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Close observers of Iran have long puzzled over the paradox of the anti-Western Khomeini founding a republic based on a constitution that represents the nation via the decisions of a parliament which is chosen through popular elections - for these are all Western concepts. In an exquisitely detailed and revealing study of Iranian politics, Schirazi (a researcher at the University of Berlin) makes this paradox the center of his research and provides an important new understanding of the ideas that have dominated Iran for nearly two decades.

In particular, Schirazi notes two giant contradictions at the heart of the Islamic Republic: a government that supposedly rests on the pure principles of Shi'i Islam in fact draws heavily from Western secular sources entirely alien to the Shari'a (Islamic sacred law); simultaneously, its authority rests on the authority that derives only from God but also from the will of the Iranian people. The author shows the historical roots of these contradictions (in 1906 the mullahs looked to a constitution to make the government more Islamic), then devotes the bulk of this fascinating book to the practical working out of the dilemmas they create and showing how these have molded contemporary Iranian life. In a word, secular defeated Islamic, God defeated the people.