Summary of Revolutionary Iran

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Whether it’s Tehran’s insistence on developing a nuclear program, the US hostage crisis, or Ayatollah Khomeini’s call for the death of novelist Salman Rushdie, Iran’s bombastic image looms large in the western imagination. Yet there’s much about the nation that goes against stereotype, argues Iran expert Michael Axworthy. In this study of Persia’s recent past, Axworthy brings texture and nuance to his subject matter, offering up unexpected details about Iran’s commitment to education – including education for girls – and the history of its nuclear program. Axworthy’s study doesn’t completely rehabilitate Iran’s public image. This is, after all, an autocracy whose former president denied the Holocaust and which claims 9-year-old girls should be tried as adults. Nevertheless, Axworthy makes a compelling case for a contrarian view of this flawed but multifaceted nation.

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 and Commonwealth Office.



Iran’s Exaggerated Image 

With its nuclear ambitions, human rights violations and contentious relations with the United States, Iran has often commanded the world’s attention since its paradigm-shifting revolution in 1979. It has even seemed, at times, that the nation might stand on the brink of a new revolt – most recently, in the summer of 2009, when hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets to demand free, democratically elected leadership. That crisis passed, but Iran’s current political situation, like its past, remains remarkably complex.

Persian pride runs deep: Iranians are taught that their civilization is particularly advanced, and that their poetry, music, philosophy, food and religion are the finest in the world. This sense of cultural superiority, coupled with Iran’s determination to chart its own developmental path since the revolution, has forced Europe and the United States to adjust its stance toward the nation numerous times over the past few decades. Yet, in many ways, Western ideas about Iran remain stubbornly one-dimensional. Western media depicts Iran as a nation filled with...

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