Wednesday, October 22, 2008
The Ayatollah Begs to Differ...
...is the name of the book I'm currently reading. I first heard about it on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (hooray!) and it's pretty great. It's written Hooman Majd, an Iranian who grew up in the States but who has retained ties with Iran and visits often. This book is, more or less, his attempt to de-mystify the country for the many Americans (and other Westerners) who view the place, and its president, with feelings of alarm, if not horror.
And there's plenty to be horrified about, but there's also plenty to appreciate. Iran (as Persia) is a culture that goes back a couple thousand years, has its own aesthetics and traditions, a lively social life, and a government which, although not a democracy in the western sense, nonetheless contains elements of representative democracy. This is all interesting. It also contains plenty of dissenters, atheists, opium smokers, free love advocates and diehard true believers. These groups are not mutually exclusive.
Majd doesn't try to whitewash Ahmadenijad's silly denial of the Holocaust, nor does he defend his threats to destroy Israel. On the other hand, he makes the point over and over that these comments carry far more weight in the west than with Iranians, who are mainly concerned with economic issues. Most Iranians, he points out, learn little European history in school (about as much as the average American learns about Iranian history, heh heh) and so cares little about WWII or the events surrounding it, except insofar as those events somehow led to the creation of Israel and the displacement of Palestinians. So barking about israel gets Ahmadenijad points on the street, while denying the Holocaust doesn't particularly resonate (but annoys the west, which he enjoys doing). Nuclear power, meanwhile, is seen by most Iranians as an example of haq, which can be translated loosely as "rights." Given that the west, and the States in particular, has literally thousands of nuclear warheads--and Israel has a couple hundred, too--it strikes Iranians as hypocritical that they are being pressured, under threat of sanctions and war, to drop their program.
Whatever your thoughts on Iran may be--good, bad or indifferent--this is an interesting and engaging book to pick up. Majd's style is anecdotal and conversational; he's not out to belabor his points or pile on the statistics, and he is just as likely to make snide remarks about government ministers or religious zeal as he is to take a stand that some would describe as "apologist." Given that Iran is very likely the next country that we will bomb (if you take it, as I do, that Pakistan is already being bombed), it seems like the least we can do is learn something about these people before we proceed with killing them.