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The Sons of Adam

I was about to leave when I felt the gentle touch of outstretched fingers on my forearm.  ‘Tell me something,’ said my new friend in the post office, leaning forward towards me across the counter. ‘Is it the Iranian people that your country has got something against, or is it just our government?’ Recent events had made this line of inquiry inevitable. I said I thought the English didn’t have anything against Iranians, and meant it.

‘Good,’ he said with a nod of satisfaction, lifting his fingers gently from my sleeve, ‘that’s what I thought. I just wanted to be sure.’

‘But people do sometimes get Iran mixed up with the Arab world,’ I said.

‘With the Arabs?’ A look of incredulity fell over his features. His voice lowered. ‘What have the Arabs ever done for us, except put our women behind the veil and tell us how to pray?’ He sighed, and then brightened suddenly. ‘Can you imagine if we all got along? If we didn’t have all these wars? People say the Israelis are the problem, but that’s just politics. Of all the peoples of the Middle East, I’ve always thought the ones most like us are the Jews. I expect we’d get along with them if it wasn’t for that business with Palestine.’ He sighed again. ‘Cyrus was good to the Jews.’ He put both hands on the counter, looked at them for a moment, then looked up again, and said:

‘Well, we’re all the sons of Adam, after all.’

‘The sons of Adam?’ I had never heard the expression.

‘Yes: bani adam a’aza-ye yek digarand. Haven’t you read Sa’di?’

I confessed I didn’t know much of Sa’di. So he recited the verse:

Bani aadam a’aza-ye yek digarand

Ke dar aafrinesh ze yek goharand

Chu ‘ozve bedard aavard ruzgaar

Digar ‘ozveha ra namaanad qarar

To kaz mohnat-e digaraan bighami

Nashaayad ke naamat nehand aadami

The Sons of Adam are parts of one another

And from a single essence they are born

Whenever fate to one such part brings pain

No other can without distress remain

You who for others’ torment do not care

Cannot the name of ‘human’ rightly bear

The word ‘bani’, I realised, could mean ‘sons’, ‘’children’, or ‘family’; ‘Adam’ could mean the name, a man, or humankind itself. There could scarcely be a more universal expression of the interrelatedness of human life or a more eloquent call for its recognition. Seven hundred years after its writing it was being recited to me in a post-office in Kermanshah.

‘The United Nations took it for their motto,’ he said. ‘It’s carved somewhere on a stone - in Geneva, I think.’ This was another revelation. I only half-believed him, but he was quite right again.