Arabs vs. Iran

In a post the other day (entitled, "The Arabs vs. Iran? Please.") Andrew argues that Arab-Iranian tension is limited to a few autocrats, and that most Arabs favor a nuclearized Iran. As a slight corrective, I suggest you read John Limbert's Foreign Policy piece, "Why Can't Arabs and Iranians Just Get Along? 14 Centuries of Bad Blood." In it, Limbert, the former Iran hostage and advocate of reducing tension with Tehran, argues that the relationship between these two ancient civilization is complicated, fraught and perpetually unhappy:

On both sides, there is mistrust and little appreciation for the "others" and how they view the world. Some of this suspicion comes from religious differences. On the Arab side, the ruling Sunni families (in Bahrain, for example) are wary of their own Shiite communities. Extreme reli­gious ideologues on both sides view the others as heretics and outside the community of believers. Both sides continue to fight the sectarian battles of the seventh century. An Arab visitor to Iran once complained to me that he was frequently asked, "Sir, are you a Muslim or a Sunni?"

Also in the mix is extreme ethnic and national pride. Iranians are justly proud of their imperial history and of maintaining a distinct identity for more than 2,500 years through an often tragic history of invasions and defeats. Iranians are proud of their national language, their literature, and their achievements in science, scholarship, and the arts. Arabs have a similar pride in their ancient civilization, their traditions, and, in particular, their remarkable language.

Limbert argues that the Arabs might not actually want war with Iran, but are fed-up by the threat posed by a country that is, and has been, their rival, for as long as anyone can remember:

Do the Arabs really want a war with Iran? Probably not, given the potentially disastrous economic and political consequences of such a conflict. But with all their pent-up grievances, both ancient and recent, they are not above sharing frustration, particularly with those American visitors who might -- for very different reasons -- share their feelings of hostility.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.


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