Thought Archive

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Shah Abbas

I have attended an exhibition in British Museum - another one in series devoted to great rulers of the past.

This major exhibition explores seventeenth-century Iran through the reign and legacy of one of its most influential rulers, Shah 'Abbas I (reigned AD 1587–1629).

Abbas reign, with its military successes and efficient administrative system, raised Iran again to the status of a great power. 'Abbās was a skilled diplomat, tolerant of his Christian subjects in Armenia and Georgia when it suited him. He sent many embassies to Italy, Spain and England in order to create a pact against the Sunni Ottomans, of which the author of the book on Abbas i am reading at the moment delights in telling.

His power was more absolute than that of the sultan of Turkey. While the sultan was limited by the dictates of Sharia law as interpreted by the chief ulama, the Shia Safavids were not so limited. Theirs was a theocracy in which the shah, as representative of the hidden imam, had absolute temporal and spiritual powers. He was called the Morshed-e Kamel ("most perfect leader") and as such could not do wrong. Ismail I, the founder of the dynasty, used this power to his advantage claiming divinity as "incarnation" of the Hidden Imam. Abbas was more moderate in his demands on Islam but being the arbiter of the spiritual law put him in a position when his very real piety (he walked barefoot for 2 months to a place of pilgrimage) was hard to distinguish from his also real zest for sex with boys and wine drinking.

I mainly blame Abbas for wholly Persianizing the state of Iran, for from then on Turkish identity of Iran as a Qizilbash state was finally forsaken. History could have had a different turn, and Iran could have been Turkicized (or as Azeris may say - Azerisized). I also blame ShahnAbbas for finally weakening Ottoman Turkey and saving Christian Europe from her mortal foe. Europe never returned the favour, of which Iranians - who have great sense of history - are quite aware.


Phil Marx said...
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Phil Marx said...

"I also blame Shah Abbas for finally weakening Ottoman Turkey and saving Christian Europe from her mortal foe. Europe never returned the favour, of which Iranians - who have great sense of history - are quite aware."

Yes, for this one the blame is on the Shah, rather than on the west. The western world operates on a contractual basis. Although we occassionally break our verbal or even written agreements, we very seldom honor any "implied" agreements.

The attitude of the west probably won't change for quite some time, if ever, so anyone who thinks that a kind action will be automatically repaid (Unless such stipulations were previously and formally agreed to) is being foolishly naive.

The west is as the west is, and anyone who tries to make deals with the west without a contract will probably get burned. While this might seem shrewd, I would suggest the Chinese proverb "Fool me once, Shame on you. Fool me twice, Shame on me." as a lesson here.

If this same scenario were to replay, I would suggest that any future "Shas" should cut a deal with the middle-man, offerring to stop attacking their back side and allow them to concentrate more on their frontal attacks against the west. This is the point where the west will come knocking on your door and offering concessions to you.

Hazar Nesimi said...

Eastern world operates on implied promise and on "i do you favour, you do me a favour" basis. This is social contract. In the west this is currently called nepotism. The West will not do deals for favours, it will do them for financial gains. Favour is repayable intangible. Gain is not.

But we are digressing. Iranians are shrewd negotiators. THey realize they can not destroy Israel but they will still threaten the west.

Abbas wanted to take over Constantinope to preserve . Christans. Both tied down Ottomans. This was geopolitics of 17 century.

Phil Marx said...

Actually, we do honor implied agreements in certain situations. While my country decries the political bribery which exists in many other countries, we have a legal form of this. It is called campaign contributions.

The only catch is that the money has to be given before the favor is done, and there can be no explicit connection between the money and the favors. But the recipients know where the money came from, and they know what they have to do to get more of it, so they usually repay the favor by voting in support of the contributor's position. And in this way they honor the implied agreement.

So you see, honor does still exist in the West!

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