Happy Purim to all the Jewish people around the world, celebrating the day that Queen Esther saved the Jewish people by alerting King Xerxes to the Grand Vizier Haman’s evil plot.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referenced this whilst speaking to schoolchildren earlier this week:
“In Persia, they wanted to kill us but it didn’t work,” Netanyahu said. “Today, too, Persians are trying to destroy us, but today, too, it will not work.”
Bibi has spent much of the last week selling the lie that Iran’s ruler wanted to kill the Jews. Wrong! Haman was NOT the ruler. He was the vizier. He was an adviser. He was this guy:
Netanyahu’s rationale for amending history is logical: A persistent simmering frisson between Iran’s theocratic regime, which does not recognise Israel, and the hawkish Israeli prime minister consolidates the power of both parties. However, in making this statement, Netanyahu is crushing an important shared Jewish and Persian lore which has been mentioned in numerous historical manuscripts and holy books (The Torah, Bible and Quran).
Chief amongst this is Xerxes’ grandfather Cyrus The Great who liberated the Jewish people enslaved in Babylon, and announced an edict for the rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem.
This Persian ruler therefore ushered in a new epoch in the history of the Jewish people, culminating in the temple itself being completed during the reign of Darius II four generations later.
The Cyrus Cylinder, kept at the British Museum, describes how Cyrus allowed captives in Babylon to return to their native territories, which earned him an honoured place in the Jewish faith.
How about Xerxes, who was the grandson of Cyrus and the ruler during the events which are now celebrated in Purim? Does marrying a Jewish maiden, listening to her describe Haman’s plans and condemning the vizier to hang for his tricks mean that this was a ruler who wanted to “annihilate the Jews”. How about issuing a decree which authorized all Jews to defend themselves, and appointing Mordechai the first Jewish prime minister of the Persian Empire? These historical facts were, conveniently, rather missing from Netanyahu’s comments.
This contempt towards history is an insult to both Persian and Jewish History, two ancient cultures who have been intertwined for millenia despite the current challenges. This should be a time for celebrating cultures, and the deep bond which was cemented between Persia and the Jews following those events. Bonds which have persisted for many centuries, and still exist to this day, despite the rhetoric from Iran’s leaders, and perhaps the hawkish elements in Israel.
Abdol Hossein Sardari, known as the “Schindler of Iran” is an example. A diplomat who saved thousands of Iranian jews from deportation by the Nazi regime, he then began issuing hundreds of Iranian passports for non-Iranian jews to save them from persecution, dying in poverty two years after the Iranian Revolution in 1981. His actions do not fit into Netanyahu’s narrative either, but he exemplifies the courage and the principles of human rights that Cyrus the Great pronounced 25 centuries earlier.
Published on: https://iranwire.com/en/blogs/693/4344
In this guest blog, Dr Nima Ghadiri describes the harrowing experience of the end-of-life care his grandmother received in an Iranian hospital, and the betrayal of the principles of bioethics, which were first identified many centuries ago by Iranian polymaths, including Avicenna and Razi.
Avicenna (left) and Razi (right), Persian physicians and polymaths who helped define the principles of bioethics, used by healthcare professionals to this day
My beloved grandmother and closest friend Batool Sepassi died in an Iranian Hospital ICU (Intensive Care Unit) following a short illness.
During the course of a viral illness, she became increasingly short of breath and had to be admitted to a local private hospital. She had a chest infection and was taken to the intensive care unit accompanied by close family. At this point the family had separated to go to the payment desk, and my grandmother was taken to ICU, though no medical history was taken nor treatment started until payment was organized (the privilege of private healthcare).
There were some major flaws in treatment. Having been admitted with a chest problem, it took 30 hours for a chest consultant to see my grandmother, though not without a battle — we were told “this patient is not on my list” — and a serviceable X-ray was only taken the following day.
My family was only allowed an hour a day to visit my grandmother, which was extremely hard given that she thrived on closeness to family and friends. My close relatives stayed outside all day the ICU to be able to glance at my grandmother from a distance and hear her calling out for them. This was a traumatic experience, particularly when they heard the expressions “Saaket” or “Khafeh Sho” (“Shut up”) from my grandmother when she was undergoing procedures. My grandmother loved to communicate and form bonds with people, and appreciated having her close ones hold her hand during medical procedures. During all of her stay, her arm was outstretched to hold someone’s hand, but there was no one there and her hands were eventually fastened to the bed.
The course of the disease was unpredictable, and ultimately a poor prognosis was given, i.e. the chances of my grandmother’s survival diminished. During this period, interactions with nurses and doctors were punctuated by disregard and dismissal. For example, when one relative noticed that the nebulisers were inserted in my grandmother’s eyes rather than her nostrils (where they belong), this fact was dismissed with a “oh, her oxygen was high”. There were a few good doctors and nurses, but they were conspicuously outnumbered by the poor ones. When my cousin objected against intubation (insertion of a tube into the lungs) for the last few hours of life, instead of explaining the rationale, the doctor shouted at her “Do you want to kill your grandmother?” It took a lot of pressure to prevent the ICU team from doing a completely needless invasive procedure (kidney dialysis) with just a few hours of life remaining and kidney test results that had been unchanged for years.
Nevertheless, simple measures such as giving my grandmother something to drink were considered a luxury. When my grandmother was deteriorating, no provision was made to allow her to be close to loved ones. She and her family did not want her to be in an intensive care unit, and not only was she kept there against her will during the treatment phase, but she was kept there when she was about to die.
I asked my cousin to connect her to me by video call before her death during the one-hour visiting period. Her eyes were initially closed, but as soon as she heard my voice, they opened wide. Her mouth was entirely bandaged apart from a tube coming out of it, but I could see the outline of her lips moving briskly underneath all the bandages. She wanted to say something, and had never been stopped from talking to me before. She started vigorously shaking her tied arms in an attempt to communicate with me, but then realized her efforts were fruitless and her eyes started welling up with tears. In all my years of knowing her, I don’t remember her crying. She died just over an hour later, curtains drawn and no loved ones around her.
Nothing could have prepared me for this image, which remains traumatically imprinted in my mind. It will be a memory I will never forget. I keep wondering what she wanted to say – was she saying goodbye to me, or asking me to convey a message: to look after my mother, my brother, or help someone desperately in need? Finding the answer to this is a futile quest, but it is a rumination that will, sadly, remain.
Dying alone, with family not allowed to be with her is one thing, but my family were also denied the chance to see her after death. Only after begging were they able to get a brief glimpse of her in the corridor prior to entering the mortuary after challenging the comment, “She’s gone, why don’t you just go now”.
Passing away is an inevitable part of people’s existence, but the environment for this chapter of life is so important. As a doctor who works in the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, I have been well-versed in the importance of dignity in death. But in Iran, a country whose polymaths helped define the early principles of bioethics, it is unfathomable that core bioethical values were denied for such a sweet soul as my grandmother, and potentially for others. These principles include Non-Maleficence — not performing unnecessary procedures that serve just to prolong the patient’s life and often cause distress and pain to the patient — and Autonomy – respect for the desires and values of the patient, including how they want to be treated and how they want to die.
In my grandmother’s case this was with her family around her and without fruitless procedures. Denying someone’s spirit and character so manifestly in their final days and hours is criminal. These sentiments were shared by my family, and indeed being able to spend time with a loved one before and after their death to say goodbye should be a basic right, rather than just being able to observe this sorrowful moment from a distance. It should not be such as Sisyphean effort to spend time with a loved one and find out what happened during a hospital stay, hampered at all stages by a lack of sympathy and empathy alongside a degree of ageism against someone who is perceived as just a bed number rather than a human being.
A photo of Nima Ghadiri’s grandmother holding a pomegranate on Shab-e Yalda (An ancient Persian festival commemorating the Winter Solstice), three weeks before she died
I remain always indebted to my grandmother for looking after me as a child in the United Kingdom and being someone I could talk to and share my life with for so much of my existence. Even at her age, she had the spirit of someone many decades younger, was full of life and brought joy to so many. She shared all she had with charity and those less fortunate than herself. Strangers often commented on how sweet and bright she was and I used to talk to her about films, technology and current affairs. She remained a fountain of wisdom and I could not have dreamt of a better grandmother. Her grandchildren remain traumatized by the manner in which she has gone, and the suffering and abuse that she endured. Because she was such a positive and life-loving soul, I do not want the final page of her life to be negative. I am not sure how yet, but I know that I would be happy if the discussion arises for Iran, the country of Avicenna, Razi and numerous others, to re-discover what care, particularly at the end of life, means. Perhaps in the future, I will open a palliative care institute in her name.
IT IS easy to assume that Iran has never been a site of drunken revelries. Westerners imagine Iranians to be a homogenously pious and modest group, and so suppose that viticulture is wholly foreign to them. This image is not helped by recent legislative action; in January, the government banned the printing of the word “wine” in all books as it deemed the beverage an element of a “Western cultural onslaught”. Yet suggesting that drinking is a quasi-blasphemous act obfuscates the fact that alcohol—and wine in particular—has been an inextricable part of Iranian culture and identity for millennia. Indeed, current estimates suggest that Iranians imbibe around 60m litres of alcohol a year despite the government crackdown.
During the heady reign of the Pahlavis (1925-79) Iranians freely indulged in drinking as it was legally permissible to do so. While it is true that legislation was much more liberal before the Revolution than it is today (one need only take a glance at popular pre-Revolution Iranian cinema and advertisements of the era), the Pahlavi dynasty was far from the first to openly tolerate drinking. Indeed, the oldest-known traces of grape wine—found in the Zagros Mountains in western Iran—date back some 7,000 years.
In Aryan times (the early part of the second millennium B.C. onwards), it is said that with the wine given to him by the Prophet Zarathustra, King Vishtaspa beheld God in a vision and thus became the Prophet’s first convert. Herodotus stated that wine played a key political role in the Achaemenid Empire (550-330 B.C.): “It is their custom to deliberate the gravest matters when they are drunk…and if, being sober, they still approve it, they act on it.” The opposite was also true; “if they have deliberated about a matter when sober, they decide upon it when they are drunk.”
It was not because of its practical and prophetical uses that wine left an indelible mark on the Iranian psyche, however. In the wake of the Arab invasion in the seventh century A.D., Iran experienced its most profound cultural renaissance. Longing for a revival of the suppressed Persian language and Iranian culture, the Samanids (819-999 A.D.) were patrons of the poets who brought about a renaissance of Persian literature. Rudaki extolled wine, and Daqiqi, in doing so, praised the Zoroastrian faith of his ancestors and the House of Sassan (224-651 A.D.), in which wine was imbibed in no small measure. “Four things there are dear, which I so need,” Daqiqi famously declared. “The ruby-coloured lip, the harp’s lament, the blood-red wine and Zarathustra’s creed.” In longing for the drink that had once fuelled the Persian Empire, the poet revealed an affection for Iran’s pre-Islamic past.
Later poets would come to be synonymous with wine-swigging and bacchanalia. Omar Khayyam’s “Robaiyat” (1048–1131 A.D.) is a celebration of wine in the face of transience. “Drink wine,” Khayyam exhorted, “for long under the earth shall you sleep”. Hafez’s odes, too, brim with references to wine. “Sick I am of the hypocrite’s cloak and his shrine”, he complained. “Where is the Magian temple and its pure wine?” Some scholars have posited that Hafez uses wine as a symbol of divine, not earthly, intoxication, but his vivid descriptions of both wine and drunkenness suggest an intimacy with his source material. To such an extent did these poets exalt alcohol that it has arguably been the image most associated with Persian poetry. Goethe, who, like many other European writers of the age had been charmed by Persian poetry and philosophy, wrote in his “West-East Diwan”: “Hafiz…to love like thee, like thee to drink, shall be my pride, shall be my life.” It was a tribute both to the medieval Persian sage and to his choice of subject.
European accounts of Safavid and Qajar-era Iran (1785-1925) dispel any doubt about the longstanding Iranian penchant for wine. Early adventurers such as John Ussher, Charles James Wills and Henry Austen Layard, told far less of “Mahometan” piety in their travelogues than they did of debauchery and dissolution. Orgies, topless female musicians and boozing were very much “the order of the day”, according to Ussher. Even mullahs instructed foreigners in the Iranian art of winemaking. So enamoured of wine were these Iranians that many of the travellers who encountered them could hardly fathom that they were pious. “The people were a laughing, careless set, devoid of fanaticism, having indeed very little religion,” wrote Wills. “Nearly all drank wine to excess.”
Whether for divine revelation, administration of empire or simply a good time, Iranians have long tippled wine. What would Persian poetry be without Khayyam’s drunken verses and Hafez’s Magian wine? What decisions would the Achaemenids have made without it? What little would remain of the Qajar portraits of topless wine-tippling belles and the Safavid frescoes of Esfahan’s palaces, brimming with scenes of drunken revelry, had there not been any cupbearers? The word may be exorcised from Persian schoolbooks today, but, try as some might, wine can never be washed from the Iranian soul. Iranian history paints a purple-stained picture that some, perhaps, would rather leave bottled up.