Monday, September 24, 2007

Know Thine Enemy

"The mollahs rule because we're too proud," Hosein continued. "When I visited my family in Turkey before the revolution, I felt pity for them. They'd been Iranian. When I go to Turkey now, I know my family pities me. I pity myself."

"Most Iranians never leave Iran. What do they care what others think?"

"We all feel it. We all know we've ruined the revolution. There's not an Iranian alive who doesn't know it. We were supposed to lead the Muslim world."

(Edward Shirley, Know Thine Enemy: A Spy's Journey into Revolutionary Iran (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998)

Just finished Know Thine Enemy, which is the work of a former CIA agent, Reuel Gerecht, writing under the name of Edward Shirley. I’m a little late, I know. The book was published in 1998.

Despite all of the bad reviews on Amazon, I loved the book. Gerecht clearly understands what it means to fall in love with Iran. He writes: “Iran seduces through contradiction, through her ugliness as much as her beauty. Heaven is married to Hell. Isfahan and Tehran. Rumi and Khomeini.”

Reading the book, I could not help thinking that Gerecht would be awfully jealous of me and my 4 years in Iran, where I had many conversations similar to those he had: conversations that surprised me with their candor and their blasphemy. And where I traveled freely without fear, speaking to anyone and everyone. Ha.

I, on the other hand, am jealous of his knowledge of Iran. Why oh why didn’t I study the country and its history more before I lived there? Why did everything have to come as such a surprise to me? I was an Iran-ignoramus when I first step foot in Iran. It’s only been since returning that I have started to read about the country and its history.

If you are interested in Iran, the book is really interesting and easy to read. And while I’ve read that some find his memory for conversation suspect, I would counter by saying that the conversations he reported were incredibly similar to those that I heard during my four years in Iran. If you are interested in the way that the CIA works, you are in for more of a treat. Unless the book is a clever bit of disinformation designed to make the CIA look less formidable than it is, it really de-mystifies the workings of the agency… As if the intelligence blunders surrounding the events of 9-11 were not enough to convince us all that something had gone desperately wrong... His book makes me wonder if there was ever a time when the CIA played a valuable role in gathering intelligence?


Anonymous said...


Why do you ever " wonder if there was ever a time when the CIA played a valuable role in gathering intelligence?"

Oh One more question, you said "I, on the other hand, am jealous of his knowledge of Iran".

How long do you think he spent time in Iran.

It looks to me anybody who had a dinner with Iranian family or even stop in an Iranian airport think he or she is expert in Iran.

Don't you think is a bit stupide to tell us now that you did not know a shit about Iran before you went there.

[Under Construction] said...

Harsh comments you get here.

I might read that if I can get my hands on it. I'll write my own thoughts once I do (and it wont be long!!)

Love your blog and I always read it in Iran too so it's awesome knowing someone else who has almost the same experience that I did.