Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The attack against Persian civilization?   posted by Razib @ 3/13/2007 01:26:00 AM

Not unpredictably some Iranian officials see 300 as a cultural attack. I find this interesting because the Iranian government itself has been attacking and reviling the pre-Islamic past since the revolution. From what I have read most of the tourists at Persepolis, the seat of the Achaemenid Empire, are Parsees. That is, Zoroastrians from India, not native Iranians, whose Muslim government does not smile upon reverence for the glories that came before Allah. The government has also apparently attempted to dampen the celebration of Noruz, a pre-Islamic holiday. Of course Iranian identity is a synthesis of many elements, and it seems likely that a counter-reaction to excessive Islamicization of the national identity at the expense of the cultural richness attested in Ferdowsi's work is now afoot at the grassroots. Nevertheless, my point is that situation and context matters. As a matter of historical reality it seems likely that Zoroastrianism during the reigns of the early Achaemenid was thin on the ground, and that conventional Aryan polytheism (the worship of the daeva) was the predominant dispensation. The depiction of Xerxes as a lush character indulging in pagan hedonistic pleasures in 300 was likely not that far off from reality, it was good to be King of Kings. The Islamic government should be glad that film depicts the pagan excess of ancient Persia, which did not know the light of the true religion. Without God one has nothing, including victory on the plains of battle.

Update: Kambiz has the expat view. Salman argues against the expats in the comments. To my knowledge questions like "how anti-pre-Islamic is the Iranian government?" have not been subject to quantitative analysis, so a lot of this is going to be impressionistic. One issue I would have with Kambiz's post, I read A Persian Strongholad of Zoroastrianism in college, and persecution of Zoroastrians in that nation pre-dates the Islamic Revolution. There is a reason that Zoroastrians were to be found in the most remote and isolated regions of pre-modern Iran (or that more Zoroastrians live(d) in India than Iran). And of course, the Towers of Silence were shut down by the Shah's regime in the 1970s, not the the Islamic government.