Iran: The Persian Sphinx: Amir Abbas Hoveyda and the Riddle of the Iranian Revolution, a Biography / Iranian Mythology and Islamic Revolution: The Shah and the Ayatollah

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The Persian Sphinx: Amir Abbas Hoveyda and the Riddle of the Iranian Revolution, a biography by Abbas Milani, Washington, DC: Mage Publishers, 2000-2001. xviii + 346 pages. Notes to p. 383. Index to p. 399. $29.95.

Iranian Mythology and Islamic Revolution: The Shah and the Ayatollah, by Fereydoun Hoveyda. Westport, CT and London.UK: Greenwood Press, 2003. vii + 106 pages. Notes to p. 115. Bibl. to p. 119. Indexes top. 125. $49.95.

Professor Abbas Milani of Notre Dame College in Belmont, California, with a flair and deep understanding of Persian politics and society, strives to reveal the many layers of the personality of Mir Abbas Hoveyda, the longest serving Prime Minister in Iran's troubled and, at times, chaotic history. At the end of this first-rate biography, we are still left with many questions as to who Hoveyda was in the depths of his own soul. For a public figure, he was an extraordinarily private person. He was a good listener but was reticent to express his views and adverse to confrontation. The notes that he prepared which might have provided insight into his inner thoughts on the regime he served and the roles he and others played in it were destroyed after his assassination in order to protect his family and friends. As with any good biography, the impact on Hoveyda of the history of the times and Persian society with its mare's nest of competitive factions, families, personal ambitions and its open as well as its hidden hatreds is clear and well done.

The Hoveyda family was not among the aristocratic families that set the social standards in Iran in those days. The Hoveydas were a solid middle-class family with a distant the to the Qajar dynasty. They were well placed but not influential; there was no silver spoon or inherited right to high political position. Diplomatic assignments to Damascus and Beirut for the father set the intellectual mold for both sons who attended a French language school and later went on to Paris for university training. Although a mediocre student, Mir Abbas Hoveyda became the thoroughly modern Renaissance man of letters, equally at home with the ideas of Gide, Baudelaire, Malraux, Trotsky and other Western writers and philosophers. Well read in Western history, he was a secular rationalist - not anti-religious - who highly valued independent thinking and understood the importance of economics. He had come a long way from his roots in the deeply conservative land of his birth.

Following diplomatic tours in France and Germany, Hoveyda finally returned home to stay, and his life and fate were henceforth inextricably tied to the Pahlavi monarchy.

Hoveyda, Hasan-Ali Mansur and a group of young Westernized intellectuals established the Progressive Circle and subsequently the Iran Novin Party in an effort to provide a political platform for the technocrats and the educated elite which was at the same time acceptable to the Shah. They saw themselves as an alternative to the National Front of Muhammad Mossaddeq. The timing seemed serendipitous because the Shah was under fairly intense pressure from the Kennedy Administration to modernize Iran's economy and political structure in order to be a more progressive and effective ally in the Cold War. The Shah unveiled the White Revolution (i.e., a package of significant economic and social reforms), and who better, it seemed, to carry them out than the association of young progressives? When Hasan-Ali Mansur was assassinated in early 1965 by a religious zealot who was, prophetically, a follower of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Hoveyda was chosen by the Shah to become Prime Minister.

With the advantages of history and such works as Milani's, there is little evidence that the modernists took the assassination as a dire warning that uprooting a very conservative society carried great peril. In the liberal American perspective, land reform, industrialization, urbanization as a means of mobilizing manpower, and vastly expanded educational opportunities for both sexes were seen as a laudable objectives in and of themselves. …