Kasra Naji, IB Tauris, £12.99
Religious fundamentalist, anti-Semite, the new Hitler, tyrant, prophet, anti-imperialist are all descriptions that have been used to describe Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In this biography journalist Kasra Naji aims to unravel the truth about Iran's controversial leader by examining his past and his rise to power.
Naji paints a portrait of a man full of contradictions - on the one hand a political amateur with poor diplomatic skills, yet at the same time a man who has been able to create enough of a buzz around himself to ensure he is a major player at the international level. Ahmadinejad is not accredited with the usual traits of a world leader but Naji instead suggests that he won power through his ability to relate to the lives of ordinary Iranians. His mannerisms, choice of clothing and background all add to this notion of a people's leader. Ahmadinejad's presidential style is to stand up to Western powers and indeed to challenge their hegemony, although Naji puts this confidence down to amateurism and a lack of understanding of world issues. In all, Ahmadinejad is shown to be a man living in a world of his own but who in doing so has become a major international player and has managed to gain support through a lack of political elitism.
Naji also dismisses the myth of Ahmadinejad as an all-powerful dictator. He rightly points out the contradictions that also exist within the Iranian ruling elite and shows the power struggles that take place within the different strands of the regime. Naji does well to show the complexity of the Iranian political system, especially as those who argue for military action on Iran like to show it as a medieval dictatorship.
Where Naji falls down is in his inability to understand Ahmadinejad within the context of US imperialism. He is no way an apologist for the war on terror, and argues against an attack on Iran, but he appears to believe that Ahmadinejad is central to what happens globally - that everything Ahmadinejad does will affect the likeliness of a war. If he tones down some of his anti-Western rhetoric then a war is less likely. The truth is that Iran has become a regional power and its strategic importance to the US has created the possibility of war. It is the mess in Iraq and the anti-war movement at home that have so far prevented action against Iran.
In all, this book provides a very good and informative history of Ahmadinejad and would be helpful to anyone who wishes to know more about a man we hear so much about in the press. However, the political analysis provided within the portrait of the man misses the point of the war on terror and gives too much credence to the role of Ahmadinejad on the world stage.