Following are Sheda Vasseghi
’s letter to The Guardian
regarding its article, “The Evil Empire
”, her e-mail to the author of the article, Jonathan Jones, a few days later, followed by Jones’ reply to Sheda. Think of this last as a student's frivolous protest to his professor after receiving an F in a history exam.
I want to thank her for forwarding them to me immediately after my inquiry.
On this blog, Sheda Vasseghi was previously mentioned HERE
September 12, 2005
To the Editor of The Guardian
In Rebuttal to 09/08/05 Article “The Evil Empire”
By Sheda Vasseghi (Washington, DC)
I do not even know where to begin. I guess for starters I am appalled and absolutely shocked at the irresponsible and reckless decision by The Guardian
to publish the September 8, 2005, article entitled “The Evil Empire” -- a ridiculously obvious anti-Iranian propaganda and categorically false and feebleminded article by a Jonathan Jones which sounds more like a pen-name than a real name.
First, who is this Jonathan Jones and why would The Guardian
publish an article that has no historical basis or references which bear the justification for such publications?
Second, in response to the Joneses of the world and in defense of 70 million Iranians, who deserve to show their ancestors’ point of view regarding their own history, I would like to make a few points WITH references. I hope The Guardian
will redeem itself and publish this rebuttal.
Jonathan Jones made many false and egregious statements in his article. Insufficient time will not permit my responding to all these misstatements. However, here are the most important matters that must necessarily be brought to his attention as well as your readers:
1. Civilizations are not “evil” or “villains.” What are Jones’s criteria for such a bigot comment? Why would one civilization have to be all good and another all bad? His statements that Iranians were “history’s original villains” is a gross representation of the author’s total contempt for that country and its history. The Guardian
should not print articles based on personal hatred and bigotry.
2. The Western world has predominately studied history through the surviving and over-publicized Greek and Roman works. These records were written from those who considered Persia their enemy. Nothing should be taken as 100% accurate and one cannot rely on these statements literally. Unfortunately, in its 2500 years of history, much of Iran’s own records have been destroyed or remain undiscovered. Iran’s role and place in history should be shaped by its own point of view as well and not just by that of its enemies.
3. Alexander remains a “box office” subject because it was Alexander that brought the Greeks from an obscure existence to the rich and affluent world of the East. Alexander was not even a hero to the Greeks of Fourth Century B.C.E., who considered themselves enslaved by the Macedonian tyrant. “Hellenism” refers to the period after Alexander’s death in 323 B.C.E. which combined the Greek and Near Eastern social and cultural traditions after his conquest of the Persian Empire. Contrary to Jones’s opinion, no one civilization existed on its own nor created anything on its own without some interaction with and influence from its neighbors. Greece is no exception.
4. It’s true that Herodotus did not always write kindly about the Persians since he was Greek, but he also wrote The Histories “so that human achievements may not become forgotten in time, and great and marvelous [sic] deeds, some displayed by Greeks, some by barbarians, may not be without their glory; and especially to show why the two peoples fought with each other.”[i] He wrote the good and the bad. For example, according to Herodotus, Persian children are taught three things: “to ride, to use the bow, and to speak the truth.” Herodotus goes on to sayI admire also the custom which forbids even the king himself to put a man to death for a single offence, and any Persian under similar circumstances to punish a servant by an irreparable injury.... They consider telling lies more disgraceful than anything else, and, next to that, owing money ... they will never pollute a river
With respect to Cyrus the Great, Xenophon dedicated an entire book on the founder of the Achaemenid Empire entitled The Education of Cyrus. In that book, he states that because of Cyrus the Great, “ruling human beings does not belong among those tasks that are impossible, ..., if one does it with knowledge.... We know that Cyrus, at any rate, was willingly obeyed.” He goes on to say that Cyrus “was worthy of wonder, ... [and] excelled in ruling human beings.”[iii] According to Xenophon, Cyrus “always used to make even the servants of the army share equally in all things, for it seemed to him to be no less worthy to honor the servants....”[iv] He also tells us that “[h]uman beings were so disposed to him that every nation thought they got less if they did not send to Cyrus whatever fine thing” they had, and “private person thought that he would become wealthy if he could gratify Cyrus in something. For Cyrus, taking from each whatever the givers had in abundance, gave in return what he perceived them to be lacking.”[v] And Cyrus “honored and was attentive to those under him just as to his own children, and his subjects venerated Cyrus as a father.”[vi] What is Jones’s motivation for leaving out the abundant evidence left by his highly regarded Greek sources praising the Persians and their great rulers? Do these statements written by Greek historians paint a picture of villains?
5. It is hard to imagine that exhibiting ancient Persian history involves a political coup to support the current Islamic Republic given that the national identity of Iranians and their 2500 years of monarchy is in direct conflict with the goals of that regime.
6. Persia is NOT now Iran. Iran, derived from the word “Aryan,” was always Iran and Persia is what the Greeks called it.
7. The love of material things and luxury is part of human nature and not considered negative attributes. Alexander and his men plundered and burned Persepolis to the ground and used 20,000 mules and 5,000 camels to carry its wealth and treasure away.[vii] I guess the Greeks liked a bit of wealth too.
8. As for Jones not knowing in what the Persians believed, he should go back to the exhibition and read the materials and look at the reliefs and inscriptions. The Achaemenids included many Zoroastrian beliefs in their outlook on life, education, and laws. Their reliefs and inscriptions praise the Zoroastrian God Ahuramazda, the world’s first known monotheism. The Greeks and later the Romans were very much influenced by ancient Iranian beliefs and religions such as Zoroastrianism and Mithraism. From their inscriptions and records we note the kings were lawgivers and believed in religious tolerance and being just. Cyrus the Great was the author of the world’s first Bill of Rights which is housed permanently at the British Museum.
9. Athens’s form of democracy 2500 years ago was nothing like modern democracy in that it only gave “all male citizens the power to participate in governing.”[viii] Women, slaves, and non-citizens were not allowed to participate. Unlike the Achaemenid women, Greek women did not have any political or legal rights.
This response barely touches the surface in rebutting Jones’s baseless and malicious article given the abundance of evidence about the Persians and especially the Achaemenids. But I think it is sufficient to show that The Guardian should not publish junk.
[i]. The Greeks considered all non-Greek speaking peoples as "barbarians." Herodotus, The Histories, translated by A. De Sélincourt, London, UK: Penguin Books (1996 revised), I:3.
[ii]. Ibid., I:57.
[iii]. Xenophon, The Education of Cyrus, translated by Wayne Ambler, Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press (2001), I:22-3.
[iv]. Ibid., II:67.
[v]. Ibid., VIII:268.
[vi]. Ibid., VIII:273.
[vii]. Persians: Masters of Empire, Lost Civilizations Series, Alexandra, VA: Time-Life Books (eds.) (1995), p. 73.
[viii]. Martin, T. R., Ancient Greece: From Prehistoric to Hellenistic Times, New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. (1996), pp. 70-1.
Sheda’s e-mail to Jones (Sept 15):
I want to thank other readers for forwarding your email address so that people can reply to your THE EVIL EMPIRE article. My response is attached and was sent to The Guardian
on 9/12/05. I can now make sure that you too have seen it. I'm surprised that you are actually employed full-time as a journalist of some sort with The Guardian given the type of work you produce.
Jones’s reply to Sheda:
Before you condemn writers you should read more of their work. Mine is on The Guardian archive and reveals the richness of my education and my sensibilities. The most recent article, dated 15th September 2005, also demonstrates I am no western propagandist or enemy of ancient cultures.