One of the most ridiculous accusations leveled against the U.S. by Iran is that “300,” the movie depicting the heroism of the Greek Spartans against the invading Persian hordes under Xerxes in 480 B.C., is a product of “a comprehensive U.S. psychological war aimed at Iranian culture.” This movie allegedly “insults” Persian civilization.
The allegation was made, according to the Iranian Fars News Agency, by Javad Shamquadri, filmmaker and art advisor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Fars is not so much a news agency as it is a vehicle for propaganda and misinformation.
The allegation is baseless on two counts.
First, no program of psychological warfare is being waged against or about Iran or any other Islamic state. We can only wish one existed. Hollywood is not in cahoots with the CIA, NSA, or the State Department to insult any country, least of all Iran, to which the U.S is making meek overtures to stop killing American troops in Iraq and to stop development of nuclear weapons.
In fact, if anything, Hollywood is waging a kind of psychological war against the U.S. without any connivance of the government. During World War Two, Hollywood turned out dozens of films that “insulted” Nazi Germany and Tojo’s Japan, some at the behest of the War Department, others independently. How many films has it produced about the “war on terror,” other than one or two non-judgmental films about the 9/11 hijackings? None.
Second, Persian cultural accomplishments in literature, the decorative arts and architecture – great portions of them cadged or adapted from other cultures – were more or less nullified with the Arab/Islamic conquest of Persia in the mid-7th century A.D. Under the Muslims, much Persian literature simply vanished. At Marathon and Thermopylae, the Spartans and other Greeks were not fighting jihadists or Islamists in a holy war of conquest. They were opposing a megalomaniacal tyrant, Xerxes I, who did manage to sack Athens.
Up until the Arab conquest, the dominant religion in Iran or Persia was Zoroastrianism, founded about two hundred years before Marathon and Thermopylae. Like Islam (and Christianity, as well), it featured a bizarre divinity and farcical cosmology. The apostles of Mohammad subsequently cleansed Iran of that religion and all Greek influences in Persian culture.
Why is Javad Shamquadri so touchy about a pre-Islamic Persian tyrant, nominally an infidel? Historically, Xerxes couldn’t have heard of Allah, because that divinity wouldn’t be invented for another thousand years. Why boast of a civilization that his creed erased some 1,500 years ago? If Shamquadri was going to complain about anything, it might have been that the hairless, androgynous Xerxes in the film resembled nothing like the 6th-5th century B.C. bas-relief of Xerxes in the Archeological Museum in Tehran. Also, most of the film’s Persian soldiers dressed suspiciously like…Arabs. But, those are mere details.
“Following the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Hollywood and cultural authorities in the U.S. initiated studies to figure out how to attack Iranian culture.” There’s a xenophobic conspiracy theory for you. The efforts of those plotters, such as the movie “300,” would be fruitless, because “values in Iranian culture and the Islamic Revolution are too strongly seated to be damaged by such plans,” said Shamquadri. And there’s package-dealing for you, too, a coupling of nationalism and theocratic fervor. And which values does he mean: Islamic or non-Islamic?
What, basically, is “300” about? The refusal of Spartans and Greeks to submit to tyranny, preferring to die defending their freedom and autonomy rather than live as conquered subjects. And what does the term “Islam” mean? Submission.
Regardless of the movie’s flaws – and there are stylistic and technical ones – this is what really upsets Shamquadri and his own tyrant, Ahmadinejad, and not any imagined cultural aspersions. The box office success of “300” in the U.S. is evidence that the West is not yet vanquished, in spite of the best efforts of Hollywood and the pragmatists of Foggy Bottom. To date, “300” is the only movie in my memory to champion the superiority of the West – because of its heroes’ unequivocal value of freedom. To borrow a scene from the movie itself, “300” is Leonidas’s spear that grazed Shamquadri’s cheek.