Let the Swords Encircle Me
Monitor correspondent Scott Peterson offers readers a comprehensive understanding of Iran.
All foreign correspondents dream of writing the Important Nonfiction Book, the work that explains a critical region at a vital time, in the vein of David Remnick’s “Lenin’s Tomb” or Thomas Friedman’s “From Beirut to Jerusalem.” Scott Peterson, Istanbul, Turkey, bureau chief of The Christian Science Monitor, makes his attempt at greatness with Let the Swords Encircle Me, a mammoth book about contemporary Iran that is the product of more than 30 visits to the country over a 15-year span.Skip to next paragraph
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Previously the Monitor’s Middle East correspondent and its Moscow bureau chief, Peterson aims here to give readers a comprehensive understanding of Iran, mixing original reportage with history to attempt an overall understanding of the country’s complexities. The book has separate chapters recounting the history of US-Iranian relations, President Mohammad Khatami’s rise and fall, last year’s inspiring Green Movement for democracy, and the coalition of hard-liners that includes President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The most original chapters focus on the cult surrounding the 300,000 martyrs who died during the bloody Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, providing the kind of insight into a part of Iran that rarely emerges in even the most detailed accounts.
“Let the Swords Encircle Me” comes at a critical point, when the debate in the United States about bombing Iran is fueling up. The current issue of The Atlantic has a cover story saying that Israel is readying to bomb Iran, implicitly normalizing the idea of a strike on the 2,500-year-old Persian nation.
Knowing the stakes, Peterson takes his job as field guide seriously, and confronts the controversial question. “[W]hile many Iranians despise rule by men in turbans, I have learned that few would accept any outsiders toying with that rule on their behalf,” he writes. It’s a point that is made persuasively and repeatedly, and is explained thoroughly; Iranians have a long history of outsiders determining their fates, from the British Empire to the US supplying Iraq during the 1980s war. They would not respond to an attack kindly.