“The Ayatollah Begs to Differ” by Hooman Majd

This month’s selection for my book group is The Ayatollah Begs to Differ by Hooman Majd. It was the pick of one member who is married to a Persian. I look forward to our discussion with her added insights about Iran.

When I look back now, both in my childhood and even as a young adult, I couldn’t have imagined my country as anything more than a second-rate Third World nation subservient to Western powers….Despite the negative connotations of a perceptibly hostile Iran, Iranians of a certain age can be forgiven for feeling a tinge of pride in their nation’s rapid ascent to a position of being taken seriously by the world’s greatest superpower and all in just a little over a quarter of a century. One might argue whether Iran and Iranians would have be better off without the Islamic Revolution of 1979. But it is indisputable that had it not happened, Iran today would likely not have much of a say in global affairs.

Rightly or wrongly, the revolution and the path the nation took after its success have led to Iran’s prominence and repute (2-3)

Majd uses Iranian myths, tales and phrases to structure his presentation of modern-day Iran and the many paradoxes of its people. Majd grew up in the West, and his in-between status as someone familiar with both cultures helps him explain things like the Iranian practice of ta-arouf, or extreme politeness, without belittling those he’s describing. His biggest challenge, though, and the focus of the book, is to illuminate why Ahmadinejad was overwhelmingly elected President by the popular vote in 2005. As Majd is careful to note, many liberal and wealthy Iranians think freedom means women can go without the veil, while for many Iranians, freedom means a full belly, and the ability to live.

This is a timely book that examines Ahmadinejad’s 2005 election just as his one this year has caused such uproar. The book was tremendously helpful in breaking down many of the media’s reductive portrayals (such as Ahmadinejad as villain) and showing how complex and intriguing the realities are.

One Response to ““The Ayatollah Begs to Differ” by Hooman Majd”

  1. Nymeth Says:

    Thank you for bringing this book to my attention! It really sounds like it would complement Iran Awakening nicely.