For many Americans, Iran is our most dangerous enemypart of George W. Bush's "axis of evil" even before the appearance of Ahmadinejad. But what is the reality? How did Ahmadinejad rise to power, and how much power does he really have? What are the chances of normalizing relations with Iran?
In After Khomeini, Saïd Amir Arjomand paints a subtle and perceptive portrait of contemporary Iran. This work, a sequel to Arjomand's acclaimed The Turban for the Crown, examines Iran under the successors of Ayatollah Khomeini up to the present day. He begins, as the Islamic Republic did, with Khomeini, offering a brilliant capsule biography of the man who masterminded the revolution that overthrew the Shah. Arjomand draws clear distinctions between the moderates of the initial phrase of the revolution, radicals, pragmatists, and hardliners, the latter best exemplified by Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Taking a chronological and thematic approach, he traces the emergence and consolidation of the present system of collective rule by clerical councils and the peaceful transition to dual leadership by the ayatollah as the supreme guide and the subordinate president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He explains the internal political quarrels among Khomeini's heirs as a struggle over his revolutionary legacy. And he outlines how the ruling clerical elite and the nation's security forces are interdependent politically and economically, speculating on the potential future role of the Revolutionary Guards. Bringing the work up to current political events, Arjomand analyzes Iran's foreign policy as well, including the impact of the fall of Communism on Iran and Ahmadinejad's nuclear policy.
Few countries loom larger in American foreign relations than Iran. In this rich and insightful account, an expert on Iranian society and politics untangles the complexities of a nation still riding the turbulent wake of one of history's great revolutions.
Much of the Western world responded to Iran's recent postelection upheaval with surprise; the demands of protesters left many pundits scrambling to explain what they perceived as unprecedented politicization of the citizenry. However, as Arjomand (The Turban for the Crown) demonstrates, the West's tendency to see Iran as a political monolith has always been profoundly ahistorical. Efforts to control domestic tensions played an important role even in the decisions of the revolution's father, Ayatollah Khomeini. Arjomand presents a variety of factors that shape today's Iran. He demonstrates, for instance, the extent to which the state religion practiced by Khomeini and his successors amounts to a “theocratic redefinition of Shi'ism,” and that while this has led to the disaffection of some of the original revolutionary vanguard (such as former president Mohammad Khatami), potential reformists remain “trapped as insiders in their revolutionary discourse,” their timidity in challenging the system leading to greater power concentrated in fewer hands and the development of a “clerical monarchy.” Arjomand's presentation and analysis are fascinating, but might prove dense and intimidating for the neophyte. (Dec.)\