Bishop Guli's Thought for The Day broadcast on BBC Radio 4, 7 January 2020


Memory of a star

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across a new short movie by Iranian film maker Muhammad Reza Kheradmandan. Thursday Appointment lasts around 2 minutes and it’s about a man visiting his wife’s grave. Stopping at traffic lights he sees a young couple having a fierce argument in the car next to him. Spurred by tender memories of his wife and the love poetry of Hafez he gives away the flowers he was taking to his wife’s grave in a gentle gesture to encourage the young couple’s reconciliation.  The film is a poignant portrayal of a side of Iranian culture we’re not so used to seeing in the media.

I’m an Iranian myself, and arrived in England as a refugee in 1980. I’m acutely aware of the best and worst that my country of birth has to offer. I’m not going to justify or defend the politics of Iran nor of anywhere else. But as the world holds its breath to see what happens as a result of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani I want to offer two simple thoughts. First, there is more to Iran than meets the eye. Long before the rise of western civilizations, Iran was contributing on a global scale to advances in medicine, architecture, literature, poetry, philosophy and the sciences. The impact of these achievements goes deep and lives on in the conscience and experiences of Iranians today. Secondly, memory is a powerful thing which can be utilised for good, or for ill.

In planning the path ahead, President Trump is choosing to remember the kidnap of American hostages during the Iranian Revolution 41 years ago. American weapons are now poised, we’re told, across 52 targets, one for each hostage. But in this season of epiphany there is another memory too we might choose to recall, of wise men believed to be from Persia travelling to a stable in Bethlehem to worship a new born baby. Nations today, whether at war or negotiating peace, do so under the banner of flags. The magi had no flags but journeyed instead under the light of a star. The stars are great levellers for they shine in the same skies above us all, wherever we live and whoever we are.

My hope and prayer is that ongoing responses in Iran and the West to the death of General Soleimani will draw, not on traditions of violence and revenge but on the best traditions of East and West. For me as an Iranian and a Christian these are reflected in Iran’s poetry, its rich culture and in the worship of the magi at the feet of the Christ child.

You can also listen online here.




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