Some of you might remember my post from last month “Library loot: My latest haul from the public library”. Amir Taheri’s 2009 book The Persian Night:Iran Under the Khomeinist Revolution was one of those half-dozen or so books I grabbed that day from the public library. After reading a number of excellent books on Iran in 2009 I’ve developed a slight fascination with the country, its people and its religion. Therefore, even though I had not heard of the book or its author I grabbed it. And I’m glad I did.
Taheri, a former executive editor in chief for the Iranian newspaper Kayhan, has written an incredibly critical analysis of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Drawing a clear distinction between the nation of Iran with its vibrant history, culture and pre-revolutionary religious institutions, and that of the current regime, Taheri denounces the theocratic system created by Khomeini and his followers as an oppressive virus which has hijacked the body politic of the Iranian state and is leading the nation to darkness and ruin.
This is an angry book and therefore probably biased. But it is also very good. Taheri’s does a fantastic job describing the confusing and complex mosaic of religious and political entities that govern Iran. Overall, its political process is a shadowy one, with key decisions made covertly by Iran’s main religious leader and the elite Council of Guardians. According to Taheri, presidential elections in Iran resemble primary elections in the US, meaning Iranians vote for candidates selected from a pre-approved list. Later, after the tops three or so candidates are chosen, the ruling institutions, after considerable behind the scenes give and take, select the winning presidential candidate.
While being a readable and insightful book, alas it is pessimistic one. Outside of regime change (and in all likelihood, imposed by the US and its allies), Taheri doesn’t see anything or anyone changing the Islamic Republic’s current course. Its quest for nuclear weapons, if successful, will allow it to exert influence in the region and radically alter the current balance of power. Combine this with the state religion’s messianic eschatology and the future Taheri paints is not a golden one.