The Struggle for Iran: Mullahs, Poets, and the Bomb

Overview

When Christopher de Bellaigue first visited Iran in 1999, he found it irresistably alive: under the leadership of President Mohammad Khatami, Islamic revolutionary rule was loosening and the prospects for democratic pluralism seemed bright. But over the remaining six years of Khatami's presidency, de Bellaigue watched as the conservative religious establishment reasserted its power and the hopes of reform slowly died. The country seemed to turn its back on all that Khatami stood for when it elected an ...
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Overview

When Christopher de Bellaigue first visited Iran in 1999, he found it irresistably alive: under the leadership of President Mohammad Khatami, Islamic revolutionary rule was loosening and the prospects for democratic pluralism seemed bright. But over the remaining six years of Khatami's presidency, de Bellaigue watched as the conservative religious establishment reasserted its power and the hopes of reform slowly died. The country seemed to turn its back on all that Khatami stood for when it elected an unsophisticated Islamist ideologue, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to succeed him in 2005.

As the optimism of the reform movement was fading, international tensions over Iran's nuclear program were rising. George W. Bush included Iran in the "axis of evil," depicting it as a malign theocracy determined to acquire nuclear weapons and threaten Israel. Yet de Bellaigue's accounts of the nuclear negotiations make clear that the West's opposition to Iranian nuclear ambitions has helped both to empower those who oppose democratic reform and perhaps even to convince Iran it needs nuclear weapons for self-defense.

Beyond the high political drama, de Bellaigue, a long-term resident of Tehran and a fluent Persian speaker, gives a sense of the complexities of Iranian culture and society through striking portraits of Iranians going about their daily lives—reading the poetry of Rumi, looking at modern art, making films under the threat of censorship, trying to get by despite domestic turmoil and military threats. His keen analyses of Iran's politics and its people offer fascinating insights into a often misunderstood nation that poses some of the most challenging problems facing the world today.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Bringing together long essays originally published in journals such as The New York Review of Books and The Guardian, The Struggle for Iran thoughtfully illuminates the politics, history, social life, art and cinema (Iran's biggest export to the world after oil) of one of the world's oldest civilizations..The fascinating diversity of thought and practice of a complex society in flux--a necessary antidote to simplistic axis-of-evil, good-or-bad thinking--is opened up by this sophisticated and elegant book." --LiveMint.com

"A provocative view of a defiant nation and its foes." --Kirkus Reviews

"Watch out for the definitive book on the new Iran, The Struggle for Iran (New York Review of Books), by young British writer Christopher de Bellaigue, one of the best of the new generation of middle east experts writing in English." --Prospect Magazine (UK)

"An eloquent and sensitive memoir of an increasingly bleak political situation, this selection deserves special recognition for its emphasis on young Iranians' efforts to hybridize Islam and Western values and its implicit suggestion that such efforts may be the way of the future." --Booklist

"De Bellaigue's...anecdotes and interviews provide tremendously valuable context for many of today's headlines." --Washington Post Book World

Kirkus Reviews
Does Iran deserve a role in the Axis of Evil? To judge by this book, probably not, no matter what the current headlines. Iran had a shining moment in the 1990s, writes journalist and longtime Tehran resident de Bellaigue (In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs, 2005), when a reform movement arose to challenge fundamentalist, theocratic rule. The rebellious titans in this movement quickly shrank away, however: they "turned out to be, if not pygmies, then as frail and as human as their predecessors in Iran's century-long, unconsummated flirtation with democracy." The reform movement collapsed, and previously political people stopped talking about politics and became apathetic-a necessary condition for any authoritarian regime. Still, the author observes, small changes are afoot, particularly among Iran's baby boomers, born well after the Islamic Revolution and not inclined to put up with being swatted for holding hands or punished for listening to rock music. Several of the essays touch on cultural matters, as when he takes issue with Reading Lolita in Tehran author Azar Nafisi's rosy view of the possibilities for reform today. Elsewhere he examines the complex politics of the region, considering the many and perhaps good reasons Iran has for wanting to join the nuclear club; the state's various nuclear programs "have become central to the Islamic Republic's wider ambition in foreign affairs," which may well include expanding its influence into neighboring, unstable Iraq and Afghanistan, if only to harass Americans on the ground sufficiently to keep them from threatening Iran directly. George Bush's militant attitude toward Iran, de Bellaigue concludes, gives Iran's leaders plenty of reason tobelieve that the U.S. is trying to topple their regime-and, in a vicious circle, "one of the ways they reacted was by intensifying their assault on liberalizing, reformist Iranians."In other words, the line is hard because we have hardened it. A provocative view of a defiant nation and its foes.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590172384
  • Publisher: New York Review Books
  • Publication date: 5/22/2007
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.81 (w) x 8.48 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher de Bellaigue was born in London in 1971 and has worked as a journalist in the Middle East and South Asia since 1994. His first book, In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs: A Memoir of Iran, was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize. He lives in Tehran with his wife and two children.
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Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. The Struggle for Iran
3. Who Rules Iran?
4. The Loneliness of the Supreme Leader
5. Big Deal in Iran
6. Stalled in Iran
7. Bush, Iran, and the Bomb
8. New Man in Iran
9. Lifting the Veil (on modern art in Tehran)
10. The Persian Difference (on ancient Persian art)
11. Studying Rumi
12. Iran and the Bomb
13. Waiting for War in Tehran
14. New Essay TK
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