Where Iran and America meet: an interview with Hooman Majd
Iranian-American writer Hooman Majd talks about his new book "The Ayatollahs' Democracy."
Hooman Majd is Iranian. Hooman Majd is American. Like the subjects he writes about, Majd is something of a paradox. Born in Tehran to the son of a career diplomat, Majd is also the grandson of a prominent ayatollah.
But Majd grew up mainly outside of Iran and was educated at American schools in San Francisco, New Delhi, Tunis, and London. Although he was raised in a Farsi-speaking home by his Persian parents, Majd was absent from the country of his birth for three decades between 1972 and 2003.
In 1978, during the months before the Islamic Revolution that drove the Shah into exile and ushered in the age of ayatollahs, Majd was visiting Iranian friends in London who suggested they travel to Neauphle-le-Château outside of Paris where Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was living. Owing to a friend’s expired passport, they never made it, but Majd recalls the excitement of that time when he, as a college student in Washington D.C., watched the transformation of his homeland.
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After the revolution, however, he and other foreign-educated Iranians like him were viewed as gharbzadegi or “West-toxified.” As the son of a member of the old regime, Majd was even less welcome and his dual citizenship was not recognized. When the Iran-Iraq war broke out in 1980, prospects for his return to Iran dimmed further.
During the 1980s and 90s, Majd forged a successful career in the music industry working as an executive with Island Records before moving into film and eventually – what he considers his true calling – writing.
Since 2000 Majd has written extensively on Iranian politics and society for Newsweek, The New Yorker, GQ, Huffington Post, Foreign Policy, Politico, and many other publications.
In 2003, with an easing of restrictions under then-President Mohammad Khatami (a man with whom he shares family ties), Majd was able to renew his Iranian passport and return to Iran. What he found astounded and inspired him to write his first book "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran", which enjoyed broad critical acclaim and was named a Los Angeles Times “Favorite Books of 2008.”
Majd again traveled to Iran in 2008, 2009 and this year to research his second book "The Ayatollahs' Democracy: An Iranian Challenge", which was released this week. Earlier this month Hooman Majd spoke about US-Iran relations, the importance of a better understanding of Iran by Americans, and what it’s like to work as a writer in the Islamic Republic.
During the 1980s and 90s you were in the music and film industry. What drove you into journalism?
This sounds like a cliché but I always wanted to write. After college I did some writing and realized very quickly that it’s hard to make a living as a writer. At that point I was more interested in fiction writing. I got a couple of stories published but the kind of money you were making for publishing a short story, I could see I wasn’t going to make a living at it.
As a child, I was always very interested in music and had friends who were in the music business. I kind of accidentally fell into it and loved it. There was no reason not to – it was a great career.