- Sunday, 05 July 2015 06:51
- by Abdullah Hussain Haroon
From the lofty heights of Persepolis, Darius the Aryameher Light of the Universe and King of Kings, Emperor of Persia, gazed beneficently at his possessions from the Sahara to the complete shores of the Caspian,
from the Balkans to the Hindu Kush watered by the mightiest rivers of the known world, the Nile, the Danube, the Euphrates and Tigris, the Oxus and the Indus in peaceful reverie. Daring retribution, haltingly it was whispered with dread into his ear, the news of the horrendous carnage by the miniscule Attains warrior race from Athens that had destructed the temple of mother goddess Cybele at Sardis…Lifting high his bow in the tradition of the Pars, he shot an arrow into the air sealing an oath of vengeance for wreaking havoc on Athens, knowing then that he would also add the entire Black and the Aegean Sea in the bargain. Thus came into being Homer’s Epic and Herodotus history of the Persian Wars.
What followed are the numerous accidents and acts of history that nudged the groundwork for the game changes in history that this singular act generated which remain relevant even today.
“These are the right questions to ask, in winter around the fire…as we sit at ease over our wine: Who are you friend? What is your land?...And how old were you when the Persians came?” Xenophanes.
It was not to be for Darius and shortly by Divine intervention his son Xerxes not only inherited the throne but also his dead father’s much-dreaded oath to destroy Athens. It would seem that the days for Athens were numbered, but one Athenian,Themistocles, stood in the way of the mighty empire,one man and his vision to build a greater Athens and his unremitting belief in Xerxes’ vengeance and the only solution to save his beloved nation, thalassocracy (military power through the sea).
So poignant was the belief and passion of this one individual and his plea to Athenians that John Hale, in his magnumopus detailing the phenomena of the meteoric rise of Athens, lists the amazing widespread commitment of the diverse strata’s of Athenian society who enjoined in the vision to thalassocracy and nation-building and rose from several benign backgrounds,yet committed to this grand design and belief to command mighty naval fleets with no training except their passion. Pericles the statesman, Thucydides the historian, Sophocles the playwright, Aeschylus the historian of Salamis, Demosthenes the Assemblyman and Socrates the philosopher... So mighty and noble was this patriotic calling to arms that the Assembly, when inscribing on granite the wonders of Athens, reduced the Parthenon from its greatest wonder of world status to be sandwiched between the maritime constructions, to read, “O Athens, queen of cities! How fair your navy yard! How fair your Parthenon! How fair your Piraeus [piers and fortifications].”
The event that pulled Athens back from the brink of destruction was the debate put to the Assembly as to how the huge bullion of silver recently discovered in the Athenian mines at Laurium may be put to good use for the nation. A blinkered, dissolute wealthy membership wished its uneven distribution ‘to the people’ and naturally to themselves and the mint, in anticipation created coinage to expedite the dole. Themistocles alone rose in the Assembly that fateful morning against the conjured majority to thwart the rapine tendencies of the wealthy Assembly and the mobs they had rallied outside to their rapacious cause. Thundering the obvious emerging threat to the very existence of the nation Themistocles faced the delirium of the house membership and proposed a better alternative to the proposed dole: “Use the entire hoard to build a fleet to combat the forthcoming Persian threat to Athens’ nationhood.” The alternative he proposed would be to build military ships to be built by private citizens with money loaned to them from the states’ silver windfall and if they were never called to protect the nation, the money would be returned in installments to the state for dole to all Athenians while the ships would remain with the citizens who built them,in other words a deferment of the dole, not payment of the windfall. As a further sweetening,all those volunteering to man the nation’s war effort would be entitled to participate in the Assembly proceedings under Democritus’ new creed of democracy, a form of new legislative government for the future:military duty, not selection or election, would be the criterion to determine the right to representation.
Was this mere promises to obtain public support for the decaying system of government? “No,” Xenophon elucidated, “I assert that the poor and the common people are right to prevail against the well born and the rich since it is the common people who propel the ship and empower the state.” This was the guiding principle of the new order that would result in the renaissance of Athens. Pericles the great who brought the thoughts of Themistocles to fruition reaffirmed: “When it is a question of settling disputes, everyone is equal before the law; when it is a question of putting one person before another in positions of public responsibility, what counts is not membership of a particular class, but the actual ability that a man possesses.” So the entire nation-building doctrine asserted the rights of the common man and rights in law and placed ability and service to the nation above all as the true meaning of democracy. The golden age spouted forward by its strict adherence to these caveats, not through election or birthrights, but by ability and commitment to nation building.
Without that fateful day of provocation from Themistocles at the Assembly, would there have been a Parthenon,the tragedies of Sophocles or Euripides, the‘Republic’ of Plato, the Politics of Aristotle? There was a rush of blood in Athens and the new sprang forth from Praxiteles sculptures, philosophy, architecture, drama, political science or historical epics whereupon Herodotus of Halicarnassus invented the script of western history and Hippocrates of Cos established western medical processes and gave medicine its current oath. A tsunami of brilliancy overpowered the ages for eons based upon a single utterance of the truth for preservation of mankind and its belief upon equality for all, while eons later in the east alongside the fabled shores of the Euphrates Mansour al Hallaj festered a weak wallowing in his bloody entrails muttering “I am the truth” till he died. The persisting belief and vision of one being can change the course of history.
On the very day that Athenian nationalism flocked to the proposal of Themistocles, two thousand miles to the east beyond the Tigris, the obvious happened: the Great Emperor signaled for his generals and admirals to prepare his armada for the annihilation of Athens. But for the vision of one great perceiving mind the Golden Age may never have been triggered and the Aegean would have become a slaughterhouse and backwater to the great Persian Empire.
Pakistan today hovers in illusion confused by alien thought and concept, yet has learned little from its history, genesis and parentage. We have all the antecedents of nationhood but have behaved without consideration or review of our foundation, religion, traditions or beliefs and rights. To state the obvious of ‘whither Pakistan’ with its pain-wracked ravishes and violations, we seem to meander in unending travel without succour down a lonely unmarked track in the wilderness and desert and our seeming dilemma explicable in the poetic and verbose courtesy of Mir Taqi Meer compounding the truth of Pakistan when he juxtaposed, ‘Janay na janay, gul hi na janay, bagh to saara janay hai’. So those who still believe in the Hellenistic denial as the illusions of our mind and beloved country, hide behind a fig leaf and believe we are not naked. Where do we proceed in this prideless, devastated and diminished land?
“It is right to endure with resignation what has been… and to face one’s enemy with courage… never surrender to adversity… then your power will be remembered forever by posterity,” – Pericles to the Athenians in the Persian Wars. Or will the controversial uttering of the morally defeated in Milton’s Paradise Lost be hurled, “all is not lost , the unconquerable will…!” Does this will exist in Pakistan? When Sardar Vallabhai Patel predicted and advocated the economic collapse of infantile Pakistan while obstructing the rightful monies due to the new state at Partition and Liaquat Ali Khan responded with his raised fistful of jute saying ‘here is the gold in my fist’ history emphasised ,‘Esperance, I challenge you’. Is our living off the current dole so venerated that we now remain only to sell our ancestors bones as disposable trinkets to foreigners because if so, we would have no dearth of shrunken heads to add to our shopkeeper spoils. Already the sacred soil we should till to feed our civilisation is being sold to any buyer, even alien who is beguiling us with a closed fist promising gold. Have the sacred texts of our Faith not been heeded as in our belief that only Allah is the Provider or is it because some of us must have expensive personal transport in the style of gods illustrated in the Indian Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas communicating with the wretched and poor oppressed masses from the dizzying cooling heights of the Himalayas? Is the pre-Cromwellian dictum of the ‘Christian divine right of Kings’ being introduced as a lesson of reorientation for Islam?Are we not forgetting that HRH Charles I lost his head, literally , due to this belief? Are we not fit to receive the limitless Bounties of Allah upon this land and are we not recipients of the heavens at His Command?Or are we desirous to be forsaken in tandem with the faithless Bani Israel as elucidated in the Exodus chapter of the Old Testament?
This is not another litany of hopeless plight that elaborates why or how an emu or kiwi have lost their ability to fly.This should be more like when six million years or more Leakey’s ‘Lucy’ stood tall and trod on only two feet from East Africa and then her progeny trod into Europe over the land bridge to conquer the world for homo sapiens.
We need one visionary who, like Themistocles, stands fixed in place before the mega cyclone that surrounds Pakistan’s bleak future with the firm courage of his conviction that who will live if Pakistan dies? One who does not weigh in quaking fear the innumerable odds but one who estimates what needs to be done, then focuses upon the solution and proceeds towards igniting the spark of a golden age. One who does not, like Themistocles, succumb to manipulation of those who self-appoint and imitate in lip service the sentinels of Democritus’ creed but rather one who upholds Xenophon and Pericles rendering in submission unto the common man the homage due to the divine inspired Ashraf al Makhlooqat – Jewel of God’s Creation. One who fires the blood and imagination of a nation for a hundred years of a golden age where everyone desires to share voluntarily the blood rush for nation building rather than survival on a miserable dole.One who is not with bended knee before written conventions and hackneyed rules inspired by feathering the nest of an elite few and must not worship at the high altar of convenience. And those intoxicated and puffed by their exuberance of bombosity and pomposity and presumed nobility in defending a creed may recall Brutus in memory. Or if individual nobility were to be better served, what better example than Aristides the Athenian Assemblyman and highly reputed incorruptible arbitrator called the ‘just’ who vehemently and poetically lambasted Themistocles in the Assembly that day, but in fate the greater glory of Athens would not be denied and Aristides failed miserably while the nation lived on gloriously for a hundred golden years.
Pakistan must receive new impetus, the suds from the old whitewash do not work as clouds to yield beneficent rainfall that wash away the wicked sins of deliberate omissions and willful commissions and whether debris is swept or drained they always inherently remain true to form, to clog any system. Nation building statesmen do not receive the benefit of their achievements. The Prime Minister of Great Britain and the Empire, the victor of the Second World War Lord Winston Churchill, Knight of the Garter, was humiliatingly removed from his post after winning the war. Themistocles the initiator and great defender of Athens and the Aegean and victor of the Persian war was soon thereafter sent into exile on the supercilious charge of treason and was never allowed to return to Athens, not even after his sad death were his bones interred in the sacred grove near the acropolis, adjoining the site of his victory declarations and his resolution to immortal fame.
Anyone who dares to nudge history out from its not so idyllic slumber, anyone who dares to encourage extraordinary greatness in any nation must face the perfidy and ignominy of the great leveler’s blade and be cut to size but let alone the painful humiliation heaped on Churchill and the hurtful scorn of treason upon Themistocles, even the pious victim of the most barbaric horrendous crucifixion on the Temple mount, not any one would have done any different had they the opportunity to do so. There is a crown of thorns after the event yet none has won the laurels of permanent history without the trickle of one’s own blood upon the brow clouding the optic brilliance of their vision.
The author is the former Speaker of the Sindh Assembly and former Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations