Perhaps my favorite essay by George Eliot is her reflection on my favorite Sophocles play, Antigone. In that great Greek tragedy, Creon, the tyrant of Thebes, succeeding the unfortunate Oedipus (from whom the unhappy Barney Frank could learn much) bars the burial that deposed king’s son, Polyneices, for raising against his brother Eteocles in the city’s civil war.
Antigone, sister to the deceased soldier, insists on burying him in defiance of her uncle’s edict both out of love for her sibling and out fealty to the gods. A king, she believed (and the sage Tiresias agreed), should not enact and enforce a law at odds with the his (and his people’s) duty to the deities.
We saw just this week, another regime, this one claiming a divine mandate, defy its god in refusing burial to one who died defying the tyrant. In defiance of Persian tradition and more assuredly the strictures of Islam, officials acting under the authority of the tyrants Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, refused to allow the family of Neda Agha Soltan, the Iranian woman martyred for freedom “to show any signs of mourning.” They did not return the body for proper burial.
If they were truly devoted to the faith, they would return the body to the family for a proper Muslim burial. But, just the tyrant Creon, their movement is not about faith, but about using it secure power.
While we have often been critical of the most extreme expression of Islam, there is much good in that faith, very much good. But, this latest action shows that the Iranian “theocrats” have given short shrift to the ideals of the Muslim faith which blended with ancient Persian traditions once made (and could yet again make) Iran a world leader not just economically and politically, but also culturally.
And as this regime defies its deity, the tyrants at its head will soon learn what Creon learned so many millennia ago. Attempts to secure your own power, in defiance of divine dictates, cause you to lose your grip and suffer a fall which false forms of faith cannot prevent.
ADDENDUM: While there is much to quote in Eliot’s essay, this is perhaps my favorite passage, which I used as epigram to a climactic chapter in my novel:
Wherever the strength of a man’s intellect, or moral sense, or affection brings him into opposition with the rules which society has sanctioned, there is renewed the conflict between Antigone and Creon; such a man must not only dare to be right, he must also dare to be wrong—to shake faith, to wound friendship, perhaps, to hem in his own powers.