The last request of renowned American orientalist Stephen Frye stirred controversy this week after Iranian hardliners got wind of the fact that the esteemed scholar had asked to be buried in the historic city of Isfahan, alongside other world-famous Iran experts.
Frye, who passed away at 94 at the end of March, said in a CNN interview in 2008 that he had dedicated his life to Iranian culture and loved the Iranian people. Therefore, he said, there was “no reason” why he shouldn’t be buried in Isfahan, a city brimming with World Heritage Sites and architectural marvels.
Frye was well-respected by many in Iran – including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif himself, who sain on Twitter that he was “deeply saddened” by the passing of “a true friend and scholar of Iran,” and a prominent Iranian scholar, who last week called on President Hassan Rouhani to honor Frye’s request, arguing that even Ahmadinejad had approved it. However, the award-winning Harvard professor’s request was met with some suspicion from the country’s more conservative quarters.
The Kayhan newspaper, seen as a mouthpiece for Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called Frye a “CIA agent” and “Western garbage,” citing a leading Isfahan cleric. Fars News posted photos of hardline protesters calling the academic a “dirty American spy” and urging the Iranian government to carry out Khamenei’s bidding, not that of a Western “cultural bandit” – as the academic was called by an Isfahan lawmaker.
Wait a minute. We thought Iran was sending delegations to Europe to encourage academic and cultural cooperation – both, undoubtedly, promising economic benefits as well. But is the West being approached as a respected equal – or as a source of “cultural bandits” whose thieving activities consist of researching Iran, shedding light on its past and deeply empathizing with its present?