Tag Archives: Pashtuns

Cool Deccani painting, 18th century: Alexander the Great holding the Cup of Jamshid

30 Mar

Alexander the Great Deccani(click)

Through the ShahnamehAlexander, sometimes as an invading villain, sometimes as a great hero, (but then the Shahnameh is an intensely complex work morally), has entered the legend canon of all Persianate societies.  Pashtuns in particular, for whom the melding of “invading villain” and “great hero” must have a special resonance (smile…) think that Alexander — Sikandar — is a particularly lucky and propitious name to give a boy.  (See: The Cup of Jamshid)

And…see best, most recent translation of the Shahnameh in English, and Reza Aslan’s interesting review for the Times from 2006: “The Epic of Iran” — where he discusses the work’s — and Iranians’ — ambiguous relation to Iran’s pre-Islamic past and the Arab conquest:

“FOUR hundred miles from the bustling metropolis of Tehran lie the magnificent ruins of Persepolis. Built some 2,500 years ago, Persepolis was the royal seat of an Iranian empire that, at its height, stretched from the Indus Valley to the Mediterranean Sea. Though the imperial city was sacked two centuries later by Alexander “the Accursed” (as Iranian chroniclers referred to him), the towering columns and winged beasts that still stand guard over the lost throne of Iran serve as a reminder of what was once among the most advanced civilizations on earth.

“I first visited Persepolis two years ago. Born in Iran but raised in the United States, I knew the place only from dusty academic books about the glories of pre-Islamic Iran. I was totally unprepared for the crowds I saw there. Busloads of schoolchildren from nearby Shiraz filed through the complex of temples and palaces. A tour guide walked an older group up a stone stairway etched with row upon row of subject nations humbly presenting themselves before the king, or shah, of Iran. Families laid out sheets and napped in the shade cast by the intricately carved walls.

“Breaking away from the crowd, I noticed a boy scrawling graffiti on the side of a massive stone block. Horrified, I shooed him away. When I moved closer to see what he had written, I immediately recognized a verse, familiar to many Iranians, taken from the pages of Iran’s national epic, the “Shahnameh.”

          Damn this world, damn this time, damn this fate,
          That uncivilized Arabs have come to make me Muslim.

“Written more than a thousand years ago by Abolqasem Ferdowsi, the “Shahnameh,” or “Book of Kings,” recounts the mythological history of Iran from the first fitful moments of creation to the Arab conquest of the Persian Empire in the seventh century A.D. Ferdowsi was a member of Iran’s aristocratic class, which maintained a strong attachment to the heritage of pre-Islamic Iran…”


Reza_aslan_2013Reza Aslan (click)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Besa: A Reader Responds…

14 Apr

Besa: A Code of Honor  (November 20th)

“Niko I have long wanted to leave a comment about this post. I believe that what the Albanaians did for the Jews in sheltering them from the Nazis was courageous, noble and just. And besa is at its roots a tribal, and to a lesser extent, islamic code of honor. You mention Afghanistan-there is in Pashtunistan what is known as the Pashtun code Pakhtunwali which also purports to protect an accepted guest. Pakhtunwali is also tribal and islamic. Was it not this same code that protected Osama Bin Laden after his escape from Tora Bora? Is that same code rightly honored in one instance and rightly deplorable in another? Just a thought…”

NB: It is the same code Rafa.  No, I personally, at least, do not think it’s deplorable in one case and not the other. Honor is absolute, absolute by definition.  For me, the word itself means”no-exceptions”; otherwise it’s not honor. Whether we like its consequences or nor or whether it gets “honored” more in the breach or not is another question.  Those Pashtuns didn’t have a choice.  And you know who to talk to that’s most likely to agree: the American servicemen that were up there.


The Проклетије (Prokletije) or Accursed Mountains, that separate — or more likely unite — northern Albania, Montenegro and Serbia.  (Click, for sure; it’s a huge file and it’s gorgeous)

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

The Art of Translation

23 Jun

“The psychic health of an individual resides in his capacity to recognize and welcome the ‘Other.'”

— Rosanna Warren, The Art of Translation

Two Pashtun kids in Nangarhar, with that probing, no-shame, about-to-crack-a-smile inquisitiveness that all Afghans disarm you with.


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

Ain’t that America?

14 Apr

Oh…  But wait…  No!  It’s Greece!  Who’da thought it?

New York Times‘  cover story today:  “Hard Times Lift Greece’s Anti-Immigrant Fringe” about the gaining of political traction by Greece’s neo-fascist party/movement, Golden Dawn. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/13/world/europe/far-right-golden-dawn-sees-opening-in-greeces-woes.html?_r=1&ref=world# 

See their website t-shirts http://xabooks.blogspot.com/  for some of the more sickening (and just plain embarrassing) manifestations of the bogus “Hellenic” classicism, which is the fabricated basis of Neo-Greek identity.  Inevitable, if you ask me.  Christoule mou — the word “Hellas” makes my skin crawl.

Few money quotes:

“This is our party’s program, for a clean Greece, only for Greeks, a safe Greece,” Ilias Panagiotaros, the group’s spokesman and a candidate for office, said as he handed out leaflets.”

“But even if Golden Dawn fails to enter Parliament, it has already had an impact on the broader political debate. In response to the fears over immigration and rising crime, Greece’s two leading parties — the Socialist Party and the center-right New Democracy Party — have also tapped into nationalist sentiment and are tacking hard right in a campaign in which immigration has become as central as the economy.”

“Greek society at this point is a laboratory of extreme-right-wing evolution,” said Nicos Demertzis, a political scientist at the University of Athens. “We are going through an unprecedented financial crisis; we are a fragmented society without strong civil associations” and with “generalized corruption in all the administration levels.”

“Mr. Kasidiaris added that he believed that all illegal immigrants should be “deported immediately,” and that Greece should plant minefields along its border with Turkey “Not to kill the immigrants,” he said, “but to clearly define an area that would stop anyone from thinking of accessing the country.””

“If Pakistanis squat your front door, call me, not the cops,” he [Michalis Karakostas] said.

Humanity is so depressingly predictable.  Boy, it was so easy to call Americans vicious racists as long as Greeks were sophisticated, liberal Europeans living the Southern California high life with “xena kolyba,” wasn’t it?

“If Pakistanis squat your front door, call me, not the cops…”  Mwr’ ti mas les…  Greece was always a society where mangia came very cheaply; it’s no surprise that in times of crisis it’s even easier to indulge in.  So, just so that the boys at Auge youth headquarters know, most of the Pakistani immigrants in Greece come from the ethnic  group that constitutes the majority of internal migrants in Pakistan itself; they’re Pashtun mountain kids from the northwest highlands (the people almost evenly divided by the Pak-Afghan border), who are generally known as the most hard-core warriors on the planet, who scared away the British, the Soviets and the Americans, who can handle a Kalshknikov at age ten, a good butcher’s knife by seven, and about whom Congressman Charlie Wilson said in the eighties: “I’d rather spar with a live chainsaw than go up against these guys.”  I’d love these little Athenian tsoglania to meet up with them on their home turf and put their physical well-being where their posturing fascist mouths are.  It’s easy to beat up a lone Albanian on a Patissia side-street.  Let’s see how tough these “Hellenic” pallikaria are when they run the risk of ending up with their heads on a pike.

Lots of unexplained vocabulary in that one — sorry — but it was mostly directed at my paesani anyway.  As the Golden Dawn website says: Kale Anastase…


Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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