For thirty years, the regime in Iran has been a puzzle to most Iranians and a mystery wrapped in an enigma to the outside world. It has rejected almost every single tenet of Iranian culture, denied the best part of the Iranian history, and tried to remould an ancient nation into a new force for global conquest in the name of ideology. It is no surprise that many Iranians regard the Khomeinist system as alien to their culture and history.
However, in this seminal study of over 400 pages, Amir Taheri shows that Khomeinism is an almost natural product of the Iranian reality as it has taken shape over the past 14 centuries.
Taheri argues that Iran and Iranians have suffered from a split personality for centuries. They could not abandon their pre-Islamic past but were equally unable to become totally Islamic. Thus, two Irans developed, living side-by-side, but never fully reconciled. One can find the two Irans in every aspect of Iranian life, in fact within every single Iranian. Over the centuries, attempts have been made at blending the two together or eliminating one in favour of the other. All those attempts have failed. This is why Taheri believes that the current attempt by the Khomeinists to kill the Iranian Iran will also fail.
Taheri’s analysis is of special interest to policy-makers. He argues that a regime that is not at peace with its own people cannot promote peace with other nations. As a nation-state, Iran has no quarrels with others. As the embodiment of the Khomeinist revolution, however, Iran cannot but be at war against its neighbours and other countries further afield.
Taheri argues that the Khomeinist revolution needs tensions and crises in order to survive. Like other revolutions in history it generates war.
“The Persian Night” offers the most detailed explanation of Khomeinism as a proto-fascist ideology vaguely based on Islamic traditions. Taheri identifies the areas in which Khomeinism borrowed from Western totalitarian ideologies in their crudest form.
Part of the book is devoted to the study of structures of power in the Islamic Republic. We learn about the facade as well as what the author calls “the deep state”, the parallel organs of rule that constitute the real government of Iran today. Understanding this duality is important in assessing the way the Islamic Republic behaves on major issues of foreign policy.
At the other end of the spectrum, Taheri studies the forces that he thinks are capable of closing the chapter of Khomeinism and leading Iran away from revolution and back on the path of nationhood. The author is persuaded that change in Iran is both possible and inevitable, although he refuses to spell out a timeframe for its accomplishment.
Addressed to an international audience, “The Persian Night” devotes much space to a study of relations between Iran and the United States. Taheri is critical of the policies of successive US administrations, including the latest headed by President Barack Hussein Obama.
For all its seriousness as a political study, “The Persian Night” is an enjoyable book written in a witty and easily accessible style. It contains a wealth of anecdotes about a wide range of issues, from the different types of beards to the various categories of mullahs. There are passages that no reader would get through without a smile, to say the least.
“The Persian Night” could also be treated as a primer on Persian literature and mythology. It introduces many of the key themes of Persian culture in relation to political issues.
This year, marking the 30th anniversary of the Khomeinist seizure of power in Tehran, has inspired dozens of books on Iran and its recent experience. Taheri’s book is by far one of the best both in scope and in style. A must read for all those interested in Iran, the Middle East, Islam and international politics.
THE PERSIAN NIGHT
Iran Under the Khomeinist Revolution
By Amir Taheri
413 pages, $25
Published by: Encounter Books, New York and London