Esmail Khoi / اسماعیل خویی

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Esmail Khoi



“300” versus Xerxes


Soon after Khomeini’s flight from Paris to Tehran, on   February 1st 1979, the Mullah’s high- jacked our revolution.

The result, far from fulfilment of our dream of freedom and democracy, has up to now been nothing but increasing economic, social and political suffering.

No conscientious human being should or would, therefore, want to add to what we are enduring under Khomeinism.

I mean, thus it is that we tend to encounter rather over- sensitively  with, for example, books like “Not Without My Daughter” and/or films like “300”, in which we feel the actions of the so-called Islamic republic’s officials is  identified, or mistaken for, what we Iranians are.

            In his criticism of the film “300”, Mr. Cyrus Kar casts great doubt upon Herodotus’s famous – or, rather, notorious – account of The Battle of Thermopylae. And, to see how justified our critic  is in so doing, it is enough for us to look at the ancient Greek historian’s account in the light of Giambattista Vico’s method of evaluating historical reports. The great Italian philosopher of history teaches us that, in the absence of counter-documents, the, or at least one, way to try to verify a dubious historical report of a past event would be to visualize the scene; for example, to imagine  ourselves present at the very time and place of its happening, and see if we could, with our own eyes, see it is actually taking  place.

For the very “reportability“ of any public, e.g. historical, event depends primarily upon its being or having been witnessed by human eyes. But, needless to add, human eyes are capable of witnessing actual events  when, and only when, they receive their sense-data directly from the real world outside, and not through clever cinematic animations, especial effects or the so-called “virtual realities”, that have made nonsense of the popular dogma “seeing is believing” .

I mean, try to visualize The Battle of Thermopylae: imagine the Spartan defence to be a well-disciplined, “300” strong regiment of cloned Herculeses, one and all armed to the teeth with the then most murderous Spartan weapons; and – just imagine! – The 2.7 million Persian invaders to be an unruly mob of ignorant savages, and not a mighty Navy of well-trained and well-equipped marines advancing aboard thousands of well–built battle-ships, technologically unequalled to date. Would it be possible for you to see the Persians defeated by the Spartans?

Of course, that was what happened eventually. The Greeks, and not the  Spartans alone, won the War .

But why?


Don’t you see the terrible storm raging against the Persian battle-ships, smashing and drowning most of them just as they are approaching Sparta’s rocky shores?

I mean, General Storm did for the Greeks and against the Persians what, centuries later, “General winter” did against Napoleon and for the Russians.

The royal astrologers’ prophecy of a “good day” for Xerxes to start his naval expedition turned out to be false .The Sea became stormy that day and the proud King of Kings ordered his army to whip the sea waves for having risen against his royal will!

Now, this testifies to the truth of what Plato writes about Xerxes’ childhood and the educational milieu that eventually made him the arrogant fool that he was. But we are talking about the Persian Navy, not Persia’s Emperor. And what the anecdote shows is that the weather was not favourable for the Persian expedition from the start.

I mean, the Greeks, especially Athenians who always looked down on Spartans as culturally inferior to themselves, must have been primarily grateful to Zeus’s son, Poseidon, for having smitten the Persian Navy with his oceanic wroth.

Xerxes was the grandson of Cyrus the Great, who is greatly admired in The Bible for emancipating the Jewish people from their Babylonian yoke of slavery.

And that is why I find it astonishing that the principal individuals involved in the making of “300” are Jewish-Americans.

True, the Theological Tyranny in Iran today, the so called Islamic Republic, is a sworn enemy of Israel, with the murderous intention of wiping the country off the map of the Middle East if, and when, possible.

 But the present Islamic Republic has nothing to do with ancient Persia: a country that mothered the very first great champion of Human Rights – and that, in particular, with regard to the Israelite.

Besides, the greatest majority of us Iranians never identify ourselves with the present Tyrannical Theocracy – a fact realized and emphasized even by President Bush, who has repeatedly said that he distinguishes the Iranian people from the Islamic Regime. But it seems to me that the director and the producers of “300” have failed to grasp this rather obvious fact.

I mean, the Jewish people have every right to respond to the Islamic Republic’s president and his turbaned colleagues’ criminally malicious propaganda by all means and in every way they choose to. And, in this respect, cinemas can be a first choice.


But fighting the Islamic Republic is one thing, demonizing the Iranian people is quite another thing.


The first is their national right. The second amounts to an almost criminal act, paving the way for a possible genocide in our country.

I mean, cinema, as a medium, is the most powerful means for moulding public opinion world-wide into accepting the justifiability of America’s attacking the barbarians in Iran:

Which if – and god forbid when – triggered, it is apt not only to result in a total destruction of the socio-economic infra-structure of our country, but, and worse still, to lead to an Iranian terrible civil war:

Which if – and again god forbid when – ignited, it will inevitably end in a total annihilation of a country that once cradled human civilization and her people took great pride in calling themselves Persians .

The film Director has, in a TV interview, uttered words to the effect that his intention was to make an entertaining movie, not to give present day Iranians a bad image through picturing their ancient ancestors as ignorant, blood-thirsty barbarians, indeed the primal “Axis of Evil”.

But actions speak not only louder than words; they are more truthful, too.


As a founding member both of The Iranian Writers Association and The Iranian Pen (in Exile), I cannot but remain a defender of the basic Human Right to Freedom of Expression. In all its possible forms, censorship is a social and political evil.

It is morally impossible for me, therefore, to ask any one to refrain from seeing “300”. Just as words are to be answered by words, films are to be encountered by films.

Besides, human curiosity can, and often does, over-power human will.

Thus it is that all forms of banning or boycotting strongly tend to, and usually do, work against themselves. Salman Rushdie, of whose right to Freedom of Expression and Publication I have always been and shall always be a whole-hearted defender, did not dream his Satanic Verses to become an almost best-seller. But Khomeini’s edict against his life and work made it so.

But, then, what are we to do in response to a piece of ill-willed propaganda like “300”?

I fully agree with Mr Kar:

“History is no longer written by victors, it is written by filmmakers...Perhaps the movie “300” is a necessary wake up call. But Persia bashing will never disappear on its own. It is the main villain in Western Saga. The [or one] way it will change is through the power of film”.

And, to utilize that “power”, we have the necessary potential, both inside and outside Iran, in terms both of talent and of capital. Our problem is the wide gap between talent and capital both inside and outside Iran.

Inside our country, the gap is created through the Islamic Republic’s enmity with our Iranian national identity, especially with those of its historical elements that have to do with our ancient heritage and are deeply rooted in pre-Islamic Persia.

Outside Iran, however, the gap is an inventible outcome of both immigrant and exiled Iranians’ indifference towards their Iranianness. For example, and specially, the majority of the Iranian-Americans are quite well- to-do people. Indeed, official American statistics show the Iranian-American community to be the most prosperous in the United States today, altogether owning $600 billion in wealth and capital.    

But it would be much easier – and more satisfying – for a great number of them to loose a great deal of money at a gambling table in a luxurious Las Vegas casino than to make a small donation when it comes to a cultural, or social, or political Iranian cause. 

And thus it is that Alex Joey’s movie about “Cyrus the Great”, which, in the words of Cyrus Kar “could have done wonders for the Iranian image…sits idle for lack of money.” And, more heart-wounding still, Mr. Kar’s own documentary film about Cyrus the Great has languished for the mere want of $400,000.


Dear Cyrus,

I wish I could help you. But I cannot. All I can do is to wish you good luck and a Happy  Nowruz .

Esmail Khoi

01/04/07, London