Shah’s Legacy

Iran and the West: A Critical Bibliography

by Cyrus Ghani
Kegan Paul International, 967 pp., $85.00

The Duke of Wellington observed, “Persia has been much exposed to authors.” During the nine years since the Iranian revolution, over one hundred new books on Iran have been published in English alone and there are hundreds more in French, Iranian, and other languages. Not all of them are reliable. Persia, or Iran, arouses passions. Not quite as Vietnam did, but for a much longer period. For students of Iranian affairs Dr. Ghani’s long book is, and will be, invaluable.

Before the fall of the Shah, Cyrus Ghani was a well-known Tehran lawyer, bibliophile, and connoisseur of movies. He was not part of the court but he knew everyone in the Pahlavi entourage. He was also a contact of the US Embassy, and a profile of him was found and later published, among many thousands of documents, by the militants who occupied the embassy in November 1979. (These documents, one of the most important collections of confidential US government papers ever to be made public, are available in more than fifty volumes. Some of them were shredded by embassy staff before the takeover of the mission was complete and have been painstakingly reconstituted, shred by shred.)

It was the habit of embassy officials, as in other capitals, to leave their successors lists of the best and worst contacts they had in Tehran. Some of the profiles found in the embassy are highly damaging to their subjects, who tend to be described as bores, sycophants, or crooks. Cyrus Ghani comes out well. Martin Herz, an astute US political counselor during the late Sixties, describes him as a most useful contact and good friend, but not without his blind spots:

He is “pro-American” in the sense that he shares our values and has a deep and truly encyclopaedic knowledge and interest in the US. But he is also a liberal nationalist and would not mind seeing the US humbled, not just in Iran but also in the Middle East. Cyrus is a true conversationalist in the best sense of the word, and has a vast storehouse of knowledge about Iran. He is also a kind of intelligence exchange—he always seeks inside information and undoubtedly passes it along, so he cannot really be trusted beyond a certain point. On the other hand, he quickly tires of people who “just give me the line.”

If this comment seems unexceptional, compare it with what Herz wrote of Jamshid Kabir, against whose name he considered it necessary to issue a “WARNING NOTICE”:

Useless to try to discuss serious subjects with Jamshid, who is a courtier first and last. His wife, Marina, is a caricature. Great party goers, but it has never been clear why anyone would want to cultivate them. Their famous party in 1967 was distinguished by the fact that half the guests came down with acute poisoning, apparently because a devout Moslem on their household staff disapproved of merrymaking on a mourning day. Too bad Mrs. Kabir seems to have escaped unscathed …

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