THE REIGN OF THE AYATOLLAHS: Iran and the Islamic Revolution by Shaul Bakhash
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THE REIGN OF THE AYATOLLAHS: Iran and the Islamic Revolution

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The revolution that toppled the Shah of Iran has bedeviled interpreters trying to sort out its many conflicting strands. Now, when interest in Iran has sagged, former Teheran newspaper editor Bakhash--currently a Princeton professor--has provided as coherent an overview as we are likely to have for a while. Bakhash, like others, sees the revolution as a reaction to the rapid industrialization and secularization of Iranian society initiated from above by the Pahlavi Shahs. In a concise biographical chapter, he shows how the Ayatollah Khomeini's intransigence and personal charisma made him the central figure in opposition to the Shah, and that Khomeini's writings were more extreme than the views he expressed to foreign journalists during his Paris exile. There, under the tutelage of Abol-Hasan Bani-Sadr and other westernized figures, Khomeini tempered his comments on women's rights and spoke of a democratic Islamic republic; actually, he abhorred the loosening of Islamic strictures regarding the role of women and had no concept of what ""democracy"" meant. Back in Teheran, Khomeini sometimes tried to mediate between clerics and secular leaders, but at critical junctures he gave the nod to Islamic fundamentalists. Following his election as president, Bani-Sadr asked Khomeini to allow him to name a cabinet before the new parliament convened; Khomeini refused, and Bani-Sadr's power was negated by the religious leaders in control of that parliament. Himself a believer in dispersed power (opposed in principle to the idea of leaders), Bani-Sadr was unable to get the local revolutionary committees and judicial system under central control. The crisis over the American hostages also took its toll on Bani-Sadr, reaching an apogee with the unsuccessful rescue attempt, which strengthened the hand of those who warned of US agents in Iran and of American designs to overthrow the revolution. With Bani-Sadr's fall from power, greater unification has occurred: both the central government and the local organizations are under the control of the clerics, and the clergy themselves have become experienced bureaucrats. With the revolution's success in fending off Kurdish separatism, economic distress (including the US freezing of Iranian accounts and Iraqi destruction of Iran's most important export port), leftist armed resistance, and other ills, and with a concerted and successful ideological campaign centered on the extension of Islamic law and the establishment of a theocratic state, Bakhash sees no sign of internal collapse as long as Khomeini is present. Thereafter the future is less clear--but until then Bakhash's account will probably stay up to date.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1984
Publisher: Basic Books