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Like most students of Iran, Abrahamian brings the academic's bias against religion's having much importance. He prefers to see Khomeini's ideas "as a flexible movement." But discount this bias and you'll find he makes a strong and original case that "the behavior of Khomeini and the Islamic Republic has been determined less by scriptural principles than by immediate politicial, social, and economic needs."

Abrahamian makes this case the old-fashioned way, through a close reading of texts and study of events. Abrahamian's intimate knowledge of Iran imbues his short study with the sort of insight all too rare in the study of Iran; and it's certainly one of the most important books on Iran to appear in English in some years. The author catalogues the profound changes in Khomeini's thinking that took place in the era 1965-70, when he replaced many of his traditional Shi'ite beliefs with the trendy notions of European Marxism (as mediated by Leftist Iranian intellecutals). Abrahamian demonstrates the evolution of the mullahs' relations with the Left through a close analysis of May Day celebrations. Over and over again, he shows how Khomeini changed his views to fit current needs, contradicting not only himself but some of Islam's most basic tenets (such as the priority of Sacred Law over raison d'état). Indeed, the sainted ayatollah apparently stuck with just one tenet through his entire career: the inviolability of private property.