Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lotf Ali Khan Zand

Lotf Ali was the last of the Zand Dynasty rulers (ruled 1789-1794). His heroic struggle against the cruel eunuch Agha Mohammad Khan, the first of the Qajar kings, is the stuff of Shakespearean tragedy. After horribly torturing his rival, Agha Mohammad had him put to death and interred at the Mausoleum of Imamzadheh Zeid in the old bazaar in Tehran.

Lotf Ali's uncle, Karim Khan Zand (ruled 1747-1779) is considered one of the few truly benevolent rulers in Iran's long history. Karim Khan never took the title of King or Shah, choosing instead to call himself Vakil "regent of the people." For that reason his name remains on street signs and landmarks after those of past royals were removed following the Islamic revolution.

"The happy reign of this excellent prince, as contrasted with those who preceeded and followed him, affords the historian of Persia that kind of mixed pleasure and repose, which a traveler enjoys on arriving in a beautiful and fertile valley during an arduous journey over barren and rugged wastes. It is pleasing to recount the actions of a chief who, though born of an inferior rank, obtained power without crime, and who exercised it with a moderation that, for the times in which he lived, was as singular as his humanity and justice." (John Malcolm, The History of Persia, 1829)

Monday, February 19, 2007

Mullah Nasiruddin

Mullah Nasiruddin is a popular character in folk tales throughout the Middle East and south and central Asia, including in Iran, Turkey and the Arab countries. He is at once a fool and a wise man, at turns absurd and down-to-earth. I'm not sure what character in Western culture is a close approximation of Mullah Nasiruddin, but I think of Charlie Chaplin's "Tramp".

Many of the Mullah Nasiruddin stories have to do with his donkey. Here are two short pieces:

"One day the mullah's neighbor came to borrow his donkey.
The mullah said, 'My donkey isn't here.'
At that moment there was the long bray.
The neighbor said, 'You told me the donkey wasn't at home. Where did that braying come from?'
The mullah became angry and said, 'How strange people are. Will they believe a donkey before they will believe me?"

The mullah put some wood on his back and got on his donkey.
The neighborhood children asked, "'Why don't you put the wood on the donkey's back?"
The mullah said, "It would displease God if the donkey had to carry both myself and the wood."

Friday, February 2, 2007

"I see beneath the ashes the glow of fire
And it wants but little to burst into a blaze
And if the wise ones of the people quench it not,
its fuels will be corpses and skulls.
Verily fire is kindled by two sticks,
and verily words are the beginning of warfare."