Thursday, October 30, 2008

Politics, religion, economics & geeks: My report from Iran # 5

Yes, I'm still over here in Iran.

After leaving Shiraz, I then wandered off to Pasargad, which used to be Cyrus the Great's ceremonial home. At one time this place was truly impressive but there's not much left at Pasargad now. It looked like it had gotten foreclosed upon too.

From there I went on to Esfahan, famous for its awe-inspiring and spiritually overwhelming architecture. Esfahan boasts churches, mosques and synagogues that are so awe-inspiring they would move even a rock to tears. I cried a lot in Esfahan.

When the Armenians were persecuted in Turkey during the 17th century, the Shah of Iran at that time invited them to settle in Esfahan and they did. And then the new immigrants built a magnificent church -- which I just visited. OMG, it was breathtaking. Marble floors, paintings, murals, chandeliers, domed ceilings, sacred music, incense, vaulted alcoves, the whole nine yards. I would have been brought to my knees by the overwhelming majesty of it all -- except of course that I gots bad knees.

I could have stayed in that church for hours -- like I did at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It was both spiritually and architecturally magnificent. I wish that the inside of my brain looked like this.

But then I looked closer at some of the paintings nearest to eye-level -- and they were all paintings of tortured martyrs! Yuck. They depicted scenes of lead being poured on saints' heads, saints being boiled in oil, hung outside down from trees, having their eyes gouged out, intestines ripped out, heads squished in stocks, heads covered in sacks containing something obviously horrible (Snakes? Deadly insects? Wasps?), having boiling water poured on their genitals, saints' chests being cut with scythes -- and then of course there were the ten stations of the cross.

These Armenians must have led really hard lives.

Then I went off to the Armenian museum where I learned that on April 24, 1915, one-and-a-half million Armenians were systematically massacred by the Turkish military in a troop exercise as precisely planned and executed as a slaughterhouse producing beef.

Some of the remaining Armenians escaped to America but most of the survivors fled to Iran.

After visiting the Armenian church (and eating pomegranate and walnut stew, chicken kabobs and saffron ice cream for lunch), I then went off to visit a Jewish synagogue.

"In biblical times when the Jews were dragged off to Babylon," I was told, "they were freed by Cyrus the Great, King of Persia -- and many of the unshackled Jews then followed him back to Iran, where there is still a large Jewish community in Esfahan even today," umpteen centuries later.

At the synagogue, the rabbi and his wife and daughter gave me a tour of the temple and a soccot tent out in its garden. That part was nice, sure, but the most moving moment was when the rabbi's daughter held up both of her hands, palms outward, and blessed me. The traditional symbology of the Jewish Hamsa Hand came to life in the rabbi's daughter's palm. The gesture was so powerful and moving that I don't even wanna talk about it.

After that, I went off to tour the mosques of Esfahan. Stunning. Before you die, you really should try to go there -- or at least let me send you a post card of any one of those mosques. They are as humbling and inspiring as any cathedral in France.

So. While I'm on the subject of churches, mosques and synagogues, now might be a good time to talk about religion. "When religion turns into politics, something vital is lost," someone once told me -- I forget who.

When the so-called leaders of our countries prey upon all our human yearning for spirituality and convert it into hatred and anger, something terribly precious is lost -- it is as if all the glory and honor and awe of the churches, mosques and synagogues of Esfahan (and the world) have been burned to the ground.

The greatest triumph of the world's religions has been their ability to help mankind become better, to rise above itself, to become more evolved. And here in Iran, I've seen both sides of the religious coin -- from the humility and piety of the true Christian, Muslim and Jew to the obsessive control freaks who have nothing better to do than to give ME grief about whether or not I'm wearing a headscarf. (The good news is that the headscarf is on its way out here in Iran. And also I hear that Iranians are rather pissed off that their oil money is being spent to fix the streets of Lebanon instead of to fix the streets of Iran. Sound familiar?)

And in America, our current so-called leaders -- who always go about bragging that they are all so religious and spend all their time getting instructions from God -- are too busy making war on foreigners to fix bridges in Minneapolis or levees in New Orleans or Iowa.

And in Israel, the so-called religious leaders there are too busy spending American taxpayers' money on bombing Palestine, Lebanon and Syria to spend any more than the bare minimum on building schools in Tel Aviv and are currently spending no money at all on building schools in Gaza.

It's time for our religious leaders to get out of politics, get their game on and start raising the spiritual bar -- by example -- instead. And it's time for our political leaders to stop playing God.

Anyway, I'm currently writing this diatribe from an internet cafe in Esfahan -- and have been here for HOURS. "I love the internet world," I told the clerk there, "and hate the real world." He just smiled -- because he knew exactly what I was talking about. He was an Iranian nerd and an Iranian nerd is just like an American nerd And then it hit me. I'm a nerd too!

It took me all of 66 years and roaming all over the world for a decade to finally discover my true self-identity here In Iran!

I'm a geek.