The Iron Curtain of Islam

IRON header
Ismail Ismailov, The Enemy at Derbent



The Difference Between Good and Evil


David Arthur Walters



I. Prologue to Good and Evil

There is no logical progress toward Good except from prior Evil. To avoid saying Evil created the world, and Good is on the run from previous Nothing or Death, we might say Good was a priori, and propound a preordained Fall and then a gradual Recovery or Reconciliation. Or we might posit a Decline to the Final Conflict and then a Recovery. Or we might opine that Good and Evil are coeval twins, independent entities, which is quite logical according to Bayle’s famous old dictionary. But to claim that Good and Evil are one and the same is for all practical purposes absurd and shall get us nowhere. In any event, as far as the more primitive mind is concerned, there is hardly a difference between Good and Evil until the Prophet gives the Word and is backed up by the Sword.

Therefore as we progress along the continuous lifeline spun, extended, and cut by the Three Fates, namely, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, we might pause at some point to reflect on the difference between Good and Evil. Indeed, the difference arises from and continues shortly after birth with painfully self-defining encounters with limiting objects, i.e. evil objections to the exercise of the presumably good, the individual will. But alas, no matter where we discover ourselves along the line, Good and Evil are so intimately connected at each point it is difficult if not impossible to make a perfectly clear distinction between the Dynamic Duo except by some seemingly arbitrary decision upon which all people may never entirely agree. Hence in ultimate matters militarists insist war is inevitable; only war can decide great moral issues; violence is necessary for the improvement of our stock; a united nations or a united states of the world would be a great hindrance to moral progress and consequently be a great evil.

War, indeed: a history of terror, a record of crimes against humanity, an awful progress towards final peace through global terror, is necessary for moral improvement, just as each individual necessarily progresses to the final agony and eternal peace.

Despite ample evidence of a death instinct running contrary to the will to survive, we all would nevertheless live, and to such an extent that, no matter how miserable individuals are, whether poor or rich, in this life, some would take their individuality with them to the hereafter.

Swedenborg, when asked, “What is Love?” said, “Love is your life.” Life exists in discrete forms albeit in related individuals. The love of life over fear of death, the apparent dominance of Good over Evil, the overriding will to live, brings individuals into conflict, wherefore we are brought by both instinct and by custom into agreement among themselves as groups. Our love for one another is self-love based on fear and hatred of outsiders, outriders, enemies.

War is the ordinary response to organized violence. Since a group provides security to its members, the survival of the group is a great good. A definite territory is required to that end. As the community becomes settled, its empowering unity is praised and cultivated. Outsiders, strangers who threaten the settled community, constitute the demonic forces of evil. They are criminals, roving bands of outlaws, nomadic tribes who fall upon each other with a vengeance and who do not mind putting a village or town to the torch and sword every so often.

We observe in the struggle to organize for safety’s sake the rudimentary frontier being drawn between Good and Evil. A barrier is erected, a wall is built, an iron curtain forged; a lord draws his sword to make war for peace – a god or priest or lawyer whispers in his ear…

II. The Proverbial Difference between Good and Evil

Zoroaster, whose decisive gift to man was positive evil, a definite Devil independent of the one, infinitely good God, hated the predatory outlaws and unruly evil spirits, including the evil spirits in the sacred beverage he wanted banned. His priestly brothers in India despised the devils too; they also swore off the potent beverage in order to ritually bless it for the courageous warriors to prodigiously imbibe.

As Zoroaster contemplated the Fire in Afghanistan, his Aryan neighbors in India of the Hindu foundation chanted curses on those evil outlaws who failed to adopt the sacred rituals. Yet the Vedic priests retained a number of rebellious characters or characteristics within their original pantheon to represent their own protests; they adopted yet others more vulgar but quite popular to maintain their official authority. Thus did Hinduism developed into a rather tolerant umbrella over various religious cults.

For Zoroaster, however, the difference between Good and Evil was altogether clear cut: a holy war must be waged against relative evil along the lines of retributive justice. And regardless of the Devil’s purported independence and equality with his opposite, in the final analysis, the Liar shall fail.

Orthodox Zoroaster gave no quarter to Evil. He would have nothing to do with wishy-washy, hypocritical, ambivalent morality.

This notion of disparate Good and Evil evolved around the communal Fire. The cooks eventually officiated with their sacred utensils and rudimentary furniture. Thus around a campfire and god’s table was a commune forged for Good as evil savages and barbarians threaten Good. Although a settled community’s immediate livelihood is available, it must nevertheless wage a defensive war to take over the whole countryside, the nation, and even the world to guarantee its continued peace and prosperity. At the very least, a secure frontier must be established to stave off savages and barbarians.

The community “elects” a legitimate hero, a fighting prince or general who wears a crown with two horns to represent its unity and lead the way to victory. That great warlord resembles the bandit tribal chiefs he would conquer. Is he a god or a devil, or is he both? Is he crowned with the horns of good and evil, the powers of the divine beast?

Even almighty gods have been horned by man. Balaam, the Mesopotamian diviner, who, because he was admonished by his ass, blessed the Israelites instead of cursing them as commanded, described God as having towering horns like an ox. If gods have horns, then it follows that God’s sons would have horns as well.

III. Alexander, Son of God

Alexander the Great is the classic example of a real ideal man. He was depicted on a third-century B.C. coin with ram’s horns growing from beneath his curly locks.

Alexander demanded a prophecy from Delphi in 336 BCE:

“My son,” the prophetess cried, “thou art invincible!” wherefore the conqueror embarked on the arduous trek to India that resulted in the Hellenization of the East.

After mathematical laws of probability are devised, an adventurer still knows not precisely where he will fall along the bell-shaped curve: even the mathematical wizards who scientifically managed Long Term Capital Management’s highly leveraged portfolio were confronted by the least likely possibility, one that almost brought down the world banking system, so may everything else in the universe perish in time, for nothing and only nothing is permanent.

Our adventuresome hero may simply roll the sacred dice of the Vedic heroes and accept the consequences, perhaps a loss of property and wives, and banishment to the forest for so many years. Or he might have lots drawn from a three-legged bowl as was once done at Delphi in lieu of interpreting hysterical screams, he accepting a simple Yea or Nay, usually for or against war. Or he may embody chance as Fortune and beseech Her Fickleness for her favors. As at Delphi, he might consult the priests for their interpretation of some chance occurrence precedent to taking chances, for there is no such thing as an accident where God presides, and only ignorance makes providence seem accidental.

Alexander, like many enterprising peacemakers before him, was quite fond of oracles; therefore, after being declared Pharaoh at Memphis, he went out of his way to the Siwa Oasis in Egypt to consult the oracle of ram-headed Ammon whom the Greeks supposedly identified with Zeus – some dissenting scholars insist the Greeks clearly distinguished the Egyptian Ammon from the Greek Zeus. Many reasons are supposed for his arduous trek into western Egypt to a temple where no Pharaoh had gone before. Aristotle’s pupil certainly did not associate the maxim ‘Know Thyself’ with a self humbled by immediate circumstances; quite to the contrary, he made a career of going out of the way to extend himself and his empire to boot.

Perhaps Pharaoh Alexander wanted to firmly establish his dominion on the Carthaginian frontier. Furthermore, it has been noted he wanted to outdo his heroic ancestors Perseus and Heracles who had visited the god before him. Moreover, some say Alexander suspected Zeus was his ideal father, not that he disrespected Philip, his real father. The priest at Siwa greeted him as the “son of Ammon” – but all pharaohs are by nature sons of God. Most likely Alexander wanted confirmation of his fondest dreams of conquest.

However that may be, the priests took the egg-shaped idol from the inner sanctum and paraded it around the temple in its sacred arc or boat. In the procession the priests were by chance moved to turn this way and that, and the motions were in turn interpreted. Alexander received the answer he craved, kept it secret, and continued on the royal road of fame and fortune, with either his fortune or godliness, or both, well assured.

IV. Making Peace with War

Persians in Alexander’s path who wanted out from under their present oriental tyrants naturally hailed him as their benefactor and peacemaker. After all, war had brought peace to the Greek states. Alexander had assumed his assassinated father’s office as Hegemon, or General of the Pan-Hellenic Corinthian League, with unlimited authority to conduct war against the Persians. Before proceeding, Alexander taught the Greek states a few lessons about loyalty to the League, which was waning somewhat with the death of his father, the great Phillip, who had taken up the peace-torch.

War with Persia had the intended effect: it united the Greeks; people love to hate and hate to love. An enemy abroad is needed to make peace at home and eventually abroad as well; people back home were sick and tired of internal bickering and infernal wars. But Alexander stretched the notion of Pan-Hellenism, which was, at least according to contemporary political philosophy, to be achieved by wreaking revenge on Persia for its invasion a century-and-a-half before. He generalized the notion to include conquered Persians as Hellenistic friends, drinking from the same loving cup as the Greeks instead of making them the exterminated and subjugated barbarians or slaves recommended by his teachers.

Setting aside his philosophy, what it might have been, in brackets in order to make a few toasts, the young hero adopted the exotic ways of Persia, including pretensions to divinity as well as the practice of “Oriental” cruelty. He was carried away by his egotism and by the Persian wine served from a great horn after the party was announced by sounding a horn. He enjoyed lounging around in a purple robe, slippers, and the horns of power, of virtuous, virile creation and raw, raging destruction.

Power, the absolute power worshiped by religion and politically distributed. Power was admired above all in those days, wherefore even conquered peoples eventually worshipped Alexander as an Ideal Hero if not as a god as they reflected on the bloody chaos he brought to the neighborhoods and the turmoil he left in his wake.

He over-extended himself along with his empire. He failed to cultivate a successor; decades of civil war followed his death; the wonderful Hellenic civilization would eventually, like Alexander, exhaust itself in its far-flung extent, dissipating its energy, and paving the way for the Roman Empire with its universal city and citizenship instead of egoistic city-states resisting empire-at-large.

Alexander reportedly paused for a drink in Babylon on the return from India, and, wondering what could be done after all he had done, thought he might take over Arabia, bringing it the gift of a personal one-god to reign over their abstract sky-god. It was there, in Babylon, that he is said to have he met his maker shortly after quenching his thirst and complaining of severe abdominal pain. Perhaps he had a peculiar disease. Some four years after his death, gossip got about that Aristotle had him poisoned; his mother thought that was plausible. Alcohol was more likely his undoing. He acquired quite a reputation for hoisting his ancestor Heracles’ six-quart heroic drinking cup, even after his beloved protégé Hephaestion drank himself to death at a Dionysian festival three years prior. It was no dishonor for a hero to have a few drinks. Drinking was a long-standing heroic tradition to imbibe the sacred, empowering spirits religiously. Apollo had his mead; Dionysus showed up at Delphi with wine. Persian priests loved haoma. Centuries after Hindu priests swore off sacred soma, their apologists claimed it was non-toxic.

The Persians adopted Alexander, calling him the son of Darius. Egyptians said he was the son of the last Pharaoh, Nectanebo. The Buddhists adopted the Greek style from statues brought to India, and represented their Buddha in the likeness of Apollo. Christians used Alexander’s likeness for portraits of Jesus. He became a saint in Ethiopia. Rome called him “the Great,” and used him as the model for its aspirations.

V. Dhulqurnain’s Iron Curtain

So Islam made Alexander a prophet, although some imams disagree with the notion. In fact, many Muslims believe the Quranic hero Dhulqarnain (Two-horned One), who built the famous Iron Curtain of Islam to stave off the barbarous forces of Gog and Magog, was none other than Alexander the Great:

“They said: O Dhulqurnain! Gog and Magog make mischief in the land. May we then pay a tribute on condition that thou raise a barrier between us and them. He said… I will make a fortified barrier between you and them. Bring me blocks of iron. At length when he had filled up the space between the two mountains, he said, Blow.” (The Quran, Ch. 18, Trans. Muhammad Ali)

Dhulqurnain’s Iron Curtain became renowned as Alexander’s Wall, which presumably had a derbend or “derbent,” a “closed gate” or “defender of the pass” made of iron or in a mountain where iron is plentiful. The Turkish and Arab words for the Persian “derbent” mean “iron gate.” Several locations were considered, but eventually consensus settled on the town of Derbent located in Dagestan on the SW shore of the Caspian Sea. Derbent proudly bore the title of Bab al-Jihad, Gateway of Jihad. Situated at a crossroads of the Silk Road; it was a very important military center during the second period of Islamization of the North Caucasus that began in the tenth century. The remains of an impressive ancient wall and a fortress with beautiful iron gates and an iron door still exist there – there were 16 iron gates in the 18th century. The wall is near the eastern end of the Caucasus mountain range, which serves as a natural barrier between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, However, there are gaps along the end of the range and between it and the Caspian, so a wall was built to fill the gaps. The remains of the wall are about 50-miles long. The wall itself is 29-feet in height and 10-feet thick in places. Submarine research found the end of the wall was extended along from the coast about 400 meters. Thus were barbarians penned up north where they belonged.

IRON part of wall
Part of wall at Derbent, Dagstan

Marco Polo’s book helped spread a garbled legend of Alexander’s Wall. Marco Polo’s Gog and Magog were contained by the Great Wall of China, but he mentions Alexander’s Wall in passing:

“When Alexander the Great attempted to advance northwards, he was unable to penetrate, by reason of the narrowness and difficulty of a certain pass, which on one side is washed by the sea, and is confined on the other by high mountains and woods, for the length of four miles; so that a very few men were capable of defending it against the whole world. Disappointed in this attempt, Alexander caused a great wall to be constructed at the entrance to the pass, and fortified it with towers, in order to restrain those who dwelt beyond it from giving him molestation. From its uncommon strength the pass obtained the name of the Gate of Iron, and Alexander is commonly said to have enclosed the Tartars between two mountains. It is not correct, however, to call the people Tartars.” (Travels of Marco Polo, NY: Dutton, 1954) “Tartars” were the Turkish or Mongolian invaders of the Middle Ages; local lore claims the wall was built not by Tartars but long before their arrival, to prevent incursions of Scythians into Persia.

Those details of Marco Polo’s famous account, dictated to and undoubtedly edited by a romantic writer in prison, do not jibe with Alexander’s character. No such impediment would impede Alexander the Great’s progress if he believed there was anything of value on the far side. Besides, if the great Alexander could not venture north because of a natural barrier, why bother to seal it off just because barbarians might trickle south after he was long gone?

Perhaps Marco Polo or Rustichello, his romantic prison scribe, combined several passes in one: there were a number of mountain peaks and narrow defiles and gorges on the way to India, and no doubt walls galore were built long before and after Alexander’s advent to save the world from Evil.

Nor does Polo’s account jibe with the “two mountains” of the Quran or his statement of “two mountains,” since the barrier at Derbent is between mountains and the sea, not between two mountains. Neither does the story jibe with the opinion that Alexander did not visit Derbent on his long trek east, nor does it jibe with the fact that the Derbent Wall on the Caspian Sea was built many centuries later during the Neo-Persian Sasanian Empire (AD 224-651).

VI. The Wrong Wall?

Most scholars believe the so-called Alexander’s Wall at Derbent is not really his, so why mention it? After all, even if we do not know of that particular wall, a wall is a wall no matter where or when it is placed and by whom; our wall is after all symbolic, is it not? As is the famous mountain pass, on the other side of which is Terra Incognita, the Unknown Land which is either Hell or Paradise. The Twin Peaks of the Horizon are the Horns of Good and Evil. Rising or setting between the Horns of the Primeval Bull, over the Gate to the Valley of the Eternal Garden, is the enlightening Sun or reflecting Moon. Maybe Sisyphus the sun-god has rolled a huge boulder down upon us, making our narrow defile the Valley of Death. What is this gap before us gaping and staking us apart from union? Will insurmountable mountains and redoubtable canyons forestall our communion until the horn blows down the wall on the Last Day, finally resolving our differences in Utopia?

Nevertheless, the right location of the Iron Curtain of Islam seems important, for everything has its time and place. The mistaken Derbent location is mentioned because Allah makes no mistakes, wherefore there must be a divine lesson in the human error. We may feel certain that the Iron Curtain of Islam is real as well as ideal hence presume the virtue of the legends and myths comprises a transcendental trail leading to the realization of the prophecy, that the problem of Good and Evil will be finally resolved in favor of Good.

For all we know, Derbent, Uzbekistan may have a role to play in the resolution. The remote village in the province of Surkhondaryo at the foot of a cliff off the main road M-39, lies along what is believed to be the path taken by Alexander northward of today’s Afghanistan, where Islamists take credit for breaching the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union. The village appears to be a collection of small farms from the air, larger farms outlying, with sturdy Soviet-era buildings. We await word from trekkers as to the details on the ground, particularly the character of its inhabitants, who might guffaw at the theme of our movie treatment, that nuclear weapons secreted in caves nearby may be the seeds of a devastating nuclear war between the forces of Good and Evil.

IRON derbent from satellite
Derbent, Surkhondaryo, Uzbekistan

VII. The Father of Good and Evil

Since preordained history makes no mistakes, wherefore nothing is an accident, and, according to modern scholars, there is truthful purport in ancient myths, we return to Dagestan’s Caspian Wall at Derbent to observe that the artificial wall with its iron gates was actually built long after Alexander’s time, by Koshrow I (531-579 AD), while king of the Sasanian Empire. Koshrow suppressed a terrible heresy known as Zurvanism, an attempt to reconcile Good and Evil by placing both under a mythological god called Zurvan, known in the abstract as Infinite Time. Zurvanism was the re-emergence of another, earlier heresy, confusing Good and Evil by placing a Father over them, which challenged Christianity in Europe after being put down in Persia: that is, the religion known as Manichaeism.

IRON iron gate at derbent
An Iron Gate at Derbent, Dagestan

Mani (216-274) was a Gnostic who claimed to be Jesus’ apostle: he wanted to combine Zoroastrian, the official religion of the Neo-Persian Empire, with Christianity. King Bahram I, at the behest of the Zoroastrian priests, had Mani crucified and Manichaeism stifled in Persia.

Whereas Zoroaster’s main achievement was his clear-cut separation of Good and Evil, Mani confused the issue by making Zurvan the Father (and womb) of both, therefore God was made responsible for Evil, whereas orthodox Zoroastrianism kept Ormazd (Ahura Mazda) untainted by Ahriman (Angra Mainyu); Good and Evil were as different as night and day: they were separated by a gulf or Void. But Zurvanism (and Manichaeism before it) eliminated the empty barrier by making Zurvan the Father of Good and Evil, “two brothers in one womb.” Thereafter Ormazd dwelt in Light, and Ahriman dwelt in Darkness, their father Zurvan being neither light nor darkness, but prior to the two.

Koshrow, alerted by the priests, put Zurvanism down. Manichaeism must not be allowed to resurface and confuse Zoroaster’s dualistic distinction. The reputed evils of the dark side, the Devil’s cult of original Manichaeism, were recalled: offerings of herbs and the blood of slaughtered wolves; perverted sorcery; the praising of Ahriman; secret societies; chanting to demons; smearing the body with dead matter and excrement; failing to preach heaven and hell for virtue and vice; and so on.

After all, even without a devil-cult, if such a monotheistic heresy were allowed to continue, we would be left with the problem that, no matter where we discover ourselves along the line, Good and Evil are so intimately connected at each point it is difficult if not impossible to make a perfectly clear distinction between the Dynamic Duo. Alas, Zurvan, Infinite Time, still presides over the Lifeline, and, like a dog chasing its tail, we end where we began.

The texts scholars have attributed to Zoroaster are a few, mere fragments of the original canon; what remains are oral hymns eventually recorded in an obscure and ambiguous language, so there is plenty of room for heresy.

Before resuming our search for the Iron Curtain of Islam, we should consider these verses from Zoroaster’s Gathas (hymns):

“Thus are the primeval spirits who as a pair (combining their opposite strivings) and (yet each) independent in his action, have been formed (of old). (They are) a better thing, they two, and a worse, as to thought, as to word, and as to deed. And between these two let the wise acting choose aright. (Choose ye) not (as) the evil doers!” Yasna XXX.3, Max Muller

“But you, O ye Daevas, are all a seed from the Evil Mind. He who offers sacrifice to You the most is of the Lie-demon, and (he is a child) of perversion….” Yasna XXXII.3, Max Muller



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