Erfan Fard

Modernity’s Echo: Iran’s Intellectual Renaissance

Dr. Mandana Zandian (Left) and Dr. Abbas Milani (Right) , Santa Monica Public Library / Picture of
Dr. Mandana Zandian ( Left) and Dr. Abbas Milani ( Right) , Santa Monica Public Library, February 10th, 2024 / Picture: - Bijan Khalili

In the realm of intellectual discourse and the literary exploration of modernity within the ancient lands of Iran, one finds themselves engaging in a dialogue that transcends mere conversation. It is a quest, amidst the tumult of critique and reflection, for that elusive beacon of hope.

The narrative of Iranian society is a testament to its phoenix-like resilience; through the annals of time, it has weathered the storms of defeat, the oscillations of fortune, rebellion, the clutches of tyranny, and the scars of numerous foreign invasions. Yet, against all odds, the essence of Iran remains unscathed, its cultural, literary, and civilizational luminance enduring as a steadfast beacon through millennia. Among the tapestry of human history, few threads are as rich and enduring as Iran’s, its prominence unyielded through epochs past, present, and promised future.

In the contemporary shadow of mullahs’ tyranny, a specter of oppression that the Iranian spirit has struggled to cast off for forty-five years, there lies a flicker of decline. The narrative is shifting towards a renaissance of glory and enlightenment, a reclamation of the legacy that has seen attempts at extinguishment by myriad foes—Arabs, Mongols, Tatars, Turks, Afghans, among others. Yet, none have wielded devastation quite like the criminal mullahs, who, armed with the daggers of superstition, waged war upon the very soul of Iranian culture. But their efforts are in vain, for the indomitable spirit of Iran refuses to be quenched.

Amidst this historical tapestry emerges a Book, penned by a physician with a gaze turned both inward to the essence of Iran and outward to its place in the world. This work converses with the spirit of the late, esteemed Ehsan Yarshater, under whose stewardship the Encyclopedia Iranica emerged as a jewel of contemporary Iranian scholarship—only to be lost to the ignorance of the ages, a tragic obliteration of monumental scholarly labor.

Dr. Mandana Zandian‘s latest literary offering, “The Cedar of Iran,” weaves a narrative of Iran’s journey towards modernity, navigating through the tumultuous seas of tradition and the winds of change. It chronicles the societal metamorphosis, distanced from the ruinous doctrines of old, under the guiding light of the Pahlavi monarchs. Yet, the shadow of 1979 looms large, a year when theocratic despotism sprouted like a blight upon the land, poisoning the wellsprings of hope. The dialogue within, shared with Abbas Milani—a luminary in the annals of Iranian historiography, whose scholarly pursuits at Stanford bear significant testament—enriches the text.

In the year of 2016, as the autumn leaves of Montreux painted the Swiss landscape with hues of gold and crimson, I found myself marking the passage of four decades amidst the grandeur of celebration. It was a gathering not just of friends and family, but of minds and memories, where the air was thick with the fragrance of nostalgia and the warmth of camaraderie. Among the esteemed guests who graced the occasion was an echo from the past, a venerable envoy from the land of my forebears—Iran. Ardeshir Zahedi, whose name resonates with the whispers of history, having served as the Foreign Minister under the late Shah of Iran, brought with him the weight of eras gone by.

Dr. Eric Wakin ( Hoover Institute , Stanford University), Erfan Fard, Ardeshir Zahedi / 11 October 2016, Switzerland / Picture of Erfan Fard’s Personal Archive.

As the evening unfurled, amidst the laughter and the clinking of glasses, Eric Wakin—a figure of considerable repute from the Hoover Institution—engaged me in conversation. His query was a simple one, touching upon acquaintances at the institution. My response, a mention of two luminaries: Condoleezza Rice and Abbas Milani, seemed to amuse him greatly. “Those two are enough,” he remarked with a chuckle, a statement that bore the weight of unsaid stories and shared understandings.

This encounter, seemingly trivial, was but a prelude to a gesture of profound significance. In the days that followed, the extensive archives of Ardeshir Zahedi, a treasure trove of Iranian history and diplomacy, found a new home at Stanford University. This act of preservation, facilitated by the efforts of Abbas Milani, was more than a mere transfer of documents. It was a bridging of worlds, a safeguarding of the rich tapestry of Iran’s intellectual and cultural heritage. Milani’s dedication to the Iranology section at Stanford stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of inquiry and the relentless pursuit of knowledge. In that moment, in the heart of Montreux, it was as if the past and the present had converged, weaving together the legacy of a nation and the personal milestones of life’s journey.

This Book is more than a mere book; it is a voyage into the uncharted territories of Iranian intellect and philosophical endeavor, initiated in the epoch of Pahlavi nation-building. Were it not for the calamity of 1979, Iran might have ascended to unparalleled heights of scientific, philosophical, and cultural advancement, echoing the grandeur of its ancient empires renowned for their contributions to mathematics and philosophy.

The authors, both narrators and inquirers, hold a steadfast belief in Iran’s eventual triumph over darkness, guided by the light of renewal and the vibrant spirit of its youth, who bear the torch through this intricate journey.

Through the lens of the book’s architect and the voice of its chronicled soul, a profound truth emerges—inevitably, the indomitable spirit of Iran shall rise victorious over the chains of religious despotism. This dire shadow of ecclesiastical tyranny, that has long cast its pall over the land, is destined to be relegated to the annals of history, to a sepulchral silence where it rightly belongs. The insidious creed of the Shiite mullahs, with its roots entwined in the culture of savagery, cannot quell the luminous beacon of wisdom and the rich tapestry of Iranian heritage.

Milani, in his concluding oration, weaves a narrative of hope and anticipation, declaring with unwavering conviction that Iran, in its present state, stands on the cusp of an unprecedented renaissance. The nation, he asserts, is primed for a journey into the light of modernity, a path now unencumbered by the shadow of the mullahs. This pivotal moment heralds the dawn of a new epoch, where the obstacles of the past dissolve into the ether, and the future unfolds with boundless potential.

Left to Right: Niloofar Mansoori ( Iran International TV), Bijan Khalili ( Homa Sarshar, Erfan Fard, Mandana Zandian, Abbas Milani , 2/10/2024 – Santa Monica Public Library – Picture , free for all platforms
About the Author
Erfan Fard is a counter-terrorism analyst and Middle East Studies researcher based in Washington, DC. He is in Middle Eastern regional security affairs with a particular focus on Iran, Counter terrorism, IRGC, MOIS and Ethnic conflicts in MENA. \He graduated in International Security Studies (London M. University, UK), and in International Relations (CSU-LA), and is fluent in Persian, Kurdish, Arabic and English. Follow him in this twitter account @EQFARD
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