Wednesday, June 25, 2008
What Drives Ahmadinejad?
Jonathan Halevi and Ashley Perry
Shiite Iran is striving to attain the position of regional superpower en route to becoming a significant nuclear power on the international stage. Iran openly challenges the West in its attempt to eject the Americans and British from Iraq and attain hegemony in the Persian Gulf region, supported among other, by its military program, massively built up in recent years. The Iranian leadership talks of a “New Middle East” in response to the West, which would be an Islamic Middle East in the mold of the Iranian inspired Islamic revolution. Iran's political aspirations are driven by a deep religious zeal. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeatedly pledges "the imminent and evident liquidation of Israel," as a code word for the messianic fervor he shares with his spiritual mentor, Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, one of the more radical ayatollahs, who subscribes to diplomatic and military activism to advance the global Islamic revolution spearheaded by Iran.
Former President Khatami, an Iranian reformist, once referred to Yazdi as "the theoretician of violence." In 2006, Yazdi's leading disciple, Mohsen Gharavian, released a ruling or fatwa sanctioning the use of nuclear weapons against other nations. This is in distinction to Iranian diplomats in the West who repeatedly say that nuclear weapons are opposed by Islam and thus will not be sought.
In language reminiscent of Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie, Ahmadinejad's mentor also ruled that "If anyone insults the Islamic sanctity, Islam has permitted for his blood to be spilled, with no legal proceedings necessary."
Addressing senior religious scholars in mid November 2005, Ahmadinejad did not attempt to hold back his true motives and intentions. Our basic goal, he noted, is to set the stage for the Mahdi, the Shiite messiah, or the “vanished Imam.” He went on to state that in order to bring this about, Iran must set an Islamic example, develop a strong society and forge government policy in various fields, endeavoring to realize the goal of the end of time vision whereupon the Mahdi will appear.
As mayor of Tehran, for example, Mr. Ahmadinejad appears to have in 2004 secretly instructed the city council to build a grand avenue to prepare for the Mahdi. A year later, as president, he allocated $17 million for a blue-tiled mosque closely associated with mahdaviat in Jamkaran, south of the capital in the city of Qum. He has also instigated the building of a direct Tehran-Jamkaran railroad line.
Signs of messianic redemption
Such is the religious fervor associated with the mosque, every Tuesday night, the predicted evening of the Mahdi's arrival, thousands of Iranians gather at the shrine of Jamkaran. They write wishes on pieces of paper and throw them in a well where the imam is supposed to have appeared. Ahmadinejad had a list of his proposed cabinet members dropped into a well adjacent to the Jamkaran Mosque, it is said, to benefit from its purported divine connection.
Most worryingly, Ahmadinejad openly espouses the belief that his rule is the harbinger of the Mahdi. In a speech at the UN in 2006 in the presence of many world leaders, Ahmadinejad closed his speech with a prayer: "O mighty Lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the Promised One, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace."
A book published In Lebanon last year focuses on Ahmadinejad's Shiite vision of the Mahdi, titled "Ahmadinejad and the next global revolution." The author, Shadi Fakiya, establishes a direct linkage between Ahmadinejad and the Mahdi. Fakiya claims that the current Iranian president fits the description of the commander of the Mahdi forces which liberated Jerusalem according to Shiite belief.
Ahmadinejad is depicted as being determined and guided directly by Allah, and believing that the "army of the liberation of Jerusalem" will pass through Iraq, similar to Ayatollah Khomeini, who claimed that "the road to Jerusalem passes through Karbala" (a holy Shiite town in Iraq.)
Ahmadinejad's determination to acquire nuclear weapons is also construed as being part of the signs of messianic redemption, as he and his associates view the showdown with the international community to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear technology as one of the ways to prepare the ground for the appearance of the Mahdi.
‘Jews are corrupting Islam’
As in Christianity, the Shiite messiah will be predated by an anti-Christ, or in Shiite belief, the dajjal. Muslim tradition predicts that in the “End Times,” the Dajjal and his army will threaten to take over the entire globe, conquering much of it by military power, and seducing others with material prosperity. The Mahdi will then appear and destroy the dajjal and rule the world according to Sharia law.
Although historically there are is little known of the identity of the dajjal, more and more Shiite Imams are claiming that the dajjal and his followers are Jews. These extremist Imams and their followers point to the anti-Semitic forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” as proof that the Jews are running the world and corrupting Islam.
Already in the 1970s Ayatollah Khomeini wrote in his Vilayat-i Faqih, in Islam and Revolution that the Jews were perverting Islam and thus deserved of divine retribution.
Ahmadinejad's obsession with Israel leads many to believe that he believes Israel to be absolute evil and fits the role of the supposed dajjal. The Iranian president's other obsession, disproving the Holocaust, also fits nicely into the belief that the dajjal manages to fool the world with its lies.
The present era, according to Fakiya, is the "era of revelation," whereby various signs foretell the appearance of the Mahdi:
Firstly, there will be a gathering of the Jews in Palestine. Following this, the Shiite Mahdi will appear and lead the decisive campaign to annihilate the Jews. This will be followed by the establishment of an Islamic state as the first stage of creating the worldwide Imam state. An important element for this constitutes an Iraqi regime loyal to Iran.
The depiction of the Khorasani in the Shiite vision of the end of time is compatible with Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenai, the present supreme ruler of Iran. The Khorasani will hand over the torch to the Mahdi when he appears, and he will become the most senior among the Muslims.
The description of Shuyeb bin Salah applies to Ahmadinejad. Shuyeb, also known as al-Shabi al-Salah, is the figure who will lead the Mahdi's army, according to the Shiite tradition, i.e. the commander of the Muslim forces. Shuyeb is depicted as being suntanned, thin, wearing a short beard, hailing from Tehran, determined and warlike. It is thought by many that Ahmadinejad sees himself in this role as he appears to fit this historical description.
Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is the co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. and is a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Ashley Perry is a political analyst who has worked with many organizations including the Israel Prime Minister's Office and the editor of the Middle East Strategic Information project.