Political Instructions and Reflection on the Position and Missions of Ambassadors

Theoretical reflection in the field of politics and way of governance is one of the deep-rooted reflections in human history.
25 June 2023
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Mahiya Shoaibi Omrani

 Theoretical reflection in the field of politics and way of governance is one of the deep-rooted reflections in human history. The formation of human societies and the need for a ruling and governing group, even in its basic forms, has naturally led to thinking about the way of governance. The main question of this thinking is what is the best way of government, and this best includes both the survival and stability of the government and the satisfaction of the nationals and subjects. This question can be considered as the summary and extract of all the topics of political instructions, and in fact, these instructions should be considered as detailed answers to this short and concise question.

Reflections on politics can be placed in two main groups; a group is placed under the topics related to political philosophy or the philosophy of government, and among the most familiar works in this group, we should mention Al-Ahkam as-Sultaniyyah. Farabi's opinions and works in politics should also be included in this group. The second group includes works that contain less theoretical and deep reflections in the field of philosophy of politics and government and more contain practical and objective instructions about the how of governance, and this group is generally referred to as instructions. Works such as Naṣīḥat al-Mulūk, Surah Al-Mulk, Nasirean Ethics, and Suluk al-malik are included in this group, and even more general didactic-allegory works such as Kalīla wa-Dimna, Saadi's Bustan and Gulistan, Qaboosnameh, etc. are not devoid of political instructions and advice. The instructions help the rulers in adopting the best way of politics from a wise and recommendatory position and with simple and clear language and by mixing anecdotes and advice. Suppose the authors of the works of the first group are jurists and religious scholars. In that case, the second group is generally composed of ministers, diviners, authors, and writers. This different authorial origin is also evident in the content and language of these works.

The instructions consider the whole of a government system and its functions and have recommendations for each of the special functions of a government. In a general view, an absolutist view based on good and evil in these texts can be considered. In all these recommendations, there is an emphasis on justice and avoiding cruelty and injustice in its general sense. The main focus in these works' intellectual system should be justice. In addition, there is an obvious conceptual continuity in these texts. This continuity sometimes reaches the objective and exact repetition of sentences, phrases, and anecdotes. Even the content of the Sasanian instructions was conveyed to the Islamic era, and this indicates the existence of a single ethical vision in politics throughout the history of Iran. The first works of this kind were written in the Islamic era and mainly in Arabic, and among them, we can mention Kitab al-Taj, Kitab Al-Wuzara wa-al-Kuttab, Al-Fakhri fi al-Adab al-Sultaniya, and the like, tell exactly the same content as the pre-Islamic works. In other words, this continuity shows that what we know as a translation movement and introduced the intellectual effects of ancient civilizations into Islamic society has also conveyed the ethical insight of those works.

Now it is possible to follow the foreign policy issue from the perspective of these instruction works. In what is related to this field, one can find both general and inclusive topics and recommendations such as vigilance against foreign governments, border protection, war, and peace measures, and similar issues, as well as minor and case-specific instructions regarding the rules of giving and receiving gifts in foreign relations, how to welcome the envoys of other governments, how to submit diplomatic reports, and so on can be found in these texts. The center of gravity of all these recommendations is moderation; just as very expensive gifts are a sign of weakness and low-value gifts are a sign of stinginess, or excessive respect for the envoys of other governments is a sign of depravity, and the shortness of it is a sign of disrespect and rude. The same pattern can be seen in almost all the recommendations of these works.

Among the things considered in this type of work are the dos and don'ts of an ambassador (generally, the terms Ilchi (emissaries) and envoy are used in these texts). In the eyes of these texts, the ambassador has a complex, important, and multidimensional position. They consider a broad set of traits, characteristics, and knowledge to be essential for ambassadors. Abundant and varied experience, eloquence, strong memory, ability to predict, repartee, good appearance, courage, knowledge, eloquence, and regularity are examples of these qualities, and of course, the ambassador should not be talkative, miserly, greedy, low-motivated, rude, frivolous and anonymous. In other words, these texts consider it necessary for an ambassador to possess all positive human traits and characteristics and not have any negative ones. This is how they draw the picture of an ideal human being. In fact, according to Nizam al-Mulk, the character, wisdom, and opinion of the envoy are proof of the king's character, wisdom, opinion, and magnanimity. Therefore, the ambassador is a mirror of the government that sent him, and every beauty and ugliness of him reflects the beauty and ugliness of his government.

In addition to the qualities and abilities of the ambassador, his mission and responsibility are also complex and multidimensional in the eyes of these texts. According to the instructions, an ambassador is not the only one who conveys a message from a government to his own government (at the time of writing these texts, an ambassador is not a resident ambassador in the modern sense, but someone who is responsible for delivering messages). It can even be said that the ambassador's last duty is to deliver the message he is entrusted with. He is assigned to present an accurate, clear, multidimensional, and detail-oriented picture of the place of his mission to his government. The author of Rozat al-Anwar Abbasi explicitly asks the ambassadors (in the interpretation of this book: Ilchian) not to be satisfied with the generalities and greatness of affairs but to inquire and announce the minor events in every chapter, and those minor events actually include a wide range, from the removal and installation of that government, the condition of the army and its troops, to the level of destruction and development of cities, roads, and bridges, and the personal ethics of the officials of that government, and the way they socialize and interact with each other and satisfaction of the subjects form their rulers. The delegation accompanying the ambassador is also responsible for the same duty, and it is necessary to be aware of the truth of the situation and write a newspaper in detail in every chapter. In fact, this comprehensive awareness is the ambassador's main gift of his mission, and it is important and emphasized because it can be dominant and provide a means of intellectual (and perhaps objective) dominance of one government over another. In other words, what is known to us today as the relationship between knowledge and power is reflected in the interpretation of these texts in this way. A careful study of the instructional texts and trying to understand their intellectual system reveals important information about the background of politics in Iran or the elites' view of politics. These texts in the field of foreign policy, due to the lack of documents and notes from Iranian ambassadors and Ilchian before the 17th century AD, can show how Iranians look at this category, and although they may have an idealistic aspect due to their instructional and advisory nature, at least they clarify some of the reality of action in this field.

Mahiya Shoaibi Omrani, an expert at the Institute for Political and International Studies

 (The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)

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