Longing for Ahasueros: Purim, Persians and Politics

Op-ed: Ever notice that Khamenei sounds like Haman? Netanyahu seems to be the only one who realizes what Iran's leaders are out to do.

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Gerald Honigman,

Satellite image of Persian Gulf
Satellite image of Persian Gulf
Israel news photo: NASA

The Jewish holiday of Purim is here.  Non-Jews may know it by way of the Hebrew Bible's ("OldTestament") Book of Esther, the story of how a young Jewess helped to save her people from those who would have destroyed them in ancient Iran some twenty-five centuries ago.

Unfortunately, besides Purim, there are additional holidays which also commemorate the Jews' near misses or actual calamities at the hands of others as well. Tisha B'Av (the 9th of the month of Av--the date of the destruction of the two Temples), Hanukkah, and Passover come to mind.

To be more specific,  Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu, visiting the AIPAC Conference in the USA, recently appeared on television along with President Obama, discussing the Jews' modern Iranian threat.

Iran's current, would-be nuclear rulers refer to Israel as being, among other things, a "one bomb" country. I don't believe I have to explain that any further, do I ?

So, some things change while others do not. Instead of an Iranian emperor's wicked prime minister (Haman) plotting their demise some twenty-five centuries ago, Jews now face attack and extermination by Arabized Iranian Islamists.

The situation is sad - for many reasons.

Firstly, prior to the Arab conquest and spread of the Dar ul-Islam into the country, and despite the earlier episode involving Purim, Iran actually had a fairly positive balance sheet in its relations with both Jews and the latter's own state. Iran was an ally of Judea in its fight for freedom against Rome--for whatever its reasons.

Some six centuries later, ancient, non-Jewish sources recorded an army of tens of thousands of Jews from the Galilee and adjacent areas who joined Iranian armies to fight the hated Byzantines. This happened on the eve of the Arabs' own extensive imperial Caliphal conquests of the entire region in the 7th century C.E.

Secondly,  Arabs and Arabized (like Iran) are correct when they joke about how Jews cherish life…To save one soul is to save an entire universe.  No Jews are told that seventy-two virgins await he who blows up Arab or Iranian babies or decapitates them with knives, as the Arabs promise to their own shahids.

Israel's late Prime Minister, Golda Meir, summed this up nicely when she stated back in 1972…

We can forgive the Arabs (or anyone) for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.

And, unlike the genocidal Arab, Iranian, and other enemies they face, Jews don't deliberately use anyone's children as human shields.

There is no doubt that Israel faces a situation today that it never wanted--one in which it will truly be damned if it does and damned if it doesn't - act.

But a nation made up of a people, many of whose families were already subjected to one Holocaust (not to mention what happened before in history as well), cannot afford to take the genocidal threats of a nation like Iran--which promises to wage yet another Holocaust against them--in any other way except at face value.

The 12'er Shi'a Islamist leaders calling the shots today--both figuratively and literally--do not share that love for human life which they mock the Jews for

The mullahs used their own children to clear mine fields in their 1980s war with Iraq, have slaughtered countless thousands of those who oppose them, hang Kurds and others who just seek human rights ( let alone political ones) almost daily, and deliberately seek world turmoil and chaos (a la nuclear conflagration?) to bring about the return of their "Hidden Imam," the Mahdi.

They have supplied scores of thousands of sophisticated missiles and other armaments to their stooges who surround Israel and support their butcher buddies in Syria. Furthermore, they don't care how many of their own people die in their direct and proxy wars to slaughter Jews.

Now, given this stark reality, imagine Israel's Netanyahu. With each day that goes by due to others twisting his arm, the chance for success at stopping the ultimate catastrophe diminishes, since more and more of the prime targets get buried deeper and deeper underground away from air force reach..

The economic sanctions President Obama now finally talks about are good ones--but needed to have been applied at least three years ago. At that time, there was still some breathing space in terms of Iran's approaching its zone of immunity due to the fast pace it's now actually on to develop nukes and have them adequately protected.

And there is no evidence, even now after tougher economic sanctions have been applied, that progress on Iran's nuclear militarization path has slowed. Indeed, reports show that the contrary is true. Recent talk of Iran being willing to negotiate fools no one but fools.

Simply put, we don't have the same breathing space today as we had years ago when Israel first warned the world and was ignored--regardless of the false analogy some will make regarding Iraq.

Unlike a geographically much larger Iran, with a population approaching 90 million, Israel is a nation which--as I like to point out--requires a magnifying glass to find on a world globe.

Furthermore, some 85% of its six million Jews (why am I nervous about that number?) live in that narrow 9 to 15-mile wide waistband in the middle of the country (courtesy of the '49 armistice lines)--concentrated, easy bulls-eyes for retaliatory strikes coming at them from almost all directions.

With this heavy on my mind, I think once again of Purim--.

Jews have lived in Iran at least since the days when Cyrus the Great liberated many of them from Babylonian captivity (in what's now Iraq) and allowed those who wanted to return to Judah, the surviving kingdom of the Jews after the spit with the northern tribes of Israel upon the death of King Solomon about three thousand years ago, the chance to do so.

Many chose, however, to stay behind and formed prominent Jewish communities as they spread eastwards.

Judah became a thankful vassal state to the vast Iranian empire, with Jewish warriors serving as part of the Iranian military, and so forth.

Judean garrisons served in places such as Elephantine, Egypt, near today's Aswan. Ancient papyri have been discovered which give additional testimony to this vibrant community which pre-dated the Iranian conquests and, among other things, had its own temple.

Besides the account of Cyrus the Great's liberation in the Jews' own scriptures (Ezra 1:1-8, Hebrew Bible), we have historical corroboration of this in ancient Iranian records as well. Below are excerpts from the Kurash Prism, the decree of Cyrus the Great for the return of the Jews to the current nation of Israel in 539 BCE. This version is found in the website of the Circle Of Ancient Iranian Studies:

I am Kurash, King of the World, Great King,...King of Babilani, King of Kiengir and Akkade, King of the four rims of the earth, Son of Kanbujiya...to the region from as far as Assura and Susa, Akkade, Eshnunna, the towns Zamban, Me-turnu, Der as well as the region of the Gutians, I returned to these sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which used to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I also gathered all their former inhabitants and returned them to their habitations. Furthermore, I resettled upon the command of Marduk, the great lord, all the gods of Kiengir and Akkade whom Nabonidus had brought into Babilani to the anger of the lord of the gods, unharmed, in their former temples, the places which make them happy.

Within a half century of Cyrus's decree, the events which led to the story of Esther (the Iranian name for Hebrew Jewess, Hadassah) unfolded. The new Iranian ruler was Xerxes, and he began his rule in 486 B.C.E. His English name, Ahasueurus, was evidently derived from a Latinized form of the Hebrew, Achashverosh, which in turn was a rendering of the Babylonian Achshiyarshu.

The Hebrew rendering may have actually been a title that the king was also known by--not his actual name.

My friend and Kurdish freedom fighter (peshmerga), Hamma Mirwaisi, is--among other things-- an expert on the various related languages of the Airyanem Vaejah nations. He came to America around the same time that Secretary of State Kissinger pulled the rug out from under the Kurds' feet during their revolt (at America's instigation) against Saddam in Iraq in the '70s.Yes--Saddam Hussein was around that long.

When the Shah of Iran made his peace with Saddam, America then betrayed the Kurds. It would not be the last time that Washington would do this either. The late great New York Times columnist, William Safire, wrote a series of articles about this disgraceful sellout. The lucky ones got to flee for their lives, and some were allowed into America.

Hamma's first book, Return of the Medes (ancestors of the Kurds), has many interesting revelations in it. And some of these have to do with Purim.

On the Iranian ruler, "Ahasveros", he wrote the word means "it is a revolt now." "Aha" means "now." "Sveros" means "revolution" or "revolt." It is a call to revolt.

Emperor Cyaxares--Xerxes--was nicknamed (or "titled," as seen above) Ahashverosh or Ahasuerus because he called the Medes' enemies, the Scythians, to a feast and, on signal, had his supporters revolt and slaughter the drunken Scythians. The Book of Esther also tells of feasts that Achashverosh liked to have at his palace.

Thanks to Hamma, I will never read nor hear The Megillah (The Book Of Esther ) being recited again on Purim without thinking about my Kurdish friends.

Remember King Achashverosh in the Book of Esther?

Follow these excerpts from Hamma's Story #10,"Emperor Cyaxares I Plan To Liberate the Medians from the Scythia:

Cyaxares invited Madius (the Scythian ruler and subjugator of Medes) and a large number of his warriors to a festival...many laid down their arms and became drunk, but no Median warriors did so...When Cyaxares called out "Ahashverosh," the code word, the Medes attacked...Most Scythians were killed, some seized and arrested.

Cyaxares became known as the liberator of the Median people and was reinstated as the King of Kings of the Median Empire. He was nicknamed Ahashverosh, or Ahasuerus, for his attack on the Scythians. Aha means "now" and shverosh means "revolution" or "revolt."

Subsequent chapters of Hamma's book discuss Cyrus, Queen Vashti, Assyria, Babylonia, Esther, and so forth--all important to the history of the Jews as well.

How  I long for the days when at least two ancient and great peoples, those of all of the Airyanem Vaejah nations and my own, may once again live together in peace. And extra icing on the cake would be improved relations between the Persian people and their Kurdish cousins as well.

While this may all sound like mere pipe dreams, just consider what is now transpiring in the land of the mullahs' best friend.

If the Assads fall in Syria (by no means a certainty, given the support they are receiving from some key powers such as Russia, China, and Iran itself), and the more tolerant, inclusive elements in the opposition (such as the Syria Democratic Coalition--SDC) get the crucial support that they need (instead of the Islamists getting it and gaining ascendancy, as they've done elsewhere), then similar forces may muster the courage to take on their own oppressors in Iran yet again. They surfaced in 2009 during the stolen election, but were brutally suppressed--the world watching and doing nothing.

The latter was too worried about such things as Israel building a security barrier to protect its kids from being disemboweled by the mullah's Arab jihadi counterparts to deal with such issues.

And the outside world? What would they do to support this - now?.

While the powers that be later supported the overthrow of folks like Libya's Qaddafi and Egypt's Mubarak, the Obama Administration, the American State Department, the European Union, the United Nations, and others simply stood by and did nothing as Iranian opponents of the Islamist theocracy were slaughtered in the streets just a few years earlier. Unfortunately, given this lack of international resolve and Islamist policies and theology, I see no bright future for freedom in Iran.

What is needed as we approach Purim 2012 is the rise of a new and improved Achashverosh--a ruler who, as my Kurdish friend, Hamma, translated and explained it above, will live up to that title and lead Iran in a revolt for the good of the entire nation and the world at large.

The author is an educator who is an expert in Mid-East Affairs and has conducted counter-Arab propaganda programs for college youth.