In order to win the hearts of the Iranian people and the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran, President Obama, in his last year’s video message on the occasion of Nowruz 1388, quoted from great Persian poet Sa’adi’s Gulistan (1258) the words: “The children of Adam are limbs of each other, Having been created of one essence.” It has not been clear so far why he mentioned only two lines of the story (Chapter I – The Manners of Kings) which actually reads:
“I was constantly engaged in prayer, at the head of the prophet Yahia’s tomb in the cathedral mosque of Damascus, when one of the Arab kings, notorious for his injustice, happened to arrive on a pilgrimage to it who offered his supplications and asked for compliance with his need.
“The dervish and the plutocrat are slaves on the floor of the threshold
And those who are the wealthiest are the most needy.”
Then he said to me: “Dervishes being zealous and veracious in their dealings, unite thy mind to mine, for I am apprehensive of a powerful enemy.” I replied: “Have mercy upon thy feeble subject that thou mayest not be injured by a strong foe.”
“With a powerful arm and the strength of the wrist
To break the five fingers of a poor man is sin.
Let him be afraid who spares not the fallen
Because if he falls no one will take hold of his hand.
Whoever sows bad seed and expects good fruit
Has cudgeled his brains from nought and begotten vain imaginations.
Extract the cotton from thy ears and administer justice to thy people
And if thou failest to do so, there is a day of retribution.
The sons of Adam are limbs of each other
Having been created of one essence.
When the calamity of time afflicts one limb
The other limbs cannot remain at rest.
If you have no sympathy for the troubles of others
Thou art not worthy to be called by the name of a man.”
So, it is about good manners of kings. Obama may not have been well-informed by his advisers about the context of these words. A central message of the story is certainly that those who are the wealthiest are most needy. The other message about the grace of charity, offered in the cathedral (sic!) and mosque of Yahya’s (John the Baptist) severed head in Damascus, is taught to the notorious, for his injustice, king on his pilgrimage.
Iranians, fully aware of their great poets’ work, may have perceived Obama’s teaching them manners as frivolous. One year later, their leaders’ skepticism seems to be more than justified.
See also on this blog: Good Timing?
Update March 20, 2010: It is amazing to see that, one year later, President Obama repeats his two-line quotation in today’s video message to the Iranian people. He may still be confused about the meaning of Sa’adi’s narrative on manners of kings. Sa’adi does not appeal to egalitarianism but rather to a specific example where a tyrant on a visit to a holy place asks for advice from a pious man belonging to the lowest social class. It’s about mercy, and justice. Today, on the 7th anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom, now Operation New Dawn, the illegal invasion of tyrant Saddam’s Iraq by a multinational coalition of the willing led by the U.S. and the United Kingdom, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands killed and millions dislodged, Obama’s harsher Nowruz message to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran may be interpreted as a real threat rather than polite congratulations.