Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Iran: The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transformation in Iran

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Iran: The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transformation in Iran

Article excerpt

IRAN The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transformation in Iran, by Robin Wright. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000. xxi + 288 pages. Appendix to p. 301. Notes to p. 314. Bibl. to p. 320. Index to p. 339. $27.50.

The author has deservedly gained a reputation for insightful coverage of Iran in the American media over a 20-year period. The book under review enhances that reputation further. It is a well-written, richly detailed firsthand inquiry on social and political developments in post-- revolutionary Iran. Wright uses her journalistic skills to bring out the nuances of contemporary Iran's intellectual and cultural mosaic. Many readers will undoubtedly appreciate the author's attention to the diverse voices in Iranian politics and society and her ability to draw out the dynamic implications of 1979 revolution's birthchild - a partly theocratic, partly democratic system.

Describing the narrative as a non-- chronological "journey," Wright provides a rich body of reflections on how the tensions between theocracy and democracy, and between Islam and modernity have been worked out so far (e.g., restrictions on the film industry have paved the way to extraordinary novelties, and the fundamentalist impulse has met stiff competition from an emerging "Islamic reformation"). The trouble with the word "journey," however, is that it suggests one is standing aloof from the fray of historical inquiry, which requires inserting the subject of study "into a chronological series or a synchronous whole"1 While displaying only a limited fluency in the literature on revolutions, the author bravely resorts to historiographical polemics with occasional slippage to hyperbolic statements about the revolution. For example, the author writes: "It effectively completes the process launched in the West by other ideologies that were adopted by or adapted to all other parts of the world" (p. 8).

Indeed, the book's main shortcoming is its lack of sufficient engagement in the project the author has set herself, namely, comparative historiography. Methodologically imprecise and with surprisingly thin comparisons between Iran and other Islamist experiences in state-building, such as Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, the narrative's venture on the historian's craft is, ultimately, an unsatisfactory one, despite the scope and breath of empirical observations written in quasi-scholarly language for a wider audience. …

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