GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

Family Name:
Mulamparambil Hussain
First Name:
Title of Paper:
De-Persianization of Landscape and Theological Geography of Iran-GCC Spatial Disputes
Paper Proposal Text :
There is a wide tendency among the scholars to depict the whole issue of Iran-GCC land disputes in the framework of political or sectarian (Sunni-Shia) divide rooted in inflexible innately opposed identities. But the issue of the contested territories can be understood not just as a political or sectarian one. This paper rather seeks to discuss the issue in broader dimensions of theological geography. The term theological geography, in this context, gathers sense in each party’s attempt to achieve and maintain a spatial balance in favour of their respective ethnic identities or doctrinal (theological doctrine) claims. In order to achieve this balance, the Arab Gulf monarchies employ a manifold process called de-Persianization or Arabization of landscape using popular khaliji symbols and metaphors. The images as seemingly benign and apolitical as vegetations become a highly contested symbol in order to assert their 'rootedness' in the land. The process involves, most importantly, spatial re-imagining through introduction of Arab nomenclature and renaming of places in favour of Sunni-Arab spatial identity. Renaming Iranian Souk in Doha as Souq Waqif is the most illustrious example of this process.
As an institutionalized activity, de-Persianization began by the GCC States during the Iran-Iraq war period. But the beginning of this process in an informal way started little before, when through various ‘nationalistic’ discourses and practices, the Gulf monarchies began to legitimize their claims on their territories after the withdrawal of the British force. The practices in Bahrain involved introduction of Sunni names to places in Shia pockets. The process continued to flourish in Saudi Arabia through the gradual dismissal of Persian-Shia nomenclature for places in Shia dominated Qatif.
The issue actually starts with the very name of the Gulf: “Persian” or “Arab”. Every time the Arabs refer to the Gulf as Arabian, huge anti-Arab emotions are unleashed by Iranians. Another important issue to be discussed in the framework of theological geography is the long-standing sovereignty dispute between Iran and the UAE over the three Gulf islands of Greater and Lesser Tumb and Abu Musa. However, the scope of enquiry does not limit to disputed boundaries shared by Iran and GCC countries. It would rather go beyond that in order to address the issues of all contested physical spaces within the territories of the GCC countries. This paper also covers some ‘neutral’ spaces like Dubai where the border disputes seldom create any political or sectarian tensions between the mercantile community of Iranians and their host population thanks to strong economic and trade bonds.