A war is but a loser’s game

by Farrukh Dhondy

I can’t remember which teacher it was who ventured to tell us about the Battle of Thermopylae all those years ago. Three hundred Spartans held the pass at the aforesaid place against the invading hordes of the Persian Emperor Xerxes. The 300 of the title faced a million Persians. Our class was told that this was one of the episodes of history in which the valiant — who shall taste of death but once — fought against the cowardly, deceitful, callous weight of Persian numbers and I cheered for the Spartans.

All over the world the populations of countries such as India, outside the ambit of Western power, go to the movies and cheer for the cowboys — until they realise that they are the Indians. The pull of myths that serve the West is stronger than any historical self awareness, unless it is mediated by ideological powers that forbid Western films and control the minds of the young — as I imagine happens in Iran or in Al Qaeda training camps.

I remember drinking Oliver Stone’s wine on the beaches of Goa as the sun set on the last film of that city’s film festival one year. Olly, the dupe, was showing Alexander. I was standing with Derek Malcolm, eminent British film critic, when some stray camera crew seeking easy prey came up to us.

“What did you think of the film?” asked the raven-haired-temptress of a news-gatherer.

“You expect me to have watched that rubbish? It’s like asking a Jew if he saw a film extolling Third Reich.”

“Oh why is that?”

“Why? Because I am a Zoroastrian and claim direct descent from King Darius the III, whose empire this bandit Alexander from barbaric Macedonia laid to waste. The bastard killed a lot of people, took thousands of my fellow Zoroastrians into slavery and in the worst act of vandalism in ancient times, set fire to the palaces and libraries of Persepolis! How would you feel if you were French and some British football hooligans set fire to Paris, the Louvre and all? ”

“This film offends minorities!” I say, hoping to provoke a political incident with the Parsees of Dadar rising up in martial pride and surrounding the American and Greek consulates.

“Not only minorities, Farrukh,” says Derek Malcolm, stealing my thunder. “It offends majorities who see it.”

And so we come to the second ideological venture of the West against Iran. The modern Iranian state has protested against the film. I really don’t see what right the modern Iranians have to protest. They are the victims of faulty or forgetful history. They choose to ignore the fact that the great Zoroastrian civilisation of Iran was wiped out by nomadic Arab tribes bent on converting continents to Islam. They are the descendants of the discontinuity caused by the Muslim invasions of Persia in the 7th and 8th centuries and as such have no claim on Xerxes or his deeds.

The Muslim invasion of Persia did no less to the Sassanian Zoroastrian city of Ctesiphon than Alexander did to Persepolis. Worse, they vandalised the city and carried away the materials to build Baghdad. Not nice.

The Tigris and the Euphrates no longer belong to them — the Arabs and Iranians have made a divide over which millions lost their lives in a war. I can appreciate that Iranians feel that the latest film is opportunely made and released at a time when the West wants to demonstrate its military supremacy over Iran.

My own inclination to go down to the Greek embassy and throw stones is mitigated by the fact that as far as Xerxes was concerned, the little affair of Thermopylae was a tick in the camel’s coat, a skirmish on the remote borders not worth bothering about. And yes, perhaps 300 did face millions, but military strategy is not purely a matter of the numbers that confront each other. It depends on how and where the advantage is. Iraqi armies in their thousands recently faced just three Americans and suffered heavy defeat — the Americans were flying overhead in a bomber plane.

Now I must go and see if the film is worth these words.

The writer is scriptwriter based in London

Original article here