The Holy Confidence Trick; How Iran's Young Revolutionaries Were Betrayed by Their Religious Leaders

Article excerpt

Byline: JUSTIN MAROZZI

In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs: A Memoir of Iran by Christopher de Bellaigue

REVOLUTIONS have a habit of disappointing.

God knows, Tony Blair's Government has been a triumph of unrealised expectations. But, although we may carp at the current occupant of 10 Downing Street, we must be thankful not to have been born in the Middle East, a region where good governance is a foreign concept.

Christopher de Bellaigue's thoughtful and quietly assured book underscores what a tragic disappointment the Iranian revolution has been.

Think of it as a giant confidence trick perpetrated on an entire generation by a cadre of self-styled holy men.

Let us begin with its scandalous disregard for the lives of its young men, best evidenced in the ruinous 1980-1988 war against Iraq in which a million were killed. Saddam Hussein must take the blame for launching hostilities but Tehran's failure to seek peace when it had regained its conquered territory early in the conflict was a catastrophic and eminently avoidable miscalculation.

The obsession with martyrdom, stoked by the regime and the military leadership, almost beggars belief. Take Hossein Kharrazi, the heroic defender of the nation who galvanised his men with such inspiring morale-boosters as: "One hour of holy war is better than 60 years of worship" and: "No drop of liquid is more popular with God than the drop of blood that is shed for him."

Had Iranians spent more time worrying about the here and now and less about the virgin-filled afterlife, you wonder whether the country, and the region, wouldn't be a lot better off.

Like all revolutions, there was no shortage of hopes or promises when Ayatollah Khomeini put an end to the (HarperCollins, [pounds sterling]20) widely reviled regime of the Shah in 1979. In exile in Paris he had observed that: "An Islamic state is a democratic state in the real sense of the term. There is complete freedom for all religious minorities, and everyone can express his beliefs."

They couldn't, of course, and still can't. What better proof of that than the case of Darioush and Parvaneh Forouhar, high-profile critics of the regime who were brutally murdered by Iranian security agents in 1998. …

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