Robin Wright's new book, The Last Great Revolution, cultivates an understanding of Iran that fills in the gaps created by scattered and biased American media coverage. Wright, an internationally acknowledged Middle East expert, acts as a theoretical Iranian ambassador to the United States by giving us a beautiful and sympathetic description of the country's never-ending cultural, philosophical, and religious transformations.
The book encompasses Iran's complete identity, giving a solid and understandable historical context to the theocratic revolution in 1979, in which conservative Muslim clerics overthrew the western-sympathetic shah in favor of a strict Islamic state. With Iran now under the leadership of reformist president Mohammad Khatami, Wright shows how Iran is caught in flux between two extremes traditional strict Islam and reformist, democracy-sympathetic Islam and how this fluctuation is necessary for the evolution of Iran into a modern state. She also includes interviews with modern Iranian philosophers and religious leaders who are trying to bring about a movement of reconciliation between Islam and democracy.
Wright's descriptions of the everyday life of the Iranian people give as much insight into the nature of Iran as her descriptions of the religious politics of the country. The book opens with a beautiful description of the recently erected tomb of the Ayatollah Khomeini, which dominates the desert horizon south of Tehran. Wright also describes student protests at the University and interviews young leaders of both reform and conservative Islam factions. She includes two chapters addressing the changing status of women in Iran as well as the evolution of marriage, family, and sexuality.
Wright shows us an Iran struggling for identity among its people's diverse feelings about government, religion, and the West. When we realize Iran's diversity, we have no choice but to abandon general stereotypes that continue to ferment about the Islamic nations. Wright shows that Iran's evolution and struggle not only contribute to the evolution of Iran as a state, but also to other Islamic nations and Islam as a whole.
Amy Ryce is a writer in Nashville.