Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in Twenty-First Century Iran

Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in Twenty-First Century Iran<br> By Geneive Abdo and Jonathan Lyons. | Henry Holt. $25.

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


In this timely (if loosely organized) report on Iran’s theocratic experiment, Geneive Abdo and her husband, Jonathan Lyons, avoid any notion of a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West. Instead, they describe an Iran in the throes of a battle within Islam itself: Leading Shiite clerics, many of whom helped bring the Ayatollah Khomeini to power, have turned their backs on the fundamentalist government and are leading a struggle for democratic reforms.

Abdo and Lyons — who, in 1998, became the first American journalists allowed to live in the country since the revolution — dedicate much of their book to exposing the timidity of Iran’s president, Mohammad Khatami. They show his government abandoning students, journalists, and others who seek new freedoms, leaving them at the mercy of state-sponsored thugs and sham courts. The critique is devastating, but readers should bear in mind that the Khatami administration chased the authors out of Iran two years ago.

Their heroes, by contrast, are those clerics, in particular the imprisoned Ayatollah Montazeri, willing to sacrifice personal safety to bring about a more modern and democratic Islamic government. The authors are highly sympathetic to the vision of an Islamic Republic that balances popular sovereignty with religious authority — but fail to address the problems that even a moderate Islamist government would pose for freedom of thought. Considering that Iran’s theocrats have likely outdone even the U.S.-backed Shah in their oppression, it’s surprising that neither Abdo and Lyons nor most Iranians seem to favor the separation of church and state.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily bluster—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate