Justinian ousted Greek philosophers from Constantinople. They were not the first scholars at risk and they would not be the last. One imperial thought was they would not survive, but the east embraced them. The west lost out to scholasticism, while the east gained wisdom. In scattering far and wide, many went East to give the Persian poets access to the works of ancient Greece. Later they would be translated into Arabic and then passed on up through Spain to the West and received just after the death of Shakespeare, who prayed, sang, told old tales, and laughed at gilded butterflies. Persian literary tradition has butterflies and moths in love with light, drawn to flames, and candles on the threshold of despair. They wander in a force field of fate, find their way to the source, catch fire and are no more.
In Greek mythology, a butterfly of hope is given by the gods to man, which flutters out following catastrophe’s fallout. Know thyself, and you will know the universe and the gods from Delphi. The lantern philosopher from his barrel at the entrance to the city would insult passersby as a means of pulling them up sharp, making them think.
Shocking paradox interlaced with Persian poetry is aimed at unthinking believers.
Yesterday this day's madness did prepare; to-morrow's silence, triumph, or despair.
Goethe saw the beginnings of the East in the West, whose other end was the East. He penned it in his celebrated and Koranic expressed line:
To god belongs the Orient, to god belongs the Occident. Northern and Southern lands rest in the peace of His hands.
What a gesture of reconciliation if the knowledgeable Ayatollah released the good doctor lingering in an Iranian dungeon.
Reminded of God’s creation and his extravagant provision; the abundance of seed-bearing plants and trees with seed-bearing fruit and useful scriptures for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, hopeful am I that it might serve as an inspirational note permitting the Ayatollah to show mercy and unlock the fearful prison where Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali is kept; protect him as a loved one and provide him with sunshine. To paraphrase one of Iran’s abundant poets, “long suffering of harsh punishment should not be allowed to deafen the sacred word.” With greater urgency and respect I ask you, the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, to redirect the relevant authorities to secure the doctor's release. I do this knowing that human rights are respected in Islamic teaching and scholarship and that scholars are highly valued.
Such an act of compassion can only add empathy and brightness to humanity’s fading star. Remove him and others from his salt-desert of despair and slow or pending death. Please return him to scholarship so that his talents can further flourish. This I ask on behalf of the World Philosophical Forum, Athens and again for all others rotting in unnamed prisons everywhere, places protected by legitimate authority where no one can find them; blinded by floodlights, emaciated and unwashed, monitored on closed circuit camera and sometimes lashed, stripped of brain cells and humanity.
My friend was angry with me, let me call him Cristian. Until I heard his dream I found his anger and many other things hard to understand. We had previously discussed the work of Scholars at Risk (SAR) and our last interaction ended abruptly on his part when he bluntly said "I don’t like fanatics, fundamentalists, troublemakers, jihadists and so on; I prefer those with solid arguments and demonstrate rationality, in this case I do believe that religious leaders may have the key, find it." It was an order, the first one he had ever given me. It was his reference to Dr. Ahmadreza Djalali.
At that moment I decided to write to the Supreme Leader of Iran appealing for his release on humanitarian grounds. He has been incarcerated for some considerable time and being on death row does terrible things to the psyche. Considerable international support over a number of years has been, it seems, to no avail. Professor Cristian said "just believe that you might make a just noticeable difference." After a pause Cristian said that Allah cannot be challenged but his servant’s and savant’s can. It was advice. At that moment I recognized that the Ayatollah is the only one that can find the small gate down the difficult narrow path that leads to life. The Ayatollah has the doctors key, I thought. The knowledge that his predecessor Khomeini studied Greek philosophy and was influenced by Aristotle’s logic and the religious views of Plato, which he regarded as foundational, as well as the legend that Alexander the Great was recognized as a messenger of the Prophet, gave me hope.
My letter was a humble appeal-petition to the Ayatollah, and a small addition to the greater and more influential appeal of others. It was recently independently published in hopeful spirit and some sign of merciful guidance, revealed by god. It was a case of hoping against hope that I could make a noticeable difference. My letter to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, had been sent to its Embassy in Athens and to central authorities. Of course the chances of it ever being read, is remote. Indeed I thought it might be consumed by flame. Perhaps I thought as I fell into a sense of despair. Then came a dream and dreams have changed the world.
Cristian’s dream gave me a personal boost but his conversations and revelations were much more surprising. When Cristian relayed his dream, he addressed me as 'professor,' as if it would help. My letter had gone nowhere. His dream was wrapped in a deafening roar of winds, water on winds and thunder, interlaced with stabs of lightning and downpours of torrential rain. Any silver lining was my slipped question lost in the remnants of sleep and a roar of water telling of endless disaster. He offered me: dear professor, recent events and developments are most depressing, depressing because the devils have again deserted hell to join a more devilish world on earth; pressing too because only deaf ears are listening to the bells of alarm, others refuse to hear while the none-so blind as those who will not see the accumulating harm to mankind and his ecosystem.
My dreams are turning into nightmares, says Cristian. (By that I thought he was referring to Kaboul and Haiti, to flooding in Germany and forest fires in America, Greece and Siberia, to indigenous children’s graves in Canada, civil war in Yemen, to all those rotting in dark dungeons and much more.) He told me that in his nightly dream he receives unexpected visitations. (Hamlet was awake when the apparition appeared). Cristian says he was asleep and when awake described his dream simply as a big surprise. He said with certainty that it was Allah himself. I probed him in disbelief learning that he couldn’t see him but he felt his influential presence and heard clearly, Allah’s thunderous voice. “Well infidel Cristian, why do you accuse my faithful servants here on earth? What do you accuse them of?”
Recovering from the numbing sudden abruptness of things and a dreamy confusion everywhere, Cristian told me he wanted to protest but couldn’t. He felt choked up gathering himself together to manage “I don’t understand your meaning, your greatness, your accusations, Your Holiness” (a pained pause). Then with added force, “Most Glorified and Highest can you be more specific?” With water everywhere, everything he has uttered such as “O great Allah” he thinks are gurgles… then with great confidence added “I am neither infidel nor heathen.” Was it drowned out, he was not sure. The silence hammered him. There was a flash of light and it seemed a loudspeaker was activated then a deeply penetrating and lower voice than thunder separated the clouds.
“My faithful servants here in Iran recently convicted an infidel spy, convicted an enemy of Islam, sentencing him to death," his voice faltering voice, "someone, a spy, you call a good doctor. How dare you and your professor oppose their decision?”
Here Cristian said, I could actually hear Allah waiting for my reply. (I managed to get in, “how would you describe it?”) He was like a grand inquisitor who feels threatened because he knows that the actions being taken in the name of God are in direct conflict with the teachings of all holy books. As the silence grew Cristian went on about ongoing persecutions, difficult to understand and very sad. He continued during what he called an utterly overbearing pause from above; there has also been intensified persecution of the Baha'is with orchestrated hate campaigns aided with modern weapons of the social media… others imprisoned in Evin, Niloufar Bayani, an expert environmental crisis manager sentenced for contact with the hostile state of the USA, for receipt of illegal income from the United Nations and now with COVID… I was racing now, arrested in 2018 together with her colleagues for alleged espionage with no evidence, the engineer… Horrendous silence in swirling mist. Much of what Cristian was saying was under his breath and he began to wonder if he was still being heard by Allah.
As the ramparts of his dream took shape and the mist cleared, Cristian said his voice strengthened. “O Great Allah, there is some mistake.” Water ran down the ramparts, lightning illuminated them and a voice from heaven proclaimed, “I have heard you infidel. I Do Not Make Mistakes, infidel.” Growing in courage, Cristian first in a whisper that filled the sky offered “No not you, great Allah, no not you, but others do. Men, your servants…. can be false to their own souls.” A pause as the night stood still. “You give brightness to the day. You are just to mankind. All scriptures encourage us to look at things with new eyes, to find new paths and move forward in fresh directions in our lives with courage, refreshed with new vision. It warns us not to spread false reports.” Cristian gained courage and told me in the silence. You who provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland cannot demonize innocence knowing that the good doctor’s life collapsed overnight. Cristian said he thought he was wandering around in a sandstorm as particles whipped his cheeks.
“I am listening infidel” bellowed Allah and continued, “there are people here in Islam, dispossessed, displaced suffering.” “Yes, yes I know there are, I know very well'' responded Cristian. “And there are still others who take care of them and organizations that attend to their desperate needs. Yes that is good, it is the love of god, but the man in question was convicted, sentenced to death. Exactly! You have removed life from a doctor who takes care of your people during disasters, like earthquakes and now as COVID decimates your people and refugees again enter your gates fleeing Afghanistan, where mother’s and daughters’ suffer. You hold the key to the doctor’s life on earth. Have your servants on earth make peace not mischief.”
“You say, my servants make war! How dare you say that my servants in Iran have sentenced to death someone who takes care of my beloved faithful people?” The voice of Allah booms angrily. You tamper with balance and trail away as Allah mysteriously stopped. Cristian offered, “perhaps you can restore balance.” A blue almost cloudless sky emerged suddenly from the dark of night. I thought he had gone. But no, he stood behind an exalted lectern, man of God, man of culture; his words floating in and out of my consciousness from the beginning. Europe’s power worked to propagate the Christian faith, Protestant, Catholic, a mission much less beneficial to our brethren and much more so to Europe, plundered local riches led to the level of development now seen in the western world. New worlds for them but old and not lost worlds to others. Much much more was taken away than was given. When your Church speaks of salvation it means economic prosperity for them. Souls were handed out in the name of submission, forced submission that produced human beings who needed Christianity. Long before the clash of cultures, came their destruction.
“Now Infidel Cristian I have listened closely. Now listen to my command. Listen carefully. I authorize you Cristian, to write a letter to my servants in Iran and on my behalf. Tell them that it is my will to liberate him, I mean the convicted doctor. Immediately! Otherwise…” The word otherwise expanded in a crescendo to reverberate in the vast vault above. Cristian felt afraid… ‘Otherwise, otherwise what’ I thought? “Otherwise, I will send my curse on the whole of Iran… For insulting me, Allah…” He interrupted my protest by bellowing “do it now!” On the tip of my tongue hung ‘you can do it much better great Allah’. But he knew that. As the great one disappeared, echoing down the valley I heard his voice say “Cristian we do need a different way!” His phrase reverberated three times as it lost strength. Cristian woke up immediately… perspiring, trembling. One hour later he said “and now professor, I am suddenly confused. What to do professor?” Cristian was distraught and I was on a spot where falling was possible. I could feel fear still dripping from his dream and I did not want to inherit the wind-blasted ramparts.
Conflict and disunity I said are major emergencies perhaps as great as climate change. I could see that my start gave him no satisfaction. First, I continued, we have to toss out race; deconstruct it. We have to know that there is only one race, the human race. We have to know that we are all made of the same clay made by potters with universal roots. Cristian I tell him, we have passed on from ‘to be or not to be,’ to ‘what to do, with to be or not to be?’ What to do is now the question. We can sink or we can swim. We can by a button pressed, be tossed into a black hole. He seemed somewhat more comfortable… I said to Cristian, “you have received wisdom, life saving messages that can take us to a different world on earth. We now seemed in harmony with chimes heard now of an awakening distant caravan.” Cristian looked down for some seconds, stood up, looked at me and quietly left. He was calm and absolutely right.
An excited Cristian called me very early two days later to tell me of his new and much shorter dream. In it, pronouncements were made by Jehovah: “let no man and no woman be called heathens who have not harmed others,” then Allah: “let no man be called an infidel unless he has done harm to another.” And just before the heavenly curtain descended to reveal the whole magnificent earth, the Great Buddha appeared saying “I am an eternal dispenser of compassion. Let my compassion and man’s commitment to life prevail.” Then with the magnificence of a great world choir came “Hallelujah, for the Lord God omnipotent reigns, Hallelujah” and then a drawn out “peace on earth… subhaanahu wata'ala ….earth’s joy is complete…one spirit, one mind, one love.” Then came an awful respectful silence, and a cathedral like slow chant: “if prison doors are not opened, the doors to eternity will remain closed.”
I asked Cristian to decipher the message. Cristian told me he detected disappointment in heaven, about man’s ways on earth; man has assumed the alpha and the omega of all things; religious extremists claim to be led by God and get away with it. He was not at ease interpreting the gods. “Can we escape a new Armageddon,” I asked? Perhaps, if wisdom prevails; I doubt whether there will be an ark in the new flood. “Can we escape?” I insisted. “There is a promise to right wrongs and make a new beginning!” Pushing him further, I said “and the doctor?”
"The gods have released butterflies, one in his name."