The Cyrus Cylinder, symbol of Persian tolerance, heads to US
The 2,600 year old Cyrus Cylinder, a promise of tolerance from the ancient Persian King, is heading to the US for the first time.
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At the ceremony, Ahmadinejad also placed around the neck of an actor representing Cyrus a black-and-white checked chafiyeh scarf – which in the Islamic Republic is a symbol of the popular resistance of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, and devotion to resistance for Palestine and Lebanon.Skip to next paragraph
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The opposition Jaras website said the politicking meant the cylinder was “a stranger in its own home,” and that Cyrus would be shocked at the president’s comments about freely choosing leaders, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported at the time.
The hardline Kayhan newspaper even called for the Cylinder not to be returned, asking if it did not, in fact, belong to Iran instead of the British. If that were the case, Kayhan wrote, “then why should we return this stolen and historical and valuable work to the thieves?”
Tensions between the US and Iran are high, with negotiations underway over Iran’s controversial nuclear program. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran’s most ardent regime loyalists chant “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” every week at Friday prayers. Yet Iran also boasts one of the most pro-American populations in the Middle East, and the largest Jewish population in the region outside of Israel.
Threats and options
American officials also routinely declare that “all options are on the table” – including military strikes – in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, and the US has engineered a juggernaut of crippling economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Yet when President Barack Obama first was elected to office, he sought to reach out to Tehran, and quoted one of ancient Persia’s most renowned poets, Saadi, saying: “The children of Adam are limbs to each other, having been created of one essence.”
That sentiment – though overshadowed currently by US and Israeli covert actions against Iran, and Iran’s apparent attacks and plots in response, along with withering rhetoric – is in keeping with the message of the Cyrus Cylinder.
The cylinder “is one of the great expressions of a long human aspiration,” says British Museum Director Neil MacGregor, in an article. He notes that the example of Cyrus was a “guiding light” to the American Founding Fathers, with Thomas Jefferson said to have owned two copies of Xenophon’s book Cyropaedia, a biography of Cyrus.
“That is what this Cylinder records: how the ruler, guided by God, had toppled the despot and was going to bring freedom to the people,” notes Mr. MacGregor. “Cyrus invented a model of how to run a multilingual, multifaith, multicultural society. Of course this empire was held together by military force, but it was governed on principles so tolerant of diversity that it provided 200 years of stability until it was shattered by the aggression of Alexander... Alexander’s successors could not sustain his conquests and the empire fragmented... but what Cyrus had created lived on – a dream of the Middle East as a coherent unit, in which people of different faiths could live together. It was an ideal even his enemies admired.”
Those bringing the Cyrus Cylinder to America for the first time hope some of that cultural diplomacy breaks down contemporary barriers, where political diplomacy has not.
“This must be one of the chief tasks of our time: to build the global community where people of all persuasions, all ethnicities, can look with respect at one another’s most sacred traditions and learn to co-exist,” said Armstrong, at the cylinder send-off.