Wed Jul 30, 2014 | 07:13
The shepherd, the wolf, lies and prophecies
Thu, 15 Jul 2010 10:58:42 GMT
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By Seyyed Arash Rezazadeh

With a history extending into pre-history, Iran enjoys a long tradition of story telling and folktales. Even though the advent of technology might make these stories appear obsolete, their relevance to today's issues remains right on target.

As folk tales consist of common human experiences that have become metaphors in simple and fun stories, they are truly a part of Iran's national heritage.

Is a folktale only culturally relevant to the experiences of a single nation or are they possibly just as relevant to rest of the world?

Two stories will serve to illustrate. One is about one of the adventures of Nasredin and another about the lying shepherd.

Nasredin, the protagonist of our first tale, is a well known fictional Iranian character (and others say Turkish, Arab, Afghan or Kurdish - in general, Middle Eastern.) Nasredin is a sarcastic smart-alec, who generally can be found in a village setting.

When examined more closely, Naserdin can not be typified with one characteristic only. He is a metaphor and a vehicle that the storyteller uses to drive his story forward - not dissimilar from the modern French characteristics of Asterix and Obelix. Nasredin is multifaceted.

He has flaws deeply rooted in his character as well as virtues. In some stories, the character is clever, in others stupid, sometimes forgiving and philosophical yet greedy and underhanded. Nevertheless, the plot drives the story and not the character.

Actually, the stories of Nasredin are about a variety of characters that have been presented as one personality; that personality varies from one story to another in order to accommodate the plot.

In this instance, Nasredin is presented as sly and greedy, yet stupid as he decides to fool several of his fellow villagers. In order to do this he sits in the main square and talks about how delicious the food is that is being distributed at the top of the mountain.

His simple-minded friends don't ask him who is giving out this food. More importantly, they don't ask why anyone would distribute anything at the top of a mountain. No, they rush to get their share of the goodies.

Naturally, once Nasredin's friends go to the top of the mountain they find nothing. Embarrassed, they head back to the village. On their way they decide to conceal how stupid they have been. So when they get to the village, they tell everyone they meet how they had gone to the top of the mountain and how delicious the food was.

After all, they reasoned, this would prevent embarrassment at how Nasredin had tricked them.

When other people in the village heard about the food in the mountain, all of a sudden the whole village starts out for the mountain-top.

Relaxing and savoring how he had tricked his friends, Nasredin suddenly realizes the whole village is going up the mountain. When he wants to know what is going on, every person asked urges him to join them for free food at the top of the mountain.

And Nasredin, being greedy and hungry, forgot that he himself had created the whole mess and runs up the mountain in search of the illusionary food.

One step forward and a few centuries later, we see the story is still relevant on the world stage. One example that comes to mind is that of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq on the premise of an illusionary threat but with the hope of using the oil and gas of the country. After a while, the American propagandists, their allies and the mass media fell into their own trap.

So Iraq was invaded, no weapons of mass destruction were found and all the participants still wonder how to justify an invasion.

The Nasredins of our era are far from an innocent Sufi poking fun at fellow villagers. Instead we have a power-seeker, the United States, who clumsily attempts to become the planet's superpower. Is it possible the US is following Nasredin's footsteps, albeit malevolently?

We see a country that plays tricks to maintain its economic and military supremacy. To achieve this the US begins its media "hype" before it starts a war, fabricating evidence and putting the burden of the proof on the accused.

And in the process many countries join the masquerade without really analyzing the evidence. To refer to our tale, they don't ask why anyone would distribute anything at the top of a mountain.

This brings us to our second folk story, again a tale of self-fulfilling prophecy - the lying shepherd.

This story talks about a shepherd who loved fooling people. Every now and then, the shepherd would call for help from the villagers against the big bad wolf. But there was no wolf in the hills. He would call out to the kindly villagers only to get his kicks.

Eventually, the shepherd called so many times that the villagers did not bother with him anymore.

That was when the wolf struck.

And when the shepherd started calling for help, nobody came to his aid.

This again can be seen as a metaphor for the American mass media, demonizing countries such as Iran in the Middle East who are in pursuit of the peaceful uses of atomic energy. Here again it seems the US mass media loves to talk about the threat of atomic armament; they keep pushing lies and accusations down the throat of the international media.

They never talk about the fact that a country like Iran has not invaded any of its neighbors for the past several hundred years or that it has been attacked by various countries, including the United States, in its recent history.

But if the US is the lying shepherd on today's world stage, who might be our big bad wolf?

Is it possible that it would be the regime that has invaded many countries in the Middle East or neutral countries on the basis of "preemptive strikes?" The big bad wolf is a metaphor for a regime that wars regularly with all its neighbors. It is a state of mind that justifies the genocide of a people in their own territory and wields the tool of state terrorism. The big bag wolf holds a region in constant fear of its nuclear arms.

But to answer the question about trusting the big bad wolf, well that is best described by another story - the story of how the wolf pretended to be a sleeping grandmother while waiting to devour its benefactor - but that is another story.
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