Islamic rule and the pre-Islamic blessing, the “homecoming” of the Cyrus Cylinder
This paper looks at the spectacle raised in Iran of the “homecoming” of the Cyrus Charter loaned from the British Museum for a public display in 2010. The Charter was an inscription on a clay cylinder of the proclamations by the ancient Persian king in the wake of his conquest of Babylon in 539 BC. The temporary rehabilitation of the pre-Islamic relic under Islamic rule at “home” renewed its global status as the world’s first “charter” of human rights. The “return” of the Charter brought about a provisional alteration in the relationship between the ruled and their Muslim rulers in Iran. It entailed a partial recognition by the rulers of the ruled’s heterogeneous subjectivity previously ignored in the official representation of Iranian identity as homogeneously Islamic. The adjustment gave rise to the popular reception of the Charter at “home” and its collective appropriation as a national asset. Drawing on the Charter’s newly formed national constituency, the Muslim rulers invoked Cyrus’ recognition of particularized subjectivity of the ruled in the periphery of his kingdom to demand tolerance for otherness in the international domain. The invoked duality of rule sanctioned by Cyrus served the Muslim rulers in Iran to represent themselves as the object of the ancient king’s tolerant rule abroad whilst exercising their crushing agency as the subject of power at home. Thus, the precedent set in the Charter was harnessed by the Islamic government to the articulation of the national and the international as exclusive domains of power and rights. The distance between “home” and “abroad” inserted between the two domains precluded the encounter between power and rights—the rulers versus the ruled—out of which politics is created. The neutralized relationship between the ruled and their rulers at home and the simultaneous reactivation of the encounter between power and rights abroad served a double purpose for the Islamic regime. It relativized the regime’s gross violation of the rights of Iranians to be “the other” at home whilst making their grievances absolute against outsiders for not tolerating their otherness including the desire to be a nuclear power. The Charter’s homecoming is looked at as the latest attempt to resolve the absolute antagonism between the Republic—the home of Islamic Truth—and democracy—the profane domain of opinions—that has bedevilled the Islamic state since its birth. Unlike the previous, characteristically bloody attempts that left so many victims behind, the invoked image of Cyrus required the Islamic state to re-identify itself as the victim of unequal international relations.
KeywordsIran Cyrus Cylinder Islamic rule
My special thanks to Pam for her criticism and encouragement.
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