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The Paradox of Modern Iran

by Hooman Majd

Pub Date: Oct. 21st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-385-52334-9
Publisher: Doubleday

A sort-of-insider’s view of contemporary Iran, which views itself as David against the American Goliath.

London-bred and used to British insularity, fluent enough in Farsi to pass as a native unadulterated by Western contact, the grandson of an ayatollah and son of an Iranian diplomat, New Yorker contributor Majd confesses to a frisson of nationalistic pride after the Iranian revolution of 1979, when the nation captured international headlines and for once became recognizable, even as it “ushered in an era of successful but much-feared Islamic fundamentalism.” It is no small thing, he suggests, that in 30 years Iran has risen from backwater, tinhorn dictatorship to public enemy No. 1. Regardless of their politics, Iranians around the world take a not-so-secret pride in stymieing the efforts of the world’s self-proclaimed sole superpower, and other Muslims, think well of the Islamic Republic precisely because, by their lights, it stands up for them against American expansionist designs. President and international bad guy Mahmoud Ahmadinejad deserves much credit for this; though a Holocaust denier and of nutty affect, he offers Muslims “hope that they could guide their own destiny wherever they were.” Adds Majd, perhaps unhelpfully, most Muslims don’t know from the Holocaust, “and men like Ahmadinejad know it.” On another note, Iranians were famed for a couple of things before the radical-fundamentalist era, and in truth they “spend an awful lot of time pondering carpets and virtually no time thinking about cats.” Do Westerners have anything to fear from Iran? Probably not from Ahmadinejad, who lacks religious credentials but outmaneuvered the theocrats with his belief that the messiah is just around the corner—a view that many American politicians hold as well.

A useful addition to the literature surrounding a suddenly influential nation.