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History

Distant stars
Welcome to the wasteland of Persian intellectual history

February 16, 2005
iranian.com

Look at the full moon, how it has disrupted our sleep,
It shines from the seventh sky at our homeland in ruins

[Mah-e dorost ra bebin, cheguneh beshkast khaab-e ma
Taaft ze charkh-e haftomin, bar vatan-e kharaab-e ma]
-- Mowlana Rumi, Book of Shams Tabrizi.

We, the people of Iran (Persia), have a beautiful history. We have loved our history and its glories, and we surely love it far more than we love our present predicament. We love our history in more ways than one. Our history shows us a warm paradise to seek shelter from the present. How could we not love those old glories, massive books of epic poetry, those verses of profound wisdom, love poems with their sensual descriptions of women's beauty?

But Iran's present day predicament is not as glorious. In Iran today, drug addiction is rampant and inflation is out of control; women are forced to walk the earth hidden under the veil. There are even debates raging on how much of women's hair can be seen in public; this is going on while European satellites go to Mars.

Iran is ruled today by a theocracy which came to power after the brutal dictatorship of the Shah; none of this seems to matter for many of our intellectuals. Our patriotic intellectuals seem to get excited over arcane topics: 'we need to ensure that the Persian Gulf is not renamed to the Arabian Gulf, we need to prove to the West that Persians are not Arabs, we need to use fewer Arabic words in Persian', and so on. History has left us its scars.

The obsession with the past is rampant among Iranians. Our love for the past has been so great that many have chosen to ignore all that our great writers of the past actually said. They have chosen to boast about their greatness. A summary reading of all vulgar patriotic writing will show that their point is to prove the greatness of the Persian heritage, our real or imagined differences with the Arabs. These writers are troubled about our history and our present predicament.

Our Monarchists will have us believe that Iranians are a monarchist people and that eventually we are supposed to be ruled by the kings. They use the Shahnameh to justify their claim, forgetting how Ferdowsi was humiliated by a monarch. There are others who blame the Arabs and Islam for all that went wrong in Persia's history. Our Muslim Fundamentalists claim that Islam is the solution. All these groups agree that the Persians are a great people with a glorious history and a not-so-great present. The obsession with the past has led them astray into the never-land of adulating our great thinkers who are now dead.

It is not enough to take pride in the greatness of the past to feel better. Hafez and Rumi's main goal in life was to search for truth, not to prove how great they were. The only way to continue their tradition is to break new grounds, not to regurgitate or adulate them. You can only feel sorry for those who rely on their past greatness. Persia produced great philosophers, astronomers, mathematicians, chemists, medical scientists, architects, poets, historians, and linguists.

Our history is full of distant stars that are no longer with us. They wink at us, and make us nostalgic about the way things used to be, but they are out of our reach. History is an intimate friend, but it torments us. It makes us happy, but it troubles us. It drowns us in sorrows. Who were our great thinkers? Where did they all go, those intellectual giants with their vast knowledge who fascinate us through the distorted prism of the foggy past? Below I have listed our world-class thinkers ('bozorgan') to ask a few questions about the strange time-line of our intellectual golden age.

Who were some of our great thinkers?
These were giants of intellect, in the same class as Da Vinci, Mozart, Shakespeare, Marx, Dante, Einstein, and Aristotle. The great thinkers of the Islamic Empire came from many different backgrounds. A large number of them were Persians; others were Arabs, Turks, Jews, or Spaniards. Except for Ferdowsi, and a few others, most great thinkers of that period were educated in Baghdad and Damascus. In the Islamic Arab Empire Baghdad was the center of culture and intellect, Sorbonne and MIT combined; many stayed in Baghdad to teach.

They mostly wrote in Arabic. Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406), universally recognized as the founder of sociology and philosophy of history, was born in Tunisia to a Spanish family. Ibn-Khaldun developed an analytical study of civilizations, and their rise and subsequent decline. The great Persian Jewish historian Tabari (from Mazanderan) taught Law in Baghdad, and wrote a monumental history of the world. There were a large number of other thinkers: Ibn-Arabi, the great Arab philosopher, Ibn-Battuta, the great world traveler and writer, and Ibn-Haitham, the Egyptian physicist, the founder of optics.

Ibn-Sibovaih (b. Shiraz) wrote the first systematic study of Arabic grammar. The Persian scholar, Ibn Sina (b. Bukhara, Uzbekistan), was one of the greatest scholars of all time who wrote almost all his works in Arabic; Ibn Sina engaged in research in a vast field of knowledge from medicine, philosophy, mathematics, to physics, and music and wrote more than 99 books.

Zakarya Razi, the great chemist and physician whose books were translated and studied in Europe, was one of the main founders of chemistry along with the Arab alchemist, Jabir Ibn Hayyan. The great scholar, Abu Raihan Biruni (b. Birun, Uzbekistan), was the first to correctly calculate the radius of the Earth to be about 6,340 km. Farabi (b. Farab, Uzbekistan), one of the greatest scholars of all time, wrote 117 books in mathematics, philosophy, and music.

How "Islamic" were our great thinkers?
Our great thinkers continued the intellectual heritage of the Greek philosophers who were mostly atheists. They also lived under the liberal rule of Islam. Our great thinkers threaded a delicate path between reason and faith, between the Greek philosophers (Aristotle and Plato) on one hand and the Koran on the other hand. Some of our thinkers were deeply faithful to Islam. Some were more skeptical. For Ibn Sina, "the prophets had revealed higher truths, myths, fables, symbols, and allegories, meant for the masses (al-awam)".

According to Ibn Sina, the philosophers (al-ulama) had the right and the duty to go beyond the sacred text, to explore the truths with their own reason. Ibn Sina did not believe in a day of resurrection (qyamat). Farabi did not believe in the immortality of the soul. Many of our great thinkers believed in a god at one with the world, not a god outside the world. Omar Khayyam and many others were persecuted by the Islamic clergy, just as Mazdak had been persecuted by the Zaratostrian clergy under the Sassanid.

What did our great thinkers think of music?
Muhammad Ghazzali, one of the greatest scholars in the history of Islamic thought, wrote: "There is no entry into the heart except through the ante-chamber of the ears. Musical tones, measured and pleasant, bring forth what is in the heart and make evident its beauties and defects. Whenever the soul of music and singing reaches the heart, then there stirs in the heart that which preponderates in it". Ibn Sina and Farabi wrote volumes on music. Farabi invented many musical instruments. They had views more advanced than the dominant views in Iran today. The Persian music of their time was probably far closer to the music of the Sassanid period and therefore in all likelihood richer than today's classical Persian music, of mourning.

Was Rumi from Iran or Turkey?
For those obsessed with our past the exact national origin of our great thinkers matters. Where was Mozart from? Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), the great musical composer, was born in Salzburg, part of the Holy Roman Empire (in present-day Austria). He traveled in Europe and lived in Prague. In 1781, he settled in Vienna, where he died in 1791. Can we say Mozart was Austrian? At the time of Mozart there was no Austria. By the same token, at the time of Rumi there were no nations called Persia, Iran, Afghanistan, or Turkey, although there was certainly a Persian people, and a Turkish people. So there is no exact answer to the question.

The great Persian poet, Jalaluddin Mowlavi Rumi, was born in the Seljuk Empire in Balkh (today, Afghanistan), studied in Baghad, and died in Konya (today, Turkey). Today many pop singers in Iran use Rumi's poetry as lyrics and are perfectly understood in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikstan (Tajik is the central Asian Turkish word for Persian). We are honored if the people of Turkey, a people who share so much of our history think of Rumi as their own.

As for the regime of Turkey claiming Rumi as its own, there is something ridiculous about a regime that has killed or jailed hundreds of poets and writers to take pride in a Persian poet who lived long ago. It is good to ask what happened to Turkey's intellectuals of 20th Century, Aziz Nasin, the satirical writer, Nazim Hikmat, the poet, Ahmad Kaya, the great singer and song writer, or Yilmaz Guney, the film director. Iran's record is no better; Shamlu, Bozorg Alavi, Soltan-pur, and many others were jailed, exiled, or murdered under the Shah or the current rule. If Rumi had been alive in Iran or Turkey today, he would have been jailed or killed. Repressive regimes love their intellectuals, dead.

What would Rumi have said on the topic of his own origin?
Here is what Rumi said on the topic: "If the Turk, the Roman, and the Arab are in love; they all know the same language, the beautiful tune of Rabab" (Rumi, poem 304, Book of Shams Tabrizi)

What was the first Persian Empire?
The first Persian Empire was founded by the Achemenid (Hakhamaneshi) dynasty in 648 BC (2653 years ago). In 539 BC, Cyrus (Kurosh) turned Persia into a large Middle Eastern empire, by launching attacks upon the more advanced civilization of Babylon (today's Iraq). With that war Syria and Phoenicia (today's Lebanon) fell under Persian control. Within a few years the Persian Empire had become a major military and political power dominating the Middle East.

In 512 the Persian king, Darius (Dariush), invaded Anatolia, and crossed the Bosphorus to occupy the Greek mainland. The Achemenid Persian Empire was one of the largest and most powerful empires in the world. Darius took the advanced postal and administrative systems of the Assyrians and expanded it. In 330 BC, the Persian Empire of the Achemenid was brought down by the Greek Armies of Alexander. Greek language and culture came with the Greek kings who succeeded Alexander the Great. Persia remained under Greek rule for centuries.

What was the second Persian Empire?
The Persian Empire of the Sassanid (Sassanian) dynasty emerged in 226 CE. The Sassanian expanded their power throughout the Middle West (at one point they conquered Yemen), and chose Tisfun (outside Baghdad) as their capital. The Sassanian made numerous wars against the Roman Empire. Probably influenced by its close relations with India, the Persian Empire of the Sassanid was a highly centralized state, based on a rigidly organized caste system of Priests, Soldiers, Scribes, and Commoners. People from lower or middle classes were banned from engaging in learning of the sciences. If a peasant or a blacksmith arranged for his child to learn how to read, he could get punished by death.

The clergy was all powerful under the Sassanid. Zoroastrianism was made the official state religion; other religions were persecuted. The incessant wars with the Romans eventually contributed to the decline of the Sassanid Empire. The Persian Empire of the Sassanids was on its way to decay when it was was conquered by Islamic Arab armies in 641-650. The Arab conquest was a major turning point that transformed Persia. Islam replaced Zoroastrianism, and an entirely new language and culture emerged in Persia. History is full of examples of entire nations changing their religions by force or by consent. That was how Christianity was introduced in Europe.

Were there other major civilizations in the Middle East?
Before the Persian or Islamic Empires there were other major civilizations in the Middle East; these were the Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian (today's Iraq), and the Phoenician (today's Lebanon) civilizations. The Phoenicians formed a major commercial naval power in 1200 BC and ruled the Mediterranea for centuries. They created extensive commercial networks throughout the Mediterranea, with sophisticated systems of payment, credit, and banks. The Phoenician alphabet forms the basis of all modern European and Middle Eastern alphabet. With the rise of Assyria, the Phoenician cities lost their independence, and were later dominated by Babylonia. Eventually Phoenicia became a province of the Persian Empire.

What was the Islamic Empire?
Islam began in Arabia in 611 CE with Muhammad, who united Arabia under the rule of Islam. By 690 CE, after a series of conquests the Arab Empire had become the largest state in history, stretching from Spain to Afghanistan. The first 90 years of the Islamic Empire was marked by chaos, tyranny, and violence of the Umayyad Califes. The Umayyad created a system of oppression and privilege favoring their Arabian tribal cronies. But they faced a series of revolts throughout their empire, revolts that culminated in the Abbasid take over of power with the help of an uprising led by Abu Muslim Khorassani (718-755 CE), one of the greatest military leaders and strategists in the history of the Middle East.

Abu Muslim was born in either ëin Marv or in the vicinity of Isfahaní (according to the Encyclopedia Iranica) around 718 or 723. He grew up in Kufa (Iraq) and later joined the movement organized by the Abbasid. In 743, a wave of revolts began against the Umayyad tyranny. Abu Muslim went to Khorassan where he found support among the people; He was able to launch a revolt in support of the Abbassid. In 750, Abu Muslim's army stormed the Umayyad capital, Damascus. Abu Muslim's military campaign and the people who supported him created a major turning point in the history of the Middle East. It brought to power the more progressive Abbassid Califes, and helped pave the way for a new age of prosperity.

Abu Muslim strongly believed in the establishment of the rule of justice. That was why he fought against the Umayyad tyranny. After the overthrow of the Umayyad, he let the Abbassid take the power, and moved back to become the governor of Khorassan, at the time, a province of the Islamic Empire. This brings us to the central point of this essay: that there were always people who struggled for justice and freedom and that they played a crucial role in our history.

What was the Islamic Empire of the Abbassid?
The Abbassid built a new empire; they learned what they could from Persian and Roman administration systems. In 762 CE, the Abbassid moved their capital from Damascus to Baghdad, outside the Persian Sassanid capital, Tisfun. The move was significant. Baghdad was the closest Arab city to the Persian heartland. The Islamic Empire of the Abbassid was an Arab Empire, but Persian scholars gained prominence in the rulers' court.

Under the Abbassid rule, Baghdad grew to be the most prosperous, most cultured capital city of the old world. An extensive network of mercantile capitalism came to existence extending from China to the Persian Gulf, to Ethiopia, and to Spain. Along with an explosion in the commerce of cotton, rugs, fruits, spices, sugar, and textile, merchants emerged who organized large caravans of camels and fleets of ships trading goods throughout the vast territories. The golden age of Islamic civilization had begun.

Why was there such an explosion of intellect in the Islamic Empire?
Some have explained the growth of Islamic sciences by pointing out that Islam based the time of prayer upon the motions of the moon and the sun, and that many passages in the Koran invite us 'to think'. This view does not explain the dark ages that followed in the Middle East. After all the Koran was the same book after 1350 CE as it had been before. Civilizations rise due to a whole array factors, and they eventually decay due to a number of other factors. One can not credit a single factor for any event in history.

The Middle Eastern intellectual golden age began shortly after the fall of the Umayyad tyranny. It lasted more than four centuries. As the time line above shows, most of our great thinkers lived in the period that began in 750 CE and ended with the Mongol and Tatar invasions. The French historian, Leon Gautier, points out what characterized that period was general prosperity, along with a series of enlightened despots, and a fragmented political power based on a network of local princes. Intellectuals flourish in an atmosphere conducive to cultural freedoms, not under brutal tyrannies.

The Islamic empire brought together many nationalities under one cultural and communication system. Arabic was a rich language that bound Islamic intellectuals together, just as English brings together today's world scholars. Without knowledge of Arabic, Ibn-e Rushd, the Jewish philosopher from Spain could not have read books written in Baghdad or Shiraz. The great thinkers of the Arab Islamic Empire built upon the rich histories of Persian, Egyptian, and Greek civilizations. They collaborated with each other and produced major intellectual works, at a time when the Europeans were in the dark ages, at a time the European clergy burned people for saying that the earth moved around the sun. El-Hakam II, the Arab Calife of Corodoba in Spain (961-976 CE), sponsored the creation of a library of 400,000 books, organized with a catalogue that consisted of 44 volumes; all this before the print machine!

How was daily life in Baghdad at the time?
Ibn Battuta describes Baghdad around 1325 CE: "Then we traveled to Baghdad, […] the Capital of Islam. Here there are two bridges on which the people promenade night and day, both men and women. The baths at Baghdad are numerous and excellently constructed most of them painted with pitch which has the appearance of black marble. This pitch is brought from a spring between Kufa and Basra, from which it flows continually. It gathers at the sides of the spring like clay and is shoveled up and brought to Baghdad.

Each establishment has a number of private bathrooms, every one of which has also a wash-basin in the corner, with two taps supplying hot and cold water. Every bather is given three towels, one to wear round his waist when he goes in, another to wear round his waist when he comes out, and the third to dry himself with." Travels in Asia and Africa 1325-1354

Was the fall of the Sassanid a disaster?
Some Persian nationalists believe all was well in Iran until the Arab invasions. The Arabs abolished the caste system of the Sassanid. Saadi, Hafez, Khayyam, and Rumi all came after the fall of the Sassanid. Most of these writers took pride in writing eloquent verses in Arabic as well as Persian. Conversion to Islam did have tax benefits (similar to buying property today in the USA), but the peoples living in the Islamic Empire were not forced to adopt the religion of Islam.

Many Arab countries have rich histories. Centuries before Kourosh there were cities with sewage systems and running water in Babylonia (today's Iraq) and in Yemen. In 2002 an important report was written by Arab scholars from the United Nations about the cultural stagnation of the Arab World. A study of that report shows that today Iran suffers from many of the same problems.

If I learned that I have neighbors that suffer from the same plague as mine, I would talk to them about those problems. That would serve everyone better than arguments over who did what to whom 1400 years ago, or what was the exact historical name of the Persian Gulf. In Europe after long periods of warfare and violence, they finally opted for cooperation among nations. There will come a time when we can overcome the existing cultural backwardness and engage in cultural exchange with our neighbors, the Turks, the Kurds, the Arabs, and the Jews.

What was the Seljuk Empire?
The Muslim world was shaken again in 1037 with invasions by the Seljuk Turks from the Central Asia. Seljuk Turks swept across and conquered most of Islamic Asia, to restore a new orthodox Islamic rule. Based in today's Uzbekistan (historically known as Turkestan), the Seljuk rulers created a large Middle Eastern empire which lasted until the Mongol invasions. Omar Khayyam, One of the greatest Persian mathematicians, astronomers, and poets lived in the Seljuk Empire.

Has there been a continuous history of Persia, unified under a central government going back 2,600 years?
There are no ancient nations with uninterrupted histories. Phoenicia was invaded by the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and then by the Romans. Egypt of the Pharaohs later became a Roman province, later occupied by Arabs, and then by the Ottomans. After the fall of the Roman Empire there was no unified Italian state for centuries. In the Middle Ages Germany and Italy were provinces of the Holy Roman Empire. Italy and Germany became modern unified independent states only in 1870.

Persia was an independent nation under the Hakhamaneshis, the Sassanid, the Safavid, the Qajar, the Pahlavi, and the Islamic Republic. There was no unified nation-state called Persia in the period between Sassanid and Safavid states (641-1500 CE). Persia was a part of the Arab Islamic Empire and later Seljukid Empire. At different times there were regional Persian rulers, who paid taxes to the Arab Calife of Baghdad. With the important exception of Mullah Sadra who lived under the Safavid rule, very few of our great thinkers lived under the rule of strong centralized Persian states. Intellectuals flourish in an atmosphere of cultural freedom, not repressive brutal tyrannies.

The Persian Empires of the Hakhamaneshi and Sassanian were analogous to the Roman Empire. They extended Persian military and political influence throughout the civilized world. However, with the important exception of architecture which was later absorbed and developed by the Arabs, the Sassanid Persian Empire produced little in the way of a lasting intellectual heritage; in this respect the Persian Empire of the Sassanid, was similar to the Roman Empire.

Should we keep our Persian heritage pure from foreign influences?
Since the dawn of history civilizations have been engaged in a process of constant exchange with each other. The array of what can be exchanged is wide: the compass, a technique for making steel, the cooking of a dish, an entire philosophical system, an ideology, a religion, or a song, or new words borrowed from other languages. These exchanges take place through travelers, invasions, commerce and trade, or through long molecular processes.

Today a vast web of communication has emerged to accelerate the exchange: the printing press, the telephone, the radio, the Internet. Those who want to stop the interaction of cultures may as well stop the planets. What is seen as traditional in any given culture is the culmination of centuries of cultural and economic exchange with different nations and peoples. Each and every language today carries with it layers of vocabulary from other languages. English vocabulary is 30% Latin. Persian vocabulary is about 30% Arabic. This makes Persian richer.

Persian alphabet is also based upon the Arabic alphabet. Some modern Persian writers have tried to replace Arabic words, the same words that Hafez and Rumi used, with older words of 'pure' Persian origin. That is absurd. Persians gave a lot to world civilization. They also learned a great deal from others. There are few peoples who can proudly claim not to be using foreign vocabulary or engaging in exchange with other civilizations: isolated peoples in the jungles of Africa or the Amazone!!

Is California an Arabic name?
Even the name for California has Arabic origins. Spain was ruled by the Arabs for centuries. As a result modern Spanish contains thousands of Arabic words. California was first sighted by the Spanish navigator, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo in 1542. In 1530's one the first books to be published by the recently invented print machine, was a fictional account of the Crusades, named 'The Exploits of Esplandian', written by the Spanish author, Garcia Ordóñez de Montalvo around 1500. In that novel there was a mythical island named California, derived from the Spanish word, Calife, which was based on the Arabic term Khalife.

What did Europe learn from the Islamic golden age?
The achievements of the Islamic Empire later became a launching pad for Europe. Throughout the European Enlightment, a large number of works written in Arabic were translated into European languages. Hegel, the German philosopher, developed his philosophy after studying 'Al-Muqaddimah' (The Introduction) of Ibn-Khaldun. Hegel had a direct influence on Karl Marx.

Ibn Sina's works had a major influence on Da Vinci, and his books were used as textbooks for medical education in Europe, as late as 1700 CE. Muhammad Khwarazmi (b. Khwarazm, Uzbekistan), one of the greatest mathematicians in world history, was the founder of modern Algebra; He developed the system of numerical algorithms, which centuries later became the foundation of all software development. The name Algebra comes from his book, Al-Jabr wa-al-Muqabilah. He introduced the Indian numerals (Arabic numerals) into Arab mathematics. His books were used as textbooks in Europe until around 1600. The word, algorithm, is a latinization of al-Khwarazmi's name.

The Italian mathematician of 13th Century, Leonardo Fibonacci, studied mathematics during his extensive trips in the Middle East. After the 16th Century, a period of confrontations began pitting Kepler and Galileo (both students of Islamic astronomy) against the Catholic Church. Conflicts arose between the modern bourgeoisie and the aristocratic order culminating in the French Revolution of 1789 and the industrial revolution of 1830's. Europe had entered the modern age.

How did the Middle East enter the dark ages?
In 1095 CE the Crusades were started, a series of bloody wars launched by the Catholic Church and European kings against the Arabs. In 1219, Genghis Khan led the Mongols begin a barbaric assault for the conquest of Central Asia and the Middle East. The Mongols destroyed all that they could find: libraries, universities, schools, observatories, hospitals, etc.

The Mongols conquered Persia, and the rest of the Middle East. By 1258 CE they destroyed Baghdad. Persia became land in ruins, a division of the incredibly vast Mongol Empire, and later splintered into a large number of small impoverished states, open to still more conquest by a brutal Tatar conqueror: Timur invaded Persia in 1370 and ravaged the country for years. The Middle East entered the dark ages. With the discovery of America in 1495, the Middle East was no longer a commercial hub connecting Europe with China and India.

When did Iran (Persia) become a unified nation after Islam?
Persia did not emerge as an independent political entity until 1500 CE, when the Safavid Dynasty emerged from Azerbaijan. The Safavid Shah Ismail founded a new united political power to stop the ever expanding power of the Ottoman Empire. Wars with the Ottomans were a fact of life in Safavid Persia. The Safavid created the official Shiite religion to unite Iranians against the Ottomans. In 588 CE, Shah Abbas came to power and instituted a series of reforms. He moved his capital to Isfahan, which became one of the most important cultural centers in the Islamic world. Under the Safavids Persia enjoyed its last period as a major power. Persia witnessed a revival of philosophy under the Safavid rule. But that was temporary. Gone were the days of Ibn Sina, Razi, and Rumi.

What came after the Safavid?
In 1722 the Safavid rule collapsed under the weight of invasions by the Afghans, the Ottomans, and the Russian armies of Peter the Great. Persia experienced a temporary political revival under Nader Shah in the 1730s. After Nadir Shah, chaos ruled until 1779, when the rule of Turkman based Qajar dynasty began. The great French Revolution of 1789 and the industrial revolution transformed Europe. Unable to compete with the new industrial powers of Europe, Persia languished under the Feudal rule of the Qajar throughout the 19th Century. In spite of a major constitutional democratic revolution in 1906, Reza Khan Mir-Panj (later renamed to Pahlavi) seized power from the Qajars to found a new dictatorship in 1925. In the 20th century Middle East dictatorial regimes have suffocated intellectual progress. Cultural progress has not been easy in our part of the world.

Conclusion
Here is the history of the Middle East, caravans carrying silk and pearl, gardens of roses, with cascades, inner circles of the harems, sultans, concubines that danced on marble, emirs, shahs, kings of 1001 nights, minarets, women of hannah, weaving carpets of gold. Then came the wasteland that followed our intellectual golden age, mystery, resignation, fortune tellers, cages, green bearded mullahs reading the Koran, sleepy people reading old books bound with leather, books with pages in yellow, the Persian music that appears to have been made to mourn the loss of greatness. The sun rising, to be followed by the crescent of the moon, lands of slaves, some naked, some covered under the veil, all going hungry while they were promised the salvation of the world after.

Here is the orient, the orient raw and pure, than can be seen through the foggy ruins of time.

Here is to review the main themes of the essay:

I- One trend is consistent about our intellectual golden age: our great thinkers needed regions of intellectual freedom so they could explore the sciences. Many of them had to struggle against the forces of oppression. Ferdowsi was humiliated by a king, and Khayyam was persecuted by the Mullahs.

II- Our great thinkers were not stuck on preserving some imaginary heritage that would set Persians apart from our neighbors. The period of our intellectual golden age was a period of intense interchange throughout the Middle East. The Khalifes of Baghdad learned civilization from the Persians. In return, Persian, Turkish, Spanish, and Jewish intellectuals went to Baghdad to study and to exchange ideas.

III- Today Europe is more civilized than the Middle East. An indicator of that progress is that the European countries join forces to send satellites to the outer space. They make efforts to educate their new generations in each others languages. After centuries of warfare they have learned how to engage their neighbors in intellectual exchange rather than idiotic debates, on who is better than whom.

IV- Our intellectual golden age would not have come about without the peopleís struggle for justice and freedom. It was the peopleís movement led by Abu Muslim Khorassani that helped overthrow the Umayyad oppression, and ushered a new golden age.

V- Today many Persians have relegated our great thinkers to the forbidden realm of the sacred, holy books that should forever remain closed. They use the poetry of Hafiz for fortune telling (Faal-giri). But our great thinkers, they knew the only true sacred space, our real lives, our eternal search for freedom, dignity, and a better world.

VI- Progress comes about by questioning what some may view as sacred, in an atmosphere of freedom. Progress comes about by taking out what is relevant in our rich heritage and combining that with the wealth of works created in the last three centuries, the works of Mozart, Beethoven, Eisler, Marx, Darwin, Balzac, Shakespeare, Einstein, Neruda, and Brecht.

VII- In the last century Iran has witnessed the emergence of many world class intellectuals such as Abbas Kiarustami, Ehsan Yar-Shater, Ahmad Shamlu, and many others. The great thinkers of our intellectual golden age were stars that left us long ago, but others have been rising, and new ones shall rise.

Note
This essay was inspired by the works of the French historian, Fernand Braudel.

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