A timely examination of the politics and culture of Iran, courtesy of New York Times correspondent Sciolino.
Since 1979 (when she was one of the journalists who accompanied the Ayatollah Khomeini on his triumphant return from exile), Sciolino has visited Iran frequently. Here, she begins by offering 12 rules for coping with the unexpected aspects of daily Iranian life; one cautions foreigners not to misinterpret hospitality as openness (because “concealment is part of normal life”). Contrary to its popular image, Iranian society is extremely fluid—ayatollahs argue publicly with one another, rigid rules are continually bent, and even the apparently firm lines of leadership have more give than outsiders commonly assume. But since it is still the Bermuda Triangle of American foreign policy, Sciolino advises us to maintain our guard. She is not content merely to analyze Iran’s past and present, but offers telling vignettes and observations as well: she talks to a war veteran who yearns to be a martyr for Islam, interviews a woman who wants to be president, and observes a women’s aerobics class. She notes that Iranians have a strong sense of national identity (despite—or perhaps on account of—the many strictures placed on their daily lives), and she suggests that gender is the country’s fault line, imposing numerous restrictions on women in public but allowing considerable freedom in private. The country is geopolitically important and resource-rich, yet corruption and mismanagement are rife, and with revolutionary enthusiasm ebbing, it is struggling to resolve the conflict between the Islamic-based government and a new generation (65 percent of the population is under 25) that wants more social freedom and economic opportunity. Sciolino concludes by suggesting that, with reformist President Khatami at the helm, Iran is becoming more democratic and more willing to deal with the US.
Vivid reporting combines with perceptive insights in this fascinating venture behind the distorting mirrors. An important book.