A close look at Iranian culture and politics from the 1979 revolution to the present.
Journalist Secor, whose work has appeared in the New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, and other publications, visited Iran five times between 2004 and 2012, interviewing more than 150 Iranians and observing four elections. Those experiences, and many published sources, inform her revealing, often shocking debut book about the turbulent nation perceived by the West as a monolithic threat. The 1979 uprising that ousted the shah “was supposed to yield a just and self-governing” nation; instead, the country fell into “war, want, and profound isolation.” Despite having an elected president and parliament, a cleric reigned as “vice-regent of God on earth” and commander of the army. All laws were subject to the approval of this Supreme Leader. Ayatollah Khomeini wielded that power with ferocity against liberals, leftists, and the United States. Nevertheless, some Iranian intellectuals questioned tradition, published widely read critiques, and looked to the West “for its most useful modern ideas while discarding its toxic core.” By the fall of 1998, many of these writers “understood that they were living under siege.” Within the next few years, writes Secor, “the Islamic Republic was riddled with mafia-like grids that operated in secrecy.” In June 2005, the country made a surprising choice for president: the little-known mayor of Tehran, arrogant, swaggering, with a scruffy beard and “goofy grin,” who campaigned as a populist: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “a common man, and a demagogue.” In matters foreign and domestic, “he smashed things and watched indifferently as others picked up the pieces.” Despite all this, Secor feels optimistic about Iran’s future, claiming that the nation has a “seemingly endless capacity to produce internal opposition to its own authoritarianism.” She characterizes its current president, Hassan Rouhani, as a moderate who wants to foster goodwill toward the West.
An insightful chronicle of bloody repression and brave defiance.