For much of the twentieth century, these two cultural elements have been at war for domination in Iran. In power from 1925 until 1979, Reza Shah Pahlavi and then his son Mohammad Reza Shah tried to accentuate the pre-Islamic component of the country’s heritage and dilute the Islamic element. The shah’s infamously lavish celebration of two thousand five hundred years of monarchy in 1971—the international glitterati were invited, food was flown in from Maxim’s de Paris, and the ruins of Persepolis were used as a backdrop and a reminder of days of glory gone by—was more than anything intended to accentuate this imperial, pre-Islamic past. Even the country’s calendar was changed. The year 1355 in Iran’s Islamic calendar (or 1976 CE) suddenly became 2535. The beginning of the Islamic calendar went back to the journey of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad, from Mecca to Medina, while the new imperial time sought its genesis in the alleged birthday of Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire. As the tumult of the revolution began only two years later, in a gesture of concession to the opposition, the calendar was changed yet again. But neither the hubris of retuning the clock on a whim—earlier tried by the likes of Maximilien de Robespierre in France and Vladimir Lenin in the Soviet Union—nor hackneyed concessions to the opposition could alter the stubborn realities of Iran’s bifurcated culture, formed and ingrained over centuries. >>>
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