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Cultural Barbarians are at the Gate


Dr Bahram Bahrami, UK


Presently we Iranian are facing two facets of US militaristic doctrine, on one hand, we can see their exercise of hard power and our country being encircled by US armies to the east, west and south. On the other hand, they are constantly flexing their soft power and there is no day that western media are filled with rumour, exaggerated claims and bare faced lie. In the aftermath of the dismal failure of axis’s of evil jibs and domino effect policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, now they turned to Hollywood to shore up the sides by propagating the idea of “clash of civilizations” in the west. Thus, the dehumanizing and demonisation of Persian/Iranian culture and the people have become a constant theme of western media.


The film ‘300’ by Zack Snyder with Frank Miller attached as an executive producer and consultant, is in line with these arrays of vitriolic and spiteful anti-Iranian movies such as Not Without My Daughter and Alexander,  courtesy of Hollywood, charging the full frontal attack against Iranian and Iranian culture.  These “cultural terrorism” does not stop at visual presentation, it goes beyond and manifest themselves in a bid to seize ancient Iranian tablets containing administrative details of the Persian empire, which has been held in US for scholarly purposes by the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. The question that, why we Iranian still needed foreign scholars to teach us about our own heritage and why the number of peer reviewed articles or books published about our country/culture is near zero, need a whole book to discuss which is beyond the scope of this article.


Certain groups put the argument that these attacks are natural reaction to the excess of revolution. This is a simplistic or delusional view which is clearly being illustrated in the case of the 1953 coup d’etat and Achaemenid era tablets. The university of Chicago had these tablets since 1937; forgetting the past 28 years of the revolution, what were they doing with these for the rest of 42 years? What has been gleaned from these artifacts and our past?


I think these lines best answer/describe the American attitude towards our culture and priceless heritages: while holding a precious clay tablet of 2,500 years old without gloves, researcher at the Oriental Institute says “tablets may not be pretty, but they're still mantel-worthy for collectors”! 


Meanwhile, through numerous satellite media that have been mushroomed mostly thanks to special funding by US they have been transmitting by in large nothing but the worst possible bastardisation of Persian music and cure for obesity. These attacks by wolves in Iranian clothe on our culture does not end by only fostering new generation of hypochondriacs with bad taste in music, but some also desperately try to sew the seeds of  internal strife among our people by mercenary intellectuals.


The unfortunate trends that have been developing in some quarters, is the ease by which many Iranian seems to accept these as a reaction to Iranian government, rather than threat to our country and culture. Disregarding the simple truth that even if Iranian regime changed tomorrow, as long as there is independent and nationalistic forces that run Iranian government we would still be facing these onslaught on our culture and country.


This by no mean excuses the Iranian government if it treats its own people inhumanely and disrespects their rights, and the government should endeavor to improve the standard of life and liberty of all Iranian.


Now western media is telling us why Iranian are up in arms against a fantasy flick based on comic novel? Warner Brothers, the film's producers issues statement saying “The studio developed this film purely as a fictional work with the sole purpose of entertaining audiences; it is not meant to disparage an ethnicity or culture or make any sort of political statement.”


However, Mr. Miller the author of comic novel and executive producer of the movie, is not shy about his aim, in his interview with PW Comics Week on February 28, 2006, he states: superheroes are “gods,” - not the ones we worship, but more like mythological gods “who live among us.” Furthermore, due to their popularity, superheroes provide him with “the biggest megaphone I can find.” Miller asserted, “superheroes are folk heroes and how can a folk hero not interact with folk?” He further expounded, we're “now in a clash of civilizations,” and “superheroes should be front and center” and he sees the story of “300”- where a small band of Spartan warriors fend off a vast Persian army in a battle that probably saved modern civilization-still has relevance today, reflecting the struggle in the middle east and the fight of modern society against certain fundamentalist Islamic groups.


So considering that he openly says his works is politically motivated and sees himself as vanguard of intellectual onslaught against the East, there is no wonder that we in Iran take this “B movie” as orchestrated affront to our cultural heritage and national dignity. 


The questions that should be put to these proponents of clash of civilizations are; if their assumptions are right ‘why are they incapable of resting their case on its merits? Why do they feel compelled to attack their perceived opponents ad hominem?


The simple answer is that they lack confidence and substance in the strength of their case and feel obliged to resort to skullduggery to compensate. This movie should be reminder to all Iranians that “the barbarians are at the gate” and their aim is not the Iranian government, their aim is our independence, our culture, our civilisation and our resources. Now is a time that we can justifiably say that they pose an “existential threat” to our culture, country and our way of life.


The ‘300’ false impression of our heritage can be seen as a part of coordinated effort, and that this film is only a segment. The result is to demonize Iranian equivalent to the blood libel. The consequences have been as predictable as they are disturbing. The ‘300’ is not only satisfied by caricaturising our culture and moral characteristics, it reduces our being to savage monsters that should be slewed in alter of western hegemony. As Dana Stevens of Slate magazine put it: “If 300, the new battle epic based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s, it would be studied today alongside The Eternal Jew as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war”. 


As for original author of ‘300’, Herodotus can be called one of the first writers of dodgy dossiers, filled with half truth and downright lie, very much a darling of right-wing war mongering leaders. His fictional portray of Thermopylae, has been used again and again during cold war and now during the supposedly ongoing “war of civilisation”, pitching freedom loving Spartans against the nasty totalitarian Persians, invading from the East.


It is amusing while Herodotus is Persian subject (born in Halicarnassus, a Persian ruled territory) he still was free to travel throughout the Persian empire and talk about the decadent and totalitarian system of Persia, and he was still free to pen his poisons about king, his system and Persians. While if he was living in the present day “free democracies”,  his phone would have been tapped, emails intercepted and having shown sympathy by thought and deed to foreign government, he would have been incarcerated for life if not condemned to death in a secret Military court. There is no wonder that Lucian of Samosata  A.D. 120-180, called Herodotus a liar in Verae historiae  deny him a place among the famous on the Island of the Blessed (in B. P. Reardon, ed., Collected Ancient Greek Novels.  (Berkeley: 1989) 619-649).


“civilised” nations of Greece, Rome and Spartan rested on the institution of slavery to function. Use of ‘helots’  with no rights whatsoever, not even the right to life by Spartan citizen warriors, is a prime example. Not forgetting the ‘noble act’ of  crypteia, in which Spartan youths, practice their art of noble fighting by hunting down helots at night, and killing as many as was necessary to keep their population from expanding to an unmanageable degree. These civilised principles of Spartan are in addition to barbaric act of systematised infanticide practised by militaristic governing system which ruled Sparta, as their way of selective breading of perfect citizen thus future soldiers. Therefore, it is more than astonishing that physically impaired, Ephialtes, survived infanticide practise and lived to plea to Leonidas for a chance to serve Sparta in the 300! 


Persian Empire was truly the original multi culture society created over twenty five centuries ago. There were no slavery in ancient Persia, and it was Cyrus the Great, Xerxes's grandfather, which drafted the first declaration of human rights in 539 BC, guarantee the sanctity of human rights and individual freedom by freeing hundreds of thousands of Jews from Babylonian slavery.


Finally, the refusal by the western media and moviemakers to allow any of these points to be shown or aired is a monstrous deliberate act and betrays a deeply-rooted aversion for the East and more importantly for the one the greatest civilisation in the history which is so instantly morphs into virulent anti-Iranian prejudice cloak in just another narrative of history!

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