Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Paradox of Modern Iran

It is hard to imagine a country with a more negative reputation among Americans than Iran. It is hard to imagine a person more qualified to explain Iran to Americans than Hooman Majd. Now in his 50’s, Majd is the son of an Iranian diplomat and grandson of an Ayatollah, and also a distant relative of reformist former President Khatami. Majd has made a career as an executive at Island Records in New York.

The Ayatollah Begs to Differ : The Paradox of Modern Iran is largely based on several months that the author spent in Iran in 2005 and 2007. Fluent in English and Farsi, a friend once told Majd that he is the only person he knew who “was both 100 percent American and 100 percent Iranian” (8).

Majd explains:
  • Why most Iranians, even reformers, support Iran’s right to nuclear power because of a centuries long feeling that Iran has had its rights as a nation usurped.

  • How Iranian tradition and government practice actually make a sharp distinction between acceptable behavior in the public and private spheres, with much more tolerance in private than is commonly thought in the West.

  • How the Islamic Revolution of 1979 can be seen as being about social class as much or more than about religion.

  • Why a Jewish Iranian man living in Los Angeles who admires President Ahmadinejad—in some respects.

  • How estimates put the drug addiction rate in Iran at around 10%--largely opium addiction.

  • How satellite television is illegal but nearly everyone has it.

  • How the highest rated Iranian television program in 2007 was a historical miniseries about an Iranian diplomat who helped save French Jews during WWII.
Though he himself is not religious, Majd quotes Ayatollah and former President Rajsanjani saying, “If you want to understand Iran, you must become a Shia first” (146). Obviously, there are other perspectives on Iran, but this book seems to provide one of the most even-handed that I have seen.
This is the most fascinating book I have read in over a year. I highly recommend it!

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