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.
If this sounds familiar, it ought to: In my book Kingdoms in Conflict , I wrote about a fictitious evangelical American president who learns about a plot to blow up the Mosque on the Dome of the Rock. While he knows that this will lead to an all-out war in the Middle East, he hesitates because his beliefs tell him that this will hasten Christ’s return. The results of his hesitation are catastrophic.
I am not the only one who has noticed the parallels. Ross Douthat of the Atlantic Monthly wrote that no Christian, regardless of eschatology, thinks God is commanding him to nuke Tel Aviv. Nor is he hosting Holocaust-denial conferences as Ahmadinejad is.
What’s more, from the start Christianity, unlike Islam, has distinguished between the two kingdoms: God’s and man’s. That is why Augustine wrote the City of God. And that is why I wrote my book describing the two kingdoms, titled Kingdoms in Conflict . But there’s no such distinction in Islam.
Ahmadinejad’s beliefs and his call for the destruction of Israel make Iran’s nuclear program even more ominous. And it would be the height of folly for the West to regard his carefully chosen words as mere hyperbole or bombast for internal Iranian consumption. It also ought to make us wonder what people like British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw are thinking about when Straw says that we should not “rush” to impose sanctions. Iran is a ticking time bomb.
As Richard Weaver noted, ideas have consequences, and the sooner world leaders understand this, the better we’ll all sleep.
For further reading and information:
Daniel Pipes, “Ahmadinejad’s Mission and Mysticism,” Real Clear Politics, 12 January 2006.
John von Heyking, “Iran’s President and the Politics of the Twelfth Imam,” Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs, Ashland University, November 2005.
Scott Peterson, “True Believers Dial Messiah Hotline in Iran,” Christian Science Monitor, 4 January 2006.
Niall Ferguson, “The Origins of the Great War of 2007—and How It Could Have Been Prevented,” Telegraph (London), 15 January 2006.
Charles Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict (Zondervan, 1989).