By Mehdi Sepahvand

The rising ‘Empire’: global, genuinely Persian

August 12, 2017

The American fear of a rising Persian Empire resurfaced one more last week as former secretary of state Henry Kissinger warned President Donald Trump that a power vacuum after the demolition of ISIS will definitely put Iran in a one-on-one situation to score a new Persian Empire.

I have already argued how Kissinger is partaking a folly that was established in previous years, and, nonetheless, how Iran transforms regional crisis into something of use to it much differently than for it to qualify as an empire proper.

Here I intend to take my argument a step further by establishing how the rising Iran is turning into a pivotal point of difference between the Old and New worlds, therefore showing how this fear of a rising empire surfaces.

“Persian empires were always known entities—feared, envied, hated, admired, but never a strangers or unknown. These same Persians and Persophilia becomes a peculiar attraction to Europeans… during the Renaissance and Enlightenment modernity. There is not a single period from antiquity to modernity in which Europeans have not known or referenced Persians and invariably marked their Persophilia,” observes Hamid Dabashi, an Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York City, in his latest book “Iran: the Rebirth of a Nation”.

Building on the back of a revolution now 40 years old, as well as the trauma of a national purgatory the aftermath of a democratic participation in presidential elections eight years ago, the Iranian nation is today both and none of these experiences at the same time, seeking a better self-in-the-world who revises itself according to latest developments day in day out.

Asking any Iranian how they relate to these two seminal national experiences (and lesser ones scattered in time), you would find in their answer a surprisingly objective outlook that means to rectify and improve upon the self.

This comes with a genuinely self-confident nature that is to be found in the history of Europe, with their experiences of the Renaissance, Enlightenment, the two world wars, etc., who seek a rebirth of the self right from the ashes of yesterday, much different from the, let’s say, American experience to leave everything behind and look for a new world order after rid of all those unwanted, bothersome people.

The difference between Iran and Europe on one hand and America on the other may therefore be summarized as where they seek change. America is all about a new world order through an apocalyptic event that either wipes them out or installs them above everyone else, whereas the other two are about a new self. The formation of the European Union can provide the best example to this in the case of Europe. 

This kinship between the two old peoples found a however comic manifestation last week on the Iranian parliament floor where some dozen lawmakers started capturing soon-to-go-viral selfie pictures with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini while she was more or less unaware of or unprepared for the pictures. Mogherini was not the only high-ranking invitees there, President Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration, yet the way she arouse the desire of togetherness, however in a bizarre way to the point of being rejected by the entire political and social spectrum in the country, was quite noteworthy.

Today, as the United States is spreading the fear that a new Persian Empire is rising, latest in a series that has included hate-mongering dramatizations such as through Hollywood in the movie “300”, Europe is generally seeing a promised land of peace in Iran within a restive Middle East.

Trump’s vows to “tear” the nuclear deal have not yet moved back far in time to be forgotten. On the other side of the Atlantic, however, Europeans are pushing giant economic deals with Iran, alongside recognizing the country’s role in a to-be peaceful Middle East after the ISIS crisis.

Looking at it from another angle, Iran is playing it smarter even than Russia, which is on guard against both Europe and the U.S. Iran is growingly turning into a point of difference between the Old and New worlds, breaking the “West and the rest” binary. While the EU remains faithful to its Persophilia to the benefit of its own - to reduce the flow of war refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the region, find a good market of 90 million population and a trade hub for a bigger 400-million population, and so on - the pragmatist Washington, having cut their umbilical cord with their mother long ago, seek the destruction of a burgeoning nation by whatever it takes, be it by allying with Saudis to balance Iran in Syria, the same Saudis whose son set the American “nation” “under attack” at the turn of the century, or by catastrophizing developments in Syria into imagined precursors to a rising Persian Empire a la mode “300”, forgetting (or wanting others to forget) in the meantime, that this has not been established when power vacuum ensued U.S. retreat in Afghanistan or Iraq in recent past.

As Washington thinkers are engaged in replacing Persophilia with Irano-phobia, assuring the world of a rising Xerxes that will shed blood to high heavens, the world are giving themselves the chance to consider a growing-up Zarathustra figure to descend the Damavand and speak of what the world has long lost and dearly cherishes, a self-in-the-world that ceases to be so taken by a black-and-white image of things and instead tries to embrace new horizons and make new bonds by reviewing and reorienting itself.

SP/PA
 

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