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Op-Ed: Kurash, Ahmadinejad and the Jews

What happened between our two peoples?
Published: Wednesday, July 08, 2009 11:39 AM


You know, this really isn't difficult to understand. But some background first.

One would think, with all the hatred towards Jews and Israel spewing forth out of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Iranian mullahs' mouths, that Iran has always been the bitter enemy of the Jewish nation.
Jews were grateful to their powerful Iranian liberators and served in their armies throughout their empire.

Not so. In fact, the Kurash Prism is an ancient Iranian document which gives testimony to Cyrus the Great's decree allowing the Jews to return to Judea, freeing them from their captivity in Babylon in 539 BCE. It corroborates the Jews' own Biblical account beautifully in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. And then there's the Book of Esther, again, in the Hebrew Bible as well, testifying to the age-old relationship between these two ancient peoples.

Jews were grateful to their powerful Iranian liberators and served in their armies throughout their empire. At the fortress in Elephantine, Egypt, for example ancient documents related to this were discovered, along with a synagogue built there for Jewish soldiers serving under the Iranian ruler.

Centuries later, when Judea fought for its freedom and independence against the Roman Empire in the first and second centuries CE, it was Iran, again, which came to the Jews' aid. And centuries later still, on the eve of the Arab explosion out of the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century CE, ancient documents record a Jewish army of tens of thousands aligning itself with Iran against the hated Byzantines.

So, what happened?

Well, for one thing, there was that not-so-little thing briefly mentioned above - the Arab conquest.

After Muhammad and his successor imperial, Caliphal armies burst out of the peninsula in all directions, both Judea and Iran fell to the Arabs' jihad in the spread of their Dar ul-Islam.

In the Middle East, especially often, internal differences due to ethnic and national conflict are reflected in religious expression. The Khorasani and other mawali - disgruntled Iranian converts to Islam - thus became followers of the martyred 'Ali, Shi'ites in opposition to the brand of Islam of their Arab conquerors, the Sunni Umayyads. They supported the Abbasids, who would soon conquer the Umayyad seat of Sunni Arabism in Damascus. Baghdad would next become the new capital of Islam. Struggles between the Shi'a and Sunni continued, but by the 16th century the former became the adopted religion of state by Iran's Safavid Shahs.

While the fate of Jews under both branches of Islam was fragile, to say the least, in some ways it was even worse at the hands of the Shi'a.

Thus, as the centuries progressed in a henceforth Muslim Iran, and a Shia one at that, Jews would soon find themselves in an awkward position. Their very lives and livelihoods depended upon a powerful, more secular political ruler, the Shah, who could act more on their collective behalf against the powerful force of the hostile religious establishment, the ulema and the mullahs.

While some pre-Islamic problems are noted in the Book of Esther, the fate of Iranian Jews had far more ups and downs clear up to the present time due to the situation brought on by the Arab Muslim conquest of the land. And since Jews were largely dependent on the political power of the Shahs, if the latter were unjust, then the masses, stirred up by the mullahs, frequently took it out on the Jews.

Let's jump to the present.

Recently, Iran held a presidential election in which the mullahs' front man, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, supposedly defeated Mir Hossein Mousavi. Major demonstrations against Ahmadinejad and the mullahs have broken out among numerous people who feel that the election was stolen. The mullahs' Revolutionary Guards have given warning that their patience is wearing thin.
This, my friends, is the real reason for folks like Ahmadinejad's professed hatred of the Jews.

Whatever the differences in foreign policy which might exist between the two candidates (probably not many), the protests are mainly over internal matters - freedom, in all of its true democratic forms, is the main example.

And this, my friends, is the real reason for folks like Ahmadinejad's professed hatred of the Jews and of "the Jew of the Nations." Undemocratic, oppressive dictators always make sure that they have at least one great, external bogeyman against whom to channel internal frustration, unrest and violence.

Who better than the world's scapegoat and whipping post par excellence - the Jew?

Hopefully, more and more Iranian people will start to see through this injustice as they rethink that age-old relationship between their own nation and that of the Jews.