Disclaimer: The author sent me a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
I think I owe Janet M. Tavakoli an apology because when this book arrived and I took it out of the envelope, I had second thoughts. It’s the cover combined with the size; you can just see an idiot politician waving the book while he or she stands on some stage.
So, I am sorry.
And you know that adage about not judging a book by its cover – its true here. And not just because most idiot politicians (on either side of the aisle) would avoid Janet M. Tavakoli.
Tavakoli’s book is somewhat of a memoir in parts, but mostly a warning, an analysis, a cautionary flare of fundamentalist Islam. And let’s be clear, for Tavakoli is, it is Fundamentalist Islam she is speaking about. Her solution is one America’s earliest documents, so the book is geared towards Americans.
The book starts with fall of the Shah of Iran. It is to Tavakoli’s credit that she doesn’t white wash either the Shah or the interference of America and Britain in Iran’s politics. Tavakoli was in Iran at this time because she was married to Iranian, and she saw (and experienced) the changes that occurred when Khomeini came to power, in particular what those changes meant for women and freedom of speech. The television programming changed (thought Little House on the Prairie was fine) as well as acceptable clothing for playing tennis. Eventually, people are arrested and subjected to show trials. This people include some that Tavakoli herself knew. While Tavakoli does go into some more detail about some trials later in the book, glossing over them in this section seemed a little strange, and a reader can’t help thinking that at least one example wouldn’t be amiss here.
The memoir aspect ends, by and large, with the disintegration of Tavakoli’s marriage, and in her comments on this, I couldn’t help but think of the scene in Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale when Offred wonders about her husband Luke after the government has transferred all women’s property to their closest male relative.
The rest of the book is largely an introductory look at how fundamentalist Islam affects the countries that have a high incidence of it as well as the dangers for other countries. While doing so, Tavakoli extends beyond Iran, and notes that not only do women in Iran have more freedom today than shortly after the Shah’s fall, but that Iran is liberal compared to some other regimes. She discusses the treatment of women, view on speech, and terrorism. When she refers to a news story, it is carefully end noted, and her information is recent.
There will be temptation by some people to simply describe this book as a thinly veiled hate filled attack on Islam and the Muslim word. Considering that Tavakoli at all times confines her criticism to fundamentalist Islam and actually defines the term, the argument really doesn’t hold. Furthermore, unlike some people that spring to mind, Tavakoli also points out that other nations (and in one case religion) are guilty of some of the same crimes. For instance, when Tavakoli is discussing rape under a fundamentalist regime, she refers to India and the rate of rape in the United States military. The difference, she concludes, is that India and the US contain challenges and corrections to such scandals. Those countries politicians and citizens battle against those conditions because there is third party oversight and no fear of government reprisal, at least not in the same way. She also does point out that in some areas Muslim is attacked for being Muslim. In fact, she gives more space to what is going in Burma (Myanmar) than most news casts.
Is it as well written or as detailed as the work Ayaan Hirsi Ali or Mona Eltahawy? No, and possibly a few books about Islam included in the footnotes would have been nice. If, however, you are looking to introduction into the debate or discussion, this book is a good place to start. It also would be a good companion read to works by Ali, Nawal al-Saadawi, Mernissi, Eltahway and others.
And I would love to read an actually memoir by Tavakoli; I have a feeling it would a fascinating story.