Sunday, February 27, 2005

Homeland, enemy

I noticed a while back the many links I have going to (Iranian) American blogs. So I have been thinking: if and when there is a sharp escalation of hostilities between the Islamic Iran and Bush's America, aside from the personnel of the Armed Forces of both countries and those Iranians living close to various military instillations, the Iranian-American communities would also be adversely affected once called upon to play (expected) roles.

In an age when buffoonish conventions and those impulsive vilifying chatters masquerade as serious political commitment; with State power chiefly interested in reproducing cheerleaders or extras in passion plays instead of citizens with solid sense of civic responsibility and duty, it is unlikely to have many people in either country easily persuaded to see the joys and tribulations of coetaneous affections instead of dual loyalties.

Subsequently, there'll be rattles about the fifth columns, sleeper cells and enemy spies in the homeland as well as ceaseless accusations of betrayal and treachery and acts perceived as "objectively" aiding and abetting the enemy. There'll be loud nationalist clamor and chauvinism galore.

Such is life, I suppose. They've made their beds freely. No sense avoiding it for the fear of bedbugs. Blame it all, if you must, on globalization and the massive movement of people on an unprecedented scale all over the planet.

Ever the sucker for empathy though, I thought it proper--in order to sooth their woes, to direct attention to the insights that may be gained by an examination of our ancient heritage hidden in the contemporary Farsi terms for homeland and enemy.

There are two widely used terms for homeland nowadays. One is VATAN. If you've been reading my blog, you have probably noticed how consistently I get my articles wrong. That's because there are none in Persian. And I abhor articles almost as much as hoods, leashes and torture.

This term for homeland you've probably seen in its Arabic form, Al-Watan. The equivalent Arabic W sound becomes V in Farsi. We'll ignore this one.

The second widely used term is MEAHAN. (Mihan). You see, we hardly ever do etymologies when studying languages. Even our own. And not many people venture to gain (even elementary) exposure to our dead languages these days.

In a world dominated by Mammon, fundamentalists, reformists, and Fiskers, Moore, Britney Spears or a Foucault, who'd give a damn about some outdated wisdom in some long forgotten book, right? Sadly then, we don't normally notice how so very evocative and ancient some of the terms we take for granted really are.

One of the first appearances of the term Meahan in a slightly different form is in the oldest section of the Zoroastrian scripture. From Avesta Yasna 1.16

I announce (and) carry out (this Yasna) for these places and these lands, and for these pastures, and these abodes with their springs of water(?)2, and for the waters, land, and plants, and for this earth and for yon heaven, and for the Asha-sanctified wind, and for the stars, moon, and sun, and for the eternal stars without beginning, and self-disposing, and for all the Asha-sanctified creatures of Spenta Mainyu, male and female, the regulators of Asha.

Don't let yourselves be intimidated by the seeming alien surface. Most of the key concepts are very familiar to all of you. Give it a read loudly and hear how it might sound (note the aspirants and pronounce c like ch):

nivaêdhayemi hañkârayemi ånghãm asanghãmca shôithranãmca gaoyaoitinãmca maêthananãmca avô

Mainyu is our mediating link to enemy. Again, Avesta Yasna 57.25-26

O Sraosha (Obedience), thou blessed one, and stately! protect us for the lives; yea, for both, (for that) of this world which is corporeal, and for the world of mind, against unhappy death, and the remorseless Wrath of rapine, against the hosts with ill-intent, who lift their bloody spears against us; yea, against their assaults whom the Wrath-demon will set on, and Vidhatu, demon-made. 26. Therefore may'st thou, O Sraosha, the blessed and the stately! grant swiftness to our teams, soundness to our bodies, and abundant observation of our foes,[ dushmainyunãm]

Mainyu is a derivative of the Indo-European root, *Men- to think. Many different terms we routinely employ are derived from this--namely, Eumenides from menos, reminisce, mania, amnesia and even monster or money. Dush is the equivalent of the English dis-.

In modern Farsi usage, the term for enemy then becomes Doshman, or quite literally bad (evil) think-er/ing.

Notice how the significance of one's abode, the surrounding places, land, and the pastures are assumed in their relation to the Spenta-Mainyu--the Holy/Good Spirit/Thought (and deeds). Nothing much implied about borders or the physical constitution of one's antagonists.

True, a reflection of nomadic lifestyle. But aren't we all nomads anyway? Meanings are constituted via the encounters of the "regulators of Asha."

Asha is significant here. The equivalent of Sanskrit Rta., it connotes Order (characterized by) Righteousness, Truth. And note also the crucial role the demon of Wrath--Aêshma--plays in all this which is always associated with Chaos.

In modern Persian, it becomes Xasm and Xashm (anger) also familiar to all of you possibly by way of that "brooding" entity hovering over "darkness" "the face of deep" in the Book of Genesis. (Don't quote me on this, but I think I have this right if memory serves.)

And there you have it. Both Xasm and Doshman as the Farsi equivalents for enemy.

Draw your own conclusions as you see fit. The irony for me in all this is two folds.

You can now, I am hoping, surmise how introspections and Socratic questioning should come naturally to Persians. How else would we guard against the foe? Or attack the enemies? Some of the most exciting moments of our ancient thought are expressed via questions and questionings. I'll do a post on this some other time.

Isn't it tragic, though, that curiosity, inquiry and questionings are now punishable crimes?

More importantly, how is it that a civilization so sensitive to Wrath and so heedful of the need for Order characterized by Truth, has come to settle for such a state of Chaos? How did we end up so incapacitated by Lies with dispositions expressed through projections and by lashing out instead of introspections and by way of looking in?

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