Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Differing Ayatollahs, Part 1

When I was a kid, my dad sometimes used the phrase "the ayatollah of squatollah" when he was exasperated with a U.S. politician. I, of course, didn't have a clue what he was saying, but I could still comprehend the sarcasm lacing his words. It wasn't until I was in college that I found out what an ayatollah was. On the reading list for one history class was a slim volume about the revolutions that occurred in 1979 across the globe, the chief being the Islamic Revolution of Iran. Here, I encountered Ayatollah Khomeini who led the movement that overthrew Reza Shah Pahlavi and established Iran's current bizarre mix of theocracy and democracy.

Growing up in in American Evangelicalism, I heard a lot about Israel, both ancient and modern.
But not much about the rest of the region. Most of the references to the Middle East I heard were either about Bible prophecy or oil and just about all of it polemic in nature. Sure, I remember watching the air strikes on CNN during the first Gulf War. So I knew where Iraq was. And there was a boy at my school whose family was from Kuwait, so I knew it neighbored Iraq. Oh, and I read the  Black Stallion series which mentioned Saudi Arabia. But the rest of the countries: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iran, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar, Oman, Yemen, and the "bridging" nations of Turkey, Cyprus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, or the wannabe countries of Palestine and the Kurdish Republic, I knew nothing about. And what did I actually know of Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia other than where to find them on the globe? And Israel? That is a very complex country that deserves far more than just blind political fealty or "righteous" condemnation by Christians. (But that is another post entirely.)

I am not of recent Middle Eastern descent. I am not Arab, Persian, Turkish or Jewish. My family is your typical American hodge-podge of German, Scot-Irish, English, Welsh, and a smidgen of French and Native American. But if the anthropologists are correct, we all derive our ancestry from Mesopotamia. I happen to believe we did all come from Adam and Eve, so one way or another, we all are related way back there.

If I have no personal history there, no ties, then why am I endlessly fascinated by the Middle East? Honestly, I don't know. God, I guess. My interest in the Middle East has always been there in one form or another. I just didn't do much to nurture it until after college. Maybe part of it is my desire to put a human face on the region (well, many human faces as there is a very diverse swath of ethnicities, religions, and lifestyles there). I don't want to think about the people living there in the simplistic stereotypes batted around by TV pundits or presidential candidates during election debates. I want to see thru the black chador floating past me at the mall (I live in a rather international area of the U.S) and see the person wearing it for who she is. Another human being. So maybe that's why I started first to study Iran--since it's one of the countries America demonizes the most.

It's my intent to spark your interest in exploring these very old cultures whose roots go back the beginning of time. To look past worthless cardboard cutouts and stereotypes, and consider who people in the Middle Eastern really are. As such, it shouldn't be surprising that I weave Middle Eastern themes into my novels. I write primarily because I have a story to tell, but I find that an international angle whether intrigue or family connections, spices up book, elevating it from a good story to a uniquely compelling one. And it often results in a reader wanting to do some research on their own to find out more about a people or place.

In my next post, I'll delve a little more into what I'm discovering about Iran and how that relates to one of my novels.

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