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10 thoughts on “The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran

  1. says:

    This is my third book on Iranian culture in the past year or so, and I m fascinated Tehran is on my list of places to visit.Before I rip apart this book, let me first say I recommend it because it is an interesting, thoughtful analysis of the Iranian psyche Majd s writing style is maddeningly frustrating I almost threw the book against the wall a half dozen times during the first 100 pages The man cannot write a simple sentence An entire paragraph in this book may have one period, obviously at the end It is not uncommon to find a sentence in this book with three parenthetical clauses, a hyphenated clause and four other asides in commas.Imagine you ask someone the following Where did you get that bracelet They might reply, I was at a Peace Conference yesterday where the sponsors handed them out Majd might reply, Yesterday, which was the 12th of August and last year on that date I was in Berlin for a music festival, a city where one can find terrific music and great donuts I love donuts , I was at a Peace Conference which is strange since I have never been to a conference before for peace or any other topic , where the sponsors, who were very stingy in almost every regard, even making one pay for a terrible coffee I prefer Starbucks , gave us these cheap, blue, plastic bracelets, which chafe the wrist and look, from a fashion viewpoint, horrible, so that we would remember the conference fondly And that would be a short, concise reply by Majd s standards Imagine 250 pages of that After a while, I began to chuckle when I came to one of his incredibly elongated sentences Towards the end of the book, I became used to the style, which is terrifying.Anyway, the book is well worth reading Majd delves in to the complex, contradictory Iranian personality in depth than Lipstick Jihad or Reading Lolita in Tehran, although both of these books are better than The Ayatolla Begs to Differ What struck me most was the stupidity of the Bush Administration in dealing with Iran They completely misunderstood, or misunderestimated as Bush would say, the Iranian government With a considered approach, and with an appreciation for Iranian American history, Bush could have avoided much of the trouble that has arisen with Iran lately But that is asking too much from a simpleton and his arch conservative cronies The true Axis of Evil had at the center of its spokes the Bush Administration I hope the only time we hear from them again is in the broadcast of their trials for their barbaric acts while running this country Hmmm, I digress Where did I learn to do that


  2. says:

    Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography cclapcenter.com I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP it is not being reprinted illegally Like millions of other Americans, I am in the active process these days of increasing my knowledge base regarding the Middle East and Southeast Asia, from its former level of zero to a new level of than zero But this of course immediately presents a problem to armchair scholars namely, with a subject so vast, where do you even start when you know literally nothing For example, it s definitely important to understand the complex feudal empires that ruled these areas during what s known in the West as the Middle Ages, although such study doesn t even begin to explain the region in the here and now but by concentrating solely on contemporary issues, one misses entirely the strong cultural background that led to these attitudes in the first place Do you filter all your information through the all important subject of religion in this section of the world If so, then how do you begin to understand the actions of West friendly reformers But then without a solid grounding of religious education, how do you even begin to understand something like the Taliban, and why they seemingly have a surprising amount of support from people who aren t particularly violent or reactionary themselves So thank God, then, for books like the recent and fantastic The Ayatollah Begs to Differ by Hooman Majd, because it s actually several things at once not just a primer on historical issues regarding the old Persian Empire, but a field guide to the modern Iran it became, an on the ground report about daily life inside a working theocracy, even a funny Bill Bryson style travelogue about a clueless Westerner smoking opium with random strangers, participating in a self flagellation festival, and going skiing at a bling bling filled Muslim mountain resort And in fact Majd is in a uniquely great position to be telling a story like this after all, he was born into an Iranian family of high political influence both during the last years of the Shah and the first years of the Islamic Republic that came after , but then eventually moved to New York and became a senior executive within the entertainment industry and a contributing writer to Andy Warhol s Interview magazine, back when it was still good , making him simultaneously an insider and outsider to modern Iranian culture, about as perfect a position to be in to relate to fellow Americans exactly what daily life is like over there these days.And indeed, over the course of several trips he makes there during the waning years of the Bush administration, Majd presents us with a nation profoundly complex than most Americans even have a clue concerning, a place where the historical and modern clash in sometimes amusing, sometimes tragic ways a society that in theory is an open democracy, with public elections and a strong emphasis on basic human rights, yet ruled at the top by a circle of religious experts whose judgments are not allowed to be questioned, a country that creates elaborate public dress codes but are then ignored by half the population with no repercussions well, except around elections, when conservative candidates will initiate morality crackdowns to look good in the eyes of voters, almost exactly what you see during American elections as well And in fact that s probably Majd s most surprising conclusion of all, that current Iran is not actually too terribly different than Bush s America in the early 2000s, a free society but full of draconian rules but that most citizens then promptly ignore, leading back to that free society it s supposed to be, but with the whole thing manifested in this overly complicated, seemingly contradictory way.And Majd tells us this story in a great way too, by gaining access to events and people that he can only pull off by being from a politically connected family over the course of this easily readable 250 page manuscript, we get to sit in on interviews with high ranking government officials, attend booze and pot filled parties full of urban liberal hipsters, witness a series of ultra conservative religious rituals in the country s rural wastelands think the Islamic version of a Pentecostal tent revival in the Deep South, full of writhing true believers speaking in tongues , and of course eavesdrop on a whole series of private home based salons and dinner parties, centered around middle class family gardens and friendly afternoon opium sessions the Iranian equivalent of cigars and cocktails among businessmen , which is where the vast majority of the nation s collective decisions are very quietly made And this of course is the biggest contradiction of all concerning modern Iran, as Majd so deftly shows us through conversation and example, the simultaneous superiority and inferiority complexes that most Iranians suffer from caused respectively from the clash between their ancient Persian past and recent colonial days , resulting in a society where among other things one is perfectly free to publicly criticize the government, just as long as you don t do it too loudly or attract too much attention and wow, talk about the Bush years in a nutshell.It s a fascinating book full of all kinds of surprising and paradigm shifting conclusions, and I have to admit that I ve had my entire worldview concerning Iran profoundly change just from this book alone It s the perfect kind of informational title for most Americans, funny and entertaining even as it teaches much needed basic lessons about Islam and Persia, and it comes today highly recommended to nearly every person on the planet, Iranians themselves included.Out of 10 9.8


  3. says:

    I liked this book, if for the three major points he made about Iranians than the writing or the form In fact, the form was a bit annoying He moved back and forth between his journalistic narrative of his own visits, and history of modern Iran But to the major points First, he talk about an interesting idea, that of ta arouf, or hospitality This is a rough translation, because its like polite chit chat that one encounters with every transaction with another human being outside your family It s interesting, because it can be very calculated at times, but it also shows that extreme generosity is a very important notion for Iranians and why they sometimes are astounded in their interactions with Americans Second, he talked about haq , or rights This was interesting given the nuclear issue right now, and the reason why Iranians on the whole even those who hate Ahmadinejad support Iran s bid for nuclear fuel They view it as a right because of their sovereignty , just as they view low oil prices, low food prices, and various other things as rights not our typical use of rights, which is much formal than material This puts a lot of Ahmadinejad s rhetoric in context even though he really has no control of the nuclear stuff, but rather the Supreme Leader Third, he explains the whole martyr thing of Shia Islam The name Shia comes from the phrase shi at Ali, i.e followers of Ali Ali who was murdered, and importantly his son Hussein, who was killed in the battle of Karbala, form much of the Shia view of the world, their view of a small David, fighting against a large goliath Overall, it was a good book.


  4. says:

    So I am on this Iran kick right now and this was written in the past year and I had heard the author being interviewed on NPR and he sounded pretty moderate, pro Iranian and very educated and so I put a hold on this book at our local library and I guess it was pretty popular, because I had to wait several months for it.Unlike all the other books that I have read about Iran, this one was not a sweet story about growing up in Iran, spending most of one s years abroad and then returning as a stranger to one s own country Nor was it a persons view about Iran mostly spent behind the very sheltered, Northern Tehran where the affluent live and where I spend all of my time on my own visits to Iran.The author who is an Iranian American raised by two Iranian parents in the U.S, has a deep interest in Iran, its politics and culture and it appears a deep desire to enlighten the reader as to modern Iran s ways and particularly the Islamic aspect of the Republic He seems to be aiming this book at an American audience and attempts to educate them on Iranian politics, history and particulary Shia Islam and how it seeps into every part of life in Iran.He is related to ther former, very popular, reformist and liberal Iranian president Khatami and so he has some very personal conversations with him and he is not shy in saying that he is a supporter of that President and not a fan of the current, very unpopular president Ahmadinejad.He does not take sides, presents facts very matter of factly and I found the book educational and an important read for someone wanting to get to know modern day Iran.


  5. says:

    I really liked this book Really, really liked it The author s style is pretty hit or miss, either you ll love it or think its horrible I thought it was very witty and funny, mostly because the sense of humor is similar to my own and ironically, very Iranian.For me, this was almost like reading an autobiography of myself from the perspective of a witty, less religious, better connected person A lot of the references were pretty funny, because I had experienced them myself and had many memories associated with them I m not sure how a person with much less knowledge about contemporary Iranian culture, coming from a different background would perceive it, and whether they d understand some of the subtle jokes, but I would hope they d enjoy it as much as I did In the end, a much appropriate title to the book would have been The Ayatollah Begs to Differ 100 reasons I love Khatami, with occasional insights on Iranian culture Though I didn t see anything particularly wrong with that.


  6. says:

    Whatever nebulous conception most Americans have of the Middle East, Iran should stand apart Not because it is currently DC s designated enemy, but because Iran is different Its people are not Arabs, the state religion is a markedly different of Islam than that practiced and promoted by its Sunni neighbors, and its political constitution is its own, a curious fusion of theocracy and democracy which was self invented The Ayatollah Begs to Differ profiles Iran as a nation of paradox, a place increasingly secular but ruled by clerics, driven by both aggressive insistence on its rights and an internal ritual of utter deference and hospitality.When I began reading this over the weekend, it wasn t in anticipation of the House of Saud s current business partner in the White House stirring foreign policy turds Bush s obsession with Iran, and Obama s later difficulty in coming to a concordance with them, made me increasingly curious and even fascinated by the land formerly known as Persia Hooman Majd mentions here that Persia was formally dropped in the 1930s in favor of the older Iran, both to invoke a glorious ancient past and to buff over the inglorious recent past, when old Persia was an increasingly bedraggled object in a tug of war between Russia and the United Kingdom Iran s foreign policy is driven primarily by a need for self protection, from both its Arab neighbors and from interference from farther points The two often intersect, as when the United States abetted Saddam Hussein s eight year war against Iran.Foreign policy is only a small part in this guide, however Majid is Iranian American, but not the kind who bemoans that Iran is not like Europe and the United States He has close ties with a former president of Iran, the reformer Mohammad Khatami, and his father was a leading cleric His warm regard for Iran is not predicated on what it can do differently, but what it has done already and can mature The Ayatollah Begs to Differ includes some of the usual experiencing Iran chapters, like his Ashura experience in Qom and anecdotes about traffic and family life, as well as unique interviews with friends of his in Iran like the aforementioned minister Khatami Majd s book is draws on time spent in Iran just as Khatami s administration was being replaced by the strident one of Mamoud Ahmadinejad, whose aggressive posture against the west over nuclear development was cheered by many in Iran who thought their country was the whipping boy of the international community Majd is not a fan of Ahmadinejad, however, despite his sympathy for Ahmadinejad s working class supporters One worrisome aspect of Ahmadinejad for Majd is the man s fervent religiosity he is not merely observant, but anticipates the imminent end of the world and is willing to talk about it, much to the dismay of the leading clerics who do not believe theology and eschatology are the province of the uninitiated.Although I ve read a fair few books on modern Iran in the last few years, even so The Ayatollah Begs to Differ offered a lot of insight I ve read previously how common exterior walls are in Iranian residential architecture, for instance, keeping outsiders firmly at bay but Majd writes that the law also respects this boundary, and that Iranians tolerate so much social policing in the community because they are largely left alone inside their own homes Majd s extensive chapter on Iranian ritual ta arof was both amusing and informative I ve encountered numerous world travel memoirs that marveled at Iranian hospitality Although this strikes me as attractive to a small degree, the way its expressed by Majd seemed exasperatingly drawn out Taking a cab involves an endless spiel of How much do I owe , No, sir, I am your humble servant this was my honor, please go , No, I insist I pay, how much , God forbid sir, it was nothing , etc Eventually the bow haggling stops and honest money changes hands Majd also notes that while the language is outwardly deferential, this ritual of civility is also competitive, and practitioners of the dark ta arof like to reduce their rival to begging them to accept the money or the favor.


  7. says:

    Cover Gushing Worthiness I m not quite fond of the cover for the paperback edition which is also the edition I own I don t think it captures the essence of Iran quite well because Iran is a country with than just women dressed in Black Chadors This cover captures Iran much vividly, with its eye of Ayatollah Khomeini a household name and prominent religious and political figure in Iran s contemporary history and the people moving about So in conclusion, the hardcover edition get s my vote for a good cover.Review I first heard about The Ayatollah Begs to Differ from goodreads where it appeared as a recommendation under my Middle East shelf First of all I have to say I love the name of the book I think it s what first drew me to clicking the image and reading the synopsis I think the title of the book is provocative and I mean this in a good way I think as soon as people hear the term Ayatollah their minds kick into over drive and think about Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iranian Revolution and Iran of course However this book is it captures a country that is trying to modernize whilst holding onto its deep religious and Shi ite heritage.For those who don t know what an Ayatollah is simply put Ayatollah translates into sign of God but in Iranian Shi ism it is referred to a revered member of the Ulema Islamic religious class.Hooman Majd has been described as both 100% Iranian and 100% American by one of his friends and I found that to be quite interesting especially since I ve also grown up in two different countries and I don t really know if I m both 100% Canadian and 100% Sri Lankan Majd is a child of both nations and I believe that is the reason he can give such a good insight to Iran and provide a humorous take while at it.The Ayatollah Begs to Differ is not a book about politics per say, even though there is a focus on it, but rather it is about the lives of ordinary Iranians living in a regime that many Western audiences would deem unjust and non democractic I think the important message that I came away with after reading this book is how Democracy may work in Iran Former President of the Islamic Republic of Iran Mohammad Khatami says Democracy in Iran deserves a much higher status than it occupies today Democracy in the West is shaped by their culture and history and our Democracy will be shaped in accordance to our own culture and history I don t mean Liberal Democracy Democracy means the government is chosen by the people and they have the power to change it if they are unhappy, but Islam is one of the foundations of our culture and it will influence our democracy Of course Islam must adjust to democracy as well. I personally thought that statement was powerful because it helped me understand the potentially intertwined relationship between Democracy and Islam.I thought the people Majd spoke to in this book were interesting and had a certain whimsical characteristic to them I liked learning about the female taxi driver who had two children and a sick mother to look after, the middle class Persian family whose son in law was part of the Revolutionary Guard but found time to play football with his friends, the French and the British people living in Iran, former President Khatami and the reformist Ayatollah Mousavi Bojnourdi were all people from different walks of life who tried to make the best in a regime as the one in Iran I think learning about the reformist Ayatollahs was one of the important aspects of the book, especially since people may be uninformed about them since most people associate Ayatollahs as conservative hardliners and Khomeini of course.What is important about this book is it paints a picture of the everyday Iranian Someone who has hopes and may dream of a better life, someone who does the best in a system and someone who is quite proud of their heritage This is something that I too have encountered in my encounters with a few Iranian people Iranians are very proud and nationalistic people Sometimes it can come across as being racists towards other cultures, but it is not necessarily As a country that has suffered from so many invasions identity is important to them, just like it is for people in other countries I think Majd explains in this conundrum of proud Iranian nationalism well in the book Another thing that I found interesting was the explanation of using both Iran and Persia to distinguish the country The explanation is a bit too long to give in a review, but if you have the opportunity to read the book, you ll see what I mean.Apart from the book being informative I liked Majd s writing a lot It was humorous and sarcastic in a way that had me actually laughing out loud at some points When I say some of the things out loud to explain it to people it doesn t sound funny, but when you read the book you understand the humour The book didn t read like a textbook and it isn t mean to be one I personally didn t find it to be flat and there wasn t anything I would have taken out because everything held a significant meaning and explained how Iranian people interpreted things What I liked most was learning about Iran s former President Mohammad Khatami Until now I didn t really know anything about him, but I was glad to have learned about him and his moderate view I think he explains the context of Iran very well in his talks with Majd Also we do gain a bit of insight into the ruling Religious Class of Iran, probably one of the most hated elements by the West in regards to the country I think Majd explains their leadership well in the book in a concise manner.Overall, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ was an enjoyable read I learned a lot about Iran a country which remains as a puzzle for most Islamic history students because of its secrecy and current position in the eyes of the west To learn about every day Iranians was eye opening and it helped to understand the country a bit I will definitely pick up Hooman Majd s other book The Ayatollahs Democracy the Ayatollahs Democracy An Iranian Challenge an Iranian Challenge.My Rating 4 5Would I recommend it Yes The definition for an Ayatollah was taken fromAn Introduction to Islam The Ayatollahs may from time to time silence dissent at home, they may rule autocratically, and with their infuriating manners they may annoy and even repulse many in the West But they rule for now with the confidence that they do not face a population that seeks to overthrow them As long, that is, as they don t lose their Persian sensibilities.


  8. says:

    A fascinating read that combines astute observation and unique insight into life in the Islamic Republic Majd illuminates the contemporary Iranian psyche with effortless prose, sharp wit, and an interesting perspective The book, published in 2008 in the middle of the Ahmadinejad years is a bit outdated now, but relevant and provocative nonetheless.


  9. says:

    Hooman Majd says that when he travels to Iran his Persian side emerges, but when he comes back home to New York City, his fully Westernized modern man comes back This perspective is unique and helpful as Majd attempts to explain that when the revolutionaries yelled, Death to America that they didn t literally want us in the U.S all to die.I had the serendipity of reading this book in tandem with Deer Hunting With Jesus by Joe Bageant, and the comparison between fundamentalist Christians with fundamentalist Shiite Muslims was just stunning I discovered that a theocratic United States would no doubt be a much scarier place than Iran because at least in Iran, the government is not as interested in legislating inside the bedroom The public and private worlds of Iran appear to be very different places not a huge surprise if you ve read Brooks Nine Parts of Desire or any of the other modern books about Iran that have come out in the last ten years , and the opinions and lives lived behind closed doors have a lot freedom than we often assume.I loved the rich tapestry of life that Majd paints for the reader rather than just focusing on rich Iranians, he also shows us the lives of the religious, the working class, Revolutionary Guards and opium eaters His egalitarianism and comfort with all strata of society makes this an engaging read sure to open your mind.


  10. says:

    This is a far superior book to my first Majd The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay An American Family in Iran and offers genuine insight to the Iranian psyche high and low, religious and secular, political and apolitical It s not without weaknesses though To say Mr Majd can be long winded is an understatement but it s a style you get used to and it s oddly in keeping with a supposed aspect of the Iranian character Majd keeps returning to The real annoyance is how repetitive the telling can be and there are times it becomes frankly exasperating Overall it s a worthy read but I can t help but feel a stronger editor would have elevated this from fair to very good.


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The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran download The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran, read online The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran, kindle ebook The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran a273a065adac A Revealing Look At Iran By An American Journalist With An Insider S Access Behind Persian WallsThe Grandson Of An Eminent Ayatollah And The Son Of An Iranian Diplomat, Now An American Citizen, Hooman Majd Is, In A Way, BothPercent Iranian AndPercent American, Combining An Insider S Knowledge Of How Iran Works With A Remarkable Ability To Explain Its History And Its Quirks To Western Readers In The Ayatollah Begs To Differ, He Paints A Portrait Of A Country That Is Fiercely Proud Of Its Persian Heritage, Mystified By Its Outsider Status, And Scornful Of The Idea That The United States Can Dictate How It Should Interact With The Community Of NationsWith Wit, Style, And An Unusual Ability To Get Past The Typical Sound Bite On Iran, Majd Reveals The Paradoxes Inherent In The Iranian Character Which Have Baffled Americans For Than Thirty Years Meeting With Sartorially Challenged Government Officials In The Presidential Palace Smoking Opium With An Addicted Cleric, His Family, And Friends Drinking Fine Whiskey At Parties In Fashionable North Tehran And Gingerly Self Flagellating In A Celebration Of Ashura, Majd Takes Readers On A Rare Tour Of Iran And Shares Insights Shaped By His Complex Heritage He Considers Iran As A Muslim Country, As A Shiite Country, And, Perhaps Above All, As A Persian One Majd Shows That As Shiites Marked By An Inferiority Complex, And Persians Marked By A Superiority Complex, Iranians Are Fiercely Devoted To Protecting Their Rights, A Factor That Has Contributed To Their Intransigence Over Their Nuclear Programs He Points To The Importance Of The Persian View Of Privacy, Arguing That The Stability Of The Current Regime Owes Much To The Freedom Iranians Have To Behave As They Wish Behind Persian Walls And With Wry Affection, Majd Describes The Persian Concept Of Ta Arouf, An Exaggerated Form Of Polite Self Deprecation That May Explain Some Of Iranian President Ahmadinejad S Bizarre Public Moments With Unforgettable Portraits Of Iranians, From Government Figures To Women Cab Drivers To Reform Minded Ayatollahs, Majd Brings To Life A Country That Is Deeply Religious Yet Highly Cosmopolitan, Authoritarian Yet With Democratic And Reformist Traditions An Iran That Is A Nuanced Nemesis To The United States Than It Is Typically Portrayed To Be