A symbol is not just what a nation perceives of itself or wishes to have other perceive it as. A symbol of the nation should illustrate what the nation wishes to achieve, to become. The symbol is the ideal on which every member of that nation, from the lowest to the highest seeks to create in her or his society. Therefore, what is the symbol of Iranshahr? What could Iranshahr become?
The great powers of the world have symbols of strength and of ferocity. The United States has the bald eagle. This eagle symbolizes the strength of its nation but also the freedom it believes itself to have and the idea it wishes the world to perceive. Russia’s symbol is the bear. Solitude and strength are the symbols of this animal and nation. China has the dragon. Much can be said of the dragon but still the idea of ferocity and strength are apparent in such a symbol. It is true that the peoples of Iranshahr have the potential for strength and ferocity. The land is at the crossroads of the Afro-Eurasian land mass. Mountains and deserts breed ferocious and resilient peoples but is that all the children of Iranshahr wish to become; just another strong and aggressive superpower leaving its neighbors angry and afraid? Or can Iranshahr become something more?
The fragmented land of Iranshahr has many symbols for the petty nation-states that lie within its borders. Iran is symbolized by the lion, a relic from the dark age of the heart of Iranshahr. The lion is a symbol of strength, yet Iran has not been strong for all the time the lion has symbolized it. In fact, most of the national symbols miss the essence of Iranshahr, from the horse of Turkmenistan to the lions and eagles of Armenia or the crown of Tajikistan. These are all good symbols of singular nations but not of the whole cultural continent of Iranshahr.
There are two peoples that almost hit upon the spirit of the collective nations of Iranshahr. Azerbaijan’s eternal flame and Kurdistan’s sun harkens back to Iranshahr’s Zoroastrian roots. This is an excellent symbol since it does show Iranshahr’s ancient heritage and illustrates why the peoples of Iranshahr are different from the rest of Asia and the Middle East. However, these symbols are rooted in the Zoroastrian Aryan heritage which though essential to the idea of Iranshahr, do not capture the whole of what Iranshahr is. Iranshahr is not just the pre-Islamic past of the Persians, Parthians, and Medes. These Aryan ethnicities mixed with pre-Islamic Semitic ethnicities of Iraq and Syria and the Muslim Arabs. Then the Turko-Mongol peoples entered the stage. These migrations and intermingling created the whole idea of Iranshahr. Thus the flame excludes the peoples who though not originally from Iranshahr, became essential to what Iranshahr is.
Only Uzbekistan has found the eternal symbol that binds the multitude of peoples, Turko-Mongol, Semitic, or Aryan: the Simorgh. This mythical creature is a continuous link from before recorded times to the present. This sacred bird is not just strength, but virtue, wisdom, magnificence, great fortune, and a connection to the divine. Its ability to die and rejuvenate itself is the very example of the peoples of Iranshahr. Until only in the last two hundred years, Iranshahr was usually unified under one rule. As a ruling dynasty weakened, Iranshahr would disintegrate into many petty emirates or kingdoms but within a relatively short period of time would be reborn, unified under a new vigorous political regime. This new empire would reclaim the borders of Iranshahr. So, this region would continue on as it had before; the leadership different but the empire, with is many peoples, the same.
Most importantly the Simorgh is an ideal. Just as the host of birds in Attar’s masterpiece, the nations of Iranshahr have searched long and hard for the just and wise ruler. Centuries of misfortune have eroded the prosperity and peace of this land. Looking to a past covered in glory many have hoped for a new Jamshid, Kuroush, Anushirvan, Harun al-Rashid, Saladin, Babur, Akbar, Karim Khan Zand, but all in vain. The nations sought strength through kings, warlords, presidents, clerics; dictators all. When weak dynasties could not protect the peoples from foreign predations, they submitted to foreign powers. For all the promises of just rule and prosperity through the civilizing mission of Western and Russian colonial powers, the land was devoured for resources and the peoples of Iranshahr were subjected to humiliations and indoctrinated with evil ideologies like nationalism. We, the peoples of Iranshahr, have travelled through time like the Attar’s birds through distant lands seeking the Simorgh, seeking justice. For so long we have looked to the powerful to solve our problems, never realizing that the Simorgh is staring at us through a mirror.
Iranshahr does not need strong men but ambitious peoples. If thirty birds united to become the Simorgh, what could thirty nations do if they united? This Simorgh is the sufi symbol of the balance between the individual and collective whole. It is the point when collective and individual are one. It is the perfection of unity from a group of individuals, from a group of nations joining together at last after much trial and tribulation. The Simorgh is the greater freedom acquired by forfeiting lesser freedoms. This great bird, whose shadow has shaded us for thousands of years embodies the just society Iranshahr has the potential to become.
Iranshahr if united, could not only become a superpower, but a superpower with the virtue of moderation. The Simorgh has strength but does not make itself a slave to proving that it is strong by bullying the weak. It could be ferocious but never would look for an excuse to be aggressive. Love, justice, and enlightenment are what give the Simorgh its power. These are the characteristics that the peoples of Iranshahr should strive for.
Iranshahr can rise from the ashes of the last two and a half centuries. The innovative nature of its inhabitants with just government policies could lead Iranshahr out of the dark ages back to greatness. But not the petty greatness that other nations seek, who are led on a leash by greed for purely material possession. Always measuring their greatness to how much wealth other powers have, they never see that greatness is how educated the citizens are, how healthy they are, how happy they are. The true greatness is about how many freedoms citizens have but also how much virtue they have to moderate themselves to those freedoms. It is about a society not in conflict with nature, but part of it, in symbiosis. The ability to create wealth but not be a slave to it is greatness. In fact, a great society is a slave to nothing; be it hunger, poverty, luxury, drugs, sex, materialism, ignorance, bigotry, sexism, hatred, excess, or foreign domination. Greatness is right action.
This is the greatness of the Simorgh. This is the potential that lies within us, the thirty birds, the thirty nations. For if greatness is determined by right action, then a great empire does great deeds. It has just policies towards its citizens and towards other nations. It is loved and respected rather than awed and feared. A state, an empire, can only be great if its nations are great together, using right action in coordination with each other. It can only be great if its communities are great. That is if communities live and work together, coming out of the comfort of ignorance to the beauty of learning about others. Using differences as assets rather than liabilities. Protecting and nurturing the potential of its individuals on the margins of what is perceived as “normal.”
Finally, the right action of a community is determined by the right actions of its individuals. It is the individual who must never believe that her or his actions do not determine anything, that she or he is in a vacuum where actions do not affect others. For a great state as is defined through the example of the Simorgh, is a collection of great individuals. Individuals must have a love of freedom but also of love of moderation. More than a desire for self-improvement materially, the individual must desire for self-improvement of character, smoothing the rough edges of excess to become a polish stone of virtue. This great individual should be open-minded but also be skeptical until evidence sheds light on the truth. The individual through right action must not only try to improve oneself but also others. And not only one’s kin, clan, tribe, sect, ethnic group, but to all. She or he must be like Attar’s hoopoe and give help where it is needed and wanted. Thus, her or his actions strengthen others who strengthen others, all the way to the Whole. All of this must start with an ideal, a goal of both the individual and the collective. This goal is to find the Simorgh, the symbol of Iranshahr.