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“A new Persian Empire masquerading as an Islamic Republic,” I called Iran last year (Jihadis and whores, November 21). Now the mask has fallen. Iran’s uninterrupted tantrum over the portrayal of the 5th-century BC Persian Empire in a US film is very Persian, but not at all Islamic. It has gone unnoticed in the shouting over 300 that the Koran explicitly welcomed the destruction of the pagan (Zoroastrian) empire at the hands of the Byzantine Christians a millennium after the Spartans and their allies defended the pass at Thermopylae. Iran’s identification with pre-Islamic Persian paganism is decidedly un-Islamic.
Writing of the destruction of the Sassanid Empire at the hands of the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius at the Battle of Issus in AD 628, the Koran hailed a “victory for believers,” namely the Christian monotheists of the Eastern Roman Empire, over the Persian heathens.  The Romans at first would be defeated (as they were when the Persians occupied Jerusalem in 615), but they would rise and win again, and “on that day, the believers shall rejoice” (Sura 30, verses 2-4). The Sura is by no means obscure, for Islamic scholars cite it as an example of a Koranic prophecy that came true.
That does not square with the declaration last Friday of Iran’s embassy in France denouncing the local release of the film 300: “Throughout history, the Iranian culture has always advocated peace … As a result, any wrong image about Iranian culture will be void of value and will be accordingly judged by those familiar with the history of the world.” Every organ of the Iranian regime has issued a denunciation of 300, based on a comic-book account of the events of 480 BC. At Friday evening prayers, former president Hashemi Rafsanjani added his outrage to the chorus, according to the state news service. He “condemned production and screening of the film 300 and described it [as] a cruel case of historical theft and added that [this] film which has been produced by Hollywood distorts history and paints a fabricated picture of Iranians.”
The West’s hope to avoid war with Iran centers on Ayatollah Rafsanjani, the ostensibly moderate alternative to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. European diplomats as well as the Saudis hope that health problems will force Khamenei out of office, allowing Rafsanjani to assume the top position, and negotiate an end to Iran’s nuclear-weapons program.  For the moment, Washington will sit back and see whether the Saudi scenario might succeed. If it does not, eventually it will employ force.
Too much, I think, is made over the tug-of-war within Tehran, and too little attention is paid to Iran’s underlying motives. Within as little as a decade, Iran will produce too little oil to export, and its economy will collapse, as I warned in several locations, most recently on December 5 (Civil wars or proxy wars?). Within a generation Iran will have half as many soldiers and twice as many pensioners. Driving down the price of oil to crush the Iranian economy sooner rather than later is a favorite scenario of American strategists – Victor Davis Hanson offers it up in his latest column – and the Iranians know better than Americans that the sand has nearly run through the hourglass. Iran’s imperial ambitions, I maintain, express a unique solution to an otherwise insoluble problem, namely to grab the oil resources of southern Iraq, Azerbaijan, and perhaps even northern Saudi Arabia.
These new imperial ambitions inspire Iran’s impassioned defense of the ancient Persian Empire, which, as noted, trample over the Koran’s clear view of the matter. What upsets the Persians is not the inaccuracies of 300, a Hollywood genre film with few pretenses at historical authenticity. They simply don’t like the fact that the Persians lost.
On the surface, the most objectionable departure from historical fact is the figure of Persia’s King Xerxes, who is portrayed as a monstrous, body-pierced, sexually ambiguous monster prancing madly about the battlefield. That is fanciful, to be sure, but conveys a deeper truth about the character of Persian rulers, who were among the most lascivious, concupiscent, slothful, sensual, deceitful and greedy gang of louts who ever had the misfortune to reign.
The high culture of the Persian court was not so much sexually ambiguous as it was overtly pederastic. Persian historian Ehsan Yarsheter observed of medieval Persian-language love poetry, “As a rule, the beloved is not a woman, but a young man.” Hafez, the most celebrated of Persian poets (and the inspiration for many Western adaptors, including J W von Goethe), wrote many such love songs to adolescent boys as this:
My sweetheart is a beauty and a child, and I fear that in play one day
He will kill me miserably and he will not be accountable according to the holy law.
I have a fourteen-year-old idol, sweet and nimble
For whom the full moon is a willing slave.
His sweet lips have (still) the scent of milk
Even though the demeanor of his dark eyes drips blood. (Divan, No 284)
If the wine-serving magian boy would shine in this way
I will make a broom of my eyelashes to sweep the entrance of the tavern. (Divan, No 9)
Hafez was a poet of surpassing skill, to be sure, quite worthy of the widespread interest he attracted among 19th-century Europeans. Among the major cultures of the world, however, there is no other example of one so exclusively devoted to pederasty. The Greeks (and especially the Spartans) had their share of erotic fascination for boys, eg Ibycus (flourished 6th century BC). But the defining erotic figure of Greek literature is a woman, namely Helen.
In that light I do not think the makers of 300 portrayed Xerxes unfairly; they showed the inner man, as it were. As I wrote last October 24,  the Persians “have been rather a nuisance since Thermopylae in 480 BC, and it is time that someone taught them a lesson.” My friend Corporal Malone LaVey of the United States Marine Corps agrees.
2. See for example The Guardian of March 25: “When the Security Council first agreed sanctions against Iran last December, it triggered a wave of condemnation of the president.
“The outcry, widely reflected in the Iranian media, aided the political renaissance of a pragmatic former president, Aqbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who had been written off after being defeated by Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election. Rafsanjani has been trying to reassert himself since topping the poll in last December’s elections to the Experts’ Council – a powerful clerical body that supervises the performance of the supreme leader.
“That represents a potential threat to Khamenei, who has long seen Rafsanjani as a rival and supported Ahmadinejad’s presidential bid against him.
“Add to this Ahmadinejad’s mysterious cancellation of his address to the Security Council and a pattern begins to form.”