In This Review

Being Modern in Iran
Being Modern in Iran
By Fariba Adelkhah
Columbia University Press, 2000, 190 pp
The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transformation in Iran
The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transformation in Iran
By Robin Wright
Alfred A. Knopf, 2000, 339 pp

The surprising election of Muhammad Khatami as president of Iran in May 1997 was only a hesitant Thermidor; conservative clerics still retained real control. But February's elections brought the liberals a smashing victory. Do these developments suggest that Iran's harsh, autocratic regime, led by mullahs claiming a divine mandate, might devolve toward democracy? Addressing this question requires treatment not just of high politics and diplomacy but the stuff of daily life. These two books fit the bill in complementary ways. Adelkhah's account is more abstract and academic, whereas Wright tells her story in terms of representative individuals. Together, the two cover a vast, indeed surprising, range of subjects including sports, cinema, marriage, dress, birth control, and even taxation. They both reveal Iranians of different classes, ages, and genders coming together in the quest for more personal freedom while confronting a powerful but beleaguered regime. Although they duly note the petty constraints, prison sentences, and disturbing signs of government-inspired violence (even attempted assassinations) that Iranians live with, the authors seem moderately hopeful about the prospects for greater openness.