The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution, by Amir Taheri (Encounter , 300 pp., $25.95)
Present-day Iran is a glaring example of the human propensity to do harm in the belief that one is doing good. The country has been hijacked and shaken out of its course by people with a claim to a vision of perfection. Self-righteous ideologues, they are like others of the kind in other countries at other times: Their true goal is absolute power. What sets the Iranians apart is that they are Shiites, a minority within Islam with a specific doctrine stating that an imam in the 10th century went into hiding and that mankind has to convert to Islam, whereupon the Hidden Imam will return and usher in the end of days.
Today’s regime in Iran believes that this messianic vision is about to be fulfilled. Unbelievers — in other words, Christians and Jews — cannot be allowed to stand in the way. Even more problematically, within Islam itself Shiites are outnumbered about ten to one by Sunnis, and these too have to be brought into line. The pursuit of power in the name of Islam is driving the regime to develop and test weaponry, including long-range missiles and what is suspected from the available evidence to be a nuclear bomb. This threat to the world order is as sudden as it is unexpected, with a quality of hallucination about it, as if reality itself were going off the rails.