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The conflating of Persia with the Islamist dictatorship that hijacked Iran

By Sheda Vasseghi

Ralph Peters in his Feb. 1, New York Post article “The Iranian dream of a reborn Persian Empire”, warns of a rising “Persian Empire” from the dead as a “menace,” and its possible nuclearization as a threat to America’s security and even “long-term survival.”

ClassicLionAlthough one may identify with an “unnerve[d]” Ralph Peters regarding the spread of Islamism, a cultural imperialism in the form of a militant theocracy, his conflating of that ominous force with Persia and the majority of the Iranian people ironically bears out his warning high up in the article – “History is vengeful toward the ignorant. And A 6th  Century BC image of “classic” Iran. / N.Y. Post       we’re historically illiterate.”

The following may shed some light as to why Peters’ perceptions and perspective are skewed and misleading.

“Persian culture enamors anyone who recognizes beauty, elegance, dignity, morality and inspiration. Few cultures in history have had such a far-reaching and bewitching effect on people in both the East and West, irrespective of their political, scientific, religious and social value.” — Choe Chong-dae, Dir. of Korean-Swedish Assoc. in The Korea Times, July 2, 2008.

The first image overpowering Peters’ article in the Post article is from 6th century BCE reliefs of a “Classic” Iran operating under native Zoroastrian philosophy while Peters’ concerns are with a rise of a “colonized” Iran under foreign Islamic version of Shiism as propagated by the mullahs in Tehran.

“The result of [Zoroaster’s] teachings was one of the most compelling and influential worldviews in history. In terms of its effects on other religions, Zoroastrianism may well have had the greatest impact of any single religion in the world…. There were two areas in which Zoroaster’s thinking yielded enduring effects. The first was his demand for moral responsibility, and the second was his belief in a final destiny for the cosmos….” — excerpt from The age of the sages, the 2013 book by Harvard graduate and associate professor of religious studies Dr. Mark Muesse.

Proper use of terminology and symbolism are essential to any field especially history. In that regard, one may not confuse Iran with Islam as Peters presents (see Iran: Not to be confused with Islam). In short, some western peoples are descendants of Iranians, and as such, Iranians are not the “Other.” An Iranian “empire” should not be a concern to the west.

Oddly, Peters notes that the ancient Persian Empire before Islamic colonization “was a milestone of civilization, its culture rich and original…and only the coming of Islam in the next millennium triggered Persian decay.” Yet, in representing his concerns, there are images in the article that represent Classic Iran rather than those that would convey the essence of a 2014 Iran held hostage under foreign Islamism. Even the title of Peters’ article is troubling given majority of Iranians are not “dream[ing] of a reborn Persian Empire,” but to free their nation.

The Persian Empire to which Peters refers is the antithesis to a colonized Iran under an Islamic republic. Peters fails to mention that this 1979 Islamic re-colonization of Iran was backed by some western governments, including Jimmy Carter’s administration (see Where’s Jimmy? A past president goes silent on his Iran legacy).

For half of 20th century the world experienced the rise of an inclusive and secular Iranian government, the Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1979). Iran with an unprecedented modernization rate was indeed rising from the ashes as a natural ally to the western and eastern worlds. The Iran under Pahlavi regime was based on its native Zoroastrian views as reflected in the ancient ancestral Persian Empire, the first world empire 550-330 BCE and considered one of the most benign governments.

The decree of the 6th century BCE Persian king Cyrus the Great (the Cyrus Cylinder) is considered the first known human rights declaration. No wonder, Cyrus was the most popular boy’s name in a 19th century America.

The majority of Iranians will probably name the 2500-year-old spiritual city of Persepolis built by their Zoroastrian ancestors as the symbol of their national identity, not Islamic Shiism.

Peters is right in that historical illiteracy indeed dominates mainstream including political leaders, educators, institutions, publishers, and journalists of the Left, Right, and in-between political persuasions. As for Iran, this ignorance continues to support its colonization, marginalization, and misrepresentation.

Western politics helped create the Islamist nightmare of the 21st century. Western politics also created a so-called Arab League in fostering what Peters labels as a fictional “Arab identity.” After all, it’s not Zoroastrianism and Iranian heritage of a developing west that is currently taught at American colleges, but introduction to Islam. Hence, one may take a moment and ponder the West’s role in the current demise. So far it’s not the secular Iranian nationalists that have received support by western politicians, but Islamists and their lobbyists.

Peters fails to note that among the ranks of the Persian army under King Xerxes were many Ionian Greeks (Asian Greeks). After all, the Greeks and the Iranians are both Indo-Europeans, who were spread across Asia and Europe. There is no east/west division between the two. Further, when Alexander of Macedonia invaded and massacred the Greeks, some Greek city-states allied with the Persians in trying to counter Alexander’s aggression and expansionism.

Peters notes the failure of a neo-Ottoman Empire, but does not mention that they were Persianized Turks. That is, they adopted Iranian court style, arts, and architecture, and when the Ottoman sultan walked through a captured Constantinople (modern Istanbul), according to his own historian, he recited a poem in Persian given it was the language of the elite.

Peters refers to the famous general and ruler Saladin, as “the Turk.” Saladin was of Iranian heritage – Kurdish to be exact. Peters also does not note the Arab caliphate was technically over some 200 years post invasion. According to “Father of Historiography,” the 14th century Tunisian-Andalusian historian Ibn Khaldun in his famous book The Muqaddimah, after the 7th century Arab Muslim invasion of Iranian and Byzantine territories, majority of medieval scholars, jurists, linguists, intellectual sciences, artisans, craftsmen, and the like were Persians, of Persian descent, or trained by Persians.

If Iranians are influential in Afghanistan, it is because the country has an Iranian heritage, name, and language. The Bactrians, an Iranian people, are the ancestors of modern Afghans. Therefore, it is only natural for Iran and Afghanistan to have close relations. As for Russia, Peters does not mention that an ancestral line of the Russian people is a people called Scythians, an Eastern Iranian people.

In his Blueprint for action: A future worth creating (2006), American military geostrategist Thomas P. M. Barnett writes: “Iran’s the 800-pound gorilla here. You can work around it and you can try to isolate it over its pursuit of the nuclear option, but let’s not kid ourselves here: we’re not going to establish a stable end state in this strategic security environment without Iran’s participation. It’s as simple as that.”

The bottom line here is not to confuse Iran with Islamism, but to realize that by supporting Islamism over Iranian values and heritage in western institutions for the past several decades, global politics and western civilization are on a decline. Perhaps it’s time to teach a more connected and meaningful ancestral history to the West in support of native Iranian values rather than misappropriating Iranian achievements to Islamism in propagating “Islamic arts, architecture, and science” at colleges and museums across America and Europe.

The mullahs in Tehran are an aberration in Iranian history. The Islamic republic does not mesh with Iranian people and their preferred way of life. Sooner or later it will be replaced by a secular democracy, but Iran’s geopolitical position in the region is too important. A potentially nuclear Iran under native ancestral values should not raise concerns. It’s time for the West to shed the confusion and lead in helping majority of Iranians reach a mutually-beneficial goal in freeing their nation.

Sheda Vasseghi is on the Board of Azadegan Foundation and is a regular contributor to on Iran’s Affairs. She is an adjunct history instructor and is working on her doctorate degree in Education with focus on Educational Leadership.

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original place of publication: Special to World Tribune








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