THE IRANIANS by Sandra Mackey


Persia, Islam and the Soul of a Nation
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 A richly detailed analysis of the complex historical and ideological forces that drive this large and powerful nation. Mackey (The Saudis, 1990; Lebanon, 1989) sees the paradoxical soul of Iran as a two-faced Janus that expresses both Persian culture and Shia Islam. By exploring the long and turbulent history of this strategically located nation, she guides the reader toward telling insights that explain such dramatic 20th-century polarities as the Peacock throne of Reza Shah Pahlavi and the Islamic Republic of Ayatollah Khomeini. More than a researcher, Mackey travels through Iran and experiences the celebration of No Ruz, an ancient Zoroastrian holiday still preserved with an Islamic overlay. It would be difficult to understand the zeal of revolutionary demonstrators at the American Embassy compound without this background into the black and white sensibility provided by the prophet Zoroaster. After all the country's abuse at the hands of Greeks, Seleucids, Byzantines, and Britons, it is little wonder that decadent America is an echo of Ahriman the satanic destroyer. Persia's most venerated traditions demand a just but absolute ruler, making the shah's excessive capitalism and secularism that much more foreign to Iranian eyes. While a black-turbaned imam has the unshakable credentials of a descendent of Muhammad, we learn that rivalry between Persian Aryans and Muslim Arabs replays ancient battles of the Umayyads and Abbasids. Mackey likewise allows us to understand the racial and religious animosity toward Sunni Arabs that would pit the Shia Islamic Republic against fellow Muslim Iraq. By touring the wide panorama of Iranian times and space with Mackey, we can appreciate why ``Teheran is Iran's brain, Qom is its soul, and cherished Isfahan its heart.'' (See also Judith Miller, God Has Ninety-Nine Names, p. 512.) An essential resource for anyone concerned with this crucial region's geopolitics, culture or religion. (maps) (Author tour)

Pub Date: May 13th, 1996
ISBN: 0-525-94005-7
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1996


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