Expert on US-Iranian Relations, Author of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ
“No one takes you inside Iran like Hooman Majd, whose keen observations and rich writing tell the story of an illuminating, delightful, and at times, horrifying journey. You will relish this book like a good meal.” —Ann Curry
Hooman Majd was born in Iran, and raised and educated in America; in a sense, he is both 100% Iranian and 100% American. Throughout the recent and historic nuclear negotiations, he worked with NBC News, attending every session in Switzerland and Vienna, and also arranged for NBC to interview President Rouhani twice and FM Zarif numerous times. He also wrote on the nuclear talks for The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. His perspective on Iranian politics, culture, and the nuclear deal—as well as on the most pressing Syrian, Yemenite, and Iraqi issues of today—make him an invaluable authority on the Middle East.
Majd’s gift for explaining Iran’s history and quirks to Western observers is evident in his book The Ayatollah Begs to Differ. A New York Times bestseller, it was also the #1 foreign policy book and the #1 book on Islam on Amazon. It was also named an Economist Book of the Year. His subsequent book, The Ayatollahs’ Democracy, is a personal, candid tour of the political and social landscape in Iran. In his newest book, The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran, Majd recounts his young family’s year-long sojourn in Tehran, at a time when U.S.–Iran relations were at a thirty-year low.
As a journalist, Majd writes for various publications: Salon, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, GQ and Time. He is also a writer and contributing editor to Interview, and was an original blogger at the Huffington Post, where he continues to write. In the entertainment industry (another story altogether), Majd was the Executive VP of Island Records (U2, etc.) and the cofounder of Palm Pictures. He was one of the producers on the Emmy-nominated NBC documentary, Twitter Diplomacy, which looked at the first phase of the nuclear deal when the interim agreement was signed in Geneva. His most recent book is The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran.
From Israel to Afghanistan and Beyond
In this timely talk, Hooman Majd makes sense of the military situation around Iran—helping us understand the potential conflict with Israel over the nuclear issue, and also mapping out other conflicts, as well as the possibility of wholesale change within the regime. Iran's position on Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Israel is crucial to a stable Middle East, and we have to do a better job in comprehending the motivations of the Iranian government (and even the opposition) to see where it all might lead. The key, Majd insists, is to figure out the Iranian psyche: we have to view things from a new perspective, an Iranian perspective—not just Western analysis, which may be removed, biased, dated, or inaccurate. Majd opens up a window, allowing us to clearly see what the Iranian regime is looking to achieve, what the opposition is looking to achieve, and what the future holds as far as most Iranians are concerned, regardless of whether there is actual military conflict.
Understanding Iran's Impact on the World Economy
We must be prepared for the day when Iran re-enters the global economic community—and enormous future investment possibilities open up. That means understanding Iran, and its economy, now. In this keynote, Hooman Majd offers himself as nascent tour guide, and reveals a country that already has a large economic impact far outside of its borders. Iran has a large entrepreneurial class, a strong industrial base, a highly educated population, and is on the forefront of medicine and various technologies. It manufactures and exports everything from machinery to agricultural product, and delivers them to the Middle East, Africa, Latin America. It is, in fact, the biggest manufacturer of automobiles in the region, exporting them to South America and Russia and the former Soviet states. No matter the regime, Majd explains, Iran will be one of the most advanced countries not just in the region, but also the world. There is tremendous wealth in Iran, and that wealth—once sanctions are lifted or there is a better political situation—will be managed by international banks. Relations will improve with the West one day, but we have to be ready today. We have to understand Iran and Iranians, and that’s not an easy task. Thankfully, Hooman Majd helps us see where Iran has come from, and where it is going, and how it will eventually interact once again with the West.
The Iran Question: Understanding Iran and What We Should Do About It
What should America do about Iran? And what shouldn't it do? Though Iran is the top concern for US foreign policy, most of us know dangerously little—or flat out misunderstand—its political motives. In this essential talk, Hooman Majd reveals the true motivations of Iran's political and religious leaders, a group fiercely protective of their rights. He shows us where the true power in Iran is found; dismantles, so to speak, its nuclear program; and looks at its complex relationship to Iraq, the Middle East, and of course, America. The two countries, he reminds us, are not that different: both want Iran to join the mainstream international community. Whether it does—or whether we go to war with Iran—is the loaded question that Hooman Majd helps us more clearly understand.
Modern Iran: The People, Their Lives, and What Makes Them Tick
Did you know that most Iranian college students are virtually identical to their American counterparts? That they drink, smoke, watch The Daily Show, and obsess over pop culture? What else don't you know about Iran? In this talk, Hooman Majd offers a corrective to what the media shows you—or rather, what it doesn't—about this proud country (which is Muslim, Shiite, and, above all, Persian). From women cab drivers to reform-minded Ayatollahs, Iran is a country that is deeply religious yet highly cosmopolitan, a country that indeed wants better relations with the US, but with respect. Discussing the paradoxes inherent in the Iranian character, Majd bridges an understanding between two countries—Iran and America—that, deep down, may not be so different after all.
The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay: An American Family in Iran
With U.S.–Iran relations at a thirty-year low, Iranian-American writer Hooman Majd dared to take his young family on a year-long sojourn in Tehran. The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay traces their domestic adventures and closely tracks the political drama of a terrible year for Iran's government.
It was an annus horribilis for Iran's Supreme Leader. The Green Movement had been crushed, but the regime was on edge, anxious lest democratic protests resurge. International sanctions were dragging down the economy while talk of war with the West grew. Hooman Majd was there for all of it. A new father at age fifty, he decided to take his blonde, blue-eyed Midwestern yoga instructor wife Karri and his adorable, only-eats-organic infant son Khash from their hip Brooklyn neighborhood to spend a year in the land of his birth. It was to be a year of discovery for Majd, too, who had only lived in Iran as a child.
The book opens ominously as Majd is stopped at the airport by intelligence officers who show him a four-inch thick security file about his books and journalism and warn him not to write about Iran during his stay. Majd brushes it off—but doesn't tell Karri—and the family soon settles in to the rituals of middle class life in Tehran: finding an apartment (which requires many thousands of dollars, all of which, bafflingly, is returned to you when you leave), a secure internet connection (one that persuades the local censors you are in New York) and a bootlegger (self-explanatory). Karri masters the head scarf, but not before being stopped for mal-veiling, twice. They endure fasting at Ramadan and keep up with Khash in a country weirdly obsessed with children.
All the while, Majd fields calls from security officers and he and Karri eye the headlines—the arrest of an American "spy," the British embassy riots, the Arab Spring—and wonder if they are pushing their luck. The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay is a sparkling account of life under a quixotic authoritarian regime that offers rare and intimate insight into a country and its people, as well as a personal story of exile and a search for the meaning of home.
The Ayatollahs' Democracy: An Iranian Challenge
A New York Times best-selling author offers a personal, candid tour of the political and social landscape in Iran. Hooman Majd offers a dramatic perspective on a country with global ambitions, an elaborate political culture, and enormous implications for world peace. Drawing on privileged access to the Iranian power elite, Majd argues that despite the violence of the disputed 2009 elections, a group of influential ayatollahs-- including a liberal, almost-secular opposition-- still believes in the Iranian republic; for them, "green" represents not a revolution but a civil rights movement, pushing the country inexorably toward democracy, albeit a particular brand of "Islamic democracy."
With witty, candid, and stylishly intelligent reporting, Majd, himself the grandson of an esteemed ayatollah, introduces top-level politicians and clerics as well as ordinary people (even Jewish community leaders), all expressing pride for their ancient heritage and fierce independence from the West. In the tradition of Jon Lee Anderson's The Fall of Baghdad, The Ayatollahs' Democracy is a powerful dispatch from a country at a historic turning point.
The Ayatollah Begs to Differ
A revealing look at Iran by an American journalist with an insider's access behind Persian walls.
The grandson of an eminent ayatollah and the son of an Iranian diplomat, now an American citizen, Hooman Majd is, in a way, both 100 percent Iranian and 100 percent American, combining an insider's knowledge of how Iran works with a remarkable ability to explain its history and its quirks to Western readers. In The Ayatollah Begs to Differ, he paints a portrait of a country that is fiercely proud of its Persian heritage, mystified by its outsider status, and scornful of the idea that the United States can dictate how it should interact with the community of nations.
With wit, style, and an unusual ability to get past the typical sound bite on Iran, Majd reveals the paradoxes inherent in the Iranian character which have baffled Americans for more than thirty years. Meeting with sartorially challenged government officials in the presidential palace; smoking opium with an addicted cleric, his family, and friends; drinking fine whiskey at parties in fashionable North Tehran; and gingerly self-flagellating in a celebration of Ashura, Majd takes readers on a rare tour of Iran and shares insights shaped by his complex heritage. He considers Iran as a Muslim country, as a Shiite country, and, perhaps above all, as a Persian one. Majd shows that as Shiites marked by an inferiority complex, and Persians marked by a superiority complex, Iranians are fiercely devoted to protecting their rights, a factor that has contributed to their intransigence over their nuclear programs. He points to the importance of the Persian view of privacy, arguing that the stability of the current regime owes much to the freedom Iranians have to behave as they wish behind "Persian walls." And with wry affection, Majd describes the Persian concept of ta'arouf, an exaggerated form of polite self-deprecation that may explain some of Iranian President Ahmadinejad's more bizarre public moments.
With unforgettable portraits of Iranians, from government figures to women cab drivers to reform-minded Ayatollahs, Majd brings to life a country that is deeply religious yet highly cosmopolitan, authoritarian yet with democratic and reformist traditions-- an Iran that is a more nuanced nemesis to the United States than it is typically portrayed to be.