Monday, May 01, 2006

Irshad Manji on the Iranian threat...

Armageddon? Great, bring it on Irshad Manji- UK Times The end of the world is increasingly nigh — and it can’t be too soon for Iran’s zealots. OF ALL the threats that our messy world faces, nuclear weaponry ranks right up there. Put the Bomb together with anti-Semitism and you’ve got a combination that should make any reasonable person recoil. No wonder the otherwise soft-spoken human rights activist Elie Wiesel recently described President Ahmadinejad of Iran as “pathologically sick”. I wish it were that simple. The problem is, the ballistic Ahmadinejad is entirely rational from the perspective of a religious fanatic. As a zealous Shia Muslim, he is eagerly awaiting the return of the “hidden imam”. Popularly known as the Mahdi, this is the spiritual guide who, according to Shia tradition, mysteriously went missing hundreds of years ago. Orthodox Shias believe that the Mahdi’s reappearance will herald an era of peace and security worldwide. All injustices will disappear — including American power. It is not unlike the way in which millions of evangelical Christians in America feel about the Second Coming. They want Jesus to show up as soon as possible. That’s why many of them oppose environmentalism — saving the Earth’s resources can only slow down Armageddon, and global warming is God’s will. I’m not claiming that all Shias or all evangelical Christians march in step. Dissent does exist. Surveys suggest that 70 per cent of American evangelicals think that global warming will soon be a problem and 63 per cent say that it needs to be addressed immediately. The Southern Baptist Convention, say, may be complacent but there is the Evangelical Environmental Network to challenge such passivity. Among Shias the dissent is less organised but equally impassioned. Iranian journalists tell me that Ahmadinejad has become a national embarrassment. Immediately after he proclaimed his hope that Israel be wiped off the map, ordinary Iranians began to feel sheepish. These are people who widely listen to Israeli radio, rather than their state broadcasters, for objective reporting. It’s a way of sticking it both to their Arab colonisers and to their puritan Islamic governments, even if they elected this one. As one source said: “American cars sport a bumper sticker saying, ‘Don’t blame me; I didn’t vote for Bush’. More and more of us wish we could get away with saying the same about our President.” The optimist in me considers this good news because it means that the masses are ahead of their leaders. But my inner realist asks: so what? The fact remains that these mega-powerful mini-messiahs — be they in the Iranian or American mould — have armed themselves with apocalyptic logic. Captured by the rapture, they don’t particularly care whether the masses disagree. Indeed, disagreement fuels the fervour of their missions. In America, fundamentalist Christian preachers revel in the public ridicule hurled at them. Tribulation must precede deliverance, they often remind their flock. The harsher the backlash, the harder we fight. Meanwhile, Shia teachings emphasise that Muslims themselves will be among the biggest traitors to the cause of justice when the end of days arrives. Consider the early “signs” of betrayal: Muslims killed three of the first four successors to the Prophet Muhammad, including the man whom Shias regard as his rightful heir, his cousin and son-in-law, Ali. (Shia means “faction of Ali”.) Moreover, Muslims slaughtered the Prophet’s own grandson along with 72 other members of his beloved household. All this at a moment when the Prophet’s family was battling against a corrupt, worldly dictator whom Sunnis accepted for the sake of order but Shias rejected in the name of morality. That galvanising narrative informs the Shia Muslim crusade against oppressors — despite inspiring the very oppression it seeks to eradicate. No matter. The hidden imam, another of the Prophet’s progeny, will come home and save humanity from itself. The job of Shias is to wait, bait and accelerate; that is, cultivate patience for their imam’s return and, whenever possible, prod their enemies into conflict. Which brings me back to the Iranian President. He claims a “private personal channel” to the hidden imam. If that’s true, he’s earned it. When Ahmadinejad was Mayor of Tehran, he purportedly had a thoroughfare re-paved so that the Mahdi wouldn’t experience such a bumpy road back. Later, as President, he asked Cabinet members to sign an oath of allegiance to the messiah. In a speech to the United Nations, Ahmadinejad called for the Mahdi’s re-emergence. Upon delivering the call, he drew strength from two things: a feeling of being showered in divine light and the fact that not a single UN diplomat noticeably raised an eyebrow. Maybe Ahmadinejad is reactivating his country’s nuclear enrichment program precisely to incite resistance, and thereby hasten the kingdom of the messiah. “We must prepare ourselves to rule the world,” he mused recently, “and the only way to do that is to put forth views on the basis of the Expectation of the Return.” Allah’s final ambassador can’t be too far away now. Scary? Yes. Pathologically sick? Depends. To that fringe of true believers, doomsday politics makes complete sense. The weapons of mass destruction have been found. They’re people with unshakeable faith in the coming showdown between good and evil. Left in their hands, the world is heading for a clash of Armageddons. Irshad Manji is a Fellow at Yale University and author of The Trouble with Islam Today: A Wake-Up Call for Reform in Her Faith

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