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Why Such A Fuss Over A Movie? After all, isn't it just a comic-book inspired, computer-generated fantasy?

By Kam Zarrabi, Intellectual Discourse

After all the commotion over the movie “300” in the Iranian community here, as well as the condemnations by the Iranian press, I thought it timely to reflect upon this and some other legends that have worked their way into various cultures of the world, portrayed as historical fact or, at least, claiming some historical merit.


Clearly, legends don’t suddenly appear out of nowhere to prevail as a people’s national folklore or cultural heritage. Those of us who have read and cherished Ferdowsi’s great epic, the Shahnameh or the Book of Kings, while appreciating the poet’s own confession that, “Rustam was just a Brave from Sistan, I made him that Champion of Legend.”, we still take an inexplicable pride in the exploits of that Champion and the demise of ancient Iran’s detractors in his hand.


Ferdowsi made that monumental thirty-years’ effort in order to resurrect the Persian pride and Iranian heritage and language after the fall of the Sassanian Empire to the Arab invaders. Although there certainly is some historicity behind the legends of the Shahnameh, some documented but mostly oral, the book is basically a compilation of legends and folklore, appealing to the nationalistic cravings of a people with deep historical roots.


Just like the Iranians, other people have also their respective ethnic or national legends that serve as sources of nostalgic pride, however historically unfounded or illusory. Today, the Mongolian people take great pride in their ancestral hero, Chengiz Khan, the same conqueror who is regarded as antihero among the cultures that faced his merciless onslaught.


Interestingly, that same Alexander of Macedon that ended the glory days of ancient Iran’s Achaemenian Dynasty some 23 centuries ago, is a folk hero in Iran, where parents name their sons Eskandar, or even Afrasiab and Pashang, other ancient antiheros, bestowing upon them an Iranian identity due to their bravery.


Going back to the Battle of Thermopylae, there is absolutely no historical or archaeological evidence of such a battle fought at that particular spot. A large army of several hundred thousand would have logically taken the inland route toward Athens through lush valleys and rolling hills, rather than through the bottleneck of the narrow Thermopylae Pass, where only a single-file group could supposedly squeeze through, one at a time. Furthermore, one look at the geography of that coastline (Goggle Earth) reveals no cliff or narrow seaside path. The shore area is several kilometers wide all along the foothills.


Whether Xerxes (Khashayarsha) was defeated before reaching Athens or simply decided to turn back due to some internal turmoil inside his empire, is not known to history. After all, there are no historical accounts of the times other than those written by Herodotus the Greek!


For a scholarly dissertation on the history of that era please refer to Professor Kaveh Farrokh’s recent work.


Another story related to the same Xerxes is the legend of Esther, supposedly his Jewish queen. Again, there is absolutely no evidence of the existence of such a queen or the accounts of that legend as we see in the Book of Esther in the Bible. Yet, the Festival of Purim is celebrated every year around this time, commemorating the victory of the Jewish tribes living in the Achaemenian Iran over their ill-wishers who were to do them harm, thanks to Esther’s bravery and cunning.


Incidentally, the so-called tomb of Esther and Mordakhai in Hamadan, Northwestern Iran, is about as evidentiary as is one of several graves of the Mongol ruler, Tamerlane, this one near the town of Sangesar in North-Central Iran!


An even older legend, the very foundation of the Book of Exodus in the Torah, talks about God’s wrath against the Egyptian Pharaoh, Ramses, who had ordered all the first-born sons of the Hebrew tribe to be killed in a certain night. That night the tables were turned, just as supposedly happened centuries later in the story of Esther, and death instead fell upon all the first-born sons of Egypt, saving the Jews who then escaped from the bondage of the Pharaoh by crossing the Sea of Reeds (The Red Sea).


The Passover, meaning that death passed over the Hebrews and, instead, struck the Egyptians, is celebrated every year about this time.


In both of these legends one people’s redemption is at the extraordinarily brutal demise of another. In Esther’s case, according to the Biblical narrative, 75,000 Persians were massacred, young and old, for planning to harm the Jews, perhaps a good example of the preemptive strike strategy exercised these days in our modern world!


In the Exodus story, one might wonder how the death of perhaps several thousand totally innocent first-born sons of a nation might be rationalized as God’s just punishment for a ruthless Pharaoh’s intentions. Or, was that also an example of a preemptive strike?


Of course, both these tales are just that, stories and not history, with no archaeological evidence whatsoever. Nonetheless, these legends, as well as most others of similar genre, have served the purpose intended for them, that of sustaining and boosting a people or a nation’s sense of valor or glory, all too often at the expense of another people or nation’s denigration or belittlement.


The celebrants these days would seldom recall the details of the accounts of such legends; what the Jewish people celebrate now is the legacy of survival, victory, freedom and , above all, the love of their God for His people. Thankfully, not many jubilant celebrants would actually recount the narratives as graphically and explicitly detailed in the Torah.


This brings me to an article I read on the internet, which begs for a response.


One Dale McFeatters’ article “Comic-book movie upsets Iran; get a life.” featured in a couple of Los Angeles area newspapers on March 17, 2007.


Mr. McFeatters is clearly puzzled and quite indignant about the Iranian press and government objecting to the film, “300”, for its depictions of ancient Persia and the Persian people.  At the same time, he seems to validate the story as some sort of a historical fact by referring to the Encyclopedia Britannica (out of context, of course) for verification!


In response to this contributor who writes for the Scripps Howard News Service, I would like to offer the following:

Imagine a comic-book type, computer-generated animation, much like the movie, “300”. This time it is about the fictitious nation of “Noble Dobermans”, a Disney type movie showing graceful, noble Doberman Pinchers, those blue-blooded and by nature proud dogs admired for their intelligence, independent nature and valor.


Much to their chagrin, the Noble Dobermans, as the nation is called, discover that some members of another species, the Rat, up to that time quite harmless and, in fact, often useful for their contributions to society, had evolved into aggressive, self-serving rodents who would stop at nothing to benefit themselves at the expense of the very integrity of the Noble Doberman State.


By tracking the bad Rats, it is discovered that they have infested the food silos, stealing the food and stashing it inside their labyrinthine storage areas. Banks and other financial institutions are then discovered to be ransacked by the Rats, who are attracted by nature, as we know, to anything shiny and valuable, hiding huge stashes of the stolen valuables in their underground chambers.


Decision is made to round up the Rats and confiscate the horded goods. Alarmed by that decision, the Rats try to make it out of the Noble Doberman State, carrying everything they have accumulated in their oversized bags on their backs. Noticing this, the Dobermans round up those Rats who could not escape in time, confiscate their properties, and intern them in special Rat containment areas.


Ultimately, as a final solution to this Rat infestation problem, the Noble Dobermans decide to exterminate the pests by herding them all into a fiery inferno, like the one in the movie, “300”!


Do you get the picture, Mr. McFeatters?


If you think some people would protest against such a clearly loaded and venomous scenario, just tell them to get a life! OK, Mr. Mcfeatters? Just tell them it is only a computer generated fantasy movie. Then watch and see how many days or hours your career lasts.


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