chapter  1
Pages 24

Few countries have proved so persistently incomprehensible toWestern analyses as Iran. Seemingly determined to obstruct and frustrate understanding, Iran has come to occupy a particular position in the Western world view,2 which in many ways mirrors Iran’s multifaceted attitude to the West. At once fascinated and enamoured by the exotic luxuries and sophisticated manners of the civilised Persians (the ‘Frenchmen of the East’, as Curzon described them), they are also regarded as strangely resistant to the onward march of ‘modernity’, and prone to a destructive fanaticism which belies rational comprehension. Such interpretations are not new, and are a product of the West’s encounter with Iran in the nineteenth century, which coincided not only with the political ascendancy of the West, but with the development of the discipline of history. Indeed, the study of history, as we know it today, is a product of modern Western society, and many of the first histories written reflected the aspirations, prejudices and demands of a Western readership. Indeed, many of the primary documents were products of Western bureaucracies and consulates. When Iranians encountered their ‘history’ therefore, it tended to be mediated through the pens of Western historians, while their own, largely oral traditions were dismissed as fable and at best as literary artefacts, skilfully written, but of little historical value.3