If JeanDaniel Lafond, husband of Governor General Michaëlle Jean, has any doubts about whether Canada’s viceregal consort should celebrate his friendship with an Islamist assassin, they don’t appear in his latest book, Conversations in Tehran, co-authored with Fred A. Reed and published this month. The book includes a chapter on Hassan Abdulrahman, an American man who was born with the name David Belfield and was drawn to radical Islam as a young man. In 1980, shortly after Iran’s Islamic revolution, Iranian agents in the U.S. ordered Abdulrahman to murder Ali Akbar Tabatabai, a former Iranian diplomat. Abdulrahman disguised himself as a postman, shot Tabatabai dead and fled to Iran, where he has lived ever since. In a 2002 interview with The New Yorker, Abdulrahman said he had “no problem” with the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon, but added that he would have picked the White House.
...and Jean-Daniel Lafond’s Conversations in Tehran is worthwhile
Conversations in Tehran also repeats a popular conspiracy theory that senior members of the Republican party concluded a secret deal with Iranian agents to delay the release of U.S. hostages held in Iran until the day of Ronald Reagan’s inauguration. The theory has been widely discredited, but this didn’t stop Lafond from including interviews with proponents in his film American Fugitive: The Truth About Hassan, released earlier this year. But in the book, the theory is presented as a simple fact. What’s more, the authors say, the same “shadowy figures” who sealed the deal “continue to exert influence on American policy.” These statements are unfortunate, because if you can get past the authors’ praise for a terrorist and their odd gullibility, Conversations in Tehran is a good and worthwhile book. It consists of conversations between the authors and a diverse group of Iranians. Many are, or were, involved in Iran’s reform movement, which was stifled and ultimately crushed by the hardline clerics who control the real levers of power. Conversations in Tehran is a lament for this reform movement. The authors’ interviews with Saeed Hajjarian, a leading reformist politician who was shot and paralyzed by an Islamic vigilante, are heart-wrenching. Hajjarian remains bravely devoted to a process of reform in which many Iranian democrats have lost faith. His wouldbe assassin is free.
Lafond and Reed praise Abdulrahman as a friend and a “passionate, outspoken seeker after truth.” Abdulrahman explains that it was easy to shoot Tabatabai because America has “a long-running history of rape, robbery and murder.” He is rarely challenged during the conversation. Lafond has said that it is
not his job to confront his interview subjects, although he and Reed do so elsewhere. The chapter describing a conversation with Hossein Shariatmadari, a pro-regime newspaper editor, is full of sharp exchanges and is one of the more compelling in the book.
Taken on their own, the conversations provide a valuable window into Iranian society. It would have been a better book if left at that. As it stands, the small sections devoted to Abdulrahman and fanciful Republican plots will—or should—discredit its authors. M
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