Hooman Majd's aim in The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran is to demonstrate that his native country is not the monolithic society depicted by the Bush administration and essentially regurgitated by the American press. While he describes a population molded and imprinted by incessant religious practices and understandably suspicious of the West, Majd also takes readers into fashionable parties where men and women converse easily on equal footing and where the officially forbidden liquor flows freely. Then there are the pious households of the common folk, in which men spend their days smoking an opium derivative called "shir'e" and watching the alluring secular images pumped in from Dubai via satellite television.

Majd is particularly well suited to reveal the inner workings of Iranian society. Born in Tehran, the son of a diplomat for the Shah who was deposed by the 1979 Islamic revolution, he is also the grandson of a revered ayatollah and a close relative of former Iranian President Seyyed Mohammad Khatami. Educated in England, America and other diplomatic outposts, Majd eventually settled in the U.S., where he still lives. His connections to Iran were such that he was chosen to accompany Khatami on his 2005 U.S. tour and to serve as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's interpreter at the United Nations in 2006 and 2007. Most of Majd's accounts and observations here stem from his extended visits to his home country in 2004, 2005 and 2007, during which time he sampled, without substantial restriction, the popular mood at all class levels.

Majd makes much of the fact that political criticism is open and generally tolerated and that the government is inclined to let its citizens conduct their lives as they wish - as long as they do so within their own homes and at private gatherings. But he doesn't paint too pretty a picture of a system that's still under the command of a few powerful men who are essentially accountable only to their peers. The public executions, usually hanging the unfortunates from a crane, are matter-of-fact, brutal and blithely accepted by the populace. Still, Majd makes the case that outsiders will be best served by knowing the people they aspire to cower, control or bargain with.

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Majd's trailer for the book:

 

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