Monday, March 2, 2015
Apocalypse Row: Netanyahu, Nukes, and Iranian Eschatology
12:55 pm est
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will speak to a joint session of the US Congress on Tuesday, March 3, 2015. If his speech earlier today at the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was any indication, the Islamic Republic of Iran and its pursuit
of nuclear weapons will be the major topic. Partisan bickering (about whether the Republican majority in the House and
Senate wished to insult President Obama) aside, the central issue boils down to whether Bibi is correct in his long-held
belief that the IRI leadership amounts to a “messianic, apocalyptic, radical cult” which must be stopped at all costs from going nuclear (as he first said six years ago).
He is not.
Now as my usual friends and colleague sharpen
their knives, allow me to explain. First off, I am a staunch supporter of Israel, as both a Christian and an American,
and have been there three times in the last decade. Also, now that Turkey, under Sultan Erdoğan, has slipped back into Neo-Ottomanism, Israel is the only truly democratic nation in the Middle
East. Along with the Kurds, the Israelis are our closest allies in that region.
But that does not mean that
everything Israeli is automatically correct. And this claim that Iran wants nuclear weapons in order to use them on
Tel Aviv and thus spark the coming of the 12th Imam al-Mahdi is a gross misreading of Twelver Shi`i doctrines as well as of
this issue in depth for the Institute for Near East & Gulf Military Analysis back in 2011, in a paper entitled “A Western View on Iran’s WMD Goal: Nuclearing the Eschaton, or Pre-Stocking the Mahdi’s Arsenal?” The major points therein follow, after this pictorial message:
Safavid Shah Isma'il (L), founder of the 16th c. dynasty that converted Iran to Twelver Shi`ism. HE would not
have hesitated to use nukes (in fact, his turban itself is weaponized). But Khamenei? Not bloody likely.
Z Belief in the return of the 12th
Imam from ghaybah, “occultation,” is not “fringe” or “extremist” but a mainstay
of this brand of Islam (just as is the doctrine of Jesus’ return for all orthodox Christians).
Z The 12th Imam’s reappearance is totally up to Allah’s discretion;
nothing humans can do will advance his timetable. “Hotwiring the apocalypse” depends not on WMD usage or
any other violent activity but, rather, hinges on creating the Mahdist state in microcosm (i.e., the IRI) and then waiting
on Allah to send the Mahdi to rule it.
The anjuman-i hujjatiyeh (“Hujjatiyeh Society”) is not some insane group dedicated to destroying Israel but an organization dedicated to re-converting Baha’is to Twelver Shi`ism—and, furthermore, was banned in the
early 1980s for being insufficiently supportive of Ayatollah Khomeini’s clerical rule.
Z As per the excellent article by Ze’ev Maghen, “Occultation in Perpetuum: Shi`ite Messianism and the Policies of the Islamic Republic,” the ruling ayatollahs are probably the most vociferous opponents of a true Mahdist claim on the planet—because
acknowleding anyone as such would end their rule of Iran, and with it their wealth, power and privilege.
Z Twelver Shi`i views of jihad mandate that
jihad-i ghalaba, “victorious holy war,” be prohibited until the return of the 12th Imam—NOT employed
to importune him to appear. Usage of nuclear weapons is thus really not allowable for the apocalypse-hotwiring
which many pundits impute to Iran.
Yes, some Iranian leaders have spoken, repeatedly, of Israel being “erased from the pages of history.” But
I believe that this means they believe in a gradual demographic disintegration of the “Zionist entity,” and not a mushroom cloud over Israel.
Z It is possible for men to have long beards, wear turbans, express eschatological beliefs
and yet still be rational political actors. The Supreme Leader and his cronies all know that were Iran to use a nuclear weapon
against Israel, their nation would be a radioactive ruin about 15 minutes later. The Mahdi has no desire to rule over such
a wasteland. Plus, it would deprive the clerics of their wives and Rolls Royces.
Z All of the above by no means makes the IRI a peaceful or trustworthy state.
The ruling ayatollahs want nuclear weapons not only to hold onto their power (as per the ruling clique in Pyongyang) but to
provide immunity against possible American military strikes and to increase Tehran’s regional clout—just not to
summon the Mahdi via a nuclear conflagration.
President Jarrett, er, Obama and SecState John Kerry are fools to think that any written
agreement will disabuse Khameini and his ilk of their lust for nuclear weapons. But attempting to counter the administration’s
naiveté with inane bluster that misepresents our enemy’s
beliefs and intentions amounts to falling off the horse on the opposite side. Instead, let’s try sitting upright
on a strong horse and avoiding partisan extremes of misapprehension.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Is Islam Really 99.981% Terrorism-Free? Refuting Fareed Zakaria on ISIS
3:31 pm est
Fareed Zakaria penned a rather inane article in “The Washington Post” last
week, entitled “The limits of the Islamic label” (which he adduced at length in his “GPS” show this morning). The point therein: to criticize Graeme
Wood for his “Atlantic” article, “What ISIS Really Wants,” in which the latter dares to state that
ISIS is profoundly Islamic, and even apocalyptic, in its belief system and actions. Zakaria supports President Obama’s
Machiavellian “terrorism means never having to say ‘Islam’ ” strategy on the grounds that it avoids
alienation of 1.6 billion Muslims, and takes Wood (and those of us like-minded) to task with the metric that ISIS’s
30,000 members only comprise .0019% of the world’s Islamic population.
99.44% pure Ivory soap's got nothin' on me!
isn’t the only terrorist organization which adduces Islam as its raison d’etre—it’s only
the most brutal. I scrutinized the data on the other three dozen major terrorist groups which are Islamic, on the US State Department site as well as several others, and came up with a rough membership number for all the non-ISIS Sunni Muslim terrorist groups
of some 65,000. Adding in ISIS’s 30,000 puts the global Sunni dedicated terrorist ranks into the 100,000
range—especially when we consider that State enumerated the membership strength of a number of these entities
as “unknown:” it’s certainly reasonable to estimate that these half-dozen groups (which include the likes
of al-Qa`idah [AQ] central and the Abd Allah Azzam Brigades) count several thousand adherents.
But wait, there’s more that refutes Zakaria’s specious claim. The core
ISIS ideology centers around several key Islamic concepts: Islam as the only true religion; the need for a caliphate to rule
all Muslims and impose shari`ah; the necessity of not just da`wah but jihad to achieve those ends;
the belief that the Qur’an should be literally followed, even if need be to the point of beheading opponents.
This interpretation and articulation of Islam is virtually synonymous with that of the Wahhabis of the Arabian peninsula,
the Deobandis of the Indian subcontinent, and even, arguably, apolitical piety-minded “missionary” groups like
Tablighi Jama`at [TJ]. Active Wahhabis number at least 5 million in the Gulf; Deobandis make up some 20% of Indian Muslims
(30 million) and 20% of Pakistani ones (35 million); and TJ’s membership has been put in the 20-80 million range (see
my entry on this group in the World Almanac of Islamism). In addition, while Wahhabis and Deobandis can all be subsumed under the
category of Salafism, not all Salafis are Wahhabis or Deobandis—and this latter category would include at least 10 million
Even taking the lowest estimates for Wahhabis, Deobandis,
TJ members and Salafis, we arrive at a count of some 95 million. This comprises about 6% of the world’s
total Muslim population—or, since we’re actually working here only with the Sunni population,
about 8% of the world’s 1.36 billion Sunnis. (Yes, there are Twelver Shi`i terrorist groups—notably
Hizbullah—but such tend to be as much nationalist as Islamic, and they are rarely as brutal as the Sunni terrorist ones,
plus, they are not as enamored with imposing shari`ah, much less a caliphate.)
Furthermore, according to Pew data, large minorities—indeed, majorities in some parts of the Islamic world—believe not only that shari`ah
is ordained by Allah, but also that components thereof such as cutting off hands for stealing or stoning for adultery should
be the law of their lands. This differs very little from ISIS ideology.
Likewise for apocalyptic beliefs: some 42% of the world’s Muslims, or about 670 million people, indicate they expect the Mahdi to come in their lifetime;
and a further 35%, approximately 560 million, say the same about the return of Jesus.
Quite a far cry from Zakaria’s .0019%.
Fareed Zakaria finished his “WaPo” piece by citing
an Egyptian-turned-terrorist, then pontificated that “calling him Islamic really doesn’t help you understand”
why this chap did so. Au contraire, Mr. Zakaria: it helps very much, despite your sophistic attempts
at muddying the analytical waters.
Saturday, February 21, 2015
Jihad, Apocalypse and Terrorism: Is ISIS Acting as Lucifer's Hands?
11:21 am est
As most purveyors of this site know by now, the mainstream media has (finally) discovered that Islamic apocalyptic thought
drives ISIS: Graeme Wood wrote an excellent piece covering this in "The Atlantic," and Peter Bergen did the same for CNN.
Apocalyptic traditions and movements, led by a Muslim claiming to be the End Time Mahdi ("rightly-guided
one"), are not new with ISIS or Jabhat al-Nusrah or any of the other modern groups proclaiming belief in such. They go
back to the early days of Islam, and are intrinsically connected to the more general Muslim practice of jihad, or holy war
British troops fighting troops of the 19th c. apocalyptic Islamic State: the Mahdiyah of
As someone who's studied this topic for almost two decades now, I was asked to put together
a three-day seminar on it for the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and I taught this class via 17 hours of contact
time over Super Bowl weekend. Thirty MA students signed up (including many Muslims), and it went very well.
is how I organized the material:
A Brief History of the Islamic
Qur'an and Hadiths: Basic Teachings
on Key Modern Muslim Beliefs
Moderate Islamic Actors
Acting Like it's the End of the World: Islamic Eschatology
Christian and Muslim Eschatology since 9/11
Twelver Shi`i Eschatology and
the Iranian Vision
A History of Violence
4GW, 4th Terrorism Wave, or Forthcoming War? Sunni and Shi`i Jihad
Fighting for the End of the (Christian) World: ISIS's Jihad Eschatology
This seminar is intended for a secular audience, but much of it can easily be adapted to a more religious venue,
Christian, Jewish or even Muslim--if the latter are willing to be intellectually honest and open-minded.
major aspect of this seminar, reflecting my own well-researched opinion, is that ISIS and its ilk (like the "moderate"
[sic] Jabhat al-Nusrah) are legitimately Islamic in waging jihad and hoping for the apocalyptic
defeat of Western Christian forces. BUT I also firmly believe that such Islamic violence
and triumphalism are predicated on a literal reading of the Qur'an and Hadiths, as well as a slavish following of Muhammad's
more unsavory practices; and that Islamic sects and movements which interpret the religion non-literally can, eventually,
perhaps pry Islam out of Lucifer's hands.
If anyone is interested in having me present this workshop (or a shorter version thereof) to an interested
organization, please contact me through this site.
Friday, February 20, 2015
The Media Is Never Late: It Discovers Islamic Apocalyptic Precisely When It Means To!
10:55 am est
Since this is Lent, I must choose charity over envy: it is, indeed, a net positive for the world that "The Atlantic" and CNN have discovered that ISIS is Islamic, and that eschatological belief is one of its major drivers. However, as someone
whose very doctorate is in Islamic End Times movements ("Eschatology as Politics, Eschatology as Theory: Modern Sunni
Arab Mahdism in Historical Perspective;" 290 pp., The Ohio State University, 2001), who has published numerous articles
and delivered a legion of lectures on this topic as well as advised the US military on same--I do have to say: "what
took you so bloody long?"
My take on Graeme Wood's excellent "Atlantic" piece has just today been written up by WND; but I do have some further observations on Wood, as well as on Peter Bergen's CNN piece:
* Wood's description
of ISIS's worldview as being that of "medieval Islam" is not entirely accurate, as it comes from the 7th-9th century
AD; "early Islamic" would be better. (My historian's distaste for automatically equating "medieval" with
barbaric is showing, I freely confess.)
* "Quietist Salafism" as the antidote to ISIS's brutally literalist
Islam is a stretch, since that approach is also one of Sunni fundamentalism. What's needed is a brand of Islam that eschews
Qur'anic/hadith literalism, and that is found, rather, in sects such as the Ahmadis, Isma'ilis, and some Sufi orders.
* Bergen's labeling of ISIS as a non-rational actor implies that its members are, well, crazy--which they are
not. They are entirely rational, once you accept their eschatological premises--which, according to Pew data, hundreds of millions of Muslims actually do.
Still and all, I am glad that Wood and Bergen, and their respective outlets, are interested--FINALLY--in this
But at the risk of hubris: is it too much to ask that, in future, said news entities cut out
the (journalistic) middle men and go straight to a chap who's been studying this topic since 1999?
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
When Fictional Spokeswomen are Better than Real Ones: Éowyn v. Marie Harf on Our Enemies
11:02 am est
A very important point which no one in the analytical, and few in the journalistic, community wants to admit (hence
State's Marie Harf adducing phantoms such as poverty-driven jihad): the ISIS Caliph and his minions refer to the United States
of America as "defender of the cross." Not "proponent of Ayn Rand," "guardian of the
Enlightenment" or "warden of Jeffersonian democracy." Caliph al-Baghdadi and his decapitating/immolating
rank-and-file forthrightly (if inconveniently) spell out exactly why they hate us: because, in their eyes, we are a Christian
nation. There are those who will dismiss this as a mere progagandistic trope. But they would be wrong to
do so. IS, along with Boko Haram and al-Qa`ida and Jabhat al-Nusra and the Taliban (to name only a few of the Islamic
legions), as well as the non-terrorist but Muslim fundamentalist movements such as Wahhabism, Deobandism and Salafism, all
view the world through a simplistic but legitimately Islamic lens of Dar al-Islam v. Dar al-harb: the "house
of Islam" v. the "house of war." And for 14 centuries the vanguard of the latter has been Christendom.
Some decry pointing this out as crass "Crusaderism." But as that combat veteran J.R.R. Tolkien pointed
out--via his main female protagonist, Éowyn, "it needs but one foe to breed a war, not two"--and when that
enemy declares its war on us in religious terms, why should we pretend otherwise?
Should I help the Witch-king get a real job--or just stab him in the face? (Thanks, TH.)