Muslims hate parsis

When Persian Muslims dreamed of Paris

A woman sent by Louis XIV fires the fantasies of the Persians in the novel “The Calligrapher of Isfahan”: Amir Hassan Cheheltan about Iran's old love for France, wine as a reason for censorship and the struggle for “gentle” Islam.

Paris is as beautiful as Isfahan, maybe even more beautiful! The people tell each other in the novel “The Calligrapher of Isfahan”. Persians couldn't pay a greater compliment to a city in the 18th century. Isfahan, the Persian capital at that time, was a splendid place. The magnificent mosques that the Safavid dynasty built there can still be admired in the metropolis today. And yet: for many residents of Isfahan, Paris is the city of dreams in this novel. And as a woman of dreams: a very specific Parisian.

IS terrorists have attacked France's capital as the capital of decadence, as the confessional on the Internet read, as a den of sin. In his historical novel, the great Iranian novelist Amir Hassan Cheheltan recalls a completely different side of the relationship between Muslims in the Middle East and France: the great love for this country, which has a long tradition in Iran. The wonderful book that has just been published by Beck Verlag is only available in German translation. Like most of the works by the author, who lives in Tehran, it cannot be published in his home country, in his native Farsi, as this is prevented by censorship.

The beautiful "Fränkin"

The beautiful Parisian woman, about whom people tell each other all kinds of stories in the novel, can be seen on the “most famous play by Isfahan”, the “carpet with the image of the Franconian”, which plays an important role in the novel. Her name is Marie Petit and years ago she was a member of a French delegation sent to Persia by the "Sun King" Louis XIV. This enigmatic woman is, the young protagonist Allahyar learns to his boundless astonishment, his mother.

"Iran always had a special connection to France," Cheheltan told the "press". “Unlike England, France had no colonialist goals in Iran”. In 1715, Louis XIV, already terminally ill, pompously received the Persian ambassador Mohammad Reza Beg, who was likewise pompous. This stayed for months and fascinated the French, including the writers: a few years after this visit, Montesquieu drew a satirical picture of French society from the perspective of two Persians in his “Lettres Persanes” (“Persian Letters”). Tehran was often referred to as the "Paris of the Middle East", also with political connotations. "The first parliament in the region was in Iran in 1906, it was enforced by a revolution," recalls Cheheltan. “In 1979 the monarchy was overthrown. We had several revolutions in the 20th century. Iranian literature is a single crisis story. "

Cheheltan lives in Tehran, but cannot publish his books there. The mere fact that the young Allahyar, the main character of the novel, secretly goes to the Armenians to fetch wine for the Shah's favorite wife at the beginning goes too far for the censors. “If there is alcohol, these areas have to be deleted. Classical Persian poetry is so full of wine that your fingers get wet when you touch the paper. I also talk about eroticism, dance and, critically, about fundamentalism, all of which is taboo. "

A Persian as a symbol of gentle Islam

The struggle between the different currents of Islam is a main theme of the novel. "What happened in Iran in the 18th century is now happening on a larger scale across the Middle East," says Cheheltan. “We have always had opposing cultures within one religion. Sufism represents the peaceful way of thinking in Iran and has a rich tradition with us, even if it has been fought again and again and is currently being fought again. The dervishes are persecuted here, their houses of prayer and holy places are destroyed. "

The famous Sufi mystic and poet Rumi was a Persian. In “The Calligrapher of Isfahan” the title character, Allahyar's grandfather, has the only copy of Rumi's main work, “Mathnawi”. It is just as much hated by the strict clergy as the carpet by the beautiful Franconia.

The Iranians do not know what it means to be Iranians because they are cut off from their rich history, says the fabulous and painful novel "Iranian Twilight". The German translation of this older novel, which has also just been published, is the first complete edition authorized by the author. It was published in Iran and was named the best novel of the year in 2007; but Cheheltan rejected the award because of its mutilation by the censors.

"I'm not nationalistic, but Iran is unique in this region," he says, "it is the only country with a historical identity." The terrorist attackers are uprooted. “It is probably no coincidence that you cannot find an Iranian among them. Because culture doesn't allow them. "

In any case, it does not prevent political repression. Why is Cheheltan staying anyway? “I don't know why I am so incredibly attached to this country, it is something atmospheric. When I was young I thought it was because of my parents. Now I've lost both parents and I realize that nothing has changed. For me, Iran has the shape of a house, it is my workspace, my bedroom. "

To person

Amir Hassan Cheheltan, born in Tehran in 1956, lived again and again abroad and now lives again in Tehran, where he can hardly publish due to the censorship. Most recently, he was even banned from reprinting works that had already been published. Five novels have been published in German translation: “Tehran Revolution Street”, “Iranian Twilight”, “Americans Kill in Tehran”, “Tehran, City Without Sky” and “The Calligrapher of Isfahan” (publishers: Kirchheim and Beck). He was in Vienna on the occasion of “Literatur in Herbst”.

("Die Presse", print edition, November 26th, 2015)