Ooooh, Exotic

Kathleen Parker, whose name means “pure,” wrote an op-ed this week in the Washington Post. It kind of had something to do with the events in Iran, but not that much. Mostly it’s bad stereotypes about how ‘they’ oppress ‘their women’ more than we do. Really, there’s very little substance to her article, it kind of reads like one of my more mediocre blog posts, and I wouldn’t ordinarily blog about something like this if she hadn’t gone and played the exotic name card.

It starts with this:

There’s a “new” old name suddenly in circulation that is both filled with ancient history and ripe with a revolutionary spirit for today’s game-changing events.


Well known to Muslims, Fatima az-Zahra was one of four daughters of the prophet Muhammad. Today, Zahra is also the name of two important, outspoken women of Iran.

And ends with this:

In Arabic, Zahra means “The Shining One.”

In English, we’d call that a beacon.

First off, Zahra is one of the most common names in Iran, possibly the number one name for girls, so it’s hardly a coincidence that there are two Iranian women named Zahra in the news right now. Let’s see how this would play:

There’s a “new” old name suddenly in circulation that is both filled with ancient history and ripe with a revolutionary spirit for today’s game-changing events.


Well known to Americans, Guinevere was the tragic wife of the ill-fated King Arthur. Today, Jennifer is also the name of two important, outspoken women of the United States.

And “ancient history”? We’re only talking about 1400 years ago more or less, not something lost in the mists of time. This is not a “‘new’ old” name at all, nor is it suddenly in circulation. Unless by “in circulation” you mean vaguely on the radar of a typical apathetic American who has no Persian acquaintances.

Here’s another Zahra who has been in the news. Why not mention this Iranian Zahra?

In 2006, Ebrahimi became the centre of an Iranian sex tape scandal when a videotape of a woman having sex with a man was leaked to the internet and released on DVD. She subsequently became the subject of an official investigation handled by Tehran’s hard-line chief prosecutor, Saeed Mortazavi, and may face fines, public lashing or worse for her violation of Iran’s morality laws.

The unnamed man on the tape, who is suspected of releasing it, reportedly fled to Armenia but was subsequently returned to Iran and charged with breach of public morality laws

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, Zahra Amir Ebrahimi denied being the woman in the film and dismissed it as a fake made by a vengeful former fiancé who used studio techniques to form a montage of incriminating images designed to destroy her career.

Rumors of an attempted suicide were also denied by Zahra with a public message: “I just want to tell my country’s people I am alive. I am thinking about the strength of Iranian women and will defend the respect of the girls and women of my nation.”

Plus, Arabic has a word for “beacon,” and it’s not Zahra.



Filed under arabic, arabist, names

4 responses to “Ooooh, Exotic

  1. Brilliant assessment, AA – I love the “Jennifer” example. And I love your last sentence even more!

  2. mantiqaltayr

    What a great post. I saw that silly article too. I’m glad to see that Kathleen Parker is supporting a religious fanatic who was also an admirer of Che Guevara. Khomeini loved Musavi and backed him strongly.

    I love this quote from Wiki:

    “Mousavi is remembered as leading a government that did not tolerate dissent.”

    Nice to see that he now has another bunch of religious nut cases backing him. The Neocons.

    Binyamir Mousavistein?

    Has a nice ring to it. In English we’d say “Let freedom ring.”

    • I have gotten a kick out of seeing Americans blindly support Mousavi because he’s running against Ahmadinejad. I don’t know much myself, but I’ve seen recent articles saying Mousavi was knee-deep in dealing with terrorists in the 80s.

      It’s also been amusing to see bloggers whose usual position has been “there’s no such thing as a moderate Muslim” suddenly showing solidarity with the protesters in Iran.

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