Lucid exploration of a nation caught between two seemingly contradictory ideals: democracy on one hand and Islamic fundamentalism on the other.
Axworthy (Centre for Persian and Iranian Studies/Univ. of Exeter; A History of Iran, 2008) does not entirely rule out the possibility that those two poles can be aligned, but it certainly won’t happen under those who still cherish the memory of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who rose to power following the fall of the shah in 1979. To illustrate just one example of Khomeini’s ruthlessness, Axworthy relates the tale of Hassan Pakravan, a general in the shah’s secret police, who intervened when Khomeini was condemned to death, “believing that it would cause further serious unrest among ordinary Muslims,” and saw to it that Khomeini was well-fed while in prison. When Khomeini took power, he had Pakravan killed for his troubles. By the author’s account, Iran has long been “revolutionary,” undergoing a series of upheavals throughout the 20th century, including a revolution in 1908 that bound Iran to both Russia and Britain, the rise of the Mosaddegh government in 1951 and its overthrow by a CIA-engineered coup in 1953, and, of course, the events of 1979. He casts doubt on whether the most recent election was on the up and up, though he does note that fallen president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had fallen afoul of former allies even as his opponent, Ali Khamenei, “had an aircraft overhauled to ensure it was in good readiness to fly him out of the country at short notice” should Ahmadinejad win in a contest that served to underscore another aspect of life in contemporary Iran: namely, that “Iran had become a divided country.”
A wide-ranging, sympathetic presentation that explains much about the country, especially the reasons for its dislike of the United States and U.K.