October 25, 2010

Cyrus Cylinder gets caught up in political arguments in Iran

Posted at 12:43 pm in British Museum, Similar cases

The arrival of the Cyrus Cylinder in Iran has triggered much debating over whether Cyrus the Great should hold relevance to the Islamic Republic at all, as it was produced before the Muslim religion existed. This seems to miss the point though of treating it for what it is – something that was significant at the time it was created, not using personal interpretations of it to try & score political points.

Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies

Cyrus the Great caught up in a ‘punch and Judy’ political show in Iran
Monday, 20 September 2010 09:53

LONDON, (CAIS) — Islamic Republic’s conservative MP Ali Motahhari in an open letter has criticised Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for praising Cyrus the Great during a live televised interview on Friday.

The British Museum recently loaned the Cyrus Cylinder to the Islamic Republic for a period of four months, despite the international condemnations, protests and warnings regarding its safety. The priceless artefact was put on display at the National Museum of Iran and the Islamic Republic’s president formally opened the Cyrus Cylinder exhibit on Sunday 12th.

“Although there are some positive points in the Human Rights Charter of Cyrus [the Great Cylinder], he was not a Muslim and his deeds were not in line with the [Muslims’] prophets’ teachings”, Motahhari writes.

Motahhari stated: “when Cyrus captured Babylon, he did not abolish idolatry in the name of freedom of thought.”

Motahhari referred to his father, Morteza Motahhari and his comments regarding Cyrus the Great stating: “When Cyrus issued the bill of human rights after entering Babylon, despite him being a monotheist and a Zoroastrian, in the name of freedom he permitted his new subjects to continue practicing their idol worship. That was wrong since he wanted to oppress them using their superstition-beliefs, which from a humanity point of view he should have not permitted.” Morteza Motahhari was a dogmatic cleric and disciple of Ruhollah Khomeini the founder of the Islamic Regime. He was assassinated by the Forqan Group in May 1979.

Motahhari compared Queen Elizabeth II to Cyrus the Great: “when she went to India, Elizabeth acted as if she respected the Indian polytheism and their idols. She did so to ensure they are kept in chains of darkness and superstition in order to oppress them and rob their wealth, the same as what Cyrus did to the Babylonians.”

“It seems that the president has made the remarks under the influence of his advisor, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaii, who has recently proposed that Iran promote the ‘Iranian School of Thought’ instead of the ‘ Islamic School of Thought”, the MP said.

He added: “the president should be aware that he is obligated to promote ‘Islam’ and his legion should lie with the leader and not ‘Iranian culture’ – and if he fails to fulfill his obligations, he will loose the support of his voters and the religious community.”

Golnaz Esfandiari in her Persian Letters blog recently commented on the issue: “Ahmadinejad was apparently trying to appeal to a new constituency among non-political types and tap into discontent with the clerical establishment, while at the same time trying to keep his hard-line supporters happy.”

It is apparent that the Islamic Republic’s politicians criticising each other is nothing more than a ‘punch and Judy’ show in order to gain the support for the dying and morally bankrupt Islamic regime and particularly the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – a much needed support of Iranians who are proud of their pre-Islamic past and have a strong sense of nationalism. Ali Motahhari, Esfandiar Rahim- Mashaei as well as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are directly acting under the command of the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei; and therefore Ahmadinejad’s praise as well as Motahhari’s critique must have been approved by him.

In recent years Cyrus the Great historical figure and his Cylinder have been subjugated to constant attacks from the Islamic fundamentalists inside, and Eurocentrics alike outside Iran. In addition, Cyrus and his humane approach to his subjects, particularly freeing Hebrews from Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BCE and their return to Jerusalem has sparked a new wave of attacks on him by Anti-Semitics internationally.

Back in 2008, Der Spiegel in a biased and Cyrus-bashing article mimicking the Islamic-fundamentalists’ stance towards pre-Islamic Iran called the ancient Iranian king which history has given him the title of ‘Great’, a ‘despot’ and the humane contents of his Cylinder which by many scholars is considered to be the world’s first Charter of Human Rights, as a ‘hoax’ that was ‘propagated by the former king of Iran.

A high ranking Persian Rabbi called the Spiegel’s article as: “a dark coalition of anti-Semitic Neo-Nazis, [Muslim-]fundamentalists and Eurocentrics embodied in one article.”

Press TV

‘When you are honest, you have no fear’
Sat Sep 18, 2010 2:37AM
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says that when you are honest, you have no fear.

Ahmadinejad made the remarks in an interview with two Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) reporters televised on Friday.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

We are working within the framework of law and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is inspecting us. The agency is under pressure by the Western powers and they have dominated the agency. We are going to prepare a report and we have come up with two points. They don’t know which legal article they can adhere to when they put forward their reports, they speak generally.

The second point, they have to give evidence that we have deviated and they haven’t done so. When they want to talk about what Iran has done, they say whatever Iran has declared, we have inspected, but whatever it has not declared, we cannot judge. We say, “Well, we have shown you everything that we have, all the atomic instillations.” They say, “You have declared it.” We ask them to show proof of the existence of this undeclared material, and then they say, “No, you have to provide proof that you have not deviated.” Then they say, “You come and give us evidence that you do not have undeclared facilities.” And we give them the same reply, that we don’t have undeclared facilities. We say if this is legal due process with the IAEA and this is what’s going on, we have to feel sorry for all humanity because you’ve got all the massacres and murders that are taking place all over the world, and they say nothing, but they say, “You have deviated from your program.” They say so without any evidence. How can you believe that?

They believe it’s like seventy years ago, and there is still hegemony, and they are dominant over everything, and people are waiting for handouts from them. But they don’t realize that people don’t trust them, and people question whatever they say a hundred times. They are just speaking generally, and they believe that something should happen simply because they talk about it.

Interviewer: Mr. President, let’s enter the foreign policy arena. An American has said that Mr. Ahmadinejad knows all about the art of interviews, and he has cautioned them how to conduct an interview with you. They have been told not to talk about the Holocaust issue. They don’t want to give access to the world media. The other issue is the Cyrus Cylinder and the historic argument about justice in Iran. Have you got a program to follow this up?

Ahmadinejad: Once a reporter, I believe he was an American, said that we talk to a lot of officials, but there is always fear when we approach you. I said whatever we believe, we mention in an honest way. I don’t plan anything beforehand. Whatever Imam Khomeini said 30 years ago, we repeat that. We say our nuclear technology is undisputable, we still say it. When you are honest, you have no fear. There are few officials in the whole world who have big press conferences, but they don’t specify what reporters should ask. They [reporters] make accusations, and they answer them. Unless there is honesty and earnestness, nothing comes out right.

As for the Cyrus Cylinder… What is the story behind this? 2500 years ago, there was a dictatorship in Iraq that imprisoned people, maimed them, and tortured them. The religion of these people was the divine religion of Moses. The disciples of this prophet were a minority. The minority was imprisoned by this brutal, murderous dictatorship, and they were enslaved. So they were in total desperation.

One of our kings replaced that dictatorship with a just regime. His name was Cyrus. People in the Babylon of that time wanted assistance from Cyrus. They said, “You preach justice, come and help us out. The dictator won’t let us pray, he won’t let us do anything.” I want to make a historical parallel here. Cyrus conquered Babylon and freed people from the brutal regime of Babylon.

However, while going there to free the people, he did not hurt a soul. He does it in a way that the dictatorship in Babylon falls apart. And then he issues the Declaration of Human Rights.

We know many nations themselves came and asked to be protectorates of the Iranian king. He said, “I will never wage war only to be a king.” At that time it was said if you go north, south, east, or west, it was all the Iranian empire. He didn’t allow any cruelty to anyone, he would confront cruelty, and he would punish cruelty. He said, “I will not allow anybody’s wealth to be taken away from him without compensation. For as long as I am alive, I won’t not allow anyone to enslave anyone else. Everyone is free, everyone is free to live where they like and choose any job they like and spend the money they like.” We have even more interesting points. He said, “Everyone is responsible for their own actions.” In other words, if anyone commits a wrong, you cannot punish the entire family, whereas in the past if someone in a tribe did something wrong, members of the opposing tribe thought it gave them that right to kill whoever they liked from that tribe or from that family.

He said, “I will not allow human beings to be traded as slaves… and slavery must be wiped off the face of the earth.”

Now let’s go to the UN issue. Some people say Cyrus was a prophet. We don’t say so. We just say that he was a good person. When we celebrate him, this isn’t nationalism. He was just an outstanding character who did positive work for humanity, but part of the fact is that he was an Iranian. The second point is we are not in any way backing monarchies. The Qajars and the Pahlavis left us ashamed and gave a wrong impression of us to the rest of the world.

It also doesn’t mean that during the rule of Cyrus there were no wrongs. We believe that the Islamic Republic is the best in the world and it has to dispense justice and take care of spirituality, but when you take into account the extent of the system, wrongs are committed.

Now you look at an official, anybody in the world, and they think they have reached the greatest heights, but a monotheistic person from this land has risen up and says there is no end to the rule of justice. In those days Iran was the only power in the world, and they conquered Babylon. But once he becomes the conqueror, injustice and aggression is outlawed. This is very important.

Now let’s compare this. Cyrus goes to Iraq and frees the people of Babylon without bloodshed, without destruction of property, without any damage to infrastructure and orders the abolishment of slavery and cruelty toward people and allows people to worship God the way they please in complete freedom.

Now we come to 2001 and 2002, 2003, the start of the new third millennium. 2001 to 2010 has been declared the decade of peace by the UN. However, the United States and its friend Britain come along and say there was a dictator in Iraq and he enslaved his people and we are going to free the Iraqi people. They came to Afghanistan and what happened. Now all the politicians in the world have reached the conclusion that there are two types of management: one is in the US, the other one is in Iran. They question what Iranian management is like. If Iran wants to take care of management, how would Iran do it? We say, this is how we do it, this is the symbol of our thought, this goes back way before Islam. It is from 2500 years ago and it was furnished with Islam, the Holy Qur’an, and the Imams. Our understanding of justice has expanded greatly. This is what we started with. Look how amazing it is. This is how it started.

Even the person who becomes the caretaker of a school wants to exert his authority. But look at other countries and look at Cyrus. He had taken over the whole world, but he said, “If anyone does anything unjust, he will have to come and face me.” He said he would do everything within this Declaration of Rights.

If Iran is going to manage the world, it is going to be based on mutual respect. Iran is not seeking domination. Cyrus said, “We don’t want to rule the world, we want to assist the world.” Furnished with Islam, values have expanded throughout the world. People want this.

Now if we add this culture of waiting [for Imam Mahdi (PBUH)], it will be fantastic. The Cyrus Cylinder was kept in a British museum for 130 years. They found it in Babylon and they took it to the UK. During the last monarchy, they tried to connect themselves to this declaration, but they damaged the reputation of Cyrus. During the Pahlavi regime, they paid 5 million pounds to Britain to bring this cylinder to Iran for 10 days.


Ahmadinejad As Cyrus The Great?
20 September, 2010

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stopped off in Syria for consultations with his ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, this weekend, on his way to New York for the United Nations General Assembly session. Ahmadinejad will make an appearance on Larry King Live on Tuesday.

Although his fate seemed up in the air only a little over a year ago, Ahmadinejad comes to New York with a substantially strengthened position.

It is no accident that Ahmadinejad has even revived a discourse of Iranian imperial greatness by referring to Cyrus the Great. He was asked about the Cyrus Cylinder in the British Museum, which Iran wants back is now exhibiting after an initial tiff.

‘ As for the Cyrus Cylinder… What is the story behind this? 2500 years ago, there was a dictatorship in Iraq that imprisoned people, maimed them, and tortured them. The religion of these people was the divine religion of Moses. The disciples of this prophet were a minority. The minority was imprisoned by this brutal, murderous dictatorship, and they were enslaved. So they were in total desperation.

One of our kings replaced that dictatorship with a just regime. His name was Cyrus. People in the Babylon of that time wanted assistance from Cyrus. They said, “You preach justice, come and help us out. The dictator won’t let us pray, he won’t let us do anything.” I want to make a historical parallel here. Cyrus conquered Babylon and freed people from the brutal regime of Babylon.

However, while going there to free the people, he did not hurt a soul. He does it in a way that the dictatorship in Babylon falls apart. And then he issues the Declaration of Human Rights.’

This discourse met with a firestorm of protest from clerical critics, who insist on rooting Iran’s identity solely in Islamic sources. But the ingredients are there for a new Iranian nationalism reflecting Iran’s influence in places like Shiite Iraq after the fall of the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein (likened here to Nebuchadnezzar), and Ahmadinejad is positioning himself as its champion. Of course, he is very much subordinate to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, but you couldn’t tell it by his speeches.

While Ahmadinejad’s enemies in the US Congress, especially those closest to the Israel lobbies, had hoped to pressure Iran by cutting off its gasoline imports, it turns out that the regime is not in fact vulnerable on that score. The government imported no gasoline last month, having simply used its petrochemical facilities as refineries and imposed some rationing. While some observers exulted that this move by Iran was a sign that sanctions were working, that sentiment seems ridiculous to me. If gasoline sanctions were supposed to hurt Iran, and Tehran showed that they could not, how is that a victory? It is like a boxer boasting he can knock out the heavy weight champion, and then when the champ just puts up his gloves and consistently blocks the feeble blows, boasts that he put the fighter on his guard.

In fact, Iran is building up refinery capacity over the next five years, with an expectation of doubling gasoline production. It has a huge cushion domestically, since at the moment gasoline is heavily subsidized and just costs pennies up to a certain amount per month. But prices are being raised on consumption beyond the ration, which limits growth in consumption. It is not sure that raising prices further would even hurt the regime with the public, since it can so obviously be blamed on the United States and so borne as a price of national independence.

One source of regime strength has been continued strong pricing for petroleum. Iran nowadays produces about 3.6 million barrels a day of oil, of which it typically exports about 2.3 mn. b/d (it is the world’s second largest exporter). As a result of the global economic near-depression, prices fell to as low as $33 a barrel at some points early in 2009, and as late as July 2009 they were $56 /b. But in late 2009 and through 2010, demand soared again, as China and India turned in impressive growth. Asian demand has sent the price back up to around $70 a barrel. The price of Iran’s heavy crude was $74 a barrel in the first two quarters of 2010, but had only been about $54 a barrel in the same period in 2009.

At anything over $50 a barrel, the regime is sitting pretty. $70 is a great cushion for the Islamic Republic, and if Germany’s recent growth spurt is a harbinger for Europe this coming year, prices could firm further. Any US or Israeli military action toward Iran would only cause prices to skyrocket, ironically strengthening Iran further.

Hopes that global economic sanctions would harm Iranian banking and so make it harder for Iran to export petroleum seem to me completely forlorn. There is every reason to expect oil-thirsty Asia to ignore the US and UNSC sanctions if the alternative is slowed growth or disgruntled drivers. Petroleum is easily smuggled, especially if it is refined into gasoline, and easily turned into cash. The Baath regime in Iraq faced among the strictest sanctions ever visited on a country, and which probably killed 500,000 children, but the Baath party was unfazed and managed to sock away billions from gasoline smuggling. The regime was in no danger of falling spontaneously even after a decade of such treatment, such that Bush had to invade to overthrow it. Iran has more friends than Iraq did and a more favorable political and geographical position.

Iran’s exports to Japan jumped in August, and it has also increased exports to China. So those two countries are finding ways of paying for the oil despite US pressure on banks. Even supposed US allies such as Afghanistan and Iraq are doing a booming business with Iran (and ironically, the US sort of needs them to, if they are to be stabilized.) Afghanistan seems increasingly dependent on Iran for its internet services, and, indeed, dependent on an internet firm owned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. (Bad for me– Iran blocks this blog, and it cannot be received in those parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan that get internet service from Iran).

I suppose US and UN sanctions can keep Iran from getting as rich as it otherwise might, but if oil prices rise over the coming years, the West is highly unlikely to be able to stop Iran from benefitting substantially from the increased revenue.

Ahmadinejad only a little over a year ago faced massive and repeated protests in the streets of Tehran, his capital, over the obvious irregularities in the announced voting results of the June, 2009, elections. Observers wondered if his regime might be toppled. But for the government to fall would have required a split in the security forces, which never took place. Other sections of the Iranian elite, including the ranks of the grand ayatollahs and the high civilian politicians, did split. But the opposition leaders, Mirhossain Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, ultimately proved unwilling to lead a genuine political revolution, nor could they attract the loyalty of enough military officers and ordinary people to do so. The security forces stood firm with Ahmadinejad and the popular ferment on the streets has subsided into a behind-the-scenes human rights movement that seems to have little prospect of early success, though it could be significant over the medium term.

Regionally, Iran is sitting pretty. Iran benefits from the good will generated for it in the Muslim world by its strong support for the Palestinians (especially Hamas in Gaza). Reckless Israeli moves, including the Gaza War, the attack on the Mavi Marmara civilian aid ship, and continued colonization of Palestinian land, have increased Iran’s stature in the region.

Iran’s other client, Hizbullah of Lebanon, is part of that country’s national unity government. The Sunni Prime Minister of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, moved closer to Syria in recent weeks after long years in which he blamed Damascus for the 2005 assassination of his father, a stance that split Lebanon into pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian factions. Even if Hariri’s motives might be to facilitate a break between Syria and Iran, backed by Saudi Arabia, the step could backfire. With Beirut making up with Damascus, Hizbullah may be strengthened, and a Tehran-Damascus-Beirut-Ankara sphere of friendship and economic exchange emerge.

Iran has excellent relations with Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, in contrast to the security problems it had faced from the Taliban in the 1990s. Indeed, it allegedly has many high Afghan officials on its payroll. The US has proved so far unable to unseat the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq in favor of ex-Baathist Iyad Allawi. Pro-Iranian Shiites are likely to play an important role in any government that is formed. Turkey has stood with Iran, declining to support increased sanctions and running interference for Tehran with regard to its civilian nuclear energy research program. Iran is still close to Syria. The Arab street has decided that it is not afraid of an Iranian nuclear warhead.

The US has been reduced to arming Saudi Arabia to the teeth, with a $60 billion arms deal, as its main way of responding to the powerful Iranian diplomatic position in the region. That is, after a period of direct US intervention in the Gulf region during the past 20 years, the US appears to be moving back to the proxy strategy of Nixon-Kissinger in the 1970s– a sign of relative weakness in the region.

Ahmadinejad comes to New York, not as a wounded leader under internal and external siege, but as the confident representative of a fiercely independent Iran, the hydrocarbon treasures of which allow it to withstand Washington’s mere sanctions and opprobrium. Mahmoud the Great?

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