Please pluck a fruit, sir. Any fruit will do.....
February 21, 2003 8:37 PM   Subscribe

Into the Garden of Good and Evil - Muhammad Iqbal's "THE DEVELOPMENT OF METAPHYSICS IN PERSIA" (first published in 1908 and free online courtesy the Bahai's): "The most remarkable feature of the character of the Persian people is their love of Metaphysical speculation." Strong, bipolar Good vs. Evil distinctions, and the notion of a cosmic struggle between the two, seem to have originated in ancient Persia as Persian Dualism. See Manicheanism here, here (warning-spurious windows), and here. Special bonus - Freepers fulminate over a German theologian's exegesis of Manichean american political rhetoric!
posted by troutfishing (14 comments total)

 
I'm kinda familiar with Baha'i concepts, from "Fireside Chats" thirty years ago and - long story - teaching classes a few months ago in a Baha'i basement and perusing Baha'i documents on break...but...what is the point of this post? Sorry, but even those of us who are interested don't have the time to read all of this.
posted by kozad at 9:04 PM on February 21, 2003


oh man, that free republic freak-out was hilarious.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 9:14 PM on February 21, 2003


Actually, it's not merely "American" political rhetoric. There's a serious case to be made (by a certain unmentionable German chap with a penchant for Grecian art) that all Christianesque political discourse (including the Marxist kind) is binary in its discourse. I recommend the same intellectual emetic that he did to purge this tendency. Whether Ahura Mazda is wearing his "historical dialectic" or "liberty and justice" hat, it's still the same myth.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 10:20 PM on February 21, 2003


what is the point of this post? Sorry, but even those of us who are interested don't have the time to read all of this.

Perhaps the point is that those of us who are interested can save the thing to our hard drives for when we do have the time? Or perhaps those of us who are interested actually do have the time now? Try being less presumptuous next time...
posted by H.B. Death at 10:31 PM on February 21, 2003


what is the point of this post?

I found the links directly relating to Persian mysticism extremely interesting, but the inclusion of the freeper rants makes me wonder if they were in fact the real point of this post as opposed to being a "bonus".
posted by MrBaliHai at 5:53 AM on February 22, 2003


Kozad - this wasn't a post about Baha'i (though the Baha'i kindly offer the book, free, online): it was about Persian Dualism, which - many theologians would argue - was the progenitor religious tradition which shaped the "Good vs. Evil" dualism underlying Christianity and Islam.

Pseudo - That's a good one. Yep, It's all binary, all the way down, just like the apocryphal "turtles". Do any US Military personnel read the "History of the Peloponnesian War", as required reading, I wonder?

MrBaliHai - I loved the Freeper rants, but my point - which no one seems to have picked up - concerned the irony in the use of extremely Manichean (strong "Good" vs. "Evil") US rhetoric to justify an invasion of Iraq, which is in fact the very birthplace of such religious dualism.

The general lack of reaction to my post of a 100 year old treatise on Persian religion is telling. Why should such a book be significant? I could answer this with a question: Imagine that the tables were turned and that a huge Chinese army was poised to invade the US. Why should they bother with even a cursory examination of the odd (to them, that is) 2000 year old tradition of Christianity? Or to put it more bluntly - should a nation, and it's invading and occupying force - be at all concerned with the deep cultural traditions of the nation it is invading?
posted by troutfishing at 8:08 AM on February 22, 2003


Thanks for this FPP, troutfishing.

Muhammad Iqbal's treatise is a gem of historical information that is not usually available in a single, concise and accessible form; it has, ahem, been saved to disc for future intellectual delectation It is also written in remarkably lucid and judicious prose. It is astonishing to discover such a work with a publication date of 1908. Trout, know thee any more about Iqbal's career?

It is droll that the Freepers so stoutly deny the evident Manichean outlook of our own Dear Leader and his minions. It shows the continuing value of Iqbal's work for those who would try to understand today's mad world within a valid historical context.
posted by rdone at 8:16 AM on February 22, 2003


my point - which no one seems to have picked up - concerned the irony in the use of extremely Manichean (strong "Good" vs. "Evil") US rhetoric to justify an invasion of Iraq, which is in fact the very birthplace of such religious dualism

Well, perhaps the reason no one's picked it up is that you've confused two completely different countries. Persia, birthplace of Mani and his religion/philosophy, is now known as "Iran." With an n. The country we're invading is "Iraq." With a q. If Bush did that, you'd make merciless fun of him.

Anyway, that aside, great post. Persian philosophy is endlessly fascinating, and is tied in inextricably with both religion and poetry. Anyone interested in this stuff should investigate the writings of Annemarie Schimmel (who died last month), a lifelong Lutheran who achieved an amazingly deep understanding of Sufism and Persian mystical culture; one of her more accessible books is Deciphering the Signs of God: A Phenomenological Approach to Islam, and (to close the circle) here is a page from a Baha'i site that quotes excerpts from it pertaining to the Babism and Baha'i.
posted by languagehat at 11:05 AM on February 22, 2003


Snark alert, languagehat.

Iraq did not become Arab until after the Conquests of Islam had been initiated c. 700 CE. Baghdad was constructed by Caliph Mansur c. 760 near the ruins of the old Persian capital of Ctesiphon. Christianity was well established in Mesopotamia long before Islam entered the picture. The Land Between The Rivers was the zone where the cross fertilization of Zoroastrianism, Mithraism and Christianity occurred.
posted by rdone at 2:02 PM on February 22, 2003


rdone, I'm well aware of the history of Baghdad, Mesopotamia, and all that other stuff you mention. It's not true that "Iraq did not become Arab until after the Conquests"; the same parts that are Arab now were Arab (or closely related Semitic tribes) then, it's just that much of it was ruled by the Parthians and then Sassanids, in the same way that it was later ruled by the Ottomans. I presume you wouldn't pick Iraq as an exemplar of Turkish culture because of the latter, and the same goes for Persian culture here. Mesopotamia was ruled by "ancient Persia," it was not the same thing, and Persian culture does not constitute "the deep cultural traditions of the nation [the US] is invading."

The post does not mention Christianity but says "Strong, bipolar Good vs. Evil distinctions, and the notion of a cosmic struggle between the two, seem to have originated in ancient Persia as Persian Dualism"; in the comments this is alleged to refer ironically to "an invasion of Iraq, which is in fact the very birthplace of such religious dualism." In short, nice try, but I suggest you let troutfishing defend himself. As for the snark, I hoped that my praise of his post would counterbalance it, but come on: if ever snark was deserved, it's deserved here.

(I must say, it's nice to have an argument about Iraq that mentions Ctesiphon and Mithraism rather than the usual suspects.)
posted by languagehat at 3:18 PM on February 22, 2003


Languagehat, rdone - I bow to you two! I am not an expert on this. I was hoping to hear from some actual deeper-level authorities on this, which is much more fun than the usual run-of-the -mill name calling over a US invasion of Iraq.

However...here's an 1861 map of Persia....here vs: a contemporary map of the region: a muddled history, I'd say, given that the past boundaries of the Persian Empire were much wider then the 1861 ones....

Boundaries of the ancient Persian empire, 500 A.D.
posted by troutfishing at 8:18 PM on February 22, 2003


Oops! - That's 500 B.C.
posted by troutfishing at 8:23 PM on February 22, 2003


Thanks for not getting mad, troutfishing! Yeah, it's a messy history, and it's probably not over; the Iran-Iraq War of the '80s (one of the worst and most neglected wars of the late 20th century) was fought over rival claims, with Saddam wanting the southwestern chunk of Iran (many Arab inhabitants, plus of course access to the Gulf) and then, after he was pushed back and the war could have ended, Khomeini wanting the southern chunk of Iraq (full of Shi'ites, who turned out not to want to be ruled by him, much to everyone's surprise). Nobody knows why Khomeini suddenly decided to end the war and accept an armistice based on the previous border (it was as much of a shock to Iranians as Hirohito's I-am-not-a-god speech after WWII), but certainly neither side has given up the idea of reclaiming the territory they think is rightfully theirs.
posted by languagehat at 9:19 AM on February 23, 2003


languagehat - I couldn't get mad!......only "authorities" on subjects should shout and fume at each other, I think. I'm not even a novice on this. You're probably ultimately right - that the locus of strong dualism was a few hundred miles (at least) to the East of Baghdad. Don't worry though - Iran is on the short list.
posted by troutfishing at 2:19 PM on February 23, 2003


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