Iranian history, and the history of the Near East in general, is very neglected in the United States. The history books in school only take a small glance at the history of this region, and at the history of Iran. The West is obsessed with Rome and Greece, thinking that it was those two that created the foundation for their civilisation. That is true to some extent, but the Iranian Empire (Persian Empire as Westerners call it) has contributed a lot to Western civilisation culturally (through religion; Zoroastrianism and Mithraism heavily impacted Christianity), militarily (the heavy cavalry was adopted from the Parthians and Sassanids), and politically (modern government, diplomacy, human rights, etc…).
What astonishes me is that although we have such a large and educated Iranian community in the United States, Iranian history isn't taught very much, nor is their any information available on it. I will tell you two of my own experiences.
It was Eid (the Iranian new year), and with my Eid money, I wanted to go and by a good history book about Iran. So we went to Pages For All Ages first. My expectations were high, and I was thinking that I would be reading a great book that evening. However, it did not take long for me to realise that there were no books on my topic of interest! I was shocked and angry. Where were all the books on this great civilisation that has impacted Asia, North Africa, two of the great monotheistic religions (Islam and Christianity), and the West?
All the books were about Europe (Dark Ages to present), Rome, Greece, or East Asia. Information about Iranian civilisation could only be found in books about other civilisations (which only provided a little bit of information for context, mostly useless). So we went to two other book stores, Barnes and Noble and Borders, and it was the same situation. After about five hours, we gave up, and came home empty handed. To this day I still have not spent that Eid money. (Needless to say, the only books about Iranian history were either about the Pahlavi's or the Islamic revolution)
This next story occurs when I went to register for college classes. It was a nice day, I was excited, and I was hoping that I could sign up for some great history classes.
So I finally went to the registration office to sign up for my classes. Looking through the booklet, I saw classes on Rome and Greece (these two were the basis for most of the classes, from Greek/Roman mythology, to Greek/Roman culture, to Greek/Roman military, to Greek/Roman whatever you can think of), some classes about East Asian history, a class on India, a class on the Ottomans, and a general world history class. Again, I was shocked! What about Sumeria, Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, Iran, and the Arab Caliphates?
Now this was a world renowned university, although not for its history, but nevertheless, you would expect that such a university would have specialised classes on Near Eastern history. I ended up signing for the general world history class.
I used to wonder why Persia was referred to as the forgotten empire (the name of the exhibition on Iranian civilisation in London, which is now touring Europe). Now I know, because in the West, it truly is forgotten. Persia is always the enemy, and the westerners, such as the Greeks and Romans, are the civilised “good guys”. Well Guess what? The Sassanid Iranian Empire (Sassanid Persia) was stronger and richer than the whole of the Roman Empire. Why aren't we talking about them?
It is our obligation as Iranians to spread knowledge of our civilisation in the West. We can do this by getting students interested on university campus's so they would create the need for such classes, by joining Wikipedia to expand its Iranian articles, by supporting Encyclopaedia Iranica, and much much more. We must do this, and stop the misrepresentation of Iranian history in the West.
I am going to start on a project, and I would like you all to help me. I want to create an article containing every aspect of Western Civilisation that has been impacted on by Iranian civilisation. Help me gather information, anything, from religion, culture, military, economy, government, etc…
Please E-mail me with any information you might have, and once all the information is organised and written up in an article format, I will have it published (hopefully) on Iranian.com as well as other sites. Also, give me your names so I can put it at the end of the article, along with the names of others who contributed.
We can do this, and we should do this!