Whither Iran, asks Washington-based Iranian journalist Molavi in this tour of the country’s past and present.
Molavi, who has lived in the US since his youth, returned to Iran for a year of journeying through the provinces to gain a sense of what Iranians were feeling about the course of the Islamic Republic. What he hopes to reveal here, by considering Iran’s current state of affairs in light of the country’s past, is just how complex a place it is, not at all like the one imagined by Iran’s authority figures, the conservative clerics, “who constantly demand black and white.” For Molavi, shades of gray are best exemplified by Iranian writers, from the chronicler of Kings, Ferdowsi, on through Hafez’s ambiguities (though his “seize the day” attitude toward living holds particular resonance for contemporary Iranians, be they devout or sensualist) to the satirists, parodists, and allegorists of today, many of whom are in prison. Same as it ever was, might say those who remember the like treatment such writers received under the late Shah Pahlavi. But ambiguities abound, sloshing over the “complex lines between private and public space in Iranian society,” between the behavior that is expected from an autocratic clerical state and the desires of a population who have long been familiar with the greater world. Molavi does well in explaining the fluid nature of Iranian politics, the obscure opening and shutting of democratic opportunities, the rise of the reformist clergy, and the evolution of a youth who “are less idealistic than their parents’ generation,” thirsty for choice and opportunity, grounded in the real—though that real must perforce take its cues from a government under the control of an entrenched, conservative, quixotic clergy.
A welcome and—in the best Iranian tradition—subtly shaded journey through a country that once commanded US attention and then seemed to drop off the radar.