What threshold? The threshold between actions that are irritating or worrisome and those that keep you up at night. This is especially true of Iran if you understand the religious—and, I would say, scary—vision that shapes Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s decisions.
Iran’s president is not only a devout Shiite Muslim; he is also what is known as a Mahdaviat. The term means “one who believes in and prepares for the Mahdi.” The Mahdi , also known as the “Twelfth Imam,” is the Shiite equivalent of a messiah: “the restorer of religion and justice who will rule before the end of the world.”
For Ahmadinejad, preparing for the Mahdi has included “secretly [instructing] the [Tehran] city council to build a grand avenue to prepare for the Mahdi,” the building of a special mosque dedicated to the cult of the Mahdi, and construction of a railroad line to transport pilgrims there.
And his “preparation” is not limited to actions within Iran: When he addressed the UN, Ahmadinejad prayed for God to “hasten the emergence of . . . the Promised One . . . that will fill this world with justice and peace.”
By “peace,” he does not mean an Isaiah-like “peaceable kingdom.” As political scientist John von Heyking has noted, some Mahdaviats go beyond believing that the Mahdi will “return to save the world when it had descended into chaos.” Some of them believe that they can hasten that process by more chaos; and there is good reason to suspect that Iran’s president is one of these.