The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
ANCIENT IRANIAN CIVILISATION
Pride and Pain at Parsa-Polis: What Iran has given to the world and what Do we Know about it?
By: Mehdi S. Shariati, Ph.D.
Edited by CAIS
mshariati at kckcc.edu
Associate Professor of Economics and Sociology
at Kansas City Kansas Community College [*]
Map of the Achaemenid Persian Empire and the Iranic Peoples
This paper is an invitation to revisit and re-examine facets of one of the most ancient civilizations – Iran – so as to reclaim that heritage and to exercise a degree of control over a historiography which it represents. Its purpose is to add to the voices expressing discontent with the Eurocentrics – more specifically Anglo-Saxon – approach to history which considers European history as the core history while the rest of world history languishes in the shadows and on the periphery. It is an invitation to reject the Eurocentrics attempts at de-nationalization and de-culturalization of the history of those labeled "people without history" and fabrication of a superficial national identity subject to manipulation.
Several important dimensions of Iran must be appreciated much more fully, such as its long history, rich culture, its philosophical orientation and its intellectual history in the pre-Islamic era (specifically, in the form of the religious and ethical system of Zoroastrianism). Iranian political ingenuity and Iranian identity and nationalism during and after the Arab/Islamic conquest require greater attention and re-examination.
National identities and national consciousness play a fundamental role in shaping the development and the future of socio-economic and political formations. They are the backbone of a strong resistance to hegemonic tendencies of others both internally and externally. And the absence of a historically well grounded and collective identity is one of the greatest obstacles in the path of national development. Identities however are not abstract notions; they are concrete manifestations of both the material and the non-material aspects of culture. These, in turn, impose an identity on both individual as well as on the collective, and it can promote a healthy – or at times unhealthy – level of nationalism. In either case, the dynamics and the dialectics of the social order must be understood, gauged, and evaluated so as to obtain a sense of who its creators were and what they did. If the nature of individual and collective identity is to be ascertained, it is imperative to understand and to evaluate both the material and the non-material culture (the sum of which the late Ali Shariati calls civilization). Material culture is as much a concrete manifestation of that identity as the non-material culture, and both dialectically fashion and mold the collective footprint. Iran displays both a material and a non- material culture that is remarkable and therein lies its greatness as an historical entity, an ancient civilization and its continuity and perseverance across time.
Regarding the material culture, the grand monuments at Persepolis (the Palace complex including the reception Hall), Susa (another imagistic capital), Pasargadae (the Resting place of Cyrus the Great), Burnt City (an example of ancient urban design and scientific developments in the Iranian Plateau), Ctesiphon (MP. Tispawn), the Anahita Temple, Esther and Mordecai burial site, and many other sites loudly telling us about the collective Iranian personality of the pre-Islamic era. They are manifestations of a glorious heritage: mythology, philosophy, administrative prowess, respect for the environment, an ability to invent and innovate agricultural and technical methods and the capacity to have built one of the first empires known to man, while at same time respecting the rights, culture, and religion of those within their imperial domain [i.e. a geographically diverse and multi-territorial polis]. They showed no interest in systematic slavery, as compared to their contemporaries in Egypt, China, Rome, and Greece. They had regard for human rights, practiced multiculturalism, and showed humility even at the zenith of military and political power. And indeed the most enduring and prosperous dynasties were those which believed in justice, respected and the rights of others as they respected themselves.
The monuments are capable of telling Iranians and non-Iranians, about who the Iranians were and who they are. They can show us the epochal significance not just in Iranian history, but in world history. The Iranians and their history have given much to the world. It may well be considered the very first world empire, and its people have contributed greatly to the universal human heritage. Among the many Iranian contributions to humanity are: the first Monotheistic religion, a human rights declaration, mathematics and philosophy, urban planning, taxation, annual budget, monitory system, excavation and bridge building techniques (Persians planned and initiated the digging for the Suez Canal), the invention of brick, wine, the windmill, backgammon, the tar (leading to the development of the guitar), polo, wind catchers, and the giant ice maker - yakhchal (The Persian Cub at the University of Tennessee. http://web.utk.edu/~persian/).
Ancient Iranian monuments reflect history, culture, political philosophy, a political structure/system based on the concepts of a state and sovereignty described as federalism (see Durant 1988; Filippani1978, cited in Mujtahed-zadeh, 2006) with expressed respect for the right of nations within an extended empire and the right of human beings (irrespective of their race, ethnicity, religion, or gender) as its inhabitants. Good government, freedom of individuals, and ethnic identity within diversity (multiculturalism) were the guiding principles. An indication of the creativity of the Iranian mind is also expressed in art and sculpture. One has to compare these magnificent works to those of Egypt, China, Rome, and elsewhere to see the differences between the fruits of the slave labor of other civilizations and the fruits of the labor of the artists and sculptors of Iranian civilization. In terms of full disclosure, let me declare that my cultural roots give me firm ground to stand on in telling the Iranian story. I wish also to emphasize that the Iranian character is well-grounded in history, has been witness to history, and has been and will continue to be an active historical factor. My family roots are strong, yet the trunk of our Iranian tree, as well as its branches and leaves, need to be freshened with new insight. The sad reality is that our historical sites and monuments have been the target of Western treasure hunters among them archaeologists, mercenaries, generals, and their internal allies in the form of comprador groups. These sites have been veritably mined by looters and museums (1).
The pre-Islamic Iranian personality and that of post-Islamic are both illustrious and compelling witnesses to history. And it seems that Islam – as one of the great Semitic and monotheistic religions – revered the great monotheistic religion of the Aryans for what it ideally is and recognized the potential of a people who were denied the right to know the full meaning of the universal precept of ASHA. Islam as a religion and as an ideology unleashed the inherent potential for greatness, and today it continues to do so in the same manner that Islam jolted Europe out of the Dark Ages with its potent sense of wonder, the power of inquiry, and critical reflection. The burst of great intellectual and spiritual works attests to the fact that Islam even in its formative years, was a facilitator of these developments. Major historians concur that Islamic science and technology for the most part developed and flourished outside of the Hearth of Islam notably in Iran, in particular during the Abbasid Dynasty when the Persian influence is credited with the rise of Islamic science and technology. Major theological schools and in particular the four orthodoxy schools of Hanafi, Mutazalah, Maliki and Shafei were established by Iranians and Iranians wrote the Islamic Jurisprudence, al-fiqh and the Arabic dictionary along with grammatical revisions (Mutahari, 1975). Ibn Khaldun, (1981:311-315, Frye, 1975:150), the great Islamic historian and social scientists of the fourteenth century found it a "remarkable fact that, with few exceptions, most Muslim scholars both in the religious and intellectual sciences have been non-Arabs" and quoting Prophet Muhammad, Ibn Khaldun (1981:311-315) reiterates his belief that "if learning were suspended in the highest parts of heaven, the Persians would attain it." Later developments (let alone the pre-Islamic ones) certainly attest to Prophet Muhammad's accurate statement. These developments include the emergence of learning centers (Houza) – great Islamic universities (Bayt al Hikmah), producing a great number of philosophers, scientists (social, political, biological, physical, and chemical), astronomers, mathematicians, (among others) with original theories, treaties and philosophical discourses.
The grand contributions of Iranians include but are not limited to the philosophy and poetry of Rumi (1207-1273), S'adi (1184-1291), Hafez 1310-1380), and Ferdowsi (935-1020); extensive and detailed historiography of Abi Jafar Muhammad Tabari (838-923), the metaphysics and the Sufi philosophy of Mansur Hallaj (858-922); the chemistry of Jaber Hayyan; the philosophy and medicine of Abu Ali Sina (Avicenna 980-1037) as codified in his Canon (Qanun) of Medicine; chemistry and medicine of Mohammd Z. Razi (864-930), and specifically his pioneering work on smallpox (Nayernouri, 2008); the astronomy of Abu Rayhan Biruni (973-1048) (2007, Enc. Britannica); Pediatrics and child development and child psychology of Ali Ibn Tabari (838-870); the mathematics, philosophy and medicine of Mohammad Farabi (872-950); the poetry, and the mathematics of Omar Khayyam (1048-1131) and his efforts in laying down the principles of algebra and the development of non-Euclidean geometry. Khayyam measured the length of the solar year as 365.24219858156 days which produces only one hour of error every 5500 years as compared to the Gregorian calendar which has one full day error every 333 years (Encyclopedia Britanica); the algorithms of Abu Abdullah Mohammad Khawrazmi (760-840) and his effort in successfully introducing the system of numerals from India to Arabs and his invention of the concept of differentiation. He was the inventor of using curves and variables by means of equations leading to the development of algebraic geometry; the astronomy, physics, philosophy and mathematics of Nasir al din Tusi (1201-1274), and Ghiyas-uldin Jamshid Kashani (1380-1429). Kashani was instrumental on the development and the unification of the laws of cosines and it is known as the theorem of Al-Kashi (O'Connor, John J. & Robertson Edmund); the algebraic treaties of Sharaf ul-Din Muzzafar Tusi (1135-1213); the experimental sciences in physics, psychology, visual perception, elliptical geometry astronomy and celestial mechanics, and his pioneering work on the optical theories, astronomy, medicine, philosophy, non-Euclidean geometry, non-Ptolemic astronomy and astrophysics of Ibn Al-Hatham (965-1039); Qutb ul-Din Shirazi (1236-1311), and his work on epicyclic planetary model in addition to his mathematical, physical, and medicinal accomplishments. As a student of Tusi, he coauthored a critique of the Almagest of Ptolemy (Kennedy, 1966; Baker and Chapter 2002); the founder of the philosophy of Illumination and sufi doctrine, of Shahab ul-Din Suravardi (1558-1191), Sadr ul-Din Shirazi (Molla Sadra ,1571-1640) whose philosophy for the first time transformed "essentialism" to "existentialism" and established (with help from Avicenna's tradition, the conceptual framework (that "existence" precedes "essence") for what became known in the West as existentialism. Molla Sadra, added the fifth dimension— substance (Jowhar) to the four categories of quality, quantity, place and position introduced by Aristotle and Avicenna. These are some of our world renowned scientists, historians and philosophers and there are many other examples of timeless and enduring contributions. It is painful that even now some of these bright Iranian minds are referred to as "Arabs" and even "Hispanic" (as in the case of Avicenna). It is painful not because they are considered as belonging to others, for they are of the human community, but painful, because they are denied their rightful place in the Iranian contribution to the world. And it stands, precisely because we the Iranians have allowed it to stand.
What happened to the Persian Empire, ultimately had it sources within. The mistreatment of its own people was the Achilles' heel and the seed of its destruction. The elite centered grandeur in the face of an increasingly corrupt and self-deceiving practice dealt the final blow to the empire. Here the insights provided by the father of sociology and history, Ibn Khaldun --that the absence of assabiyah (social cohesion and a sense of belonging) can retard social development and can cause decay-- are most applicable to this case. The well-entrenched caste system of the Sasanian dynasty and the opulence of the few and the misery of the many worked hand in hand to close that chapter of Iranian history. What destroyed the 7th century (CE) Persia was not the contamination of the Aryan blood by the Semites as was suggested by the racist historiography of 19th century Germany (Wiesehfer, 1975), but by the very socio-economic and political structure which reproduced a well-entrenched stratified system. There is a need for a deconstruction of history or revision so as to see the scope of biases in reordering and reclamation. George Orwell is credited with saying "Whoever controls the past, controls the future," and if true, then there is a compelling reason to try to free Iranian history from bondage, and from sinister designs of arbitrary recording and manipulations.
The advent of Islam and the successful spread of Islam in Persia partly derived from its egalitarian message and partly due to the existence of the tragically polarized condition within the country must be understood as separate from Arabism and the then Arab political culture. And no one ought to underestimate the Arab brutality during their long and repetitive campaigns to subdue a very proud people whose familiarity with Islam and its message in its formative years was virtually non-existent. Islam came and opened up a new chapter in the long history of Iran. The new chapter is as much a part of this history as the previous chapters, and they all must be viewed as continuous and overlapping components of a larger whole. History ought not to be merely epochal; it ought to be viewed as a continuous stream, albeit with curves and bumps and detours, as well as the significance of particular epochs. Ultra-nationalist (and almost racist) compatriots ought to be very careful not to defend without criticism everything that existed before the advent of Islam. The consensus is that some aspects of Iranian society were utterly indefensible, especially given the socio-economic and political conditions within the Iran of the seventh century CE.
One of the greatest nemeses of Iranian history has been the complacency in telling the story of the Iranian "we." Why not encompass both the good and the bad? It is only then that the Iranian "we" can prevent and reject the arbitrary rewriting of the past. The absence of the necessary corrective efforts is in part due to the fact that the Iranian "we" has not been allowed to tell about the Iranian to the Iranians and the non-Iranians. Barring a few exceptions, adequate time has not been devoted to examine and to communicate Iranian history in depth. We have always allowed (as have many other nations) for history to be politicized and depending on the political climate, it has often been revisited (almost as a universal practice) to fit the dominant political thought. We have been parroting the work of others and it appears that for the most part we have been numbed and resigned to it. This is precisely why we either become too excited upon hearing about the greatest of our early philosophers, scientists, and empire builders, or remain indifferent and/or doubt the greatness of our civilization as told by others. They see us –the Iranians as "we" were, and accordingly tell us how we ought to be treated. Accordingly, one of the most effective ways of destroying a civilization and a society is to deny them their history and /or to maliciously distort their sense of who they were and are. The world needs an independent political entity such as Iran once again as a witness to history and the world needs entities such as Iran to stand up to the behemoth. And Iran is the only independent political entity in the Middle East that could serve as a model.
During a trip to Iran in the summer of 2007 I was able to visit some of the ancient sites and reflect painfully upon that history. That summer was a memorable one; first the release of the Hollywood movie, "300," in the genre of sinister attempts at portraying the non-Western world, in this case ancient Persia, as composed of savages and barbarians. The Greek city-states were housed to various tribes notably the Ionians, Dorians, Aeolians, Akadians, Boetians, and Thebans, among others. The Spartans were one of the Dorian tribes. Their society, like all other warrior societies with the ideology of militarism, brought up their children to be tough and to win wars. Thus, when the emissary of Xerexes gives them a message from theEmperor to surrender or fight and die, the warrior instinct takes over and they decide to fight. They fought with an army of several thousands, however, not three hundred. To most other Greek tribes, the Spartans were tyrants. Some Greek cities sought alliance with the Persians (Herodotus). The brutality and the inhumane treatment of others were not exclusively Spartan traits. All warrior societies have shown as do now, despicable and inhuman acts of violence against others and Spartans were no different. They defined themselves by wars and violence and the entire society was structured to meet those criteria (2).
As a propaganda piece, the movie not only distorts historical facts, it serves to justify and to rationalize the current Western claim to morality, righteousness, democracy, human rights, and civilization. Hercules was a son of Zeus and a mortal mother named Alcamena. He went insane and killed his wife, his children and the entire village. To purify himself, he had to do much. He became the Patriarch of the Spartans: the body-building, masochistic, and tragic mortals. The Spartans (also portrayed as brutes) were much more vicious and brutal. But the purpose of portraying the Iranians and the Spartans in the movie is not to reflect on their history, but to misrepresent history for current geopolitical considerations. It is ironic that the film use one of the most vicious of all Greek tribes, the brutal, child molesting, infant killing, slave society of Spartans as defenders of freedom and democracy. It is reiterating the current war propaganda that "freedom comes with a price, you see, and one of its costs is the export of warriors to distant lands, where they must face malignant military forces who are not like us at all; remember, they are colored, misshapen, and disguised and the defeat means 'no pericles, no Athens, no democracy, no Western civilization'" (James Livingston, 2007:2).
The reaction to the movie on the part of Iranians was interesting. The movie served a very useful function in that it created an opportune moment to stand up against what is clearly Hollywood's version of history – in particular non-Western history. History has been used as a propaganda tool by those who have had the means – the militarized powerful states. The movie mostly embellishes the current militarism and attempts to stir hysterical nationalism in defense of the empire. Art has always been used as propaganda by the state for the purpose of "engineering consent" and creating "groupthink" as Edward Bernays and Walter Lippman suggested in the early twentieth century (3). The movie, however, portrays the Spartans as brutes, but portrays the Persians as primitive beasts in an even more offensive manner. The reaction to it includes refutation of false and distorted history by scholars of all political orientations and the Iranian government's response by supporting the production of a movie labeled "Parsa" to counter the movie "300." Some of my compatriots objected to the movie simply because it portrayed the Persians as "dark people" and some others have opposed it for distorting the Iranian personality and character by portraying them as violent. Yet others have used the occasion to unleash a venomous attack on every facet of ancient Iranian civilization and in particular its philosophical orientation and/or denying the existence of ancient Iranian philosophy altogether. As a professor of Iranian Studies at Columbia University, Hamid Dabashi in an article for Al-Ahram Newspaper, has questioned a few aspects of Iranian history known to the rest of the World as "facts". He has made several claims without references to any sources (Iranian or non-Iranian) and I think it is important to address some of those claims.
According to Dabashi "The Persians are fond of saying that Cyrus the Great set the Jews free from Babylon and wrote the human rights declaration", and then he calls it "…nonsensical pieces of absolute gibberish!" For as far as Dabashi is concerned "Cyrus did not do such thing." And that Cyrus the Great "freed Jews the same way as did Bush set the Iraqis free in Iraq, and "the declaration he presumably wrote (predated by codex Hammurabi by more than 1000 years) is the precursor Paul Bremer wrote for the Iraqis" (2007:5). Some references please Mr. Dabashi. First of all it is not the Persians who are uttering the "gibberish" over and over that Cyrus the Great set the Jews free, the Biblical narratives (Isaiah, 45:1) remain clear. Therefore whether it is "gibberish" or not must be debated with Judaic and Christian theologians and frankly most Persian don't even care one way or another.
Dabashi, goes on to write that "Persians are fond of saying that our enemies wrote our history, meaning the Greeks did….." We will come back to this issue later. But let's take another off the mark comment by Professor Dabashi where he states that "At the same time that the Achaemenids were giving the World Cyrus, Darius, Xerexes and warmonger emperors, the Greeks were giving the World Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus and the very first republic." "What sane person would leave the company of Greek philosophers and scientists for the frightful company of Cyrus the Great, or Darius the First and Xerexes the last"……who were the George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld of their time". (Dabashi, 2007:5). First of all Dabashi needs to check the history, Cyrus the Great and others lived more than two centuries before Plato and the rest and even if they were contemporaries, the comparison is not a valid one. Kings and philosophers are not appropriately comparable since each has its own unique societal role to play. Let's assume that respect for human rights was not part of the political strategy of Cyrus the Great, and whether he freed the Jews or not is irrelevant now. However, trying to shatter some perceived myth regarding the grandeur of the ancient Persians, one must not for the sake of humility arbitrarily revise history. Furthermore, if Dabashi wants to compare the two distinct historical epochs (1000 years apart), then he ought to compare Hammurabi Codex with Darius' lawbook ("dat" from which we have the contemporary term "dod-gostary" or the Justice System) which according to Plato contributed to the Empire's survival (Olmstead, 1966:130). Second, a review of the Hammurabi Code reveals a system of harsh social control and a system of laws based on the acceptance of a system of slavery for which laws governing slave ownership and treatment occupy a good portion of the text. I suggest Dabashi revisit these sources just to make sure. In particular I suggest Dabashi look at Codes 14 through 21. And it is important to note that Cyrus' Cylinder is considered to be the first universal declaration of human rights, (Farsinet.com) predating the Magna Carta by one millennium (Milani, 2004:12).
No doubt the company of mind teasing brilliant and mighty thinkers such as Plato and the rest are preferred to Cyrus and the rest only if we believe, as Professor Dabashi does, that the Platos and the Artistotles of the yesteryear are the originator of what we as a World have inherited and that they are exclusively Western creations. However, I do believe Professor Dabashi ought to compare oranges with oranges and apples with apples, and if he wants to know the Pre-Islamic philosophical orientation of the Iranians, may I suggest reading Prophet Zarathushtra (Zoroaster, ca. 1750 BCE), Mazdak, and Mani? Yet some others have approached the film by addressing the issue of race as a social construct and contemporary racism in the context of global political economy. Race as a social construct served the European racists well. Beginning in age of colonialism non-Europeans were viewed as an "otherness" occupying a lower rank in the pecking order warranting specific treatment. According to their pecking order, the Caucasians, the Mongols and the Negroids were the three main races (as constructed by nineteenth century Europeans) each having specific characteristics, with only one norm and with the standard being the Caucasians. The movie and indeed the entire Western historiography have by design turned the "otherness" into another means of control.
No matter how valid our criticism of Western Christendom and all of its claim to high ideals, and no matter how disgusted we are with Hollywood's depiction of us, I can not find anyone as guilty as the Iranian "we"-- a people with one of the greatest and most "glorious" civilization and history (as is the case with the Greeks, Egyptians and Chinese among others), but it seems that we ourselves are more detached and ignorant of its scope, depth and significance. Iran continues to be a pivotal entity in global power politics and it must be empowered by none other than its own people to play a decisive role on the global scene. The current global realpolitik views Iran as a "pariah state", a "rogue state" and accordingly the attempt has been to marginalize Iran and its people. The barrage of rhetoric, terrorist threats, and the mendacity of the Bush Administration and its Israeli partners against Iran not only has diverted the attention from the real issues of global economic exploitation, political repression, and social dislocation, but domestically has justified massive military intervention for global accumulation under the guise of fighting terrorism. It is in this context that the vulgar and the uneducated and misinformed cannot distinguish between imperial interests and the interests of people under the gun. They are the first and necessary victims of the imperial propaganda.
Iran needs a healthy dose of nationalism, but not anything resembling the European nationalism. Sadly, a review of the sources associated with the Iranian nationalists who are hostile to Islam, falls in a trap of a different sort, but with the same result. By ignoring or minimizing the advances of Iran after the advent of Islam and the contribution of Iran to Islam, they deny a very big part of our history. The fact remains that for almost 1400 years, Iran has remained predominantly Muslim and will continue to move forward. Neither "de-Iranianization" as claimed by some of the opponents of the contemporary Iranian regime, nor the de-Islamization" and Islamophobia as a strategy of reclaiming our past as advocated by anti-Islamic groups of Iranians has any legitimacy or integrity. The fact remains that who we are is not determined by who we pray to, and how long of a history we have had, but by how we see ourselves and how we allow others to decide who we are. I am as appalled by an attack on Islam as I am by an attack on our entire pre-Islamic history. Iranians saw the potential of Islam in liberating them from cruelty and the repression of the Gods and kings and class conflict (polytheism = shirk) in favor of unity and equality (touhid). It is our belief that "the universe on the basis of tohid, [and]…human society on the basis of tohid, necessarily is an equal society, [and]…life on its basis has direction and aim" (Ali Shariati, #19, 980:328). The directives are there, the direction is clear and if and when a society based on tohid (unity and equality) materializes, we can develop it as model for the rest of the World.
Iranians have worked diligently to help Islam in its universal appeal and the spread of its cosmopolitan ideology of resistance and revolution and the credit goes as much to their past history as to their contemporary history. Under the banner of Islam, ethnic particularism gave way to religious universalism, while the concept of nationality was subject to debate. To Iranians, an attack on Islam is tantamount to an attack on them and labeling Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great, George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld of their time is almost as offensive as calling the Quran "Tazi nameh" (the book of the Arabs). A portion of the Iranian community outside of Iran – the "exiles" are spewing toxic garbage every hour as paid "fifth columns" of the Empire and Western Christendom. Under the self-proclaimed titles of "historians," "political commentators," and "social scientists" (among them pseudo-nationalists hiding behind the ancient Iranian symbols without much familiarity with them and what they represent) getting their fifteen seconds of fame by attacking either Iran or Islam under the guise of attacking the current Iranian regime — is also a segment of propaganda designed to dehumanize and ultimately to discredit culture and destroy civilization. Equally appalling is the denial of the existence of Iranian philosophy by asserting that philosophy has a distinctively Greek character and therefore must have begun with them. The truth of the matter is that the recent scholarship on this issue (albeit scant) shows that the ancient Iranian philosophy has contributed in a significant way to the complexity and depth of philosophical discourse without receiving proper credit. And in this context, a healthy dose of national pride (nationalism) as a mechanism of communicating our philosophy and the rest of our accomplishments to the world is essential.
I, neither advocate offensive nationalism, nor do I believe in the usefulness of that type of nationalism in any context. I do however believe that a healthy dose of nationalism in the face of new imperialism in the form of neo-liberalism bent on crushing everything national is essential. Nationalism [national liberation struggle] has always been a refuge of those fighting against well-armed and ruthless outsiders. On the other hand, the nationalism of the ruthless and strong against the nation-states of Africa, Asia (including the Middle East) and Latin America has been in the form of socio-economic and political domination born out of economic imperialism (the old and the new), and molded by Social Darwinism and the belief in racial and ethnic supremacy. Nationalism in Europe eventually became the ideology which provided the justification for brutal colonial exploitation of most of the non-Western World. The European nationalism predicated on national and racial superiority of the Europeans involved heavy philosophical, religious and scientific apparatus of support. In philosophy, Hegel proposed a leadership of the world by the noble race – the Germans…….. in sociology Herbert Spencer promoted Social Darwinism, the eugenics movement embarked on proving the European superiority as an inherent trait, and the social scientists etc., all defending, and justifying colonialism. Colonialism also was facilitated by the rise of individualism both as the cause and a symptom of what De Tocquville calls democratic despotism. Individualism negates collective aspirations and identity and opens the door to a wide range of structural abuses. That is if individualism takes hold then everyone is pushed to see the World from that angle, and the structure is alienated from the pursuit of collective good. As if by step by step design, the dynamics of individualism have turned the progressiveness of collective orientation on its head, instead of allowing individuality and individual development to enable the flourishing of the collective existence.
Since its inception as the first world [i.e. geographically extensive, diverse, multi-territorial] empire, Iran has been a multicultural and multiethnic social formation. Historically, Iranian Nationalism has been most noticeable during the post-Islamic era –when Iranians as a collective felt the need to defend what was uniquely Iranian against the intruding outsiders. The efficacy of a healthy dose of nationalism would have been impossible without the solid historical foundation, and advanced civilization that Iranians of all ethnic groups are the proud owners. As compared to the hysterical nationalism conveniently serving the interest of imperialism and colonialism, Iranian nationalism has throughout its history remained at a level sufficient to serve as a defensive mechanism in pursuit of national interests. Iranian history is a very long and complex history and similarly its philosophical and intellectual history is as long and complex and a richness worthy of repeated and thorough re-examination.
Part I: A BRIEF SKETCH OF IRAN FROM ACHAEMENIDS TO THE LATE PRE-ISLAMIC ERA.
though historical analyses inevitably contain interpretations which may not be
reflective of the past reality, they transcend slanders and when accompanied by
relevant comparative methods can produce good knowledge. And good knowledge must
have a direction and purpose. The pre-requisite for good knowledge is the
openness and freedom of thought, inclusiveness and respect for people and their
history. Although Iranian history particularly, its ancient history has been
increasingly included in the greater World history, ancient Iranian philosophy
has been for the most part absent from the annals of philosophical discourse.
Ancient Iranian philosophy has been presented in the context of religion and
because of sensitivities inherent in religion it has been separated from
philosophical discourse. Recent Scholarship on this
issue, however hints at the possibility that philosophy emerged in a part of the
Greek world that was then under Persian occupation, and that Greek philosophy
was merely a Greek adaptation and elaboration of Magian ideas which were
Zoroastrian Priests. The first clear example of the penetration of these ideas
were in the emergence of the Msyteries of Dionysus, which, according to
Heraclitus of Ephesus, a philosopher of the fifth century BCE, "were in
imitation of the Magi" (Livingstone, 2002).
Before attempting an invitation to consider the ancient Iranian philosophy not only as predating the Greek philosophy, but possibly as a precursor to the Greek philosophy, let us provide a sketch of the ancient Iranian history beginning with the rise of the first World empire—the Achaemenids empire.
In 531, four years after the ascendancy of Justinian to power in Constantinople, Khosrow I of Sasanian dynasty came to power in Persia. Khosrow reinforced the remnants of a rigid caste system and though the economy prospered, it rarely trickled down to the rest of society. During his reign the empire expanded too thin and made it very vulnerable to attack. Furthermore, the institutionalized clergy in a hostile manner towards other religions, also corrupted the true teachings of Zoroaster by establishing Zurvanism (based on the ancient Persian God Zurvan—the god of infinite time, and space) resulted in more repression and greater exploitation.
The Zoroastrian Magi gradually changed the original message of its founder, Zoroaster and became what was known as Zurvanism —the institutionalized version of Zoroastrianism during the Sasanian dynastic era (CE 224–650). The distortion of the original messages of Zoroastrian religion particularly during the last few decades of the Sasanians Empire, gave rise to various revolt and schools of thought. Some such as Mazdakis questioned the socio-economic and political structure (which had all of the characteristics of a caste system) of the Sasanians era. The Pre-Islamic Mazdakis Movement known as the first "communist revolution" began with the teaching and the leadership of Mazdak. As the founding father of a critical social movement and as the theoretician of a uniquely Iranian form of communalism (anti-private property) and populism, Mazdak and his agitating followers were a thorn in the eye of the Sasanians for 30 years (494 - 524 CE). Famine, permanent wars, and defeats, along with worsening inequities by high taxation of the poor, were the necessary and sufficient factors for the rise of revolutionary Mazdakis. Kavadh the Sasanian King of Kings (488 - 531 CE) initially joined his religion and passed new laws easing the tax on the poor and distributing wheat among them. But soon, the institutionalized clergy (mobedan) and the aristocracy mobilized themselves against Kavadh, dethroning him and putting his brother, Jamasp, in power. Kavadh fled from prison and gathered enough support to regain the throne. This time, frightened by the increasing independent power of Mazdakis, he sided with mobedan against Mazdakis. When drought brought scarcity of wheat and threat of new famine was imminent, Mazdak encouraged his followers to loot the storage houses of the aristocracy. In 523 CE, the Mazdakis now increasing in numbers, and fearful of their standing with the heir to Kavadh, they decided to convince Kavadh to abdicate the throne in favor of his son Phthasursas who promised the Mazdakis to establish their religion as the state religion. Kavadh was informed of this conspiracy and ordered the massacre of all Mazdakis including Mazdak (Sykes, 1951:443-444). The murder of Mazdak did not end the movement and the Mazdaki adherents continued to function for many years to come.
The international arena continued to be defined by perpetual war and war of attrition at that. Before the conquest of Iran by the Arab armies, Heraclius the Byzantium Emperor with the aid of the Khazars (Turkic groups who had converted to Judaism ca. 740 CE) defeated the Persian Empire and most of the western territories of the empire was taken by Byzantium. The chaos and the disarray that followed the wars, was another nail in its coffin. Once the Arab armies conquered the weakened Persian Empire, the resistance to Arab rule although sporadic, was nationalistic and involved both converts as well as the non-converts to Islam (i.e. Babak Khorramdin, Sonbadh, Sarbedaran, Sha'ubiyah, and Abu-Moslem Khorrasani). The first two centuries of Islam in Iran, in the words of the Iranian author Bastani Parizi was the "two centuries of silence." And it is within these two centuries that Iran witnesses "national heroes" or personalities who "revolt based on Iranian culture, nationality and tradition." During these two centuries, the Arab attack on Iran produces the strongest resistance to outsiders--the Arabs. This was due to the Arabs not only aimed at the destruction of the Iranian political and military might, but aimed at the destruction of Iranian religion, history, identity and culture" (Ali Shariati, #27, 1980:50). Furthermore, the rise and the strength of Iranian nationalism continued with a remarkable twist and that is the use of Islam and its message against Arab domination. By separating Islam from the Arabs with institutionalized Islam as their ideology, the Iranian find the most effective weapon against Arab occupation, but in a bold move, the interpretation of Islam now becomes a liberating message as it was intended in its pure form (Shariati, #19, 1980:50-53). The Iranian history afterward was, as in the past a history of events mostly brought on by great men as well as a social environment marked by upheavals (4).
What caused the longevity of the first Persia Empire particularly the Achaemenid Dynasty, was due to their respect and regard for human rights, paid labor force instead of slave labor, a retirement age system, maternity leave, a family support system and an unsurpassed love of life and everything it had to offer. There is much cultural assassination today regarding the rights of women in the Middle East (for which the ammunition is provided by ourselves) and in particular the abuses of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban rule and to some extent now under different types of Taliban in various other societies. The Western corporate Media apparatus hailed the invasion of Afghanistan as a liberation force for women and numerous books claiming to be feminist have portrayed the women as chattels at the mercy of the men and for the most part accepted by the Westerners as the truth. Recent alleged scholarship (i.e., Nafisi's "Reading Lolita in Tehran") presenting a version of Iranian society that in a sick world of pornographic craving, lends itself to a different sort of dehumanization. To the Readers of these cultural assassination attempts, the interpretation of one becomes the face of truth about our society.
Here are some facets of the realty of ancient Iranian civilization as documented interestingly by some Greek Historians as the Persian subjects. Irdabama, a formidable landowner who controlled a huge workforce and ran her own wine and grain business is just one of many powerful women in the ancient Persian World. Citing various ancient and modern sources, Brosius (2005) and Price (2008) discern interesting facts about women in ancient Persia in terms of their rights and accomplishments. Interestingly the great philosopher Plato mocks Alicibaides for having less wealth than Amestris--a "foreign" [Persian] and a "woman." Possession of property and good social standing was not limited to Royal women such as Atosa, Amestris, and Parysatis, they were powerful women such as Irdabama the non-Royal ranks with considerable estate, influence and autonomy. Most of them had the power to use their own seals and letterheads indicating not only their autonomy and independence, but the existence of a social system which accepted the authority and independence of women. A notable commander of a leading squad of the Persian Fleet at Salamis was a woman named Artemesis serving in the Persian Navy under Emperor Xerxes (r. 486–465 BCE) and participated as a commander of six ships in Xerxes' invasion of Greece (480–479). Recent works on the role of women in ancient Persia (Brosius, 2005; Price, 2008) show great participation by women in all facets of life. It would be naive to assume that there was no repression, and no violation of human rights and that all of the kings in the era in question were great, kind and caring. To be sure, they did commit acts of aggression and oppression in blatant violation of the teachings of Zoroaster. But when comparing the violence and repression committed by the slave owning empires, the Persians had no blueprint for such a treatment and indeed their God—Ahura-Mazda (the Great Knowledge) was all compassionate and merciful and demanded compatible behavior.
Interestingly, our current religion –Islam places the greatest emphasis on history, its understanding and the discovery of its laws of motion and proposes a philosophy of history centered on the development of human beings irrespective of race, ethnicity, geographic location and nationality. I see it as my duty to understand and apply touhid to all facets of human life past and present. Tohid allows me to discern conflict in unity and unity in conflict. The worldview of tohid according to Shariati as a sociological, philosophical and religious concept transcends time and space, race and ethnicity and social classes. Touhid is unity against shirk--polytheism reflecting the antagonistic classes of society. "The philosophy of history in Islam is the philosophy of the struggle and the philosophy of struggle between truth and falsehood, right and wrong, ignorance and awareness" (Ali Shariati, # 19, 1980:342). Islam cherishes and emphasizes history and all of its contents. Islam has a great reverence for history, encourages historical literacy and urges learning history and learning from historical detours, curves, mistakes and in each epoch by every group and nation. For the Islam of history recognizes the importance of the ups and downs in its own history and indeed in all of human history. History is not to be compartmentalized and any credible analysis must take place in the context of the meta history. And that meta history must take into account both the material and non-material aspects of what we call civilization.
The Iranian civilization is as significant, as majestic, as meaningful, as historically relevant and valuable as the civilization built on the back of the slave labor in Egypt, Greece, Rome, Ancient America, China and similar places. The material and the non-material aspects of Iranian civilization are powerful and indispensable tools of teaching history, culture and civilization. The indispensability of restoring and maintaining ancient and grand monuments and all other symbols of Iranian civilization is indispensable to teaching that history to the World in general and to Iran in particular. For teaching history as a continuous story of the Iranian "I"—and the recital of the story of the becoming of that "I", is badly needed and only a few reasons can tell us why. Ancient grand monuments tell us stories of how people ruled, what they meant by human rights and the science of empire building. These are grand historical, cultural, political, administrative, religious, civilizational, and social testimonies of who we –the Iranians are. The material aspects of Iranian culture are grand and a manifestation of our non-material culture, philosophy and intellectual history--a dialectical relationship between matter and the mind. Material objects could be copied, but what pushes a Civilization forward is the dialectics of matter and mind which makes civilization possible and in that regard the Iranian mind has played a critical role.
The depth and the significance of our non-material culture is noticeable in all aspects of that existence, particularly in its philosophy, theology, ethical, and cosmology both in pre-Islamic as well as in the post-Islamic Iran. Their names, their deities and the prizem of viewing existence, their calendar and the names given to each month of the year all reflect a philosophical, ontological and existential worldview uniquely its own. From Farvardin (the Guardian Angel descending to Erath on the first day of the year –the first day of Spring, the day of rebirth to visit human beings) to Ordibehesht (literally means 'the ultimate righteousness representing the Lord of Fire, to Khordad (perfection—reaching for the highest stage), to Tir (fast)—the Lord of Scribe, to Amortat (immortality)—the Supporter of all Plant life, to Khshathra Vairya/Shahrivar (the guardian of the sky, metals, warriors, the needy and the weak), to Mihr (Mithra) the guardian of contract and friendship, to Aban (water) –the protector of (Water), Athur/Azar, protector of eternal fire, to Day (the creator) dedicated to Ahura Mazda, to Vahuman/Bahman (Good thought) Protector of animals, the symbol of creative goodness, to Espand-Armadh/Esphand (holy devotion)—female deity who protects mother earth—the symbol of unconditional love (to the Armenians she was Spendramat and to the Greeks she was Demeter). Their symbolic representation of their worldview in the form of material production appears in the grand pillars of Persepolis and the rest are indicative of their greatness: from the "Winged man" of Fravahar to the thunderous chariots remaining intact mounted on wheels held together by a "pin" representing the important role of women in keeping the totality in place. There is much symbolism that is beyond the scope of this paper. Sadly today we see that our intellectuals still mesmerized by the Western wit and in the process forgot that the Iranian "we" had established the basis of a philosophical and ethical system represented by "good deed, good thoughts and good words."
The monuments, the symbolism, the depth of their understanding of the role of human beings and their environment are indispensable means of understanding our past. Though Iran's cultural Heritage Organization has undertaken some degree of restoration attempt, much more ought to be done. Ironically, during the Shah's rule it was never contemplated, particularly that his delusional attempt at connecting himself to the great emperors of our yesteryears was becoming very costly on all fronts. How preposterous the Shah's utterance –"sleep tight Cyrus for we are awake" in the 2500 year celebration of Iranian monarchy. And after all the resources spent on the ceremony itself, and shortly after the guests were sober, they left and the monuments were left to dust and decay. This has been the attitude toward these grand monuments from the time the Macedonians burnt and looted the sites of a once glorious civilization. As if the reconstruction and the restoration of cultural heritage in each epoch after the destruction and the plunder of Persepolis would have dwarfed their own accomplishments. The restoration, the reconstruction and the preservation of all the inherited material culture would be a sign of respect for our history, but also an important toll for a greater education in history which would allow us to be proud of the great accomplishment and learning from bad conducts with repentance and remorse. Humility and a lesson in what we were and what we are to others would be the ideal outcome.
Even during the bloody conflicts with Macedonians and to a lesser extent with the Spartans, the rich Iranian culture mesmorized the Hellenic invaders. As if the grandeur of the ancient Persian monuments was too much to bear so they burnt them. As if the drunken invaders had a covenant with their God Zeus in their zeal to pulverize Persepolis. Thais the head madam in an orgy of drunks while cheering the invaders, "persuaded Alexander to cast the fatal torch" (Doid. 1966:52). And in his letters, Alexander "boasted how he had ordered the Persian captives to be massacred" (Olmstead, 1966:520). Parmonion tried to dissuade Alexander from burning the grand palaces, but to no avail. The motto was if you can't take it with you, destroy it. Even some archaeologists from the West, have shown their disdain for our historical sites, deliberately trying to, as one author put it, destroy what their ancestor Alexander could not destroy. The Persians had their share of cruelty and no one should doubt that. But when compared to the treatment of people under the rule of the Spartans, Babylonians, Egyptians and Assyrians, it seems that their sense of fairness was much greater than others. There is a problem in comparing the conquest of Babylon, then and now. Indeed it can give us a better understanding of the behavior of those at the present tracing their identity to Alexander and the then incorporation of Babylon by Cyrus the Great. Perhaps now those victims of Abu-Gharib can relate to the Jews in captivity of the Babylonians before they were freed by Cyrus the Great. Some such as Dabashi (2007) have portrayed Cyrus the Great, Darius the Great and Xerexus as no less brutal than Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. And, whether as a matter of habit or ignorance, we still call Alexander "the great." We need to ponder this question, do we ignore that the Persian kings were brave warriors and empire builders, liberators and master at the art of unification strategy and governance? Isn't the comparison in addition to be being inaccurate and unfair, an involuntary support for the imperial plunder.
The apathy towards one's history and the absence of a solid foundational knowledge in that history makes the anchoring of national and historical identity virtually impossible. Yet I do realize the pitfalls of excessive pride to the point of racism, but neglecting history is worse. History must be seen as continuous movement, change and transformation. Epochal view of history has its value in so far as it helps the investigation of a particular time period as part of a greater history and not as a general statement about the entire history. It must be continuous. Thus trying to understand the Post-Islamic period of Iranian history better, compels us to understand the Pre-Islamic period. And in doing so, we must avoid expedient and impulsive rejection of what we think negates what we believe at the present.
As Ali Shariati wrote, "[I] n Persian, [language] instead of nationalism and nation both of which are European, we have selected the concept of "Melliat" and "Mellat" which literally and essentially mean a collection of individuals or a group of human beings which possesses a common culture, faith and a direction and contrary to the Western view which uses "blood', we have selected culture and instead of birth, we use feelings and thoughts" (Shariati, Collected works #27, pp, 86-89). "Both Christendom and Internationalism have worked to establish and develop power so as to 'tame' the intellectual and emotional dimensions of nations and religions in the service of the imperialism of the East and the West. …..These forces have damaged our cultural unity, national essence and feelings of self awareness and therefore caused our weak sense of who we are and our existential identity and caused doubt in our own historical existence…To these factors must be added the case of bad presentation of the issue of nationality by some who ostensibly trying to defend it; these historians and writers who are trying to defend and introduce nationality, either follow a reactionary and prejudicial nationalism or mixed nationalism with racism…Whereas nationalism, in sociological and scientific analysis not only is not synonymous with reactionary racism, but rather it is a human reality and a social truth among human beings….as a path toward human perfection (humanism)….on Earth. …." (collected works #19, 1980:342). The nationalism of a hysterical type nurtures a vitriolic racism which tortures the sole, belittles everything human. As we have seen in the case of Europe, the nurturing of a militaristic spirit along with virulent and violent fascism and the use and/or neglect of history as propaganda and all in the context of a supporting worldview and philosophy.
Part II. ANCIENT IRANIAN PHILOSOPHY:
Due to the tireless efforts of scholars writing for cultural institutions inside and outside of Iran, we are beginning to see a crack (5) in the myth that everything ancient (in particular philosophy) begins and end with the Greeks and as a result we are learning that Iranians have greatly contributed to everything including philosophical discourse. No doubt Greek philosophy and their World renowned philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and Herodotus among many others have been great sources of wonders across time and space and perhaps even more so outside of their own immediate environment. It is an honor and privilege to be able to read them and learn from them. They are a pride of humanity and have been the dominant force in philosophy, history, politics and social sciences. And Greek mythology remains the most profound and timeless mythology (Ali Shariati #27, 1980:112). It ought not to be surprising that the non-Greek philosophy of the same time period was so ignored. The reason however, it is not because the Greeks were inherently superior in their wondering capabilities, but partly because of shortcomings on the part of Iranians in communicating theirs to the others and partly because of Eurocentric historiography. Persian philosophy is considerably influenced by Zoroaster's teachings in pre-Greek philosophy. Ancient Persian philosophy is based on Zoroastrian thought—a comprehensive philosophical, ethical and Theo-philosophical system which has survived to this date. As Sykes (1951:106), points out "….Zoroastrianism, which is a living religion still, was contemporary with the religions of Baal, of Assur, and of Zeus, which have all been forgotten for many centuries…." Almost all scholars and theologians credit Zoroaster, one way or the other, with the introduction of some or all of the most fundamental concepts into other religions.
Throughout Iranian history, philosophical questions have appeared in various epochs both in the pre-Islamic era beginning with Zoroaster and later with Mani (Manichaeism) and Mazdak (Mazdakism) as well as in various post-Islamic schools. The post Islamic era includes the influential Illumination School and Transcendental Philosophy. By virtue of its great civilization, Iran not only cosmopolitanized Islam, it enabled its scientific growth and expansion. Current scholarship on the issue of pre-Islamic Iranian philosophy is not as extensive as it ought to be. But the process of debunking the myth has begun and there are signs that the identification of philosophy with Greeks only, is being questioned. "….the very idea has yet to penetrate into mainstream circles, because of a xenophobia which insists on the unique genius of the Greeks" (Livingston, 2002:140). If there is no credible research in this regard, it is partly because throughout many centuries of non-Persian dominion, the boldness necessary to even ask the question has been turned into naked submission. Recently we have seen some research in this regard, and I really think the more attack is directed against the very core of existential identity, the bolder we become and that is hopeful. Some of our intellectuals almost in a neurotic fashion have no clear direction as to what must be said. They are afraid that if they come to the defense of their own history (without turning into ugly patriots and hysterical nationalists), they don't have a foundation to stand on and worst yet that their religious beliefs will be questioned.
Zoroaster's philosophy and his vision have contributed to a profound continuity of philosophical discussions. Zoroaster predates Plato and the rest by at least a few centuries and according to some by several thousand. In the third century BCE, Colotes accused Plato's The Republic of plagiarizing parts of what is attributed to Zoroaster's On Nature, such as the Myth of Er (Nock, 1929; Livingstone, 2002:144). Plato's contemporary, Heraclides Ponticus, wrote a text called Zoroaster based on Zoroaster's philosophy in order to express his disagreement with Plato on natural philosophy (Livingstone, 2002:147). The works of Zoroaster had a significant influence on Greek and Roman philosophy. The ancient Greek writer Eudoxus of Cnidus and the Latin writer Pliny the Elder praised Zoroaster's philosophy as "the most famous and most useful." Plato learned of Zoroaster's philosophy through Eudoxus and incorporated some of it into his own Platonic realism (Nock, 1929:111). There is ample evidence that the first and second generations of philosophers in ancient Iran were discussing the philosophical, social and ethical issues well in advance of the Enlightenment thinkers' view of the world. The fact that there were many prominent Greeks who took refuge in the Persian Empire raises question as to whether the Greeks (meaning the West) established philosophy. A rich collection of philosophical, ethical, psychological, social and moral statements is found in Yasna which predates the entire Greek philosophy.
Zoroastrian starts with Vohu-mana (good mind)-the use of wisdom. Vohu-mana is present in every human being and every human being is capable of reaching the highest level of perfection. Rational thought leads to an illuminated mind and as active agents on Earth we are obliged to consider the consequences of our actions. As part of the Universe, we ought to be engaged in a meaningful manner—in a responsible, committed, and productive manner. Ancient Persians believed Fravahar was the angel closest to Ahuramazda who came down to earth every Nowrooz (hence the name for the first month of the year, Farvardin). Farvardin, the "winged man" represents the soul of human being, the distance between Man and God and the two dimensions are tied to the consciousness and has its origin in the brain which the ancient Persians considered the grand circle of life and the second dimension is the spirit of God—man finds its wing toward evolution. Human illumination is directly tied to wisdom, purity and integrity.
The ancient Persian Zoroastrians viewed the development of human intellectual, spiritual and physical dimensions as resulting from life and within a dialectical context. The development and advancement of life requires rational thinking—illuminated mind (Khratu), meaningful interaction (Saoshanta) and amicable speech (Hu-vacha). We are thus, consciously, able to fashion our own destiny (Yasna 34.14). The concept of "free will" for the first time entered the theo-philosophical discourse and as we have seen, gradually occupying a critical position in various Western philosophical discourses. Plato's three dimensions of personality; intellect, rationality and spirituality are closely related to what Zoroaster advanced almost three hundred years before. And indeed in philosophical teachings as in religion, the emphasis was always on "good deed', "good thoughts" and "good speech." "The good speech" is the means by which awareness (conversion) must be achieved. Zoroastrianism views "individuality" as the most fundamental aspect of reality. This is based on the premise that Ahura Mazda has created humans who are capable of perfect goodness by the power of decision making and choice. Ancient Persian Philosophy is predicated on the concept of "truth." Truth is acquired through education and discussion. The individual has the power to make rational choices and since they can chose, they are responsible for their action.
The ancient Persians believed in the maxim of gradual change through education, discussion and persuasion rather than forcing a sudden change upon people. Change requires illuminated Mind, and consciousness and once they are informed, they can see the truth. Similarly, it is critical to "Win over opponents by discussion and persuasion and not by persecution and ill treatment." "Through words excellent, we shall turn (convert), those who do not know, (with tongue) by speaking, Gatha Yasna Ha 28.5 (F.R.).
Perhaps the greatest influence of the Persians on the World to this day is the cosmological and theological influence in addition to philosophical ones. Mithra, Mehr, or Mitra ("Lord of friendship," "the light of the World", symbol of truth, justice and loyalty, a mediator between heaven and hell), the Persian God whose worship began some 4000 years ago in Persia, became the god of the Romans who called Mithra "sol invictus" –the invincible Sun for three hundred years (Fingrut, 1993:6). "Mithra was born of Anahita, an immaculate virgin mother … (Fingrut, 1993:5). The faith spread to China and India to Western Europe, North Africa, Palestine, Syria, Armenia, Asia Minor and vast areas of Africa among other places. Mitra was discussed extensively by the Greek Historians such as Herodotus, Plutarch, the philosopher Porphyry, the Gnostic heretic Origin, and St. Jerome the Church Father. According to Persian mythology, Mitra was born of a virgin mother—mother of God. The God remained celibate throughout his life. Mithraism established the belief in the "Day of Judgment" and later was incorporated into many other religions. The Old Testament's book of Job did not contain anything about resurrection, reward and punishment and all were imported from Zoroastrian texts (Sykes, 1951:113). John the Baptist later incorporated the Zoroastrian concept of resurrection into the Judeo-Christian doctrine (Miller, 1994). "The followers looked forward to a final day— day of judgement in which the dead would resurrect and to a final conflict that would destroy the existing order of all things to bring about the triumph of light over darkness" (Fingrut, 1993:3). "Purification through a ritualistic baptism was required of the faithful, who also took part in a ceremony in which they drank wine and ate bread to symbolize the body and blood of God. Sundays were held sacred, and the birth of the God was celebrated annually on December the 25th. After the earthly mission of this god had been accomplished, he took part in a Last supper with his companions before ascending to heaven, to forever protect the faithful from above" (Fingrut, 1993:3). As the founder of a "henotheistic dualism with the Gods Ahura-Mazda and Ahriman", Zoroastrian dualism was to influence the Jewish belief in the existence of Hashatan, the malicious adversary of the God Yahweh, and later permit the evolution of the Christian Satan-Jehovah dichotomy. Persian religious dualism became the foundation of an ethical system that has lasted until this day" (Fingrut, 1993:4).
Upon conquering Babylon, "Cyrus the Great released Phytogarus from Babylonian prison and brought him to Persia and trained him and sent him back to his home in Greece." It is believed that Phytogarus learned his geometry from the Zoroastrians, who used it to built tunnels called Qhanats [aqueducts] —underground canals stretching from water sources to lands with no water (The Persian, 2005:6). The most famous philosophers, historians, poets and men of learning all thrived after the Peace of Cimons in 449 BCE by Ardeshir, the Persian Emperor. Among them were Socrates, Plato, Xenophon, Herodotus and Democritus. Democritus of Abdera studied Mathematics and Astronomy. Herodotus was raised in Halicarnassus, a Vassal state of the Persian Empire freely wandering throughout the Empire collecting first and second hand information and stories and systematically writing them down ('research') (The Persian, 2005:6). Socrates was a student of Zoroaster's teaching emphasizing know themselves 'Khodaa'. What did he do that was so offensive that the "Athenian democracy" condemned him to death by consumption of poison, in 399 BCE.)? (The Persian, 2005:6). Before his death, he had taught a generation of Greek philosophers among them Plato (born 428 BCE), Antristhenes (born 446 BCE), Euclides (born 435 BCE), and Xenophon. Aristotle however, was vehemently opposed to Zoroaster and through his pupil Alexander of Macedonia had launched a direct attack on Zoroastrian philosophy, by reviving the old temples with clay gods (multitheism rather than monotheism). "The Zoroastrians believe in family values, and based on their Ardibehesht (knowledge) of human psychology they forbade the practice of divorce. They believed that the first step towards righteousness was a morally healthy society, based on a strong family bond and they had severe punishment for treason, rape, stealing and polluting the stream. In Avesta we have three different types of reverence 'Satayesh' (Vahmyam) which means worthy of Adoration, 'Niyayesh' (Yesnyam) which means worthy of Praise and 'Parastesh' (reverence) which means to care for (The Persian, 2005:4). Those who do not understand the difference see all these merely as WORSHIP. Nietzsche's reverence for Zoroaster and the Persian culture and history appears repeatedly in his collected writings, "I must pay tribute to Zarushtra [Zoroaster], a Persian (einem Perser): Persians were the first who thought of history in its full entirety." (S/W, 11/53). "…the dominance of the positive outlooks of the Persians toward worldly life and time would have prevented the prevalence of such a sinister event (Christianity) in human history" (Ashouri, 2003).
Herodotus says the Persian God was a non-anthropomorphic God unlike that of the Greeks and Romans. Every human being can be one with Ahura Mazda. Man possesses free will and must take responsibility for his action. Zoroaster preaches that we humans, as part of the universe, must realise that our actions (Shyaothna) in real life are meant to be much more than just doing something. Life is the relationships with people, with things, with ideas and with our surroundings; therefore, it must be meaningful/ gainful/tangible experiences. Tranquillity and comfort are direct consequences of our acting in harmony with the universe's fundamental precepts of Asha. All parts of life are inextricably tied together and must be viewed as indispensable to the orderly progression of time. Each meaningful experience is a blend of all our senses involving accuracy of judgement, promptness of decision making, sharpness of self-control, agility, endurance and fairness. In other words, persistent involvement in the constant flux of life matters for the better (or even for the worse) is positive. And out of the chaos something positive is bound to emerge. The ceaseless battle of "good" and "evil," is a necessary condition for change and the progression of life and man has the most sensitive and decisive role to play. AhuraMazda, the God of "goodness" and "light" (awareness) and Ahriman the God of "evil" and "darkness" –represent two fundamental aspects of reality. They are two ultimate principles of reality locked in an eternal struggle.
God of Zoroaster—AhuraMazda is the "Great Knowledge" and is an
engaging God and therefore, within reach and in pursuit of truth and Khod-Agahi
(awareness) a companion for the mortal soul. To know God is to be engaged in
history and the World. As important as spirituality is, it not the only road to
God. One has to progress in all directions - Mental, Physical as well as
Spiritual. In other words, a "clear consciousness" is the
"comfortable consciousness" and the "dark consciousness" is
the "uncomfortable consciousness"—the "heaven" and
"hell." Those who do not posses the "clear consciousness"
are not doomed. They can transcend their condition by living an engaged life in
line with Asha. They have free will and are capable of choosing. The Zoroastrian
universe sees the cosmic struggle between asha "truth" and druj
("lie"). The cardinal concept of asha is at the foundation of all
other Zoroastrian doctrine, including that of Ahura Mazda (who is asha),
creation (that is asha), existence (that is asha), the order of the universe
(which is asha) and Free Will (asha), which is one of Zoroaster's greatest
contributions to philosophy. He who stands at the crossroad of good and
bad—the Chinot (Shinot) Bridge, has the power to choose between either one.
Man is free and can choose. The purpose of humankind, like that of all other
creation, is to sustain Asha—to develop themselves and their world, to care
for others as they care for themselves and to work toward greater and more
meaningful unity (touhid). Human beings must strive "to eradicate war and
to abandon the means of war" (Avesta, Hat 12:9). For humankind, this occurs
through active participation in life and a conscious decision to engage in the
world and all of its aspects.
this paper the attempt has been to show that there are good reasons to take
pride in our long history and culture. Iran has the potential of being an
important player in global political economy and power politics. To that end,
Iran and the Iranians must work first and foremost on the foundation of
pride—the teaching and the respect for history, improvement in socio-economic
and political standards and well being. The promotion of Iran as an education
project as well as an economic project must include respect for the right of
others as we expect them to respect us. Greater scientific and technological
achievements of Iran would add to our voices and above all greater self esteem
and the belief in ourselves as the heirs of a great civilization would lead us
to transcend the superficiality of the imitation of Western
"modernism" toward a deeper and more fitting view of ourselves. As a
people, Iranians have always showed their disdain for war and bloodshed. But
when attacked, Iranians have never surrendered. This was true then and it is now
and our true hope is our own people.
(1) Specifically in 1880 when a French archaeological team headed by Marcel De Lafoe who began cutting the head of the monuments and carved stones by special saws and was frustrated because they could not take them all to France as stealing was one not limited to raw material and other resources and as an element within the European tradition, it included the looting of our antiquity. And today The Louvre Museum houses more precious Persian heritage than our own National Museum. (Muhammadpanah, (67-68). The French were after treasures by far greater in value than Gold and silver. In fact, by agreement with one king of Ghajar Dynasty (19th century), the French promised to give the Shah an amount of gold equal to the weight of archaeologically significant artifacts. (Muhammadpanah,. 68).
(2) I certainly do not wish to resort to name calling and dehumanization of the Greeks, but just to make the point that the film (as a representative of the dominant Western view) is utterly inaccurate, I would like to cite some research regarding the ancient Greece; According to the following ancient works Greece was characterized by infanticide, slavery (as believed by Aristotle that some mainly the poor were "slaves by nature"), the practice of eugenics, apartheid (Layte, 2007), racism (Issac, 2004), and human sacrifice were common practices amongst the Greeks (Hughes 1991, Schwenn 1915, cited in Abbas, 2007).
(3) The Wilson Administration created the "Creel Commission" to support the War. It relied on the "Red Scare" toward rallying support for the War. In World war Two all belligerents particularly the Nazis used extensive propaganda.
(4) The "Great Man" theory of history is associated with Hegel, Nitzche and Spangler and crystalized in the Thomas Carlyle argument that "The history of the world is but the biography of great men," – history is the product of intellectual, spiritual and social capabilities of great men. This view was rejected by Herbert Spencer who argued that it is the social environment that produces these men and nor the other way around. A more elaborate and comprehensive "Universal" theory of history as advance by Al-Tabari, Ibn Khaldoun, and the proponents of World history approach such as Marx, among others, viewed man as the product of social environment. Khaldoun clearly showed the causes of the rise and fall of civilization (empires) to be found in the political structure's treatment of its own people. The cyclical theory of history as advanced by Khaldoun and much later popularized by the Europeans, notably Toynbee, viewed the longevity of a society and civilization as being contingent upon the well being of people and their sense of belonging to that society and civilization. Adding his voice to the discourse, Gadamer argued that people (irrespective of time and place) have a 'historically affected consciousness' –they are shaped by their historical and cultural content.
(5) One significant research on the Afro-Asiatic Roots of Greek philosophy is Martin Bernal, Black Athena. Although it has been challenged by several documented work (such as Mary Lefkowitz's "Not out of Africa" and M. Leftkowitz and G.M. Rogers "Balck Athena revisited" 1996
Note: Author would like to thank his colleagues Charles Reitz, Stephen Spartan, John Ryan, and Tamela Ice for their great comments and contributions.
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