Calling Iranians “Descendants of the Magi” is Actually a Compliment

The article below by Shireen T. Hunter entitled Calling Iranians “Descendants of the Magi” is Actually a Compliment” originally appeared in the LobeLog on September 14, 2016.

Shireen Hunter

Shireen T. Hunter is a Research Professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Her latest publication is God On Our Side: Religion, Foreign Policy and International Affairs (Rowman & Littlefield, December 2016).

Kindly note that excepting one picture, all of the accompanying images and their descriptions that appear in the below posting did not appear in the original posting in the LobeLog.

Readers may also be interested in the article “Pan-Arabism’s Legacy of Confrontation with Iran”; the article has undergone several revisions on Kavehfarrokh.com with the latest on July 4, 2016. An academic version of this article (in Persian) was first published in 2004:

More recently, a second and newer academic article on pan-Arabism by Kaveh Farrokh has also been published in the Palgrave-macmillan Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism in 2015:

palgrave-Macmillan

===================================================================

Recently, the chief mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh, said that Iranians are Majus. This is the Arab name for Iran’s Zoroastrians, who were the majority of the people at the time of the Arab invasion of Persia in the 7th century AD. The mufti was implying by this statement that Iranians are not Muslims.

This belief is neither new nor limited to the Saudis or the Wahhabis. However, as far as I can recall, no significant Muslim religious leader had openly called them non-Muslims, although some secular leaders had done so before. For example, during the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam Hussein regularly referred to the Iranians as Majus, and even worse, as insects that should be sprayed with pesticides. Indeed, he did just that by using chemical weapons against them.

Saddam in his Office

The late Saddam Hussein (1937-2006) in his office in the last days of the Iran-Iraq war. Saddam’s hatred of Iranians endured right up to his last moments – as he shouted “down with the Persians” during his execution on December 30, 2006 (see December 31, 2006 BBC Report “Saddam Hussein’s last moments”  and New York Times report, December 31, 2006). For more see Pan-Arabism’s legacy of Confrontation with Iran

This widely held Arab belief that Iranians are not real Muslims is based on the premise that they never fully converted to Islam. Instead, they developed Shi’ism, which is allegedly nothing more than their old religion with a thin guise of Islam. Moreover, Arabs believe that the Iranians did so in order to subvert and undermine their true and pure Islam. In a Cairo bookshop near Al-Azhar several years ago, I saw a book for sale entitled Shia Conspiracy Against Islam. Since then, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and others, along with religious figures such as the Egypt-born resident of Qatar Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi, have sponsored many more books on Shi’ism’s threat to Islam and Iran’s plans to convert Sunnis to Shi’ism.

yusuf-al-qaradawi

Sheik Yusuf Qaradawi

Some highly educated and otherwise reasonable and tolerant people also subscribe to this view. Once at a meeting in Cairo, long before the current upsurge in Sunni-Shia disputes, a very enlightened and tolerant Egyptian colleague, in response to a comment of mine about the dangers of sectarianism in the Muslim world, said: “Yes, you are right. We have a big problem and that is the conflict between the Muslims and the Shias.” He thus betrayed an ingrained attitude toward Shias.

The idea of Shi’ism as an Iranian creation has, of course, no historical validity. The split that occurred within the Muslim community of Arabia immediately after the Prophet Muhammad’s demise and that eventually led to the Sunni-Shi’a divide, was a purely Arab phenomenon. At the time, Arab/Islamic armies had not yet conquered Iran. Later, some Iranians might have seen in the Shi’a split from Sunnism a reflection of some of their ancient values and rites. But they certainly did not invent Shi’ism. The first impetus for the Iranian embrace of the House of Ali came after the Arab invasion and the policy of ethnic discrimination practiced by Iran’s new Arab rulers, beginning with the first Caliph Omar, despite Islam’s claim to the racial and ethnic equality of all Muslims. The Abbasids even perpetuated this practice, although Persian Muslims had contributed considerably to their victory over the Umayyad dynasty.

king-khalid_1

The late King Khalid ibn Abd al Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia (1975-1982) who called on the late Saddam Hussein to “crush the stupid Persians”. 

If Iranians are non-Muslims then Islam’s edict that Muslims should not fight other Muslims does not apply to them. Therefore, you can kill Shi’a Iranians just like any other infidel without any twinge of conscience. In the current atmosphere of tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran, spreading the view of Iranians as non-Muslims has considerable political ramifications. For example, it can help the Saudis enlist other Muslims in their fight, both overt and covert, against Iran. Already, groups such as the Taliban, the Islamic State, and al-Qaeda have internalized this Saudi view and view the Iranians as infidels.

Bin Laden-Followers in Pakistan

The late Osama bin Laden (1957-2011) (left) and his supporters in Pakistan (right) who continue to regard him as a hero. Before his ouster from Afghanistan, Bin Laden had turned the country into his own anti-Persian mini-Caliphate. Among his draconian Persophobic laws were bans on the use of the Persian language, Persianate musical instruments and the Nowruz (Iranian New Year). His mentors in Pakistan and India have gone so far as to insist that the Iranian word for Goodbye or “Khoda-Hafez” now be re-defined as “Allah-Hafez”. Bin Laden’s’ followers in Pakistan often shout “Death to Iran” during their regular anti-Western rallies.

The Real Gift of the Magi

The Saudi mufti’s undignified outburst is understandable given these latent prejudices as well as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s criticism of Saudi handling of the Haj. More surprising is that Iranians are offended at being called “Majus.” Majus means disciples of the Magi (Mogh), which means Zoroastrian (or pre-Zoroastrian) priest. These same Magi, of whose wisdom Plato spoke highly, brought gifts to the Christ child.

The School of Athens by Raphael 1509- Zoroaster left, with star-studded globe

A detail of the painting “School of Athens” by Raphael 1509 CE (Source: Zoroastrian Astrology Blogspot). Raphael has provided his artistic impression of Zoroaster (with beard-holding a celestial sphere) conversing with Ptolemy (c. 90-168 CE) (with his back to viewer) and holding a sphere of the earth. Note that contrary to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations” paradigm, the “East” represented by Zoroaster, is in dialogue with the “West”, represented by Ptolemy.  Prior to the rise of Eurocentricism in the 19th century (especially after the 1850s), ancient Persia was viewed positively by the Europeans. For more see Ken R. Vincent: Zoroaster-the First Universalist

In fact, Zoroastrianism is the first of the world’s monotheistic religions, although it is often seen as dualistic because it recognizes the existence of an evil force (Ahriman) that fights the good God (Ahura Mazda). But, as in the Old Testament, the good God ultimately triumphs. Zoroastrianism has a sophisticated cosmology and is the foundation of many principles that are part of the Abrahamic religions, including the abstract concepts of heaven, hell, a bridge of judgment, a cosmic denouement at the end of the world, and the coming of a messiah, or Mahdi (Saoyeshant) in Zoroastrianism.

magi-of-persia

The three magi, from an illuminated manuscript in Farnborough Abbey (Source: Lobe Log).

In fact, Zoroastrianism offers the first dialectic rather than circular understanding of human history and destiny. The conflict between two opposing forces leads to a final denouement rather than perpetual reincarnations or the soul’s absorption into a vast center of energy. It’s ironic that Westerners, with their emphasis on the battle between good and evil on display during the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, do not recognize its source. Zoroastrianism recognizes free will and enjoins good thoughts, good works, and good words. It is a positive religion and emphasizes the role that the individual should play in the ultimate victory of good over evil. Also a happy religion, its festivals outnumber its mourning ceremonies.

Under the Sassanids, Zoroastrian Iran developed what the Danish historian, Arthur Christensen, has called “a magnificent edifice.” Although not on a par with Greece or Rome, it had its centers of learning, including the famed university of Jundi Shapur, today’s Ahwaz, where many Christian and Greek scientists came when Byzantium’s policies discouraged learning. The sixth-century Sassanid King Khosrow Anoushirvan had a reputation for modeling himself after Plato’s philosopher king, a reputation that enticed some Greek philosophers to go to his court. Although he did not live up to their expectations, they were surprised that he was familiar with Greek philosophy and the ideas of Plato and Aristotle. Sassanid Iran had a flourishing culture of art, painting, sculpture, and music. In short, the children of the Magi had not done so badly for themselves.

Ctesiphon-Top View-kavehfarrokhCom

Remains of the Archway of Khosrow (of the ancient Sassanian capital of Ctesiphon– see also Sassanian Architecture-کاخ‌های ساسانیان– and Ctesiphon-تيسفون–), located just forty kilometers from Baghdad in Iraq. The term “Baghdad” is old Persian for “Bestowed by God” or “Godiva”.

By the time of the Arab invasion in 642, Iran’s Zoroastrianism had lost some of these positive aspects. It had become more fatalistic, partly because of the influence of Babylonian creeds, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Asceticism had replaced its more active spirit. Imperial overstretch had weakened the Sassanid Empire, thus making it easier for the Arabs to defeat it.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Despite their defeat, the Iranians largely formed and shaped what has come to be known as Islamic Civilization. For 300 years, Muslims used the Sassanian tax and other archives for their own administrative purposes. Sassanian administration, court etiquette, and governing methods became the model for the Islamic Caliphates and later Turkic rulers from the Seljuks to the Ottomans. Most post-Islamic books on politics, such as Siyastnameh of Khajeh Nezam ul Molk—the vezir of the Seljuk king, Malekshah—and later books were modeled after the book of Ardeshir Babekan, the founder of the Sassanid Empire, called Karnameh Ardeshir Babekan. Many Persians, such as the Barmaki family, actually ran the chancelleries of the Abbasid caliphs and later those of Turkic rulers.

ibn-khaldun

A statue of Arabo-Islamic historian, Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) in Tunisia. Ibn Khaldun emphasized the crucial role of the Iranians in promoting learning, sciences, arts, architecture, and medicine in Islamic civilization.  It was pan-Arabists such as Sami Shawkat who insisted that history books such as those by Ibn Khaldun be destroyed or re-written to remove all references of Iranian contributions to Islamic civilization. The former Baathist regime in Iraq promoted such policies and even worked alongside numerous lobbies to promote historical revisionism at the international level.

The Baghdad Dar Ul Hikma was modeled after the Sassanid Khaneh e Danesh (both mean houses of knowledge). Its art forms, which later were much diminished by Islamic restrictions on painting, sculpture, and music, shaped Islamic art from Mesopotamia to Andalusia to Mogul India. As noted by Professor Roman Girshman, the real inheritor of Sassanid art was Islam, which took that art with it everywhere it went. Professor Ada Bozeman has called this influence Iran’s conquest of Islam. Sibveyh, a Persian, wrote the first Arabic grammar, and the Iranians, together with Christians, translated Greek works into Arabic. Even the Persian One Thousand and One Nights (Hezar Afsaneh) became the Arabian Nights. In short, while not perfect, Iran’s pre-Islamic civilization could more than hold its own with other existing civilizations, including that of Byzantium.

Keller-Shahrzad and Shahryar_1880

German painter Ferdinand Keller’s (1842-1922) 1880 painting of Sheherzade (Shahrzad) and Shahyar.

It’s not surprising for the Saudi mufti, out of political expediency, to call Iranians Majus. What is sad is that present-day Iranians should see this appellation as an insult. But then Iran’s Islamists have been waging a campaign against the country’s indigenous culture for at least 60 years. Since their victory in the 1979 revolution, they have worked relentlessly to erase all vestiges of Iran’s indigenous culture and to subsume it under a state-sponsored, politicized, and ideologized form of Islam that is totally alien to Iran’s traditional Shia Islam, which is closely intertwined with Iran’s early civilization.

Farrokh article in New Book by Palgrave-Macmillan: “The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism”

Palgrave-Macmillan Publications in London and New York, which is a major international academic venue for scholarly works, has just published a seminal book entitled:

The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism, London & New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2015

The book has been edited by Edited by Dr. Immanuel Ness, Dr. Zak Cope with the Senior Editorial Advising having been provided by Dr. Saër Maty Bâ.

palgrave-Macmillan

Front cover of the 2015 text “The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism, London & New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2015“. As noted in the Palgrave-Macmillan webpage: The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism is a brand new, two-volume publication which presents theoretical explanations and historical accounts of imperialism and anti-imperialism from the 16th Century to the present day. […] this work contains over 170 entries written by an international team of experts and scholars in the field of imperialism and anti-imperialism. This exciting title is the most comprehensive scholarly work of its kind to provide in-depth studies on imperialism’s roots, goals, tactics, influence, and outcomes. It also covers anti-imperialism, including the rich and ongoing tradition of its theories and practices.”

The textbook has also published an article by Kaveh Farrokh:

Farrokh, K. (2015). Pan-Arabism and Iran. In “The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism” (Immanuel Ness & Zak Cope, Eds., Saër Maty Bâ, Editorial Advisor), Palgrave-Macmillan, pp.915-923.

sir_charles_belgrave_khalifa

Shaikh Salman Bin Hamad Al-Khalifa (at left) and Sir Charles Belgrave (right) (Picture Source: Flicker) who was England’s Government Adviser to Bahrain. It was Belgrave who first pioneered the concept of changing the name of the Persian Gulf. The motives for such revisionist schemes are not clear, but it is possible that Belgrave was calculating that such actions would create frictions between the Iranians and the Arabs.

IbnKhaldun

A statue of Arabo-Islamic historian, Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) in Tunisia. Ibn Khaldun emphasized the crucial role of the Iranians in promoting learning, sciences, arts, architecture, and medicine in Islamic civilization.  It was pan-Arabists such as Sami Shawkat who insisted that history books such as those by Ibn Khaldun be destroyed or re-written to remove all references of Iranian contributions to Islamic civilization. The former Baathist regime in Iraq promoted such policies and even worked alongside numerous lobbies to promote historical revisionism at the international level.

A direct quote from Ibn Khaldun’s work, The Muqaddimah, states the following:

“…It is a remarkable fact that, with few exceptions, most Muslim scholars…in the intellectual sciences have been non-Arabs…thus the founders of grammar were Sibawaih and after him, al-Farisi and Az-Zajjaj. All of them were of Persian descent…they invented rules of (Arabic) grammar…great jurists were Persians… only the Persians engaged in the task of preserving knowledge and writing systematic scholarly works. Thus the truth of the statement of the prophet becomes apparent, ‘If learning were suspended in the highest parts of heaven the Persians would attain it”…The intellectual sciences were also the preserve of the Persians, left alone by the Arabs, who did not cultivate them…as was the case with all crafts…This situation continued in the cities as long as the Persians and Persian countries, Iraq, Khorasan and Transoxiana (modern Central Asia), retained their sedentary culture.” [The Muqaddimah Translated by F. Rosenthal (III, pp. 311-15, 271-4 [Arabic]; R.N. Frye (p.91)].

RT News: US gave Saddam blessing to use toxins against Iranians

The report below “US gave Saddam blessing to use toxins against Iranians” was published by RT News on August 26, 2013. Kindly note that (excepting the three pictures by RT News) the pictures and captions inserted in the article below were not published in the original Reuters release.

Readers are also encouraged to consult the following article:

Shane Harris & Matthew M. Aid (August 26, 2013): CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran | Foreign Policy

=================================================================

As Washington ponders over whether to hammer Damascus over unidentified use of toxic agents in Syria, declassified CIA documents reveal that 25 years ago the US actually indulged ruthless Saddam Hussein to use chemical warfare gases in war with Iran.

Saddam in his OfficeSaddam in his office with the uniform he often wore during his 1980s war against Iran (Photo: RT News).

The recently declassified documents at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, suggest that the US was closely following the use of chemical weapons by the Saddam Hussein’s regime both against the enemy in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) and against Iraq’s Kurdish population, reports Foreign Policy magazine.

Despite the fact that the US establishment regarded Saddam Hussein as ‘anathema’ and his officials as ‘thugs’, the policies of President Ronald Reagan’s administration through 1980s was to ensure that Iraq would win the war with Iran, the FP stated.

Iraqi T-62 tanks invade Iran sept 22 1980Pan-Arabism and Persophobia graduate from hate literature to violence: T-62 tanks of the Iraqi 6th Armored Division crossing the border into Iran on 1400hrs September 22, 1980. Saddam Hussein and the Baath party were convinced that as their tanks rolled into Khuzestan, they would be greeted as liberators by the Iranian Arabs. This may partly explain why the Iraqis may have miscalculated in the first few days of their invasion of Khuzestan province by not allowing more infantry to accompany their rapid-moving armor (see Iran at War: 1500-1988, 2001, pp.344-355). Instead of being hailed as liberators, Saddam Hussein’s forces were greeted with bitter opposition by the Iranian Arabs whose dogged resistance assisted the overall Iranian effort at slowing down the Iraqi advance  (Photo: www.Acig.org).

Former CIA official retired Air Force Colonel Rick Francona has said exclusively to Foreign Policy that starting from 1983 the US had no doubts that Hussein’s Iraq was using prohibited chemical weapons (mustard gas) against its adversary, while Iran lacked solid proof and could not bring the case to the UN.

Experienced Arabic linguist Rick Francona, who worked for both the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), shared that the first time he had proof of Iraq using toxins against Iranians was in 1984, while he was serving as the US Air attaché in Amman, Jordan. He had solid proof that Iraqis had used Tabun nerve agent (GA) against Iranian troops advancing in southern Iraq.

IRAQ-TRIAL-SHIITES-ALIA handout picture dates March 16, 1988 and released by the Iranian official news agency IRNA shows two Kurdish children killed by an Iraqi chemical attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja in northeastern Iraq (Photo: RT News).

It has also been revealed that Saddam Hussein’s military industrial complex could not produce shells with toxic chemical substances itself and was heavily dependent on foreign equipment, with Italy been mentioned as one of the sources for the special equipment.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend – and then my enemy. Video of Donald Rumsfeld (Special envy of President Ronald Reagan) shaking hands with President Saddam Hussein on December 20, 1983 (see also report by Norm Dixon: How Reagan Armed Saddam with Chemical Weapons). Rumsfeld was then to be one of the most vociferous advocates of removing Saddam by force in 2003.

But Reagan’s administration was willing Baghdad to win the war, so it turned a blind eye on Iraq using lethal nerve agents against Iran, since that could turn the tide of war into a right direction, Foreign Policy reports.

The 1925 Geneva Protocol banned chemical warfare, while the Chemical Weapons Convention banning production and use of chemical arms was introduced in 1997. Iraq never bothered to sign the document, while the US did so in 1975, and by 1980s the US had international obligations to prevent the use of chemical weapons.

ali_chemicalChemical Ali (Al Majid), one of the chief architects of the Baathist regime’s chemical weapons programs. Eric margolis has noted of the role of Western nations in helping Saddam Hussein develop non-conventional weapons. For more click here…

During the war with its neighbor, Iran was in a state of heavy international isolation that followed the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and Iran’s military was lagging behind if compared to Iraqi Army.

Still, with the population fanatically supporting the Islamic leadership, Iran used inhumane tactics of ‘human wave’ attacks, turning its soldiers into expendables and thus nullifying Iraq’s military superiority.

Destroyed Mig-23 and Iraqi pilotWARNING-GRAPHIC PHOTO -[CLICK TO ENLARGE] An Iraqi  Mig-23 just before it was shot down by Iranian forces (left) and the remains of its unfortunate pilot after the plane crashed (right) (Photo: Military Photos Net). Iraqi Mig-23 aircraft suffered heavy losses at the hands of Iranian F-14s – despite much Soviet-East Bloc, French-Western, US, UK, Egyptian, Pakistani and some Indian assistance, right up to the last days of the war (Picture: AviationLive.org).

In 1987, US satellite intelligence suggested that Iran was concentrating troops for a powerful offensive on Iraq’s southern Fao Peninsula in the direction of the key city of Basrah. The US believed that in spring of 1988 the Iranians might undertake a decisive attack, capitalizing on tactical mistakes by the Iraqi military which could result in Iraq’s defeat.

According to Francona, after acknowledging with the intelligence data, President Ronald Reagan wrote a margin for the US Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci: “An Iranian victory is unacceptable.”

iraqi bombing of school at Mianeh 1988The result of an Iraqi air raid against a children’s school in Mianeh, Azarbaijan (northwest Iran) in 1988, killing more than 60 children and teachers. This horrific event was ignored  by the Western press which was pro Saddam Hussein at the time (Picture source: Cooper, T. & Bishop, F. (2004). Iranian F-14 Tomcat Units in Combat. Oxford: Osprey Publishing).

Thus, the Americans opted to share intelligence information with Baghdad, authorizing the DIA to give detailed data on exact locations of all Iranian combat units, Air Force movements, air defense systems and key logistics facilities.

Rick Francona described the satellite imagery and electronic intelligence provided as “targeting packages” enabling the Iraqi Air Force to destroy Iranian targets.

In 1988, Iraq conducted four highly successful chemical attacks on Iranian troops with sarin nerve agent, killing hundreds, if not thousands on the spot. The attacks precluded heavy artillery assaults and were disguised, being accompanied with use of smoke shells.

Iraqi-T-55-with-British-gunnery-simulator3[Click photo to Enlarge] An Iraqi T-55 training with an advanced British-manufactured tank gunnery simulator in 1987. Iraq’s armored corps had undergone a massive training and rearmament program by 1987-1988 – thanks to the the assistance of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, Egypt, India, Pakistan, England and numbers of Western countries (Picture Source: Armed Forces journal, July 1987 , p. 354; see also Farrokh, Iran at War, 2011, pp.400-402). British military personnel also refurbished and re-activated captured Iranian Chieftains for Saddam Hussein’s forces. For more on the role of England in supporting Saddam Hussein’s military machine, click here…

Official Iranian statistics of the dead in these attacks is still unavailable.

IRAQ-UNREST-HALABJA-ANNIVERSARYA handout file picture dated March 16, 1988 and released by the Iranian official news agency IRNA shows Kurdish adults and children lying dead following an Iraqi chemical attack on the Kurdish city of Halabja in northeastern Iraq (Photo: RT News).

At the time Francona was serving as the US military attaché in Baghdad and he witnessed the aftermath of the attacks himself. He visited the Fao Peninsula shortly after it had been captured by the Iraqis. On the battlefield he saw hundreds of spent syringes with atropine, which Iraqi troops had been using as antidote to sarin’s lethal effects. Francona took several of these injectors to Baghdad as proof of chemical weapons use.

Francona told Foreign Policy that Washington was “very pleased” with the Iranians being stricken preemptively to prevent them from launching their offensive.

Sardasht-Iran-Saddam-AttackIranian victims of Saddam Hussein’s chemical warfare during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988. The above photo is from some of the victims of Iraqi warplanes that dropped mustard gas bombs on the Iranian town of Sardasht on June 28, 1987. Official reports of this attack cite nine thousand people exposed and 130 dead. As reported by The Los Angeles Times: “They [Iranian civilians] dropped dead on the cobbled streets of the town center. They cried out as their eyes burned and skin bubbled.” Despite the rapacity of these actions, Western Press-media outlets, (the majority of) Human Rights Organizations, and Politicians continued to support Saddam right up to his Kuwait invasion in August 2-4, 1990 (Photo forwarded to Kavehfarrokh.com on August 26, 2013).

Also, in March 1988, Iraq launched a nerve gas attack on separatist Kurdish village of Halabja, some 240km northeast of Baghdad, killing 5,000, while 7,000 more suffered long-lasting health problems.