With apologies to the 80’s band Flock Of Seagulls, let me continue with my latest post. A few weeks ago I finished The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran by Hooman Majd, a New York City-based journalist and Iranian expat.
Majd does an excellent job painting a vivid picture, both deep and wide
of the fascinating nation of Iran, a nation with a people and a culture
full of complexity and contradictions. Majd takes the reader on an
extensive journey through the mysterious Middle Eastern country,
visiting such disparate locales as hi tech opium dens, Shia seminaries,
religious shrines and the household of Iran’s former President. Perhaps
most importantly, Majd examines the unwritten social contract between
Iran’s ruling clergy and the general population- the tacit agreement
allowing Iranians to engage in any activities, illegal, immoral or
otherwise as long as it is done privately behind closed doors. However,
once dissent organized and done in the open and/or declared in
newspapers or on the Internet, the theocratic regime feels its
authority challenged and reacts accordingly.
Perhaps equally important, you come away from Majd’s book with a strong sense of just who the Iranians are. First and foremost they are Persians, therefore heirs to a rich and advanced culture stretching back thousands of years. And yes, they Muslims but Shia, and with a religion interpreted and practiced as the end product of an ancient Persian culture. But above all, they are Persians and not those country cousin Sunni Arabs around them.
This is an essential book if one want to understand the nation behind the headlines. Majd’s book, along Vali Nasr’s Shia Revival, are must read books when it comes to addressing the culture and politics of modern Iran.