Soon after the Mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected President in June 2005, anxiety replaced election fever among the Iranians. They wondered what to make of the scruffy, austere, Islamic fundamentalist, the son of a blacksmith, who had confounded experts and non-experts alike to win a landslide victory. Many had new jokes to relate about the man whom they feared would ban short-sleeved shirts for men, force women to don the all-enveloping chador, segregate men and women in all public areas, keep on and on about Islamic martyrs and generally make life more difficult for Iranians by imposing an even stricter interpretation of Islam than that which already prevailed.
Who is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? What drives him? What has formed him? To whom, if anyone, does he answer?
Mahmoud was born in a small sleepy town of Aradan on the northern edge of the salt desert of Central Iran on October 28, 1956 as the fourth of seven children. “Life was difficult for our family and my birth made it more difficult,” wrote Ahmadinejad years later in his presidential weblog. Aradan, about two hours’ drive southeast of Tehran, gave up many of its sons to the war with Iraq in the 1980s. Ahmadinejad also has written, “I was born to a poor family in a remote village at a time when affluence meant dignity, and living in a city was the height of sophistication.”
Initially he studied in a government school but later shifted to a private one when his father’s fortune improved. While studying in the university, the Revolution against the Shah disrupted Ahmadinejad’s studies. There were daily demonstrations calling for overthrow of the Shah. Ayatollah Khomeini had moved from Najaf to Paris. On February 11, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini appointed a government, proclaiming the Islamic Republic and replacing more than 2,500 years of monarchy in Iran. Ahmadinejad set up the Islamic Society of Students at his university. He gradually emerged as a leading student activist supporting pro-Khomeini Islamists at his university. For him there were exciting times. From a humble background he now suddenly found himself embroiled in a full-scale revolution and in touch with Ayatollah Khomeini’s inner circle. But he could not escape the machinations of the Western media when on June 29, 2005, only five days after his election as President, he found himself being accused of being a terrorist.
It is here that the author, an internationally acclaimed journalist, a native Persian new settled in London and who spent years in Iran interviewing friends, family and colleagues of the firebrand Ahmadinejad, draws a far more compelling picture of the protagonist than any offered so far. While documenting the often bizarre behaviour of the President, with his visions of the hidden Imam and diatribes against Israel, he also shows him to be full of contradictions – a strange and complex man, once gripped by apocalyptic beliefs, yet capable of switching spiritual allegiance in the quest of power; a man fighting street battles in the name of Ayatollah Khomeini during the revolution and described by former army comrades as a “coward’; a man brazen enough to invite the German Chancellor to join him in an anti-Jewish alliance and yet a sophisticate to win the political support of the all-powerful Revolutionary Guard.
Taking us through the shadowy corridors of power, the author shows us the plots, passions and personalities that will influence Ahmadinejad’s next move while the world waits with abated breath. On reading this book, one feels that the not so well known, not so popular and not so visible Ahmadinejad is much more of a force to be reckoned with than the mere bogeyman conjured up the USA.
(Viva Books Pvt Ltd, 4737/23 Ansari Road, Daryaganj, New Delhi-110002.)