The dramatic polarization of American politics has led leftist critics of the Bush administration to assume that Iran's Islamic Republic cannot be all that bad if President George W. Bush describes it as part of an "axis of evil." Feeding this attitude are suspicions that the crisis over Iran's nuclear program is a tawdry rehash of the dubious intelligence about weapons of mass destruction that helped instigate the Iraq war, or the belief that displaying any concern for the Iranian people plays into the hands of Bush administration warmongers. This narrative leaves little room for concern about what is happening to the people of Iran—even the left-wing Iranian workers' movements that should be natural objects of leftist sympathy.
As reporters for the Swedish left-wing weekly Arbetaren (The worker), Malm and Esmailian approach Iran from a position of traditional left-wing concern about workers, human rights, and despotism. They spent much of 2004 traveling around Iran, meeting with those facing the growing repression to which the reform movement was subjected as it was being shut down. Their focus is on ordinary Iranian workers, not on the Westernized intellectuals who usually win foreigners' attention. Malm and Esmailian provide graphic accounts of those workers' suffering under the cruel tyranny of the Islamic Republic and of the vicious repression to which they are subject.
Make no mistake: This book is situated firmly in the camp of the hard Left, which sees Israel's evil hand everywhere and cannot imagine Bush ever doing anything good. Malm and Esmailian's discussion of nuclear issues is a mélange of conspiracy theories, ill-informed speculation, and plain error. Iran on the Brink can hardly be recommended as a guide to Iran and the challenges it poses to the region and to world peace. That said, it is nice to see some leftists who are willing to highlight the Islamic Republic's brutal treatment of the poor people of Iran.
Malm and Esmailian spend a great deal of time on Iranian history, primarily to highlight the evils inflicted on the country by Western imperialism—disregarding that the development of the country's oil resources is what allowed Iran to modernize under the shah. However, their historical account also brings out in detail what the Islamic Republic works so hard to suppress—namely, that the 1978-79 anti-shah revolution was a broad social movement that was hijacked by Islamists who were distinctly in the minority among the revolutionaries.