For those who are not closely familiar with the history of what is called the Middle East today, "Persia" mostly sounds like a weird and eccentric name that has to be looked for in the encyclopedias and textbooks. There are people to whom the word Persia resonates with some ancient geographical territory, but they're unable to locate it on the map. And of course there are people who are well aware that the word "Persia" was used since the fifth century BCE to describe one of the world's longest-standing and most venerable empires, inherited to the modern-day country that George W. Bush once said was part of an Axis of Evil: Iran.
The Persian culture and its manifestations, which continue to influence the world and inspire scores of people across the planet, make up the ignored and undiscovered part of the reality of Iran. Persian culture takes on many different representations, characterized by the enormous amount of literary work produced throughout the past centuries by Iranian poets, mystics and authors; architectural magna opera scattered across the Persian Plateau, each of which bear a specific spiritual, celestial or ceremonial significance; a rich painting and illustration tradition; a dazzling art of carpet-weaving that has been exhibiting the intricacy and delicacy of Iranian craftsmanship for so long and a marvelous history of music production that dates back to the era of Sassanian Empire from 224 to 651 AD.
The majority of CNN, Fox News and PBS watchers, when they huddle around their TVs to watch some international news and stay tuned to the latest developments taking place thousands of miles away in our region - marked with violence and instability, most of the time get exposed to intermittent footage of Iranian ballistic missiles being test-fired, some Iranian official fuming anti-American remarks, negotiations over Iran's nuclear program stretching into a new phase, journalists being arrested, etc.
But the fact is that this stereotypical portrayal of Iran through perpetuating the belief that it is a hazardous and unusual place with brainless people frenzied about the outside world does not genuinely match with the reality of what's happening within Iran's borders. This is at least testified by the honest, truth-seeking journalists, adventurers and media personalities who've weathered the hardships of traveling to Iran and experiencing the delicacies of life here firsthand, even though momentarily - many of whom I'm delighted to have interviewed, including the New Zealand Herald journalist and international tour manager Jill Worrall, the Guinness World Records holder Graham David Hughes, the Italian globetrotter and blogger Angela Corrias, American philosopher and filmmaker Andre Vltchek and even the former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
The sublimity of Persian culture and the composure which can be found in the Iranian lifestyle, coupled with the persuasive elegance that exists in every piece of artistic work coming out of Iran, all have convinced the visitors of Iran that this country merits appreciation for what it is adding to the global civilization, even though the continuance of political struggles between Iran and the Western powers undermines the diplomatic relations. But it's been proved time and again that even in the absence of robust relations between the governments, the people have much to offer to and learn from each other.
The essence of Persian culture is intertwined with peace, and a fair observer needs to judge Iran and its people on the basis of what they fundamentally stand for, not the fanciful statements of a president who wished to incite Holocaust denial - and is gone now!
Of course Persians are credited for introducing many firsts to the humanity. They were the inventors of the modern brick sometime around 6,000 BCE and also the first people to invent lute, ziggurat and the modern taxation system; however, the treasure they should be really honored of is a poet-mystic who revolutionized the Persian literature with his masterpiece of lyrical compositions, and grabbed attention throughout the recent decades in Europe and North America for the lofty concepts he conveyed in his collection of spiritual poetry: Rumi. Known to the Iranians as Mowlana (Mevlana in Turkish), Rumi was born in 1207 in the Balkh Province situated in what is now Afghanistan, originally part of the Persian Empire. Having lived in Turkey for more than 50 years, he was buried in Konya after his death, and his shrine now receives thousands of visitors and pilgrims every year.
Rumi was a Sufi mystic, jurist, Islamic scholar and theologian who composed 25,000 couplets (50,000 lines) in his extensive spiritual epic Mathnawi, a work that some researchers of Islamic history assert is the second most influential text in the Muslim world after the Quran. The six-volume Mathnawi, aimed at teaching its reader how to get closer to the higher truth and the Almighty and ignore the mundane existence, has been translated in English by Arthur John Arberry, E. H. Whinfield, Reynold Nicholson and of course Coleman Barks. Barks' translation of Rumi's Mathnawi, which has culminated in 22 volumes throughout 33 years, made Rumi the U.S. best selling poet. Rumi's sonata is now on the Amazon.com's list of best-selling works of poetry. The list, as the website says, is updated hourly, and since the late 1990s, Rumi's name has been there.
Madonna and Tilda Swinton have made songs out of Rumi's poetry, and many of those who listened to the songs - namely "Like This" and "Bitter Sweet" - may never realize the origins of the lyricist. However, Iranians and the people in the region, who once constituted a uniform nation, take pride on being nationally and ethnically affiliated with Rumi, a poet and preacher who continually appealed to his addressee to spread peace and compassion, and rid the world of fighting and inequality. The legacy of Rumi is vividly alive 808 years after his birth, and it would be recommendable to those who sneer at Iranians by saying that they're intrinsically, and by DNA, "deceptive people," to pass their judgments after reading some Rumi, not harking back to Ahmadinejad's tirades.
"The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don't finally meet somewhere.
They're in each other all along."
― Rumi, The Illuminated Rumi