Summary of Iran

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Mention Iran to most westerners, and they likely think of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, the American hostage crisis or former US president George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” speech. According to Iran expert Michael Axworthy, however, there’s much more to Iran’s long and nuanced story. Axworthy delves into Iran’s flirtations with democracy, its rich tradition of poetry, its conflicts with the rest of the Muslim world and its exploitation by Western powers in the 20th century. The prose plods a bit when Axworthy describes Iran’s long-ago history, at least for readers unschooled in the players and events of ancient times. But the pace picks up as he details current events – or, at least, when the story moves into territory familiar to most English-language readers. Axworthy acknowledges that Iran’s human rights record is woeful, but he makes the surprising argument that the nation isn’t as misogynistic as many assume. Ultimately, the author’s exploration of Iran’s past and present does an admirable job of setting aside inflamed rhetoric and offering a clear-eyed view of the country as a place with both great flaws and abundant promise.

In this summary, you will learn

  • How Iran’s history shapes its modern politics, 
  • How Iran’s most influential rulers came to power, and
  • How Iran fares in the areas of women’s rights and human rights.
 

About the Author

Michael Axworthy is director of the Centre for Persian and Iranian Studies at the University of Exeter. From 1998 to 2000, he was head of the Iran Section in the British Foreign Office.

 

Summary

Persia: A Part of the Muslim World and Also a Place Apart

Iran’s isolation from the rest of the world is lessening, slowly. But the nation’s history – and that history’s effects on modern Iranian culture, politics and perspectives – remains poorly understood by outsiders. Iran became a Muslim nation during the Islamic conquest of the seventh century. With the advent of the Safavid dynasty around 1500, Iran’s state religion shifted from Sunni to Shi’a Islam – the minority sect within the Muslim world at large. Despite suffering numerous foreign invasions over the centuries, Iran retained its own language and distinct identity. During the Islamic Golden Age, Persians made significant contributions to understandings of math and science. For instance, an Iranian scientist was the first to note that smallpox and measles were separate diseases. Iranian poetry also stands as a major contribution to global culture.


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