Where Iran and America meet: an interview with Hooman Majd
Iranian-American writer Hooman Majd talks about his new book "The Ayatollahs' Democracy."
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Then, when I felt that the music business was no longer the kind of business I had grown up with, it was changing dramatically, downsizing and all that. Then I was in the film business for a short time and I realized that was really not what I wanted to do although I would love to be able to write.
It just coincided, happily for me, at a time of great interest in Iran. It wasn’t intentional – “Okay, I’m going to be a writer about Iran. That’s going to be what I do.” It just happened that magazines and various friends in the media said, “Why don’t you write about Iran? You’re Iranian. You’re always talking about Iran.” I’ve always maintained my interest and followed things and I have family in Iran. That’s how I fell into writing about Iran. Then it became, “Why don’t you write a book?”, and I just kept going. It’s hard to actually get away from the subject of Iran even if I wanted to because people expect me to speak on Iran which is fine. I’m not unhappy about that.
What did you have in mind when you wrote The Ayatollah Begs to Differ?
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I was trying for it not to be a Washington political insider kind of wonky style of writing or to get into really deep foreign policy issues. I didn’t want to turn off people who ordinarily wouldn’t read a book about Iran or politics. The fact that Iran is so much in the news, I felt that my style of writing would probably be appreciated by people who don’t necessarily follow the news every day. They hear some stuff about Iran — that it’s a big enemy, a big danger, there’s this nuclear program, this or that, Ahmadinejad’s crazy or whatever. But can they get a sense of who are these people, how do they live, what do they do? I felt this would be a good introduction for people who were curious enough to go beyond the headlines.
How about your new book "The Ayatollahs' Democracy"?
In the next book obviously, by virtue of the fact that we’ve had all the unrest last year, and Iran has been even more in the news than in recent years, and because the nuclear crisis is so much more of a crisis now than it ever was, I felt it would be hard to write a book that wasn’t perhaps more political or at least to try to give a better understanding of the politics of the Islamic Republic. This is for people who’d like to be able to read all of this in one place and try to get an understanding of what happened and what it means. What do the Iranians think? What does the opposition think? To try to get a better, more honest appraisal than what you read in 1,200 words in the newspaper.
In "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ" you don’t just examine Iranian politics, society, and culture, but you provide real life, often amusing examples of what it’s like to be in Iran. It’s not only enlightening, but a very enjoyable book for anyone wishing to visit that country. How similar or different are the two books?
I think there are some similarities in style and tone, and I’ve tried to provide anecdotes and include much of my own experiences, but by its nature ["The Ayatollahs' Democracy"] is more political. The subject, as the title implies, is political, and of course because of the events following the presidential election of 2009 where the outside world became perhaps more aware of Iranian politics and the aspirations of Iranians, it would have been difficult not to focus more on the political side of things. I do try to provide cultural background wherever possible.