What is the big deal about mocking a dictator and mass murderer of more than two thousand years ago?
April 16, 2007
Finally I watched the film 300. Such a poor piece and a total waste of time! But it sold and it sold well. The obvious reason is that it took advantage of an opportunistic moment in which there is talk about Iran (modern Persia) confronting the West. America is a free country and businessmen are free to be smart and take advantage of various business opportunities. America is not Iran where conspiracy is practically synonymous with action. Although the film was obviously nothing but a poor and quickly-made science-fiction (it was definitely made quickly in order to benefit from the momentum), it did upset many Iranians (or most probably Persians of Iran who make up about half of the population).
The upsetting is not necessarily rational because the film did not refer to the people of Persia, or Iran, at that time (or today) but simply to Xerxes and his massive army. The film should have actually been taken as flattering. Xerxes was shown as the emperor of a hundred nations and he was almost four times the size of a normal man (even the good looking ones of Sparta), and he spoke like a wise and understanding, but also ruthless and cunning, Persian king Persians take pride for. So, what is the point about getting angry about that film? Was it because Xerxes's army was made of some monster-like soldiers? Was it that he was missing some nice beard? Was it the piercing? This is all science-fiction.
Surprisingly some of the soldiers were actually black! The Spartans received a messenger from Xerxes who was himself black and the king of the Spartans called the messenger "Persian" so obviously Persian was not meant to be Iranian but simply a member of Xerxes's army, who could have been African. The film also showed Xerxes in a good light by the fact that the Persian king of more than two millennia ago was so open-minded that he would actually send a black messenger to represent an Asian land with Caucasian people!
Beside all this it is interesting to see that so many Iranians find mocking Xerxes and his army as offensive! Does Xerxes represent what the Iran of today stands for? What is the big deal about mocking a dictator and mass murderer of more than two thousand years ago? It would have probably been offensive if Xerxes was indeed the founder or one of the founders of the modern Iran, or was he? And this is actually where the whole issue collides with my reality and the realities of many other Iranians who find themselves often in the minority. Many Iranians, who are probably the strongest voice of the Iranian diaspora, see the likes of Xerxes as symbols of what they see as a proud Iran.
If Iranians would make a film in which they would mock Queen Victoria of Great Britain more than one and a half century ago, and her army, as monsters and savages, the British (or the English) would most probably ignore the film, but in case they wouldn't ignore it they would not get so much upset either, because although Queen Victoria was an important (also shown as positive) personality of Great Britain she does not represent what today's Brits consider themselves to be. George Washington though is an American personality who actually represents the foundation of a nation that has since continued and prospered the way George Washington and his followers and comrades thought and designed. Mocking George Washington and showing him as a monster is indeed a direct attack on America and its fundamental values.
The Pahlavi regime of Iran tried to build a modern Iran tracing back its foundations to the times of Xerxes and his ancestors, and the results of the Pahlavi propaganda and schooling can now be read all over the Internet on weblogs and articles created by angry Iranians who find themselves offended because their symbol of greatness and historical glory has been so unjustly (as these Iranians claim) tarnished.
The fact of the matter is that Xerxes, Darius, Cyrus and others of the Iranian pre-Islamic dynasties, were simply a bunch of tyrants who cared for nothing but their own power and glory (as the film also showed in an exaggerated fashion). They killed and oppressed not for the sake of any good, but simply for their own satisfaction. As it is today nice to be powerful, so was it nice back then to rule over half of the world.
But let's not get this wrong! It was not the Persians (or wrongly stated the modern Iranians) who through their supposedly superior science, culture, craft and knowledge, conquered half of the world, but it was simply the Persian king, as one individual, who undemocratically (this may sound modern and fashionable but at those times democracy was an established fact in Greece and the Greek people wanted to defend their democracy) ruled over a large number of nations. So what is the point of defending this dictator? The only point is psychologic. There has been a massive attack on a personality who used to represent a sick ideology promoted by the Pahlavi. And this meaningless ideology still resides among many Iranians (especially Persians) who hide their inner short-comings and weaknesses through empty and irrelevant references to the past.
The inferiority complex of Reza Pahlavi toward Britain, Russia and Turkey probably started it all. But it may have been less or more ominous than that. So instead of accepting the facts, that he was just another opportunistic tyrant who had simply taken over a poor and relatively irrelevant country, he decided to suppress the facts by promoting a fallacy. The fallacy that modern Iran was built by Xerxes. And as every nation is the product of its rulers, so the Iranian nation is indeed at least partially a product of Reza Shah who instead of building his nation according to his own personality decided to find a historical reference and so appeared (all over schools and state controlled media) the pre-Islamic glorious Iran (Persian Empire) that most Iranians hardly knew about at that time.
The modern Iran up until that point was built by Shah Ismail and it was based on Shia Islam. And Reza Shah forgot all about the fact that first of all the pre-Islamic Iran had been buried more than 12 centuries earlier, and secondly that neither the Iran of the 20th century was the Persia of Xerxes nor the world of the 20th century the world Xerxes found himself in. And this is all just a little bit beside the fact that Xerxes was a Persian who ruled over the Persian Empire while Reza Shah himself was not even a Persian!
Having been through a little bit of history it would be a good decision for the Iranian community to take a fresh look at the issues and see the stupidity of considering Xerxes and his army as representative of Iran. Even ethnic Persians of Iran would better look for more modern values based upon freedom and respect rather than a historic murderer and tyrant who never intended to do any good at his time, let alone for those who today see themselves as the descendants of the old Persians. Comment