by Ambassador Bruce Laingen,
held captive in Iran for 444 days
For most Americans, Iran and its leadership are largely beyond comprehension. Iran first comes to mind as a place where American diplomats were held hostage, where bearded clerics arbitrarily rule, back movements such as Hezbollah, and who now seem determined to acquire nuclear weapons. But here is a book by an Englishman, now living in America, in which the author reminds us in a series of personal vignettes that Iran is much more than that; a country and a people rich in culture and purpose, deeply proud of their history and now of considerable strategic consequence for the entire region and for American interests therein. Americans, he tells us, need to look beyond the box in which they place Iran.
He can speak with authority. Sir Eldon Griffiths knew Iran before its revolution, watched it change over the years as a Member of the British Parliament and government minister and has traveled there since—wearing both British and American hats. Now living in Southern California in the midst of its large Diaspora of Iranian-Americans, still fascinated by Iran’s culture as there transplanted, he is active as a leader in the World Affairs Councils of America in efforts to build a better American understanding of the Middle East and today’s Iran.
Having been one of those hostages and having served in Iran in the American Foreign Service in the hostage period and for two years in an earlier period, I share Sir Eldon’s fascination with that country and with its people. I went there first in the immediate aftermath of the Mosaddegh affair in 1953, including a temporary assignment as the American Consul in the Holy Shrine city of Meshed. In the years that followed I watched from a distance as our embassy grew, in both size and