Monday, October 17, 2005

Remembering Zulqarneyn: On the Occasion of Oliver Stone’s “Alexander”

Remembering Zulqarneyn: On the Occasion of Oliver Stone’s “Alexander”

By Alireza Asgharzadeh

In my view, having actors with diverse accents is one of the strongest aspects of “Alexander.” In a film of this magnitude, probably it is not possible to have the Greeks, Macedonians, Persians, Jews, Arabs, Hindus, and others converse in their original tongues. In such a situation, the least an objective producer can do is to present English in various local accents, if only to attest to the presence of varied linguistic communities in the movie. Would not the use of various Englishes be more objective than using a uniform, standard Queen’s English to represent each and every linguistic community from Europe to Central Asia to the Middle East? Moreover, now that English has virtually become the lingua franca of our increasingly globalizing world, rather than contesting the use of various Englishes, one ought to encourage such an act as a fact of contemporaneous life.

For those of us who spend most of our time reading old books about ancient figures and events, movies like ‘Alexander’ offer a breath of fresh air by taking us away from the dusty pages of books and into thrilling theaters. Historical sagas like “Alexander” make us reflect on how and why certain figures continue to intrigue our imagination and pique our curiosity. Alexander the Great of Macedonia (356-323 BC) is certainly one such figure. His mythical and factual persona has entered into oral narratives and written literatures of peoples of Central Asia and the Middle East ever since his arrival to the region in the spring of 334 BC, provoking thoughtful historical, literary, intellectual, and linguistic debates. Take the name of our homeland, ‘Azerbaijan,’ for instance. Does this astounding name originate from the name of our ancestors, the Azerler, or is it derived from the name of Atropathena, a general of Alexander’s who became the governor of Azerbaijan after Alexander’s death? Our historians and linguists are still debating this issue.

It is through Alexander’s encounters with local peoples that we come to witness a phenomenon in the movie that has captured the imagination of generations of historians for centuries: Why is this young conqueror greeted by local peoples throughout the vast Achaemenid Empire as a liberator? Why do we not find any semblance of revolt and revulsion against this man on the part of local peoples and communities? After all, who would want to be conquered and dominated by an outside force? These questions take us back not so much to Alexander’s tolerance and respect for other cultures (which he possessed to an admirable degree) but to the nature of the enemy that he defeats: the warlike tribe of Achaemenians.

Intruders to the Iranian Plateau, the Achaemenians had terrorized the region’s diverse populations for 228 years, from 559 to 331 BCE. The recorded Orientalist historiography tells us very little about this aggressive tribe. The Old Testament describes them as cruel warriors who would emerge from the North and destroy Babylonia:

The Orientalist historiography of the region paints a positive image of the cruel Achaemenid rulers, regarding them amongst the earliest forefathers of a supposedly ‘superior’ Aryan race. It is this Orientalist reconstruction and misrepresentation of these brutal warmongers that gets taken up during the rule of Pahlavi dynasty (1925-1978) in Iran. The Pahlavis take the Orientalist misrepresentations to an exaggerated level and use them to justify their own brutal suppression and repression of non-Persian ethnic groups and languages in the country. Just as the Orientalist historiography accords no space to the region’s rich and diverse cultures and languages in the Pre and post-Achaemenid era; so too the Pahlavi regime uses the Aryanist mumbo-jumbo surrounding this supposedly ‘superior’ Aryan race to deny the existence of difference and diversity in modern Iran. This denial becomes the official policy throughout the Pahlavi era and even after its downfall.

Oliver Stone’s depiction of the Achaemenian kings in “Alexander” is a faithful replica of the Orientalist misrepresentation of these destroyers of other cultures and civilizations. The image of a dignified, distinguished-looking King Darius III and his noble entourage bear no resemblance to the vicious images that historical evidence shows of the Achaemenians. Conversely, Stone’s depiction of Alexander as a humanitarian cosmopolitanist respectful of diverse cultures, ethnicities, and languages seems to confirm the image that both the historical record as well as the collective memory of peoples of the region have of Alexander the Great. However, one must be careful not to glorify and romanticize any act of aggression, conquest, and occupation, including those of Alexander the Great.

The positive image of Alexander is so deep-rooted in languages and cultures of the Middle East that Iskandar (Alexander) has become a common name throughout the region. Anyone traveling to remote villages in Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Azerbaijan, and other places, would certainly encounter individuals bearing the name Iskandar. The same cannot be said of Achaemenian kings and their generals. That is to say, we never encounter in the literatures of the region names such as Kambujya, Khshayârshâ, Vishtâspa, and the rest. Even today we do not come across such names in major Iranian towns and cities, and this despite the fact that the short period of Pahlavi rule (1925-1978) in Iran was the heyday of Aryanist racism and aggressive chauvinism. On the other hand, the name of the Macedonian hero who put an end to the rule of the Achaemenian kings has been commonly used by all cultures and communities ever since the arrival of Iskandar the Great to the region.

Even the Shahnameh of Abulqasim Ferdowsi, a book written around1000 AD to tell the ancient tales of Iran, is completely oblivious to the existence of Achaemenian kings, whereas there are positive references to Iskandar of Macedon in it. The Achaemenians terrorized the region’s diverse populations for 228 years, destroying their cultures, appropriating their arts, and plundering their wealth. Perhaps that was reason enough for the peoples of the Middle East, Eastern and Central Asia to glorify a young hero who put an end to those intolerable appropriations and pillages. Perhaps, too, this is a good time for us to deconstruct the Orientalist/Aryanist fabrication of the histories and stories of Iran’s diverse nationalities and ethnic groups.

A critical interrogation of the Aryanist/Orientalist constructed image of the Achaemenians would be a great starting point to this end. The Iranian historian Naser Poorpirar has already dropped the bombshell by way of his seminal “Investigations into the Foundation of Iran’s History.” The onus now is on younger generations of scholars and historians to follow in the footsteps of Naser Poorpirar and expose the Aryanist historiography of Iran for the lies, deceptions, and misrepresentations that it is. Oliver Stone deserves best of credits for bringing the undying memory of Zulqarneyn to the attention of contemporary generations. He has done a great job in rekindling the old debates and discussions. It is up to us now to carry the discourse to a more humane terrain.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Persian civilization, is a myth, and a fabricated fairy tale. The Faseis in Iran fabricate all kind of lies in order to hide their inferior heritage. They claim that the Afghani Omar Khayam, Azeri Nizami Ganjavi,Turkish Jalaladin Rumi,and Uzbak Iben Sina as Farsies.

5:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

some notes ,i know to denote:1-darius exists in some forms in europe 2-there are some achamanide kings' names as "kiarash"that is cyrus or kurosh in shahnama.3-after islam the iranian names replacd by arab and islamic names esp.about men.4-in iranian texts the alexander has been named "gojestak"that means devil.5-the name eskandar between some parts of iranian community is rooted after story -poets after islam that have recorded the alexander life and equalled him with "zolqarnain"in,it is demonstrated that it is equal with cyrus(by mowlana abolkalam azad).shabahram dorost

7:01 AM  
Blogger Charles Reilly said...

W. W. TARN: Alexander the Great and theUnity of Mankind. (From the Proceedingsof the British Academy, vol. XIX.) Pp. 46.London : Milford, 1933. Paper, 2s. 6d. IN this thoughttul and thought-compelling paper Dr. Tarn presents Alexander in a somewhat unfamiliar light as the first propounder of the gospel of universal goodwill among mankind. The main lines of his argument are that ( I ) Alexander visualized nothing less than this ; (2) among earlier Greek thinkers 6p6uoiawas usually meant to begin and end at home ;(3) the Stoic 6p6vora was in the first instance borrowed from Alexander, and then reduced from a vital force to an inert gas by equation with the pre-existent cosmic harmony. The crux of this theory may be sought in Eratosthenes'account of Alexander's philosophy(quoted by Strabo, 1. 66). Here Alexander's 6pbvora is confined to the select class of cd85~ipoi&v8per. But the context suggests that (unlikethe Stoics) Alexander reckoned the sheep as far more numerous than the goats. Dr. Tarn admits that the germs of Alexander's idea might be found in earlier Greek thought. It may be worth recalling that Alcidamas reckoned all men as @v'ucr ihehBrpor, and that Isocrates sold the pass of Greek privilege when he defined Hellenism as a matter of culture,not of race. But, as Dr. Tarn aptly insists, Alex ander's o,u^ voza connoted more than absence of racial privilege, and the king reckoned it his duty not merely to recognize fraternity which others had brought about, but himself to sow its seeds on every soil (except the stoniest). Dr. Tarn's paper confirms the view which he has put forth elsewhere-a view also expressed in Wilcken's great work on Alexander-that the Macedonian king was not only one of theancient world's great practitioners, but one of its great visionaries. ,V.CARY.C'niversity of London.

3:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Persians like u are black donkeys and soon u will go to ur homeland africa near ur zebra cousins

1:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

persians are black ethnic like african people

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Azeris in iran are the whitest and the most beautiful people of iran but persians are black and ugly and their girls only have chance to become prostitute and sexual slavery of arabs because of ugliness

1:35 PM  
Blogger turboratur said...

Iskandar came from EAST to IRAN . Alexander the macedonian was a different person , he is a faked man by Jews and Greeks. Actual Iskandar was a Parthian generan in Achaemenian ( HAKHAMANESHIAN ) armi that attack and kill Darush III , even in Iskandarname ( writed by nezami ) Iskandar was an Iranian ! and not from Macedonia or Greece . This faked story is from Jews and their friends such oslonor .

4:17 AM  
Blogger turboratur said...

Iskandar came from EAST to IRAN . Alexander the macedonian was a different person , he is a faked man by Jews and Greeks. Actual Iskandar was a Parthian generan in Achaemenian ( HAKHAMANESHIAN ) armi that attack and kill Darush III , even in Iskandarname ( writed by nezami ) Iskandar was an Iranian ! and not from Macedonia or Greece . This faked story is from Jews and their friends such oslonor .

4:18 AM  
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