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Extending Zarathushtra’s Vision in a Post Sept-11, 2001[1] World[2]



Historical Events

Vania, Professor Dr. Natalie H.
Zarathushtra’s Vision...
Questions for Rumsfeld
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Because Zarathushtrians value Truth, we are given by that value, an education for leadership. Leaders in all walks of life can set a standard and implement a vision by honoring Truth.

Independently of our individual perspectives about the War on Terror, Donald Rumsfeld, America’s Secretary of Defense,[3] provides a case study on the social role of Truth in North American society in one of civilization's most embattled moments. A Zarathushtrian cannot help but wonder if this leader would find inspiration in Zoroaster’s view that Truth be upheld.

This case study on the social role of Truth arises in the context of the war effort. It is useful to first understand basic themes regarding morality and war as we pursue this case study: When it comes to war, one must contend with the rules of war and also the rules in war.[4] The first matter is about reasons for war --- the cause of war, whether and how war is justified. The second matter deals with what is permitted while at war or in war --- for example, the idea that civilians are not a legitimate target in a battle is a rule we accept in prosecuting a war (and also has implications for “of war" issues ...).

War is the ultimate expression of human conflict. As such, discussions of the morality of war can be felt to be perplexing. Actually, whether there are indeed rules in war can be fraught. It is said, in war, "Anything goes". That is, as the ultimate expression of human conflict, war exceeds assessments of rightness and wrongness; thus, there are no rules in war. The conclusion from this line of thought would be that war is about lawlessness writ large.

But we do accept rules in war and think some things are beyond the pale of any legitimate political or other grievance. There are numerous examples and our governments see terrorist action itself as violating legitimate warfare. The rules in war apply not only to individuals, but to governments and other social entities.

Whether we believe him (or the Washington administration) or agree with current policies, Rumsfeld set a vital standard at the beginning of the war on terror in saying that his office would only deal in Truth. If there were not rules in war, it would be permissible for a government to use any means, including lying, propaganda and sabotage, to persecute war. Rumsfeld claimed the opposite terrain, a highly principled stand, to operate Truthfully.

In the Zarathushtrian tradition, Truth is the Highest Virtue.[5] To claim it as the Highest entails that other virtue derives from it.[6] This derivative efficacy of Truth has many implications for a social order.

Rumsfeld's record with the press is indicative of what must be done if a value is set on Truth. For example, he declines to answer a question if he cannot answer truthfully. As another derivative implication, he closed an office (The Office of Strategic Initiatives) rather than be mistaken as endorsing any legitimacy to lying. The derivative effect of Truth may impact the course of war at strategic and operational levels; and may provide indictment of wider political processes where overt clarity cannot be viable.

Adhering to Truth in war or otherwise can be a challenge. Difficult questions arise about the permissibility of lying when doing otherwise causes (or allows) harm. War especially makes for many questions and cases on this concern. And, life does place us in compromising situations where it can seem not telling the Truth seems the thing to do rather than cause harm: Life can present us with a dilemma. Sometimes one has to choose between two principles or values (tell a lie or do harm) and cannot hope for perfection.

Also, Truth is a virtue of moderation: To tell the Truth means avoiding the extremes of timidity and brashness.[7] Excessive stridence, gracelessness in revealing truth, decisive confrontation, can abuse Truth.

Rumsfeld set a remarkable standard.[8] His popular acclaim with people and press may reveal how hungry people are for an advocate for Truth. Indeed, Rumsfeld’s leadership of the war effort and his department is not simply functional. Rather, he places the crucial value front and center of what he's doing, and re-makes society by reference to the value.

Questions for Rumsfeld:
To better understand Rumsfeld’s valuing of Truth, where his inspiration for it springs, and whether he knows or appreciates the Zarathushtrian position on Truth, we are inquiring as to interviewing him and have been invited to attend his press briefings with our inquiries. What would we wish to know in a one-on-one discursive format and where can the conversation lead? Demonstrating one Zarathushtrian’s outlook that a Zarathushtrian ethic and Vision contribute to the forefront of the World circumstances and our North American society, our questions in this case study would include these:

  1. Mr. Rumsfeld, how long have you been of the view that the Department of Defense needs to adhere to the Truth? Were you offering a singular position or continuing a tradition that existed before your leadership?

  2. How does your adherence to Truth derivatively impact other of the Department’s policies?

  3. How does your adherence to Truth impact of your leadership and its effects at the Department?

  4. Do you see your position on Truth affecting the allies and enemies to a good effect?

  5. From what spiritual and moral sources does your position on Truth spring?

  6. Are you aware of the Zarathushtrian view that Truth is the Highest Virtue?

  7. What challenges exist in adhering to Truth in the face of effectively confronting the enemy? Can deception be a proper tool of war or only a second-course measure of poorer resort?

  8. After the War on Terror, do you think that a strong value will be placed on Truth in the new world order?

  9. Does Truth straddle both things as they are and also things as we are committed to making them?

  10. What examples of Truth and Truthfulness have given you inspiration in life?

Zarathushtra’s Vision in the Geo-Politics of the Future:
Each of us knows Zarathushtrians who have and who will live through moments of extreme political and social upheaval. The challenge encountered in life through its changes often strengthens the resolve and commitment of a person. Indeed on the spiritual score, the capacity to retain hope and not succumb to despair mark a distinct outlook by which we can keep our Good Minds active and purposive towards bettering the world.

We meant to discuss what a future North American Xerxes or Shirine might be like or what they may do, and what it should mean to us now if in fifty years new Zarathushtrians, alike and unlike us, are born.

But we find ourselves faced with shifting global geo-politics. At the moment of our discussion, the US and UN are discussing, likely preparing, to use military means to remove a dictator from power. Is an ancient, reflective religion as ours helpful in this immediacy? How do we search for Asha or cultivate a Good Mind when War erupts -- what does our Post Sept-11 situation portend for the new Zarathushtrians born fifty years from now? Should we have hope for an ultimate world harmony?

Consider the inspiration Timothy R. Smith[9] finds in Zarathushtra’s Vision, "Terrorism is not alone in its quest for gain at the expense of others. Many other interests have plans to add more for their members at great expense to others ...  Left unbridled, entire governments, nations, and communities are prone to do the same in a nightmare of contradictions.  ... ... the entire world has a lot of building and rebuilding to do.  ... ... Order will someday be restored, justice will prevail, and we will be happy again.

The souls lost on the tragic day of September 11th and since were not lost in vain.  Rather, new beginnings have been catalyzed for a fresh, new world.  ... ... let us listen to the Soul of Mother Earth.  For, in spite of our dreadful failings of the past, we have every reason to be cheerful and optimistic about the future to come."

No less can be expected from the religion of a pre-eminent singular type "...revolutionary, emancipatory, and life-oriented", promoting "life affirming and rational conduct", from a religion working in for "... a radical transformation of reality" towards an ideal and actual world of harmony and happiness.[10] The Xerxes, Shirin and Spithrodates of the future with their kindred fellows of the human family will inherit this world of shining hope.

[1] On September 11th, 2001, four commercial jetliners in the air over the United States were seized by terrorists.  A highly coordinated attack aimed two of the four jets into the World Trade Center in New York, creating an inferno that killed thousands; another jet crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, destroying part of the building and killing nearly two hundred, while the fourth jet plunged to the ground in Somerset County in Pennsylvania, killing all on board.  Less than two hours had passed, but before the day was over, the massive twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed, and many firefighters and police died in rescue operations.  A federal investigation identified members of the al-Qaeda network as the people responsible for these calamities.  Their leaders, Osama bin Laden in particular, were thought to be in Afghanistan under the protection of the Afghan government, the Taliban.  While nations from all over the world immediately expressed their condolences to the families of victims of the tragedy, the United States strained heavily under massive transportation and security problems.  For a number of countries, however, sympathy began to fade soon after the United States vowed a “war on terrorism” not only against terrorists as individuals, but also against those governments harbouring terrorists.  The United States nevertheless managed to pull together sufficient strategic alliances to launch intense air strikes and ground operations in Afghanistan in an attempt to rout out the al-Qaeda terrorists and dislodge the oppressive Taliban government.  The Taliban is out of power for the time being, but the masters of terrorism remain unaccounted for as of this writing.  Virtually unknown to many Americans as they remain largely self-absorbed and insulated from what goes on in the greater international community, the September 11th tragedies and the events that have since followed have led to a deep and dangerous polarization among nations.  Perhaps weary and tired, many Americans take some comfort in rationalizing the attacks on the United States as largely symbolic, and stop short at that point.  Many continue to overlook the clear intent on the part of the terrorists to destabilize the world’s oldest, most prosperous, most generous, free and secular republic to a state of bedlam and anarchy from which it would be unable to recover.  History will eventually show neither the muddled, chaotic pseudoreligious zeal of this plague of terrorists, nor the incomparable retaliatory military and economic might of the United States, necessary as it may be at this time, will dare to gaze upon the face of Truth.

[2] This article appeared in the Winter 2002 issue of the FEZANA journal under the overall heading “Zarathushtrian Education: Zarathushtra’s vision in a life time’s learning”, guest edited by Dr.  Mehrborzin Soroushian, and Dr. Natalie Vania.

[3] Donald H. Rumsfeld served as the U.S. Secretary of Defense in president George W. Bush’s administration (2001-2005) and along with Mr. Colleen Powell, the U.S. secretary of States played an essential role in the war against terrorism that ensued the Sept, 11, 2001 tragedy.

[4] Readers may wish to refer to Michael Walzer’s Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations Basic Books, April 1992 as one primer on the topic of the morality of war.

[5] See The Love of Truth in Ancient Iran, Professor Stanley Insler, Vohuman.org, Fall 2000 for a fuller elaboration, The Vision of Zarathushtra, Professor Kaikhosrov D. Irani, Vohuman.org, Fall 2000, and The Freedom to Choose and the Moral Responsibility to Make the Right Choice, Dr. Mehrborzin Soroushian.

[6] The virtues of Truth, Goodness and Beauty deriving from the ancient Greek tradition are also sometimes thought to cohere into a whole whereby all are encompassed in the first virtue (of Truth).

[7] This moderate aspect is not unique to the virtue of Truth. The Aristotelian moral outlook, pre-eminent in offering a virtue conception of moral life, construes all the virtues as moderations between opposing extremes. Courage, for example, lies between the cowardly and the rash.

[8] Earlier, we qualified veraciousness regarding Rumsfeld and Truth, but in this paragraph we take his advocacy for Truth at its face value.

[9] A Healing Vision, Timothy R. Smith.

[10] Sakhai, Kambiz Communicative Reason and Medieval Iranian Thought ISBN 1-58820-502-9, 2000.