“Most people [in Iran] don’t want to see an out-and-out revolution. They don’t want to see the chaos that comes with it. Particularly after the Arab Spring. People want change, a better life. If it has to be Islamic-tinted, then so be it, for now.”
Writer and journalist Hooman Majd was born in Iran in 1957, but lived his life abroad, first because of his father’s career as a diplomat and then because of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. In 2011, when U.S-Iran relations were near an all-time low, Hooman, his Wisconsin-born wife, and their 8-month-old son moved to Teheran for a year. That experience has resulted in Hooman’s new book, The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran, out this week from Doubleday Books.
“There are 80 million people in Iran, and they have the same wants and desires that we do. There are people we’re going to disagree with on an ideological basis, and there are people we’re going to agree with. And they’re suffering under sanctions. It’s not to say that the Iranian leadership is without fault. But the people who are suffering . . . are the people.”
We talked about Hooman’s fascinating book, his family’s experience with Iran’s culture, the significance of Iran’s nuclear program, how its nationalism can trump religion and vice versa, why Iranians hate Great Britain much more than they hate the U.S., what he missed most during his year in Iran, whether it’s possible for a state to achieve modernity without being a liberal democracy, why he doesn’t plan on writing another Iran book, the growth of Islamic sectarianism and the possibility of another revolution in Iran, how its leaders may be taking baby steps in coming to terms with Israel (and why he thinks the two countries should be BFFs), whether there’s a Farsi word for “sprezzatura”, and Iran’s other unconventional weapon: The Big Sulk.
“There’s a recognition that this system, the way that it is right now, cannot endure forever. It has to undergo some change, some reforms. Whether they’re fast and drastic or slow is another question.”
About our Guest
Hooman Majd had a long career in the entertainment business before devoting himself to writing and journalism full-time. He worked at Island Records and Polygram Records for many years, with a diverse group of artists, and was head of film and music at Palm Pictures, where he produced The Cup and James Toback’s Black and White. He has published three books on Iran, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran (2008), The Ayatollahs’ Democracy: An Iranian Challenge (2010) and The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran (2013). He has written for GQ, Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Financial Times, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, Politico, The New York Observer, Interview, The Daily Beast, and Salon, among others. He has also published short fiction in literary journals such as Guernica, The American Scholar, and Bald Ego. He lives in New York City and travels regularly back to Iran. He is a natty dresser.
Credits: This episode’s music is The Girl from Ipanema by Amy Winehouse. The conversation was recorded in Mr. Majd’s home in Brooklyn on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded in my home on a Blue Yeti USB microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Hooman Majd by me.