Review of "Revolutionary Iran: A History of the Islamic Republic" by Michael Axworthy.

Michael Axworthy's book A History of the Islamic Republic

Michael Axworthy's book A History of the Islamic Republic, which covers the period from 1979 to 2009 when Iranians protested for a democratic government, acts as a guide through recent Iranian history. The time frame can be seen as a crucial point in Iran's contemporary history. The incidents sparked a surge of Islamist fervor in the Middle East that indicated a decline in Westernization. The author walks the audience through the fall of the previous administration and the rise of the new one. The Iran-Iraq War, the post-reconstruction era, and the reformist surge are just a few of the subjects discussed. Although there are many ideas that can be deduced from the book, one of the strongest themes is that Iranian revolution was centrally fundamental for the modern history as it provided the globe with a clear model of development.

The United States and the Iranian Revolution

The United States played a significant role in the development of a model that led to the modern Iranian revolution history. First, it is imperative to note that U.S had maintained a relationship with Shah before the revolution took place as the government empowered him to reform as well as maintain his country. American continued to support Shah with equipment and military help to keep him in power and opposed Khomeini as he would eradicate or limit western influence in Iran relations and policies. Similarly, the country inspires revolution through its advocacy to land reforms, election laws, sale of government-owned organizations to facilitate finance land reforms and nationalization of forests as well as plans to give workers industrial profits. Additionally, there was a deterioration of relations between United States and Iran from 1979 which resulted in Islamic revolution through an ideological change in Iran.

Modernization in Iran

Further, the role of Iranian revolution as a model of development can be seen by focusing on westernization or modernization in Iran before, during and after evolution. Based on Michael Axworthy's arguments, there was some degree of modernization in Iran before the revolution period through the process met some considerable change. For example, there were Iranians who were annoyed by Pahlavi (the Shah) ties with U.S. Others disliked presence of American in the country. Also, there was a group discontented with the fact that Shah's father had barred clerics from acting as judges in the courts. However, Shah managed to launch efforts that would modernize economic and social status of Iran. According to the sources, in 1979, Khomeini took over the reign who engineered formation of revolutionary committees that pushed agendas and actions against steps that had been taken by Shah. Khomeini disliked and remained dissatisfied by the American influence and monarchy in Iran. As such, during this entire revolution period, there was little modernization in Iran. According to the book, it is evident that after the revolution, Iran has since managed to become a country capable of maintaining its socio-economic and political security. The nation made considerable strides regarding accessibility of education and standards of living. Therefore, it is sufficient in its self-development processes.

Social Class and Rural/Urban Difference

Social class and rural/urban difference at the time of revolution is another fundamental aspect that can help to demonstrate the historical and developmental importance in Iran. First, it is noteworthy that political greatness characterised a change in the upper-class individual as an element of individuals in accorded this status. Piety became a criterion for belonging to a new political elite. Second, there was no difference in composition of middle class as compared to what it had been under Shag rule. However, this group had more political access than before the revolution. Before the change, the middle class were divided by issues and focused on gaining a foreign education. The greatest difference was noted among people in lower class. Before the revolution, these individuals were characterized by high illiteracy, marginal existence and performed manual labour. At the time of revolution, things were not different as Iran consisted of a person living on margins of urban society. They face a lack of educational and health facilities. Further, modernization or development of Iranian rural areas became an ideological imperative at the outset of revolution and post-revolutionary period. The Islamic leader at the time believed Pahlavi monarchy had ignored rural economic and agricultural development deliberately. Shah's focus was on fostering effort to create Iran that was similar to European urban, industrialized society. According to details provided in the book, revolutionary ideologues saw countryside as deprived and deserved a remedial plan. Unlike in urban area, there was little infrastructure such as paved roads in these regions. Additionally, there was a need for electrification of villages at the time of revolution coupled with the establishment of social facilities, for example, development of schools, clinic and public bathhouses. All these facilities significantly contributed to reduction of poverty in the rural area. Therefore, there was a considerable difference between the rural and urban area during revolution period due to difference in perception between the revolutionary and past governments.

Violence before the Revolution

Furthermore, it is imperative to indicate that violence before the revolution formed the basis for modern development in Iran. In 1953, Mohammed Reza made an attempt to dismiss Masaddeq, but he encountered a great, violent opposition that forced him to move from Iran. He returned later after a stunning coup from U.S and British intelligence against Masaddeq. Other sources of violence emerged from white revolution launch, a foreign program that encompassed development of infrastructure, land reform, reduction of illiteracy and voting rights for women. Early and middle 1970 saw increased violence demonstration against Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi rule. The revolting groups were critical of what they perceived as westernization of Iran something that triggered significant discontentment. In particular, this came from Khomeini as he was vocal in his criticism and asked for overthrow of Pahlavi to establish an Islamic state. As such, he incited Iranians for support which led to more internal violence. In 1978, anti-Shah groups demonstrated out in major cities and Shah's security forced on the demonstrators, killing and wounding thousands. The act saw a vast number of people on the streets such as Tehran, rioting as well as destroying symbols of Westernization. At the time of the revolution, Islamic militants responded by storming United States embassy while taking some individuals hostage.

Religion as a Unifying Factor

Similarly, religion played a critical role as a unifying factor for modern Iran development. First, religion was used to unify groups that oversaw Shah overthrown from power. The process was led by religious clerics together with political actor using Islamic symbols, mosques as haven and sermon as political messages. Khomeini relied on theocracy to under leadership of jurists and themes embedded in Islamism were used to define national service, citizenship and obedience to the country, all of which remained fundamental even after the revolution. However, Islamic revival was not wholly driven by Khomeini as intellectual were thinking of developing a political system, and religion emerged as important aspect regarding the national organization. Moreover, it is worth to note that religion was utilized as a symbol of search for ideals of egalitarianism and justice. Islam was combined with Iran political system to drive advances of moral values. It was used to lead clerics that represented Western or American democracy. Individuals like Ahmadinejad went further to express their belief that Imams are the steers of political engine in Iran. Finally, religion was utilized to criticize vice such as corruption in government.

The Impact of the Iraq-Iran War

The Iraq-Iran war also played a significant role in the revolution as it led to the development of a unique political system. In other words, the rivalry that arose between Iran and Iraq in 1980s contributed to emergence of a political system that oversaw continuation of revolution. Between 1980 and 1982, Iraqi forces had occupied Iranian territory and driving them away was perceived as patriotic mission. According to Michael Axworthy, the period changed life around the Iranian people motivated by the need to drive a way Iraqis from Iranian territories. In particular, Iranian militants were focused on establishing political institutions of Islamic Republic as well as putting in place procedures to ensure smooth operation. To a large extent, the war facilitated this process as it allowed the government to legitimize itself as a defender of national territory. Further, the regime permitted mobilization of many young men to fight Iraqi by appealing to nationalism. Therefore, there is evidence that Iraq-Iran war helped to shape and change lives of ordinary people in Iran as the country was able to organize itself through military alliance and presidential strategies.

The Legacy of the Iranian Revolution

Finally, the revolution resulted is a considerable legacy for the history of Islam and entire world because the event is viewed as one of the most important in the development of modern Iran. It is still used today to define the international community and national internally. Majorly, this is because it changed Iran and its government profoundly and it permitted the establishment of ways on how to change deal with the rest of the world. Also, the legacy of Iran revolution is paramount in comprehending Iranian culture and politics, and it is still the most critical aspect of development in modern Iran. Based on details from the book, this can be seen by the election of Ahmadinejad as the president because it demonstrates strength of legacy of that revolution. This shows that the Islamic Republic is resilient to external and internal pressure.

In Conclusion

Indeed, the book Revolutionary Iran: A History of the Islamic Republic by Michael Axworthy paints a clear picture of the history of Iranian revolution which helps define the modern era in Iran. As such, it has been imperative to assert that that Iranian revolution was centrally fundamental for the modern history as it provided the globe with a clear model of development. This has been achieved by focusing on the role of United States in Iranian affairs, modernization of Iran before, during and after revolution, and difference in social classes, urban and rural area. Also, it has been fundamental to focus on state violence before the event as conducted by Shah, religion as a unifying factor for revolution, Iraq-Iran war impact and legacy of the incident for Iran today.


Axworthy, Michael. Revolutionary Iran: a history of the Islamic Republic. Oxford University Press,


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