A leading expert explains why we fail to understand Iran and offers a new strategy for redefining this crucial relationshipFor more than a quarter of a century, few countries have been as resistant to American influence or understanding as Iran. The A leading expert explains why we fail to understand Iran and offers a new strategy for redefining this crucial relationship For more than a quarter of a century, few countries have been as resistant to American influence or understanding as Iran. The United States and Iran have long eyed each other with suspicion, all too eager to jump to conclusions and slam the door. What gets lost along the way is a sense of what is actually happening inside Iran and why it matters. With a new hard-line Iranian president making incendiary pronouncements and pressing for nuclear developments, the consequences of not understanding Iran have never been higher. Ray Takeyh, a leading expert on Iran’s politics and history, has written a groundbreaking book that demystifies the Iranian regime and shows how the fault lines of Iran’s domestic politics serve to explain its behavior. In Hidden Iran, he explains why this country has so often confounded American expectations and why its outward hostility does not necessarily preclude the normalization of relations. Through a clearer understanding of the competing claims of Muslim theology, republican pragmatism, and factional competition, he offers a new paradigm for managing our relations with this rising power. ...Continua Nascondi
The book is based on the basic premise that the West dismisses Iran's internal complexity on the base of prejudice, but it is not clear how the picture of Iran that comes out of the pages is really all that different from any but the most simplisticThe book is based on the basic premise that the West dismisses Iran's internal complexity on the base of prejudice, but it is not clear how the picture of Iran that comes out of the pages is really all that different from any but the most simplistic of western analyses. Actually, it looks to me that the author sometimes even manages to contradict himself.
The apologetic tone is so intrusive, that I could not bear finishing the book. The author is obviously very knowledgable on Iranian history, politics, and culture, but he presents his analyses in a way that is not meant to educate, but rather to shape opinion. I have no problem with books that are slightly biased, as long as they contain usuful information. But this one is 2/3 apologism, pointless Kremlinology, and wrong predictions, and only 1/3 information. It's just not worth the time. There's informative books on Iran out there that do not force you to dodge a relentless barrage of hype to get to the facts.
The author romanticizes parochial rivalries and minor clannish clashes among the iranian political factions, presenting them as living proof of an astonishing political pluralism. He keenly distinguishes between Conservatives, pragmatists, and reformers, but he himself admits that eventually, both the pragmatist Rafsanjani and the reformist Khatami, backpedaled to conservative positions once the internal heat was on.
Although he admits that non-islamist opposition forces have been all but swept away, the author still argues that Iran is not a totalitarian state, and that the minor divisions among islamists make for a pluralist and vibrant political society.
You know what? Every totalitarian regime in history had its internal rivalries, if that was enough not to call them totalitarian, then we never had totalitarianism on earth. But we know that we did. However you turn it, today's Iran is not nearly as pluralistic as it used to be in Shahs's times, when communists, socialists, liberals and all the other factions were repressed, but existed. Today the only effective players left in Iran's internal politics are the different flavours of islamism, usually separated by personal and family rivalries more than by ideological differences.
As far as predictions go, in 2006 the author was trying to convince us that, although in Iran you must secure the approbation of the Mullahs to partake in public life, and although eventually the Supreme Guide has veto power on virtually anything, it is still a country that kinda-follows a democratic procedure. And than there were the farce-elections and violent repression of 2009...
The author does ackwnoledge that Iran's foreign and regional policies have been plagued by its obsession of exporting the islamic revolution abroad. Strike that. Actually, in the book, american mistrust of Iran is usually called "an obssession", "a fixation", and the like (the media coverage and political concern over the fate of the U.S diplomatic personnel kept hostage following the 1979 occupation of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran is referred to as an "American public fixation"). Iran's militant anti-westernism instead is, more mildly, "a posture", "antagonism", and other pussy-cat terms.
The author goes on to predict that, even with the return to power of hardliners, an aggressive and revolutionary foreign policy is unlike to come back. Too bad that, since the book was written, we have seen exactly that. Nowadays, the Islamic Republic is once again fomenting religious and ideological hatred, revolts, and terrorism, worldwide, as well as trying to develop weapons of mass destruction.
One might even understand the usefulness of trying to see the glass half full, but this just doesn't work.
The book supports the not uncommon notion that the Iranian regime is maligned to be fanatic (although plenty of examples of its fanatic behaviour are illustrated in the book itself), but it is pragmatic instead. Are we so sure that one thing excludes the other? Even Nazi Germany and Stalin's USSR could be very pragmatic, when they needed to.
On the contrary, according to the author, what he calls "the Eastern Arab States", like Saudi Arabia or Egypt, are indeed fanatical beyond redemption. Regardless the fact that many of the historical episodes narrated in the book itself, point to perfectly pragmatic behaviours on their part. *Shrug*
In all honesty, it is my humble opinion that any impartial observer of the Middle East cannot but conclude that there's not a hell of a lot of difference in extremism between Sunni-generated and Shiite-generated islamism.
Now, even if you are convinced that it would be wise for the West to strategically align itself with Iran, doing so by forcing yourself to see the glass half-full at all costs is sort of sick. Keep it honest, and just be shamelessly Macchiavellean. Nothing wrong with it.