No Bare Breasts, Please, We're Iranian

A statue of a bare-breasted woman designed by Bernini at the Sant'Isidoro Church in central Rome on October 22. Reuters

This article first appeared on the American Enterprise Institute site.

So the Italian government covered up statues and paintings depicting nudes or nude figures for the visit of Iran's President Rouhani. So much for mutual tolerance and that dialogue of civilizations.

The episode not only highlights the cravenness of European leaders but also shows just how divorced Rouhani and Iran's other clerical leaders are from the traditions of Iran and Persian culture. After all, Iran (called Persia before 1935) is the inheritor of a great civilization that dates back millennia and has a rich artistic and literary tradition.

Perhaps instead of hiding elements of Western civilization, Italian leaders should have presented him with a copy of the beautifully illustrated Suppressed Persian, a coffee table collection of racy classical and early modern Persian poetry, literature and art.

From the publisher's description:

This volume is an anthology of selected pieces of poetry and prose that deeply offend long-established standards of "good taste" and "morality" in Iran. It presents unprintables from the works of eight of the most important writers of Persian literature.

These include Sanai of Ghazni (12th century), Jalal al-Din Rumi (13th century), Suzani of Samarkand (12th Century), Obayd-e Zakani (14th century) and Sadi of Shiraz (13th century).

The anthology also contains off-color quatrains by a contemporary of Omar Khayyam, the poetess Mahsati of Ganja, and an epic invective by the modern poet Iraj Mirza (1874-1926).

If that's too provocative, perhaps every Western leader should simply present Rouhani with museum catalogs illustrating the contents of the West's great museums from the Vatican Museum to the Louvre to the Hermitage to the British Museum to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ronald Reagan famously appointed an African-American ambassador to South Africa during the height of the apartheid era; he also appointed an American Jew to represent the United States in Pakistan, among the world's most anti-Semitic countries.

Reagan understood that obsequiousness to authoritarians or the willingness to apologize for Western culture neither shows sensitivity nor encourages tolerance. Rather, it affirms the intolerance of those who claim moral superiority in their drive to suppress minorities or alternative views.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. A former Pentagon official, his major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy.