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Turmoil and Transformation in Iran

by Robin Wright

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 2000
ISBN: 0-375-40639-5
Publisher: Knopf

A timely assessment of Iran by the Western reporter perhaps best-equipped to make it. Wright, who in Sacred Rage (1985) traced the rise of militant Islam, and in In the Name of God (1989) covered the first decade of the Khomeini revolution, intended to make —a human journey— inside 20 years of revolution. Much of her material reflects that purpose: interviews about the cultural revolution, descriptions of local geography, and excellent reporting on the ambivalence of a theocracy to love, marriage, and sex (to entrench the revolution, the age of marriage in females was reduced from 15 to 9; but then, to deal with a population spiraling out of control, extraordinarily frank birth control guidance was decreed). In truth, however, she came very close to covering a new revolution. The demonstrations of July, 1999, were, she notes, “the biggest and boldest challenge to an Iranian government since the revolution.” Only the firmness of the reactionary clergy and the continued loyalty of the army saved the regime. Nor is the challenge over. Given a deteriorating economic situation, up to 40 percent inflation, unemployment at 25 percent, the clergy widely unpopular, elections due early next year, and many of the most obscurantist groups facing re-election, the situation could surely change again. Wright concludes that the “Islamic republic is not likely to survive in its current form——although its ruthless use of power to screen out hostile candidates, its draconian thought-crime laws, and its death squads would seem to conflict with her broader theory that the Iranians have taken bigger steps in defining a modern Islamic democracy (or at least posed fewer obstacles to that prospect) than any other Muslim country. But this book is still far and away the most balanced, thoughtful, and comprehensive overview of a strategic and important country.