I was explaining before a theory of Iranian-ness which I heard was doing intellectual rounds at the moment. It's basically more pop-anthropology to try to explain why Iranians are so backward and Iran lags behind other countries. Of course, the real answer as always is historical, political, economic - but Iranians seem to have self-flagellation in the blood (there I go with my own pop-anthropology!)
Well the theory states that whereas Westerns are tragic, Iranians are epic.
The Farsi word is "hemasi" which comes from the word describing the self-eulogising that ancient warriors did before plunging into mortal combat. I wish I could give you an example but I'm not that well-versed in Farsi literature yet. "Hemase" also seems to be the word use to describe extended heroic verse which is why I chose to translate it here as "epic."
Anyway, on with the theory. Iranians are supposedly epic because of their attachment to the myths and heroes of the past. Rather than concentrating on what they themselves can do today to change their current lot, Iranians would rather hark back to a mythical or mythicised past in which heroes walked the earth and there was no need for mere mortals to take action .
There are plenty of examples. Just today for instance I saw a poster advertising a cultural event related to the great Iranian wrestler Gholam-Reza Takhti, winner of numerous international competitions, chivalrous sportsman and champion of the poor and needy. When he was found deadin a hotel room in 1968 no one believed it was suicide, everyone blamed the Shah's secret police for doing away with him for his anti-monarchy politics. Still now you can see old photos of Takhti in coffee houses and working class cafeterias all over the country. The exhibition was entitled "Takhti Lives!"
More importantly, the hero worship and messianism in Shiite Islam can also be seen as an expression of this epic nature.
So how does this recourse to the past and summoning of heroes effect Iranians now? Well, according to the theory, it stops them from taking responsibility for their own lives.
One day in Iran is enough time to hear the word "ensh'allah" ("God willing") more than 150,000 times. This phrase is brought to bear whenever anyone lays even the smallest claim on the future.
“Looks like the weather’s going to be fine tomorrow,”
“Ensh'allah." (If Allah wills it.)
“See you later then.”
"Ensh'allah." (who knows whether I’m going to be alive or dead?)
“So you’ll call me?”
“Ensh'allah." (Forget about it bozo!)
Basically, saying "ensh'allah" means “it’s not in my hands” or quite often when you’re asking someone to do something, “ok but I reserve the right to back out”, or “what can I do when there are so many factors out of my control?”
The epic mindset leaves it all to a greater power. Accordingly, it’s the great cultural difference between Iran and the rest of the world, which is powering on ahead and leaving us in the dust.