October 5, 2000
Cyrus and the hejab
I would like to comment on the excerpt from Ms. Sandra Mackey's book
"The Iranians" ["Cyrus
the (not so) great]"]. her point of view is interestingly provocative,
especially as a women's point of view. It is true that in Iranian history
no woman apart from Empress Farah Diba was ever crowned, and if I am not
mistaken the late Shah of Iran did want to symbolize through the Coronation
Ceremonies the level of equality reached, between men and women in Iran
and in an Islamic nation.
However I feel Ms. Mackey as well as her uncited historians are digging
too far. It is a fact that Iranian history has been dominated by male figures,
but is that not the case of world history in general? I do not think the
major question is to try to put into question the greatness of Cyrus. The
majority of Iranians and non-Iranians remember him for freeing the jews
and other nationalities from Babylon. He also tried to establish what history
was to remember as the "first declaration of human rights". No
one is naive to the point of not realizing that this "declaration"
was not perfect, not more than the "Hamurabi code", or even Athenian
Democracy to which the West likes to refer to, in order to justify it's
democratic institutions (institutions which I respect).
Greece as well as Alexander the Great, as many Western historians like
to refer to, were no more peace lovers than the Persians. If the West puts
into question the greatness of Cyrus, then it should also question the
greatness of Alexander, for he copied the Persian cultural and religious
tolerance policies which was used during his short rule, after having conquered
the Persian Empire.
Even if I personally dissagree with Ms. Mackey's analysis she has the
perfect right both as a woman and a person to question the greatness of
Cyrus. But as for the introduction of the veil well, I leave that debate
to archaeologists rather than historians. The veil or the "roosarri"
was probably common among Persian women, but they were also common among
The reasons mentioned by Ms. Mackey are debatable. I believe that other
factors could be linked to the presence of the veil in the Middle East
which unfortunately the excesses of religious and male autocracy have probably
turned away from their initial purpose: and that is the climate. The extremely
hot climate as well as the dust and wind in many areas of the middle east
may also be a reason why women wore the veil. But if Mrs. Mackey was to
visit Russian peasants today, she would be surprised to see them wearing
the "roosari" while conducting their trucks in the fields.
It is difficult for Westerners to understand the concept of the chador,
which to me is not a symbol of the emancipation of Iranian women (who I
must remind you moved in their great majority in the streets back in 1979
wearing the the chador as a symbol of emancipation and in that they were
supported by many Western women's liberation mouvements who saw Khomeini
as a new Ghandi). But on the other hand, is Pamela Anderson a symbol of
women's emancipation? Why are Western women less shocked by Anderson's
behavior than by a woman who willinglky wears a chador?
As for Cyrus the Great, well let him rest in peace.