MOVE OVER MULLAHS: Resetting Persian-Jewish relations back to the time of Cyrus

In 2002, I wrote a novel set during the Second Intifada in Israel, about a professor, son of a Holocaust survivor, who was convinced that the Holocaust had not ended, but was being continued by certain enemies of the Jews – in particular the Arab states and terror organizations, and Iran with its arming of Hamas and Hezbollah, and its obscene vows to use its coming nuclear weapons to wipe Israel and another six million Jews off the map.   The book about the professor’s obsessive worry about the possible fiery destruction of Israel by Iranian nukes is called The Second Catastrophe:  A Novel About a Book and its Author.

Accordingly, my life and my subsequent writings have been under the shadow of the Islamists and their Iranian sponsors and the Wahabists and their Saudi sponsors.

The nations of the West have been in a quandary about how to deal with the Iranian regime, from the Hezbollah murder of 241 American soldiers in Lebanon during the Reagan administration through the time of the kidnapping of American diplomatic hostages during the Carter administration, up to the mullah’s present support of terrorist organizations in their jihad against the West including the Western liberal democratic outpost in the Jewish homeland of Israel.

Having written a book, fifteen years ago now, about the very real threat of Iran, I was not very happy about the so-called nuclear deal (we are not sure that Iran feels bound by it) together with the release by the Obama administration of huge sums of money to Iran previously held back and now available to fund terrorism and nuclear advancement.

With the election of Trump, we hoped for a stronger understanding of Israel’s concerns, but at the same time, Trump’s seemingly isolationist proclivity was a worry in that he might well be loath to interfere in Iran, to the extent of encouraging the Iranian people directly to promote freedom in their midst.

Barack Obama, after missing a golden opportunity early in his administration to support the Iranian “Green Revolution” to overthrow their wicked regime, and after making something of a mess by helping to back Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups in their coups against Arab dictatorial, yet stable, regimes, he in fact began to speak directly to the Iranian people in support of freedom and perhaps regime change.

The best way to quickly access Obama’s changing remarks to the Iranian people is to review on YouTube his yearly address to Iranians, including the Iranian diaspora, as he expressed best wishes on the ancient spring holiday of Nowruz celebrated by Iranian Persians but also by Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, India, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan.

Nowruz is the 3000 year old traditional Persian festival of spring which starts at the exact moment of the vernal equinox, commencing the start of the spring.

To read about Obama’s evolving attempts to use his annual Nowruz speech to Iranians and other celebrants as a way to speak directly to the Iranian people to promote friendlier relations by speaking directly to the people, there is a good article in Jerusalem Post at

Zoroastrian in origin, Nowruz seems to be one of the few pre-Muslim traditions that the Muslim conquerors of so much of Asia decided to leave extant.   It is an ancestral festivity marking the first day of spring and the renewal of nature. It promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families as well as reconciliation and neighborliness, thus contributing to cultural diversity and friendship among peoples and different communities.  In Persian, Nowruz means “New Day”.

When I learned about Nowruz and its beautiful message, I became interested.   I discovered that Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, had made a statement that I agreed with:   “At a time when violent extremism seeks to destroy diversity and freedoms, Nowruz is a reminder of the power of culture and heritage to build resilient and sustainable societies.”

But I was also moved to understand that Nowruz is an example of a failure of Muslim supremacists and cultural jihadists to remove a pre-Muslim celebration, after conquering other peoples.   It is also special because the remaining Zoroastrians can be proud of their traditions without more conflict with the Muslim majorities who oppressed them;  they have family histories of celebrating Nowruz and will not change that.

In the recent Iranian election, the Iranian people, led by the more urban educated internet friendly young people in Tehran, rejected a candidate who embraced an even more radical Islamist agenda, than the present President.   Perhaps some small amount of good news is better than nothing at all.

I have read that there was some concern that President Trump might not make a Nowruz speech and that his friend Mr. Bannon was against it.    Perhaps Bannon doesn’t understand the importance of Nowruz the way I do, but in any event, Trump did issue a statement, in which he too made sure to address the Iranian people, not the Government.   He did emphasize Iranians who live in America and around the world, perhaps reflecting the view that Iranian escapees from the Mullahs reflect a pre-Islamist and more tolerant world view, reflected in the Zoroastrian origins of (New Day) Nowruz.   Trump stated:  “It is an occasion to celebrate new beginnings, a sentiment that is particularly meaningful for so many Iranians who have come to our country in recent decades to make a new start in a free land.

“For many years, I have greatly enjoyed wonderful friendships with Iranian-Americans, one of the most successful immigrant groups in our country’s contemporary history.”

And then a most interesting point:  They come from diverse religious backgrounds—including Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Zoroastrian, and Baha’i—but all share an affection for their ancestral heritage.”

To all those who think Trump is a simpleton, let me note that what he did in this statement, requires a profound intelligence:   he expressed a much-needed appreciation how a reformed Islam could co-exist with other cultures and religions on the basis of shared liberal values, such as the values of Nowruz.    It is a breath of fresh air for our leaders to stop submitting to Islamist arguments that there is only one Islam and the Islamists are it.  

My new book is called The Ideological Path to Submission…and what we can do about it.   In it, I trace how the various western ideologies, such as cultural relativism, pacifism, denialism, postmodernism and inclusive diversity, all conduce to a submission to the Islamism of Jihad, establishment of a world-wide Caliphate and implementation of Sharia Law.  I am influenced by the great American scholar of Islam, Daniel Pipes, that there is a difference between Islamism and Islam and that we have a duty to assist the growing number of Muslims interested in reform of their religion to make it compatible with life in Western democracies.  We have to ask our Muslim friends to cleanse their organizations, mosques and schools from Islamist influences.   We cannot do it for them;  they have a duty to themselves and their children not to let the Muslims in the West be dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and other radicals.   I conclude that with the explicit declaration of war by the Islamists against the West, we are reaching the time when we have to acknowledge that war and fight back.   If the Muslims of America do not explicitly state and act upon their opposition to the Islamist enemy, then they will disentitle themselves from the normal protections of law and may be swept up into restrictions of civil rights applicable to our enemies during wartime. 

I conclude with another astute comment made by Trump in his Nowruz greeting.   He said:  “Cyrus the Great, a leader of the ancient Persian Empire, famously said that “[f]reedom, dignity, and wealth together constitute the greatest happiness of humanity. If you bequeath all three to your people, their love for you will never die.”

To understand the significance of quoting Cyrus, I must go back in history, after the defeat of the Jews in the Holy Land and their exile to Babylonia which lasted less than a hundred years, before King Cyrus, allowed them to return home.

Nowadays, we don’t pay much regard to ancient history, but we are the losers because of it.   You see, according to Yosef Eisen at, this exile, “although very traumatic, nevertheless had a great benefit to the Jewish people. There were no more corrupt kings or nobility – in Babylon the Torah scholars had complete authority. Moreover, the Babylonians were not anti-Semites per se; while they only wanted to destroy Judah as an independent political power, they harbored no ill feelings toward the Jewish religion. As such, Jews were given their own cities, where earlier exiled Jews welcomed them warmly.

In 539 B.C., the Persian-Median Empire under Cyrus defeated Babylon.   Yosef Eisen, of Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburg notes on  that:   “known in world history as Cyrus the Great, Jewish history likewise considers him to be an extraordinary person, albeit for different reasons. Cyrus permitted the Jews to go to Jerusalem and rebuild the (Temple); indeed, his famous proclamation to that effect is the very last verse of the Bible: “Thus said Cyrus, king of Persia: ‘Hashem, G‑d of Heaven, has given to me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has commanded me to build Him a Temple in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of His entire people — may G‑d be with him, and let him go up’” (II Chronicles 36:23).

And so a great Persian aided the Jewish people.   And so, today, we must, at times like Nowruz, understand the cultural complexity of this world, which just might let us move forward without submitting to evil but rather encouraging good.   Islam has its problems;   we must be clever about helping moderate reformers of Islam to make it compatible with freedom and justice in the West.    We need a post-postmodernism to reject cultural relativism and take up a diplomacy based not on tolerance of evil, but promotion of good and Islamic reforms through our strength.   I hope that one day we shall speak both of Cyrus the Great and Donald the Great.


Howard Rotberg is a Canadian writer and founding publisher of Mantua Books (   Amongst other books, he has written, Tolerism:  The Ideology Revealed and its just-released sequel,  The Ideological Path to Submission… and what we can do about it.


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