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Lyons, Jonathan

Lyons, Jonathan


Married Geneive Abdo (a journalist).


Journalist and writer. Reuters bureau chief, Turkey, 1994-1998. Has reported for and appeared on National Public Radio, Public Broadcasting Service, British Broadcasting Corporation, and CNN.


(With wife, Geneive Abdo) Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in Twenty-First-Century Iran, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Republic, and the Middle East Report.


Jonathan Lyons is a journalist who has covered the collapse of the Soviet Union and served as an international news agency bureau chief in Iran and Turkey. Lyons is also the author—with his wife, the journalist Geneive Abdo—of Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in Twenty-First-Century Iran. The journalistic team of Lyons and Abdo moved to Iran in 1998 and spent three years there before they were forced to leave due to conflicts with the government and Islamic fundamentalists. During that time, they conducted numerous interviews with the Iranian people as the country and government were beginning a new reform movement. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the authors' interviews, however, did not cross all strata of Iranian society. The reviewer wrote: "Focusing mainly on the society's elite … the two are still able to develop a complex, nuanced view of Iran."

Writing for the Policy Review, Sanam Vakil noted that the book presents "an interesting message that runs counter to that of the overly exuberant Western media: The reform movement in Iran is neither monolithic nor united in its push for political change, nor is it on the brink of facilitating another revolution. In fact, whereas the 1979 revolution was a product of thirty to forty years of what the scholar Hamid Dabashi calls a ‘theology of discontent,’ the restlessness brewing in Iran today is the result of failed revolutionary goals and social frustrations—‘the failure of the preceding generation,’ as Abdo and Lyons put it, ‘to realize the revolution's full potential.’"

In their examination of a country that is an Islamic state that seeks to establish a republic, the authors examine the contradictory nature of the struggle. "The authors main quest in Iran was finding answers to the question: ‘Can democracy exist within the Islamic Republic of Iran?,’" noted Ali Moayedian on the Payvand's Iran News Web site. "And as this is no simple question to answer, during a span of three years, Abdo and Lyons try to pull a mission impossible; and even if they may not have the absolute answers, they have certainly come very close."

According to the authors, the dichotomous nature of the dilemma arises from the power struggle between reformers and the Islamic clerics who have taken a hard line in demanding an Islamic state. Although reformers still seek an Islamic framework for the Iranian government, they are far from being in agreement with the fundamentalist clerics who still want absolute power both in overseeing the suppression of writings and ideas that do not neatly fit into an Islamic framework and in having the ultimate say in government policies and laws. "They show … [the] government abandoning students, journalists, and others who seek new freedoms, leaving them at the mercy of state-sponsored thugs and sham courts," wrote Chris Mooney in Mother Jones. "The critique is devastating, but readers should bear in mind that the Khatami administration chased the authors out of Iran two years ago."

Reviewers commended the authors for their ability to obtain an inside view of the secretive Iran. Jay Freeman, writing in Booklist, noted that Lyons and Abdo "provide a riveting, firsthand view of the ongoing struggle between reformers and hard-line Islamic clerics." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Answering Only to God "a thoughtful, reasoned contribution to the distressing affairs of the Middle East." Several reviewers also commented on the authors' clash with the Iranian government and various leaders. For example, Library Journal contributor Ethan Pullman noted, "They have pushed the envelope with authorities on several occasions in their attempts to educate readers on the nature of Islam."



Lyons, Jonathan, and Geneive Abdo, Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in Twenty-First-Century Iran, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2003.


Booklist, February 15, 2003, Jay Freeman, review of Answering Only to God, p. 1021.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2002, review of Answering Only to God, p. 1813.

Library Journal, April 15, 2003, Ethan Pullman, review of Answering Only to God, p. 106.

Mother Jones, March-April, 2003, Chris Mooney, review of Answering Only to God, p. 84.

Policy Review, October- November, 2003, Sanam Vakil, "Iran's Fragile Fault Lines," p. 80.

Publishers Weekly, February 3, 2003, review of Answering Only to God, p. 67.


Macmillan Academic, (January 12, 2008), brief profile of author.

Payvand's Iran News, (March 11, 2003), Ali Moayedian, review of Answering Only to God.

WGBH, (January 12, 2008), brief profile of author.

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