced as fluid. Each of these elements can surface at different times depending on context: one's country is attacked, one's religion is threatened, and one's sexuality is persecuted. We are all capable of wearing multiple masks depending on the context. These situations and contexts can trigger strong feelings within an individual, making him or her feel powerful identity emotions.
First, I conceive ethnicity and nationalism in the plural: ethnicities and nationalisms because they are not a singular experience, but multiple experiences in different societies and eras, and individuals experience them differently. I experience American identity differently than friends that I know who are Iranian, Armenian, Mexican, Croatian, or Greek feel and experience their feelings of their specific nationalisms.
I suggest that ethnicity and nationalism was experienced historically, and those identities, too, were experienced differently than modern ones. I will argue that Ancient Rome, as I did briefly describe above, ancient China, ancient Iran, and ancient Japan also had many of the trappings of a modern state. Most scholars agree that nationalism is a modern phenomenon appearing at different times, a point from which I will depart. For many, following Ernest Gellner, begin the history of nationalism with the French Revolution. Liah Greenfeld compellingly demonstrates that English nationalism began with the decimation of the English aristocracy during the War of the Roses and the foundation of the Tudor dynasty (2016).
However, these are European examples, and I argue that too many of the examples that the modernist school of nationalism scholars use are European examples, and that, to the detriment of their arguments, they have adopted a Eurocentric point of view, ignoring the existence of nations in the past that were located outside of Europe. They argue that nationalism originated in modern Europe, ignoring ancient Rome. They posit modern origins, and majority population involvement in the nation state with "true" nationalism. "Still, the national state was also quite prevalent during premodern times and outside Europe. Nations and national states can be found wherever states emerged sine the beginning of history" (Gat 2013, 4). Importantly, Gat adds, "Historical states are commonly classified into the following categories: petty-states, states, and empires. And in all of them ethnicity was a major factor" (2013, 3). Later in this section, I will bring into evidence how the historical trajectory of Iran, ancient, Islamic, and modern, demonstrate the points that I am making through the literary phenomena of the shu'ubbiyah and the Shah-nameh, the epic history of Iran and one of the world's greatest poetic creations, which reaches deeply into pre-Islamic Iran, can elicit evidence for a Persian ethnicity and an Iranian national identity that reverberates throughout all of these different periods..
I posit that historic national and ethnic identity differ in intensity and degrees of participation, from modern forms of national and ethnic identity, but they contain the same essential elements to classify them as modern states and nationalistic sentiments. Populations from palace to peasant participated in these historic states and societies in various ways, and historical states such as China, attempted to include the male free born population of all social strata into various levels of national and state participation. "In reality, empires were indeed elite power structures, yet, at the same time, nearly all of them were grounded in and relied upon a dominant ethnic nucleus. Thus, ethnicity has always been highly significant in determining identity, solidarity, and political organization within and between states" (Gat 2013, 5). Ancient Rome makes a good example through the manner in which they continuously widened the meaning of what it was to be Roman through the way in which they constantly extended Roman citizenship to ever increasing populations. As Roman power spread, becoming a Roman citizen became a highly desired status embraced by large numbers of individuals, throughout their unquestionably multiethnic empire. "Rome was the most successful city-state ever, owing primarily to its ability to transcend the inherent size limitations of the city-state and dramatically expand its citizen body" (Gat 2013, 75).
I was stunned when Liah Greenfeld, whose brilliance I greatly admire, announced: "Thus, there were no ethnic identities before nationalism" (2016, 36. Emphasis in the original). In opposition to Greenfeld, in this study I will explore the notion that ethnicity, in fact, began at least in the period in which empires and other premodern political entities came into existence, if not before, and that "us and them" identities dominated these empires, and during classical Greek, which I described in the last part, and in Roman antiquity. Writers of those periods provide the reader with vivid descriptions of ethnic groups, listed as "barbarians": those who did not speak Greek or Latin. However, individuals and groups who fell under Roman sway increasingly opted to speak Latin in place of their original native language. "In the western Empire Latin came into conflict with as number of vernacular languages and eventually effected their death" (Adams 2003, xix).
As they expanded their influence throughout the known world, Romans, too, under the perceived threat of looming Hellenistic influence, attempted to define their own national Roman identity: In order "to promote the collective ascendancy of the Roman ruling class, government encouragement of early Latin poetry as celebratory of national values, the plays of Plautus as a vehicle for conveying Roman attitudes toward Hellenism, and the simultaneous repression of Greek professors and cultivation of their subjects in the training of the young" (Gruen 1992, 2). As we can see, the Roman government "promoting" symbols of Roman identity behaved in much the same way as twentieth- and twenty-first century governments use propaganda.
A major point that I would like to make is that while participation in democratic states is theoretically universal, the participation of the general population in authoritarian states like Franco's Spain, Hitler's Germany, and Stalin's Soviet Union were not that different from Rome.
Unlike the period of ancient Rome, almost everyone in the contemporary world "belongs" to a nation state, like a subject in some cases, or identifies with one or another nation state as a citizen, and the resultant citizenship will inform their sense of identity. So internalized is this concept of the nation state to most individuals that most people live it as a fact of nature thinking that every person in the world should belong to a nation. Thus, individuals have a national identity above or behind every other aspect of their identity. This concept, as Roland Barthes suggested in Mythologies, is one of those things that everyone "knows" and no one questions, as if it were a "natural" order of social arrangements rather than an order that is socially constructed and historically contingent. The received idea is that everyone should belong to a nation, and love it, and be ready to sacrifice, and even die for it, which is an important part of nationalism. Such powerful feelings are so deeply embedded in many contemporary men and women that when a nation state, like Belgium, fails, or has the potential to fall into its constituent parts, in this case Flanders and Wallonia (see Erdbrink 2016), or when Scotland, Catalonia, or Quebec wish to become an independent state through votes to separate from Great Britain, Spain, and Canada, respectively, pundits and politicians raise a hue and cry about the imminent end of the world that financial, political, and social chaos and collapse are around the corner, and there exist many individuals who agree with them. National identity is, in fact, where essence precedes existence, reversing the existential claim. National identities are created identities, not a "natural" part of one's existence, which does not mean that they are not real identities.
It is precisely to what degree several scholars attempt, if not a majority of them, to create the notion that ethnicity and nationalism are, in fact, only a modern phenomenon that I address these issues in this study. I believe that ethnicity and nationalism occur in both ancient and modern societies, albeit with different intensities and technologies of communication, but with similar characteristics. With the help of Azar Gat, I think it would be instructive to turn to the case of historical China, which I argue had many characteristics of a modern state. "China is one of the world's oldest civilizations and states, singular in having survived and exhibited a virtually unbroken cultural and political continuum since its inception" (Gat 2013, 93). Gat adds, "Thus, the question of whether or not premodern China ought to be regarded as a national state should have been central to the controversy concerning the nation. And yet this question has been given only minimal attention on the very margins of a European-centric debate" (ibid.). Gat notes:
Literary culture, mass education, and universal military service are famously regarded as the tools that forged modern national identity. Yet all of them were largely present before modernity in that fifth of humanity that China has always comprised. Since the time of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), China was uniquely ruled by a body of literate Confucian bureaucrats, the mandarins, a meritocracy selected through highly competitive examinations held in all the provinces and open to candidates of every class. To prepare people for the examinations, the imperial authorities established schools in the towns and villages. . . . Moreover, the imperial authorities stipulated that decrees of national significance would be read aloud in public gatherings held in every village (Gat 2013, 95).
In addition, the Chinese government also maintained a standing army that all Chinese men (plus perhaps Mulan) were required to join. Thus, not only did China have many of the requisites of a modern state, it probably surpassed those elements more efficiently than modern states like Afghanistan. Like the case of Rome, "Over time, the conquerors were irresistibly allured by and assimilated into Chinese culture" (Gat 2013, 98).
So, in this study I will argue that we can conceptualize both modern and pre-modern forms of ethnicity and nationalism, and that many of these states, both old and new, involved dance, patterned movement, and mass displays of movement in their political agendas. "While fully acknowledging the tremendous growth of modern nationalism in response to the massive forces of transformation generated by modernity, I am closer to the view of those who criticize and reject the exclusive identification of the nation with modernity" (Gat 2013, 2). I posit in this study that, as Azar Gat notes above, one can notice perhaps an intensification and more general participation of the general population in the processes and manifestations of nationalism and ethnicity within a state, historical or modern. Nevertheless, ethnicity, in some form or other has probably existed as an element in early individual and group human identity since prehistory, while nationalism has existed since the establishment of early states. Contra Greenfeld, even earlier than nationalism, not later. Gat notes, "Historical states are commonly classified into the following categories: petty-states, states, and empires. And in all of them ethnicity was a major factor" (2013, 3, emphasis in the original).
As I return to these topics, I find that many scholars deny the existence of nationalism before the modern era, often dating the emergence of nationalism with the French Revolution. I wish to modify and question that scholarly position, I think nationalism came earlier than that, and before that, certain individuals among people like Chinese and Iranians, with long histories, have written tantalizingly of having a sense of ethnic or national identity before the advent of modern nationalism. More importantly, I find that some scholars even question the existence of ethnicity before the advent of nationalism. In this study I will claim that ethnicity, or whatever we wish to call it, existed in prehistoric and early pre-historic times, perhaps not in its modern form, but with enough of the same characteristics (claims of common ancestry, descent, language, spiritual beliefs and practices, and common blood, as well as loyalty to the nation, among others) to merit the same subject category of nation; it was, as now, a means of marking the differences between us and them. (See Derks and Roymans 1994, Drinkwater and Elton 1992, Hall 1989, Hall 2002, Jones 1997, Kennedy et al 2013, Malkin 2001)
I will claim in this study that since the inception of empires, if not earlier, in the ancient world, ethnic and cultural identities constituted a major form of personal and group identity, named groups of peoples who must have had certain distinctive characteristics appear in some of the earliest writings of Mesopotamia, and the subject peoples of the Persian Empire are illustrated on the Apadana, the formal staircase of the Achaemenid palace at Persepolis, in remarkable ethnographic detail in their specific clothing. As we will see, by the Greek period, the known world was divided into a checkerboard of ethnic territories. (See the maps in Cunliffe 2008) I will also argue that those identities were, as in modern circumstances, ethnic identities, historically and territorially contingent, and many writers such as Herodotus and Thucydides wrote extensively about those peoples and their ethnic characteristics in a proto anthropological style. And, yet, as we have seen, individuals also were able, in spite of their ethnicity, to become citizens in larger political, perhaps we might even say national, enterprises like Rome.
The widespread practices of slavery and warfare, among other behaviors, resulted in the creation, that is the ethnogenesis, and disappearance of ethnic identities, as millions of individuals were torn out of their original environments, and in order to survive they had to absorb and adopt new identities and languages. "The ancient historical sources provide a wealth of detail that focuses on men and their motives as theatres of conflict around the Mediterranean. Armies and navies of increasing size confront each other, death tolls mount to massive proportions, cites are destroyed and landscapes devastated as the desire to dominate the land and resources of others outstrips the simple need to protect home and family" (Cunliffe 2008, 318-19). This process, of course, cancels any claims to the primordial model of ethnicity for many individuals living in the antique world as living in an unchanging environment.
As the Roman Empire expanded, so, too, did the numbers of peoples driven to new lands, killed, or captured and taken into slavery. Thus, archaeological finds of bodies wearing distinctively Greek or Roman garments, may not have been originally Greek or Roman individuals, but through various circumstances, adopted a new identity through long years of living in a new environment as former slaves. Studies of ancient Greek and Roman identities demonstrate the malleability of identity, as many slaves, as a matter of survival, violently wrenched from their original cultural and ethnic spaces, perforce, turned to Greek or Roman identities, often becoming members of their new societies, no longer having contact with their original ethnic ties.
In this study, I will focus on the ways that Iranian history, as an example that demonstrates that an Iranian or Persian identity existed both historically and in the present, and while the modern and pre-modern identities are not the same, they contain many, if not most elements in common. I will also cite other instances such as China and Japan to illustrate and underscore these points, as these early empires have a great deal in common.
Before Nationalism, The Case of Iranian Ethnic/National Identity
Upon entering Los Angeles City College in the fall of 1954, I encountered many Iranian students in my classes, and I began learning the Persian language, and experienced an immersion into Iranian life, which changed my life and allowed me to enter a world I never knew existed. Among the first things that I learned from my Iranian classmates was that Iranians loved poetry to a degree that was different from anything that I had ever experienced in the English-speaking world; poetry was quoted at appropriate moments, especially to advance the argument of the speaker. The second thing that I learned, in contrast to my own existence, was that Iranians had a deep sense of their history, and the antiquity, millennia deep, of their national/ethnic origins (hoviyyat-e irani) whereas mine did not stretch back two hundred years. Third, they emphasized that they were not Arabs; Iranians were different in every way.
Almost from the beginning, I understood that the Persian language and the Shah-nameh, the epic history of Iran in verse, constituted touchstones of Iranian identity, and I wondered at the degree that they venerated Persian and the Shah-nameh. During the composition of the Shah-nameh, Abol Qāsem Ferdowsi (c. 940-1020-25), the poet who set down, like Homer, to whom he is often compared, a multitude of a mix of mythological and historical tales that had circulated for centuries in ancient pre-Islamic Iran during storytelling events by bards known as gosan and mobad, understood the connection:
Basi ranj bordam dar in sāl-e si
'ajam zendeh kardam bedin parsi
(Thirty years have I labored [on the Shah-nameh]
I revived ancient Iran with this Persian [language])
(See Shahbazi 1991, 123, 124)
Three centuries before the appearance of Ferdowsi's Shah-nameh, the mighty Sasanian Empire fell before the Arab forces in 642 CE. The Arab victory was completely unexpected on both sides, and dizzying in its rapidity. Sasanian Iran was in tatters and fell into chaos. "The defeat of the Iranians by the Arabs in the course of the conquest has left a scar on the national Iranian historical memory. This was articulated in no uncertain terms by Ferdowsi more than a millennium ago, and has been part and parcel of the Iranian nationalist discourse to this day" (Pourshariati 2017, 464).. The Muslims, the direct inheritors of the antique classical world also inherited new or altered ethnic identities as a major form of individual and group identity. My classmates maintained a kind of imperfect knowledge of those empires, but they basked in their glory, and stressed their tolerance as opposed to Arab intolerance, as they perceived it.
The empire was famously tolerant toward local ethnicities, customs, and cultures. And yet it was anything but ethnically blind. The formation of a Persian-Iranian national state, with its incipient cultural and linguistic core and national religion (Zoroastrianism), was superseded by imperial expansion. But it was hardly in question whose empire it was. There was clear hierarchy here: the Medes came very close to the Persians as co-partners in the empire, and other Iranian peoples constituted the next circle, quite distinct from the rest. This was not an abstract matter. Not only the royal house, but also the top provincial governors (satraps), generals, and other high-ranking officials were Persian-Mede and, second, Iranian. . . Darius I also reinforced the centrality of Persian identity as its official culture (Gat 2013, 115).
Clearly, Iranians had a good idea of who they were, even if such evidence of ethnic consciousness does not align with contemporary ethnic identity. Iranian history scholar Neguin Yavari notes that following the Islamic conquest, "Iranians by and large shed their old customs and converted to Islam before the end of the tenth century, although myriad vestiges of Iranian culture and thought work their way into the mosaic of Islamic civilization" (2012, 227). Many contemporary Iranians attempt to read an anti-Islamic, anti-Arab nationalist attitude into the Ferdowsi past, and his purported nationalist sentiments. Yavari notes that the sources of the period, "does not suggest a political worldview imbued with nationalist or ethnic opposition to foreign rule. In any case the modern concept of nationalist aspirations cannot be applied to the study of group identity, communal bonds, and ethnic fraternity in premodern societies" (2012, 229). She concludes, "The idea that Muslim or even Arab rule sought to suppress and obliterate the Iranian cultural other legacy needs to be put to rest" (2012, 232). In other words, we cannot posit modern nationalistic thought of today, and many modern Iranians often express the idea that Arabs attempted to suppress Iranian identity, and place current attitudes on the past. Yavari's position is underscored by historian Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi's findings in which he describes and analyzes the construction of modern Iranian nationalism. He found, "a secular national identity in the nineteenth century. Informed by dasatiri texts, many nineteenth-century historians represented the pre-Islamic past as a 'golden age,' which come to a 'tragic end' with the Muslim conquest. . . This invented past was used to project Iran's 'decadence' onto Arabs and Islam and to introject desirable attributes of Europeans to the pre-Islamic Iranian Self" (2001, xiv). Thus, we can see, as Yavari's and Tavakoli-Targhi's studies indicate, that what constitutes Iranian identity changes through time, and they correctly identified the same attitudes that I encountered in the 1950s among many, if not most of the Iranians that I knew.
In the beginning, the Arabs regarded Islam as an Arab religion, to the exclusion of all others, and non-Arab outsiders, branded as mawali (clients) who wished to become Muslim, for a long period, had to attach themselves to one or another of the Arab tribes to gain admittance to Islam. "Indeed from the 2nd/8th century onwards, the principal cultural language of Iran was Arabic and it had been openly adopted as such by the Islamicized Iranian aristocracy" (Lazard 1975, 603).
This exclusive access to Islam bred great resentment among the non-Arabs who still retained memories of glorious empire, especially the Iranians. While whole populations such as Nabateans and Egyptians, through the adoption of Islam and the Arabic language, ultimately became Arabs, Iranians fiercely clung to their pre-Islamic identities, and they especially resented this second-class identity forced on them by the Arabs, whom they regarded as cultural inferiors. This new status resulted in a literary ethnic pissing contest, the shu'ubbiyah, in which Arabs and Persians traded literary barbs to establish their ethnic superiority over one another. "The controversy of the Shu'ubiyya provides a striking demonstration of the extent to which the Iranians were aware of their own ethnic affiliations, when they came up against the Arabs. This 'national' consciousness did not, however, manifest itself in the sphere of language. . . the arguments of the Shu'ubites were all conducted in Arabic" (Lazard 1975, 603. Emphases mine). It is little wonder then, that individuals like Ferdowsi, who in spite of the fact that he was a Muslim, nevertheless, felt that his primary identity, that of an Iranian, was under threat and set out on his life's work: the production of the Shah-nameh. And, over the sixty years that I have interacted with the Iranian community, both here and in Iran, one of the most important aspects of Iranian identity, is that Iranian identity is often held in tension with an Islamic identity.
Let me caution the reader, however, that, as we will see, such identity politics should not be equated to modern Iranian or Arab nationalism, (see Busse 1975, 309; Browne 1902, 578), even though some modern writers make it appear in that light, and yet it indicates a consciousness of ethnic identity. In fact, historian Parvaneh Pourshariati suggests, in her words "heretically," the last pre-Islamic Sasanian dynasty, was riven along ethnic fault lines: The Sasanians, an ethnically Persian dynasty, in order to succeed politically, was forced to enter into a reluctant partnership with the great families of the former dynasty, the Parthian Arsacids. She claims that the Parthian families retained their old religion (Mehr) Mithraism, their Parthian language, and through these two major boundary markers, their Parthian ethnic identity, and when the confederacy collapsed, so too did the Sasanian dynasty (2008, 453-463). As another example, Bertold Spuler writes "Men of letters would deliberately emphasize their Persian ancestry and often defend Zoroastrianism, as well as Manichaeism, from more of a nationalistic conviction than a religious one.
This development led ultimately to the Shu'ubiya, a specifically Persian national movement" (2015, 221). I find Spuler's observation anachronistic in that many Iranians, especially while the elite men of letters (adab) had a sense of Iranian identity, I would not call it "nationalism," a far more modern, late nineteenth early twentieth-century development, but perhaps something like it, a sense of Iranian identity. Nevertheless, the shu'ubbiyah became a sign of ethnic identity, and indicates that the participants in it had a sense of ethnic identity, that is, being an Iranian, not an Arab. One indignant Arab writer of that period, Al-Jāhiz characterized the Iranians as those "who swagger round and exalt the wisdom of the Sasanid emperors and Buzurgmihr, and the adab of Ibn al-Muqaffa' over that of the Prophet and caliphs, and even over that of the Qur'ān," all but claimed apostasy, which like the case of al-Muqaffa' could result in torture and a brutal execution, to indicate how heated the scene became between the ethnic groups (quoted in Yar-Shater 1998, 7, footnote 7).
Historian Louis Gardet seems more measured in his assessment of the shu-ubiyah: "Later, Shu'ubiyya came to mean the foreign' peoples who had embraced Islam . . protested against the contempt shown to them by the Arabs. . . In Persia, on the other hand, the movement aimed to restore the authority of the Persian language; it thus took the form of a claim to cultural autonomy" (1970, 584-585). And yet, the literary contest took place in Arabic. All of this intricate political and cultural posturing, which was taken very seriously for over the eighth and ninth centuries by its participants, I describe it to indicate that medieval identities had ethnic coloring, even if they do not fit into modern concepts of ethnic and national identities. "Nor should we minimize, much less ignore, the anti-Arab and pro-mawāli sentiments that crystallized in Shy'ubiyya rhetoric and gave expression to non-Arab Muslims' resentment at the Arab discrimination against them" (Yarshater 1968, 68). In an overwhelmingly social and religious environment, these expressions were perhaps proto-nationalistic or ethnic.
The Shah-nameh is truly an epic in verse. "It is 50,000 lines long, and they are very long lines at that, each approximately equivalent in length to two lines of standard English iambic pentameter verse; compare this with, e.g., the c. 15,000 lines of hexameter verse of the Iliad" (Davis 2006. xv). In fact, the Shah-nameh is longer than the Iliad and the Odyssey together (Davidson 1996, ix). Mirza Mohammad Ali Forughi, one of the leading scholars of Persian literature, as well as serving as prime minister, recognized its value: "'Firdausī's [sic] Shāh-nāma, considered both quantitatively and qualitatively, is the greatest work in Persian literature and poetry. . . our second obligation to Firdausī is for his having rescued from oblivion and preserved for all time our Persian language" (quoted in Arberry 1958, 46, 47).
The Shahnameh became central to modern identity: "Identification with the ancient world of Shahnamah became a formative element of modern national identity" (Tavakoli-Targhi 2001, 99). Richard Cottam notes "For the politically unaware, whose horizons are too limited to comprehend national history, much less nationalism, the Shahnameh creates a predisposition for a rapid infection with genuine nationalism" (1979, 27), giving the reader an indication of the centrality of this literary work to Iranian national identity.
This renewed interest in the Shah-nameh resulted in Iranians increasingly selecting their children's names from it, which "signaled an important aesthetic shift in the constitution of both personal and national identities" (Tavakoli-Targhi 2001, 98). Iranians seek their (heroic) true identities within its pages and it oral recitation. More than 20 editions were published in Iran and India (where Persian was an official language until the 1830s) during the nineteenth century (Tavakoli-Targhi 2001, 97).
Persian Literature scholar Olga M. Davidson locates some of its elements not "only to Parthian Arsacid times. Rather, they can be traced all the way back to the remotest Indo-Iranian and even Indo-European layers of the classical Persian language" (1994, 6). Certainly, I cannot make such claims of great antiquity, the existence of bards singing epic songs can be identified in the earliest times in Iranian history, and importantly through the naqāl, the storyteller, into the present. "Because we do have evidence, thanks to Mary Boyce's [Iranian historian] survey of the Arsacid period and beyond, for thinking that the 'book of kings' tradition was indeed a matter of oral poetry, we have a sound theoretical basis for positing the continuity of Indo-European traditions up to Ferdowsi" (Davidson 1994, 7). Davidson characterizes the Shah-nameh as "a formal and traditional expression of how Iranian society views itself and how it wishes to be remembered through the ages. . . it is a majestically vast poem concerned with the very identity of Iran as a nation . . ." (1994, 9-10; 15). Today, in Los Angeles, many individuals in the Iranian community gather to hear the Shahnameh.
Nationalism, Modern and European?
As I return to these topics, I find that many scholars deny the existence of nationalism before the modern era, often dating the emergence of nationalism to no earlier than the French Revolution. Ernest Gellner (1983) is among them. "The minimal requirement for full citizenship, for effective moral membership of a modern community, is literacy" (1994, 55). Many of the requisites, such as widespread literacy, do not exist in many modern nation states like Somalia and Afghanistan, as well as nineteenth-century Iran, or in many early twentieth-century Eastern European states in which nationalism ran rampant, as the nationalist-based violence of the Balkan Wars (1912-13) attest. I tend to side with scholars like Hugh Seton-Watson who proposes the notion of old and new nations: "The old are those which had acquired national identity or national consciousness before the formulation of the doctrine of nationalism. The new are those for whom two processes developed simultaneously: the formation of national consciousness and the creation of nationalist movements" (1994, 134).
Perhaps the emphasis on the modernity of nationalism is connected with their notion that such identities originated in Europe. I wish to modify and question that scholarly position. I think nationalism, or at least a form of proto nationalism or a form of nationalism that is not modern, but contains enough of the same elements to merit the category of ethnicity or nationalism as a basic aspect of individual or group identity, came into being much earlier than the French Revolution, as I am attempting to show with the Chinese and Iranian example.
Certain individuals among people like Iranians, with long histories, have written tantalizingly of having a sense of ethnic or proto national identity before the advent of modern nationalism a sense of themselves as Persian, that distinguished them from ethnic others. The discourse of Iranian identity was not limited to Ferdowsi. Two of the most important Iranian literati: Hafez (1326-1390), one of the greatest Iranian poets, makes references to a Persian identity in contrast to a Turkish one. (See for example 1994: 75, ghazal 5) A century earlier, Jalal Ad-dln Rumi (1207-1273), Persian literature's most celebrated mystical poet, refers to "pārsā'i-ye ma-rā," (my Persian-ness) (Shiva 1995, 58). I am providing tantalizing hints of the consciousness of Iranian identity existed, I cannot say with any certainty to what degree it existed among the Iranian population historically. Political scientist Richard W. Cottam is more certain: "Iran, in fact, is an excellent example of a state in which national consciousness can be clearly identified for many centuries. But the importance of nationalism as a primary determinant of Iranian attitudes and political behavior is largely confined to the twentieth century" (1979, 5). But, Tavakoli-Targhi has described many of the elements of that nationalism (2001), which I described above.
Every scholarly commentator that I have encountered over the past fifty years acknowledges the connection between national identity and Iranian nationalism and the Shah-nameh. Literary scholar A. Shapur Shahbazi notes "The idea of 'nationalism' as known today is a fairly recent European development which has spread into other countries. However, a people with a common background (descent, language, religion, and customs) living in a specifically determined and continuously maintained land naturally develops strong nationalistic bonds. Such ties had created an undeniable nationalism among the Iranians which became particularly powerful under the Sāsānians" (Shahbazi 1991, 123-124). In the Shah-nameh Ferdowsi writes: "If it is not in Iran, let my own self not be (na-bačad be Iran tan-e man ma-bād). Calamity will it be if Iran is destroyed" (Shahbazi 1991, 125).
And, one must remember, as Ferdowsi penned those lines, that many Iranians of his time, felt that through the Arab conquest (642 CE), that they were in danger of losing their national identity and being assimilated into Arab society, one of the driving forces behind Ferdowsi's composition of the Shah-nameh, which took over a quarter of a century to compose. As we saw the shu'ubiyyah was conducted in Arabic, and many of the Persian aristocracy were adopting Arabic. Shahbazi observes "It may be stated with fairness that no one has influenced the concept of Iranian nationalism as has Ferdowsi . . . But his greatest service was to stimulate and strengthen the pride in being Iranian so effectively that he prevented Iran from assimilation into an Arabic nation" (ibid.). Dick Davis states "The Shahnāmeh was then a direct product of the reappearance of a sense of Persian ethnic identity and worth, and as with most epics, the people celebrated are defined as being in conflict with their neighbors with whom the do not share ethnicity" (2006, xx).
One of the claims often made by nationalism scholars is that national sentiments begin among the intelligentsia and then percolate to the masses through print literacy and public education systems. More important to my argument, I would also suggest that generations of both literate and illiterate Iranians from peasant to palace listened enraptured to the Shah-nameh (1010 AD) of Ferdowsi, in which shah-nameh-khani or naqāl (reciters of the Shah-nameh) recited the epic verses nightly in the teahouses and palaces for years on end wherever Persian was and is spoken. "Everyone who could read has always read the Shāh-nāma, while those who couldn't read would throng to listen with enjoyment to the recitation of its rhapsodes [sic]. Very few indeed were the Persians who were ignorant of these stories and didn't know the Shāh-nāma by heart" (Arberry 1958, 47). The Shah-nameh is all about being Iranian. While not a distinctly modern Iranian identity perhaps, such literary references and the shu'ubiyyah that I discussed elsewhere, indicate that some kind of awareness of an Iranian identity existed prior to modern Iranian nationalism.
More importantly, I find that some scholars even question the existence of ethnicity before the advent of nationalism; as Liah Greenfeld, they claim that ethnicity follows nationalism. In this study I will claim that ethnicity, or whatever we wish to call it, existed in prehistoric and early pre-historic times, perhaps not in its modern form, but with enough of the same characteristics (claims of common ancestry, descent, language, spiritual beliefs and practices, and common blood, among others) to merit the same subject category; it was, as now, a means of marking the differences between us and them. (See Derks and Roymans 1994, Drinkwater and Elton 1992, Hall 1989, Hall 2002, Jones 1997, Kennedy et al 2013, Malkin 2001)
I think the appearance of the Shah-nameh, the shu'ubbiyah, and other literary responses that appeared in Iran in the centuries following the Arab/Islamic conquest demonstrates and reveals that sentiments of ethnic or proto-ethnic, nationalistic/ or proto-nationalistic sentiments resided in large swaths of the Iranian population to the present. It reveals that these sentiments were not limited to a narrow, literate group of individuals, but to a multi-layered section of the population of Iran.
I will claim in this study, as a major point, that since the inception of empires, if not earlier, in the ancient world, ethnic and cultural identities constituted a major form of personal and group identity, named groups of peoples who must have had certain distinctive characteristics appear in some of the earliest writings of Mesopotamia, and the subject peoples of the Persian Empire are illustrated on the Apadana, the formal staircase of the Achaemenid palace at Persepolis, and other locations, in remarkable ethnographic detail in their clothing, at least as perceived by the ancient Persians. In their eyes, the processions represented in great detail represented "a tax paid by a subject nation" (Root 1979, 227). And, as in "the courts of Egyptian and Mesopotamian monarchs . . . such displays clearly offered great potential for pictorial representations of imperial power . . . a statement of the power of the king over the specific lands represented by the tribute bearers" (Root 1979, 229). Those representations were carefully observed depictions of ethnic differences that focused on the specific ethnic clothing worn by the tribute bearers, as well as the products and materials they carried, which were associated with specific geographic origins.
As we will see, by the Greek period, the known world was divided into a checkerboard of ethnic territories. I will also argue that those identities were, as in modern circumstances, ethnic identities, historically and territorially contingent, and many writers such as Herodotus and Thucydides wrote extensively, in essentialist fashion, about those peoples and their ethnic characteristics in a proto anthropological style. "By its very nature all written evidence is selected and distorted by its authors, but among the more reliable sources are the histories of Herodotus written in the mid-fifth century BC and of Thucydides written later in the same century. Both writers were close to the events they described and, while by no means free from bias, they strived for accuracy" (Cunliffe 2011, 270-271).
We must not fall into the trap of looking upon the antique world as a static place in which people lived their entire lives in one place, and because of this, retained their ethnic identities. The widespread practices of slavery and warfare, among other behaviors, resulted in the creation and disappearance of ethnic identities, as millions of individuals were separated from their original environments. This process, of course, cancels any claims to the primordial model of ethnicity for many individuals living in the antique world. Studies of ancient Greek and Roman identities demonstrate the malleability of identity, as many slaves, as a matter of survival, violently wrenched from their original cultural and ethnic spaces, perforce, turned to Greek or Roman identities, often becoming members, sometimes very successfully, of their new societies, no longer having contact with their original ethnic ties.
Nationalism and Modernity
Nations continue to come into existence. In 1993, following what came to be called the "velvet divorce" resulted in two new nation states: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Following the breakup of Yugoslavia, independent states that had never existed before such as Macedonia, Slovenia and Bosnia and Hercegovina came into existence in the 1990s. The Republic of South Sudan, even more recently, in 2011, became a new nation. All of them came into existence due to severe breakdown of ethnic relations in Czechoslovakia, Sudan and Yugoslavia. Nationalism is contextual: one can view nationalism on display during the Olympics Games or the World Cup Games, during crowds of people celebrate their nation in which people wear garments in the national colors and wear other national symbols, like Icelanders wearing faux Viking helmets, compared to when people are going about their daily lives, going to work, cleaning house and shopping. I feel less nationalism than many of my countrymen and countrywomen. Many of my neighbors display American flags and bunting on their houses on national holidays like July 4th; I never do. Thus, in any discussion of nationalisms, we must take into account people's differences of the experience of nationalism, individual and communal.
Greenfeld reminds us that the sight of the attendees, rooting for their national teams reminds us of "the essential competitiveness of nationalism. Competitiveness indeed becomes the operative word, the lash that spurs us on to greater feats of productivity and innovation, lest we lose our place in the race to someone [or nation] more 'competitive' than us" (2016, 5). Her observation underscores the scenes we experience in the Olympic games that I mentioned earlier.
Ethnicity and nationalism are two different phenomena, interrelated but different. Ethnic and national identities sometimes coincide, as is the case in Japan, Croatia, or Greece in which the vast majority of inhabitants are Japanese, Croatians, or Greeks. And sometimes they do not. Most Americans do have an American national identity, but they have different ethnic identities: I argue that there does not exist a single American ethnicity; the nation is ethnically too diverse to identify a single American ethnic identity that would cover nearly everyone in the United States.
I have questioned the inevitability of the nation state and national identity elsewhere (2018), but the belief in it being a "natural" state of affairs is widespread. And, yet, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, new nations that unlike Estonia and Latvia, never before existed before, like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan came into existence. Unless an individual is stateless, then she or he has a national identity, usually accompanied by passports, identification papers, and other governmental documents that attest to that identification. The world is filled with exiles who no longer fit in their nation state, many of whom lack that documentation.
I add that, in my opinion, however, national and ethnic identities, like so many other identities that each person bears, are socially constructed. National and ethnic identities coexist with a variety of other identities those can consist of professional identities, familial identities, that is our identities as wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter, the belonging to a state or province, a city or town, religious identities, sexual identities, identification as an individual attached to a particular hobby, a dog or cat lover or breeder, a bowler, folk dancer, a bicyclist, a political identity, class identity, all of which sometimes become the most salient identity for an individual. Certain identities become salient in particular contexts. One's identity as a parent becomes crucial when the principal of the local school calls one in to consult about the progress of one's child. Class identity becomes important when one is excluded from the local country club or snubbed at a social event. Sexual identity was important when one did not have the right to marry if one was gay or lesbian, or when someone hurls a homophobic slur. My identity as a gay man, for most of my life, was far more important than my identity as a white man or as an American, because that is how I self-identified and the way in which my life was most threatened, or conversely, enjoyed. Other individuals have different identities that they consider more important.
Why is national identity and nationalism so prevalent? Social scientist Craig Calhoun answers that best: "But there are global reasons why nationalism remains the central form of identity in which people pose their claims to sovereignty. The most important of these is simply the creation of the world system as a system of states" (1994, 320). Almost everyone today belongs to a nation state; one cannot travel without documents issued by one or another nation state.
Most scholars of nationalism believe that the current system of nation states began with the French Revolution when the personal rule of a king or queen was replaced by popular participation in the politics of decision-making, and that marked the beginnings of civil society. Many scholars of nationalism also link the modern nation state with modernity. Liah Greenfeld when discussing nationalism states, "This above all, includes relating nationalism to modernity: such central elements of modern politics, society, and economy, as democracy, class structure, the state and civil society, capitalism, the institution of science, the processes of secularization and globalization, and the distinctively modern passions, sense of reality and of self" (2016, ix, emphasis in the original). While I agree with Greenfeld, that these characterize truly modern states and the nationalism found in them, I would argue that in the nineteenth century among the Polish nobility, if not the rest of the nation, there existed powerful, passionate emotions of romantic nationalism without capitalism, secularism, science, or the other trappings that she mentions. In this system of nation states that Calhoun described above there exist many contemporary nations like Afghanistan, Somalia, and Oman where barely any of the trappings of modernity described by Greenfeld exists. Some of those governments attempt to instill emotions of nationalism in their populations.
As all scholars of nationalism attest, nationalism spread to different groups of people and different classes at different times. Greenfeld, in tracing the various iterations of natio, a Latin term that was originally used to refer to foreigners, and therefore, disparagingly, barbarians living in Ancient Rome, centuries later it referred to students at various universities in medieval Europe, where they were foreigners, then later it referred to the rabble.
"Our concept of 'nation' as a people, an inclusive, sovereign community with membership unaffected by divisions of class and status, thus equal, and a natural object of the members' loyalty and commitment, emerged sometime in the late fifteenth to early sixteenth century in England" (2016, 11). "Nationalism was fathered . . . by the War of the Roses" (2016, 12). That was the long war in which the two factions of the Plantagenets, the York and the Lancaster lines, culminating in the battle of Bosworth Field, which resulted in the extinguishing of almost every blue blood person in England perishing. The upper echelon of English society had to be replaced. "The commons had to be wooed, and its members encouraged, and practically invited to be upwardly mobile. Particularly intelligent and educated commoners answered the call early on, forming the new Henrician aristocracy" (ibid.). Such a huge societal replacement of the elite had not occurred in Europe before, in order to explain how people born to be commoners could have moved up to their new positions, short of creating new genealogies, a new explanatory social institution had to be created because prior to that time as Greenfeld eloquently described it "It was no more possible to be born a laborer and to become a nobleman, than it is to be born a chicken and graduate into a human being" (2016, 13). As Greenfeld expresses it, "One fine day one of them . . . had a eureka moment, it becoming clear to him that all English people were a nation. He shared it with others, and people in England found it easy to believe, because it explained the positive but confusing experience . . . their blood was red, but they in every respect lived the life of the blue-blooded, which was a fuller and richer, and more exciting life, in which, above all, they enjoyed dignity unknown to them before" (2016, 14).
I share this intricate narrative (somewhat shortened) because I believe that Greenfeld presents us with the reason why nationalism has lasted for so long as a human experience that so many individual share. Nationalism, and belonging to a nation, gives people dignity, a sense of belonging, of having an equal status to others. As Greenfeld explains prior to the act of belonging to a nation, and the dignity and sense of belonging it confers, few people had the experience of dignity, and once an individual experiences dignity, no one wants to give it up (2016, 16-19). Similarly, I would argue that the Shahnameh provided Iranians with a dignity in their existence as Iranians.
While Greenfeld explains in which ways many individuals cling to nationalism, Craig Calhoun shows how nationalism as a communal response to a sense of dignity: Nationalism is the rhetoric of identity and solidarity in which citizens of the modern world most readily deal with the problematic nature of state power and with problems of inclusion and exclusion" (1992, 305), in other words does one belong to the extended family of the nation or not? "Nationalist claims are one genre of answers to the question of what constitutes an autonomous political community capable of 'self-determination' (ibid.), and the term of "self-determination" I equate with a form of communal identity in which people feel that they have agency and can make decisions in important communal issues.
Thus, as a concept that I address in this study, nationalism, alongside dance and ethnicity, is one of the three most important.
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