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Persians

Not exactly democrats
Taking pride in the likes of Xerxes is quite worrisome

 

April 24, 2007
iranian.com

Recently I received so many angry e-mails (more than the case for my other articles) when I touched upon the sensitivity of Persian nationalism by calling Xerxes a tyrant. Some of my fellow Iranians asked me why I believe Xerxes was a tyrant and the questioning is legitimate as long as it indeed is a genuine curiosity. Some simply called me names or asked me who I work for (i.e. which dark forces pay me).

How do we define a tyrant in Iran? If Xerxes was not a tyrant then who was a tyrant?

My knowledge of history does not go into much detail so I cannot pretend to be an expert. But so far as I know Xerxes was himself the same Persian king who attacked Sparta and Athens after his father Darius had attempted the same thing and had failed. Why did they want to take over Greece? Was it because the Greeks wrote petitions asking them to liberate Greece from their unjust rulers?

Obviously, many Persians of today (those who think they are the descendants of the ancient Persians) who get so angry about criticising the Achaemenid rulers think that Darius or Xerxes were just rulers who intended no harm. They just for the sake of others' good wanted to take over the whole world, randomly, sporadically, and pretty much continuously attack, conquer and crush revolts just in order to spread civilisation, peace, eventually even freedom or perhaps some sort of democracy?! Aren't the same Iranians getting angry now at George Bush II for contemplating the same portrayed ideals?

The Achaemenid rulers never pretended to have temporary foreign adventures and they proudly annexed previously independent countries and regions killing or intimidating their previously sovereign rulers, often burning down quite a lot in order to teach a lesson to others, while America seems to be more reasonable by leaving the occupied territories sooner or later wherever they take their wars and various other adventures. Also Americans at least try to be careful and kill fewer civilians. Or at least they pretend this much! I am not defending America. I just wanted to make a point by comparison of two situations.

How is it that so many Persians defend someone about whom so little is known? Most, if not all, of what Iranians know about Xerxes and his likes are actually written or translated by Westerners themselves. Iranians seemed to have been unable to read their own same Persian writings of the Achaemenid era?! Yes, it seems so. Thank God these unjust and brutal Westerners of Greece, Germany, France, Britain and America were curious enough to write some history for us and translate what the Persian rulers of thousands of years ago cared to write as well! If they were not so curious we would not have known what we were missing.

I am not defending America, Ancient Greece, Sparta and so on. I am simply wondering about so much hypocrisy and ignorance that is continuously flourishing among the Iranian community. So, Xerxes was a just king, so was Cyrus, Darius and so many other ancient Persian rulers. However they did rule with an iron fist over a large area of the world. No one denies this. Did they do that with the acceptance of all the inhabitants of those areas? No one can deny they did not. They never cared. Didn't they, according to history, attack, conquer, kill and suppress revolts? No one can deny these either.

Creating a vast empire can never be possible without trampling on some rights, walking over hundreds of thousands of dead bodies among whom many innocent, and dictating your own will upon others. But so many of the Persians of today take pride in the likes of Xerxes that it is quite worrisome and makes me think whether we as Iranians are ready to accept democracy or we are actually unhappy with present tyrants and intend nothing but possibly to change the religious tyrant to a nationalist one!

All this desire for personality cult is nothing but a clear sign of social immaturity that ardently defends individuals who have a preference toward what they see as Persian supremacy. And this cannot live in peace with democracy. A true democracy also needs coming to terms with the past, no matter how distant or imaginary it may be, so long as it plays a major role in determining the identity of a large representative mass.

The most powerful Western empire was that of Rome, where there used to be a shaky sort of democracy, as was the case in Greece. Although Italians often take pride in the Roman Empire it is nowadays difficult to arouse so much Italian anger over criticising the Romans. There have been so many Western films in which the Roman rulers and soldiers were demonised. Didn't the Romans ever oppress, kill or torture? Of course they did.

The Roman Empire also did some good, so did the Persian Empire, but the good that these empires did was not intended for the people but for the rulers, because they were often (always in the case of the Persians) self-appointed ruthless warriors. The rulers wanted more power and more power could only be obtained through stability, and stability was provided through some measures that over time created some relative prosperity. The same is true also about the Muslim Caliphate where literature, science, and architecture (including in the past or the present Iranian lands) flourished extensively due to the stability that the Islamic Empire provided. Hence it is not worth praising the Persian or the Roman rulers for their selfish actions.

However it is worth praising George Washington for defending against the British tyranny and building a society that was at least fundamentally meant to be a free one, though it was not and it is not perfect and it will never be so. It is also worth praising many Iranian personalities who have done good for both Iran and for the rest of the world by their pursuit of science and human excellence in many other aspects of life. It is not worth defending or praising one tyrant because it was my tyrant who was supposedly a better man than somebody else's tyrant! Comment

 

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