These days in Tehran, you see all kinds of billboards by the side of the streets and expressways. Most are product advertising, of course, and there are others with public service announcements, and a few display lessons of morality for the average folk.
One particular billboard of the last kind repeatedly caught my attention. The sign depicts a large, albeit faint, image of Faravahar, the Zoroastrian spread eagle with a man's head, to the right, with the words “raastgoo baashim” (let's be truthful) printed in large, bold letters to the left of the image.
“To speak the truth and to handle bow and arrow well. That seemed dear to the people who gave me [Zarathustra] my name. “
The above quote is from the book the Dawn by Friedrich Nietzsche. In this book, Nietzsche uses the Persians along with the Greeks, Germans, and Jews as historical illustrations of peoples who conquered their vice and achieved greatness as a result of their overcomings.
Nietzsche had obviously read Herodotus. Because it is he who first mentions truthfulness and good bowmanship as major attributes of the “barbarous” Persians.
On the customs of Persians, Herodotus writes: “Their sons are carefully instructed from their fifth to their twentieth year, in three things alone—to ride, to draw the bow, and to speak the truth. The most disgraceful thing in the world, they think, is to tell a lie; the next worst, to owe a debt: because, among other reasons, the debtor is obliged to tell lies.”
So it is safe to assume that there once existed among the Persians, a certain preoccupation with honesty and truthfulness and maybe that was a part of what set them apart from other ancient peoples and contributed to their rise and glory in the olden days.
But then what happened?
The truth billboard in the capital of the Islamic Republic is peculiar in more ways than one. The first thing is that the designer has to revert back to the pre-Islamic era to find proper symbolism for its message. The watermarked Faravahar is clearly a Zoroastrian icon.
The second and more profound peculiarity is the message itself; urging the citizenry not to lie as much. It gives the impression that we, as a people, have truly come full circle.
But people don't become liars overnight. It takes a long and cruel history like ours to make liars out of otherwise honest people. We lie to get by, to escape persecution, to make ends meet, etc.
All those invasions from the four corners, spearheaded by warlords who were in awe of us and who came and pillaged and burned and killed, has etched deep scars on the psyche of our nation. The chronic trauma has forever transformed the mentality of our people. Fear and distrust of the body government fill the hearts and minds of the average folk even to this day.
Imagine. For two hundred years, you had to literally hide your language. Speak one thing in the outside and quite another when in the relative safety of your own home.
Imagine. For more than a thousand years, your rulers have been outsiders who could barely speak your tongue. Rulers who, while pretending to assimilate, blamed you, the indigenous population, for their own shortcomings, who made pyramids and pillars out of your decapitated heads, who did this, that, and the other to maintain their grip on you. But they never meant to assimilate and are still in awe of you.
Imagine. For a hundred years, you have been trying to gain your rights as humans, to be able to assemble freely, to have freedom of choice, freedom of speech, of action, freedom to choose your representatives and have them work for you, enact legislation for you. But alas, every time your delegates convened, someone pointed their cannons at them and fired.
These types of experiences are enough to destroy a nation and wipe it out of the face of the earth. We should be thankful to have survived with a slight case of collective neurosis.
We lie because we have to, we lie to survive, and to disguise our true light, lest those in charge get intimidated and bring more harm to us.