Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

300 Reasons To Get Mad

By Firoze Hirjikaka

Parsis (Zoroastrians) – in India and abroad – are up in arms over the unflattering portrayal of ancient Persians in the recently released movie ‘300’. The cause of all this brouhaha is a B-grade action flick, whose only selling point is bloody gore and mindless violence.

Since much of what is printed in newspapers these days comprises doom and gloom, one conditions oneself to read them with a modicum of detachment and indifference. It’s a nasty world out there; and it would be prudent not to let it affect you personally. However, I found myself unable to be indifferent to the news item about Parsis (Zoroastrians) – in India and abroad – being up in arms over the unflattering portrayal of ancient Persians in the recently released movie ‘300’.

As a Parsi myself, I could not help experiencing a feeling of smug superiority, every time I read a news report about some Muslim cleric issuing a fatwa over some perceived blasphemy; or a Hindu mob going on a rampage over the desecration of a statue. Thank goodness, we are not like that, I thought. We Parsis are a tolerant race, with the ability to brush off perceived insults; and even to laugh at our peculiarities. Hence, it is disheartening to realize that some of us, at least, are cast in the same mould as those we deride.

If the entire issue wasn’t so pathetic, it would be laughable. The cause of all this brouhaha is a B-grade action flick, whose only selling point is bloody gore and mindless violence. Movies of this genre demand that the protagonists be divided into heroes and villains – there are no shades in between. In the battle of Thermopylae, the Persians were the vanquished. That is a historical fact. Naturally, they were cast as the bad guys – and vilified accordingly – some would say, to excess.

Not surprisingly Parsi ‘spokesmen’ have chimed in with their penny’s worth. A self-proclaimed Messiah of Bombay Parsis has seen fit to impart a portentous history lesson to the supposedly ignorant. A US-based Parsi reads political overtones – America’s present antagonism towards Iran – into the film’s bias.

The Iranians, of course, are having a field propaganda day. ‘300’ is being slammed as a US government-funded project to prepare Americans for the war against Iran. It’s a different mater that no one in Iran has seen the movie; but everyone seems to know about it. And everybody – housewives, teenagers, and ministry clerks – is shaking with fury. The movie has generated so much agitation in Tehran that it is one of the rare things that most people agree upon in that country.

Some are generating an e-mail petition against the film and hoping to get half of Tehran on board. The more scholarly are brushing up on the history of the Achaemenid Empire; noting that Herodotus had estimated the Persian army at 120,000 men – not one million, as the film claimed. The Iranian media has taken up arms against the movie as well, with a newspaper headline reading “300 against 70 million!” (Iran’s population). One evening newspaper had this headline “Hollywood has opened a new front in the war against Iran.”

Intentional or not, the timing of the computer-generated film – which depicts the ancient confrontation of Sparta and the Persian empire at the Battle of Thermopylae – could not have been more inflammatory. It was released on the eve of Nowruz, the Persian New Year, celebrating the Spring Equinox – not a particularly welcome season to be portrayed as ferocious, pillaging, deranged savages. And it has come as a godsend to the ruling clerics. Many ordinary Iranians are pretty pissed off at their government, but this movie has providentially offered common cause against the Great Satan. A government spokesman has declared the film to be a fabrication and an insult. There is a delicious irony here. The Achaemenid king – portrayed as a fall guy in the film – was a Zoroastrian; in other words one of those infidels that the Islamic rulers regard with scorn.

Nonetheless, many Iranians view the Achaemenid Empire as a particularly noble page in their history; and cannot understand why it has been singled out for such shoddy cinematic treatment. The Persians are shown in rags and their Great King practically naked and a monster. Historically, the Achaemenid kings wrote the world’s earliest recorded human rights declaration, and were opposed to slavery (so they were the good guys). Cuneiform plates show that their ancient capital, Persepolis, was built by paid staff, rather than slaves – as was customary in those days. And its preserved relief’s depict court dress of velvet robes, which proves that, if anyone was wearing rags around 500 B.C, it wasn’t the Persians.

For heaven’s sake, people! ‘300’ is an out an out violent movie that caters to the least common denominator. Its target audience would not recognize history if it got slapped in the face with it – nor would it care. Why are we giving it such undue importance, instead of treating it with the contempt it deserves?

And to my fellow Parsis, I would say: do not got provoked by such nonsense and leave the ‘religious scholars’ be in their self-delusional ivory towers. Nowruz is coming up soon. Let us go and see a Parsi comedy and have a hearty meal. Zoroastrianism is a joyous and tolerant religion. Let us keep it that way.

Original article here