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al-Mahdi is "the rightly-guided one" who, according to Islamic Hadiths (traditions), will come before the end of time to make the entire world Muslim.  Over the last 1400 years numerous claimants to the mantle of the Mahdi have arisen in both Shi`i and Sunni circles.  Modern belief in the coming of the Mahdi has manifested most famously in the 1979 al-`Utaybi uprising of Sa`udi Arabia, and more recently in the ongoing Mahdist movements (some violent) in Iraq, as well as in the frequently-expressed public prayers of former Iranian President Ahmadinezhad bidding the Mahdi to return and, in the larger Sunni Islamic world, by claims that Usamah bin Ladin might be the (occulted) Mahdi.  Now in 2014 Mahdism is active in Syria, as the jihadist opposition group Jabhat al-Nusra claims to be fighting to prepare the way for his coming; and in the new "Islamic State/caliphate" spanning Syrian and Iraqi territory, as its leadership promotes the upcoming apocalyptic battle with the West at Dabiq, Syria.  This site will track such Mahdi-related movements, aspirations, propaganda and beliefs in both Sunni and Shi`i milieus, as well as other  Muslim eschatological yearnings.
For a primer on Mahdism, see my 2005 article, "What's Worse than Violent Jihadists?," at the History News Network: http://hnn.us/articles/13146.html; for more in-depth info, see the links here to my other writings, including my book on Mahdism.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The New Global Terrorism Index: Sharif Won't Like It
Two new reports on terrorism have been released in the last week:  one by the government of the United Arab Emirates; another by the Institute for Economics & Peace, called the “Global Terrorism Index.”  Both are worthy of scrutiny—particularly the latter. 

The UAE Council of Ministers disseminated a list of 83 terrorist organizations.   Most notably, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), as well as the Muslim American Society (MAS), are included as terroristic by the UAE.  All 83 (not 82, as some outlets have reported) such groups identitied by that Sunni nation’s Council of Ministers are ones that openly claim to be Islamic; whether they simply chose to deal solely with Islamic entities, or did not deem non-Muslim terrorist organizations worthy of enumerating, is not clear from the article.  Perhaps the most striking aspect of this UAE list is that it contains almost twice as many groups as does the US State Department one on foreign terrorism—including many I had never heard of (and I worked directly from their Arabic list).  Does this mean that that small Gulf country has better intelligence on the topic than the US?  Or that UAE’s threshold for what constitutes a terrorist group is lower  (smaller number of members, for example) than the US government’s?  It’s also quite interesting that this list includes not just the usual suspects—al-Qa`idah [AQ], ISIS (“Da`ish”), the Taliban, Boko Haram [BH]—but the Muslim Brotherhood and various and sundry European Islamist organizations (the Union of Muslim Ulama and the various Islamic societies in Britain, Germany and the Scandinavian countries).  According to outoing US Attorney General Eric Holder’s standards, then, the UAE government must be racist and Islamophobic. 

The GTI is not just a listing but an in-depth, 94-pp. analysis of terrrorism from 2000 to 2013.  Some of its major findings have already been reported:  terrorist-caused deaths increased 60% in 2013 over the previous year;  four groups—Taliban, AQ, ISIS and BH—caused most of those; and “extreme interpretations of Wahhabi Islam are the key commonality to all four groups.”

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But there is much more data besides that found by journalists in the executive summary.  When this millennium began, nationalist/separatist-based violence was the planet’s primary form of terrorism; but starting on 9/11 that was surpassed by the religious-based (Islamic, that is) kind, and the trend has accelerated in recent years. 
 

The rest of the top ten most deadly terrorist groups for the period 2000-2013,  after the Taliban, AQ, ISIS and BH, are: Indian Maoists, Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, the Tamil Tigers, Somalia’s al-Shabab, Colombia’s Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or FARC, and the Chechen Islamic “rebels.”  The countries most bedeviled by terrorism are, in order: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Syria, India, Somalia, Yemen, the Philippines and Thailand. 

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Suicide attacks made up only 5% of the fatalities during those 14 years—but that represents some 2,500 individuals killed.  And suicide attack-by-explosive was the most lethal form of terrrorist violence, taking out, on average, 11 people—whereas all other types of terrorist attacks (mostly firearms) averaged only two fatalities.  Ninety percent of suicide attacks occurred in MENA (Middle East & North Africa) and South Asia; no surprise there, as polling data consistently shows substantial Muslim public support for  suicide bombing.  The groups most responsible for suicide attacks were: AQ, Tehrik-i-Taliban (Pakistan), ISIS, Hamas (though none since 2008), al-Shabab and BH.   

While homicide is still a far greater threat to individuals in many countries than terrorism, the GTI study also empirically lays out the indirect toll of terrorism: “increased costs of security, military expenditures and insurance often outweigh the original attacks. Further, [they] increase uncertainty in the market, decrease foreign investment, alter trade and change consumption and savings behaviour” (p. 43).   

One of the most trenchant points herein, made several times, is that poverty does not cause terrorism—or as the study puts it, more academically, “there is no systematic link to poverty measures….Similarly, economic measures such as GDP growth also do not correlate “ (p. 59).  The closest correlations with terrorism are lack of political stability; intergroup cohesion and “group grievances;” and the (il)legitimacy of the state.   

Between 1968 and 2006 (drawing on a RAND study),  the most likely way for a terrorist movement to come to an end was by incorporation into the political process (43% did so in such fashion); second was via “policing” (40%); 10% of terrorist organizations actually triumphed; and only 7% were defeated solely by military force.   GTI, however, does not really explain the differences between “policing” and “military force.”  And the period examined in this section was one in which many 1960s nationalist and Leftist/Anarchist groups met their demise—whereas the vast majority of the groups since 2000 are religious (Islamic, to be honest) and the authors admit that “groups with an international focus and a religious orientation…are more likely to continue operating, increase in size, and need military intervention to stop them” (p. 56).   

Observations
1
) Poverty does not cause terrorism.  Someone please alert “The Economist” and BBC,  much of the US media, and most of the modern Democrat party. 
2) GTI makes one major mistake: the Taliban are motivated by Deobandi Islam, not the Wahhabi brand;  South Asian Deobandism developed entirely separately from Arabian Wahhabism, although they resemble one another now insofar as both are manifestations of literalist, fundamentalist Sunni Islam.
3) There is only one Christian terrorist group on GTI’s list: the Lord’s Resistance Army of Uganda.  Accepting arguendo that LRA is Christian—so as to maintain intellectual consistency with labeling groups that claim to be representing Islam as such—there are still major differences between it and Islamic terrorist ones:  practically every Christian in the world condemns it (which is not the case with Muslims and Islamic terrorism); and the LRA stands alone in this study as “Christianist” terrorism (unlike the dozens—or 83—Islamist terror entities). 
4) The world’s foremost terrorism stage is Iraq, which saw over 6,000 deaths from such in 2013.  And as much as it pains me to say it, the United States is the major reason for the unleashing of the Islamic terrorist “genie” (jinn) in that country.  There were plenty of problems under Saddam Husayn’s brutal reign—but widespread terrorist fatalities were not one of them.  Afghanistan, with over 3,000 fatalities, is second.  At least with that country the US had a good reason to invade: to take out the staging area, and enablers of, the 9/11 attacks.   But in both Iraq and Afghanistant the proximate cause for rampant terrorism is American destruction of previously-existing political systems—although, of course, the ultimate reason for Islamic terrorism in both countries is, well, Islam itself.
5) Oh, and did I mention that, once again, we have empirical data that poverty does not cause terrorism?

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Medieval Muslim terrorists--the Isma'ili Shi`i "Assassins"--whacking the Seljuq Turkish ruler Nizam al-Mulk in 1092 AD.  (No, the Isma'ilis were not poor!)

4:44 pm est          Comments

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lecturing (on ISIS) Like It's the End of the World

My 10.23.14 lecture at Concordia Seminary (St. Louis), on how Islamic eschatology is motivating ISIS and some other Muslim terrorist groups, has been covered by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's "Reporter:" "ISIS, other radical Islamists driven by Muslim eschatology."
Alas, even journalists in my own conservative denomination (both theologically and, generally, politically) have been infected by political correctness; I made a point of saying that ISIS and its ilk are, in fact, not "radical" but literalist when it comes to Qur'an and hadiths.  So just read the article!

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ISIS Mujahidin hard at work building the caliphate! No, wait--this is actually 16th c. Persian artwork depicting Alexander the Great ordering jinn to build a wall to enclose the murderous hordes of Yajuj and Majuj (Gog and Magog), who will stay penned up until the End Times' battles.

12:03 pm est          Comments

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Is the US Misunderestimating Iran--for Legal Reasons?

In all the excitement over the Islamic State (of Iraq and al-Sham), some political leaders (Israel's Prime Minister and an Australian member of Parliament, most notably) claim that the world has lost track of a much greater threat: the Islamic Republic of Iran.  Of course, Western, and particularly American, negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program have been a political minefield for at least two US administrations--complicated, now, by the recent revelations that President Obama has written to Supreme Leader Khamenei, seeking closer cooperation against ISIS. 

American policy makers seem habitually to misunderstand the Islamic Republic's leadership, ideology and goals.  Admittedly, I've formally studied Iranian history and the Persian language, visited the country (albeit for only 10 days, in 2008) and written extensively in recent years on Iran's domestic and foreign policies--yet even I often see that government as a riddle wrapped in a mystery and buried in a bowl of gheimeh.  

So, on the one hand: acknowledging the complexity of the Persian problem does not absolve those well-paid, Inside-the-Beltway professionals of responsibility; but on the other: might there be a structural issue at work here?  I began thinking about this after reading the special section on Iran, "The Revolution is Over," in the November 1st issue of "The Economist."  In particular, note this bit of data: "Iran's cabinet has more members with PhDs from American universities than that of America itself...." (p. 6).  

I did a bit of research into comparative educational levels of the two countries' leaders. Among the 21 members of Iran's cabinet, there are 11 PhDs, one MD, and one ABD in Mathematics. And no, the doctorates are not all in Islamic law/jurisprudence; in fact, only two are.  President Rouhani holds a PhD (Edinburgh) in Constitutional Law; the other non-Islamic studies specializations are in areas such as Industrial Engineering, Economics, Management, International Relations, Geography and Political Economy.  Furthermore, many of these degrees are from outside Iran--institutions such as University of Warsaw, London School of Economics and the University of Denver. 

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Supremo Khameini meets with President Rouhani and the cabinet. Rumor has it the chap in the flannel shirt (2nd from right) was sent to meet the houris afterwards.

Now let us examine the current US cabinet.  Of its 19 members (including the DNI and DCI, although they are not formally deemed such), there are two DPhils: one in International Relations (Trade Representative) and one in Economics (the Economic Advisor).  As should be no surprise to anyone, there are 11 JDs in the Obama cabinet.  The rest are comprised of: one Mechanical Engineer (Interior) and one MBA (the VA); two Master's degrees (the DNI and the DCI); and two individuals who have only Bachelors' degrees (Defense and HHS). 

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President Obama meets with his cabinet.  Not pictured: VP Biden sitting on floor.

And just for even more comparative analytical fun, let's look at the degrees held by some prominent Sunni Islamist/terrorist leaders.  al-Qa`idah's chief Ayman al-Zawahiri is a MD with an MS in surgery, to boot; the Muslim Brotherhood "spiritual guide," Muhammad Badi`, hold a DVM; the global head of the caliphate-restoring Hizb al-Tahrir, Ata Abu Rashta, is a civil engineer.  Only the ISIS "caliph," Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi--who, despite rumors, is not dead yet--and the leader of Boko Haram, Abubakr Shekau, are said to have advanced degrees in Islamic law/jurisprudence.

Observations:

1) The Islamic Republic of Iran is run by very educated, and likely very intelligent, men with quite diverse intellectual horizons.  At the same time all of them, doubtless, are also very pious Twelver Shi`i Muslims.  This runs counter to the secular/atheist slander that strong religious belief (particularly Islamic or Christian) equates to stupidity and low intelligence.  Beard length is not inversely proportional to intelligence--whether the person in question is from Louisiana or Luristan.

2) Lawyers are intelligent; some of my best friends--including my wife--are attorneys.  But the legal worldview is not exactly a broad one, and too often leads to an obsession with process over substance.  (And to be fair: the Obama Administration is not the only one in recent decades top-heavy with JDs.) Perhaps this narrow legal focus helps explain why the current US leadership cannot
see the Islamic Republic for what its leaders truly believe it to be: the vanguard of the globe's mostazafan, "oppressed," in their struggle against the exploitative (Western Christian) world order created in the last 500 years by the the arrogant mostakhbaran, "exploiters." Twelver Shi`ism alone does not explain modern Iranian political thought, because even ayatollahs have been inculcated with heavy doses of neo-Marxist ideology (which actually meshes well with the socioeconomic "deliverance" aspect of Twelver Islam).  But American law schools--even elite Ivy League ones--don't teach such topics. 

3) Looking at the Sunni Islamist/terrorist leaders vis-a-vis those of Iran, one might well speculate that the likelihood of brutal rule increases when the individual has an advanced degree (or at least study) in Sunni Islamic literalism.  al-Baghdadi and Shekau have certainly made ISIS and Boko Haram, respectively, bastions of Islamic barbarity.  Conversely: al-Zawahiri tries to kill Americans but does not impose hand-chopping shari`ah on his co-religionists; Badi` heads a decidedly Islamist but actually non-terrorist organization; and Rashta's group aims for peaceful restoration of the (Ottoman-style) caliphate.  So it appears that an insular Islamic higher education--particularly an Arab or African Sunni one--is more problematic than its Iranian, Twelver Shi`i counterpart.  (For those of you who think I'm being too hard on the Arabs: yearly Iran "publishes three times more books than all Arab nations combined"--same "Economist" article, p. 6.)

4) "The Economist" piece also states that "the winner of last year's election, Mr. Rohani, is pursuing a moderate agenda. His government is staffed by pragmatic technocrats rather than messianic nationalists" (p. 6).   I think that actually Iran's current cabinet should better be described as "messianic technocrats"--since each is (as aforementioned) certainly a true believer in the IRI's Mahdist mission while, simultaneously, almost every one is decidely cosmopolitan and, again, highly educated.  As I've stated and written before, this means inter alia that the government in Tehran has no intention of nuking Israel (or anyone else) in order to hotwire the apocalypse--and thus that ISIS presents the true clear and present danger to the Middle East rather than the Islamic Republic of Iran.

5) In no wise am I equating PhDs with brilliance, integrity or even necessarily clarity of thought.  Suffering through a PhD program myself made clear that all it takes to get one is a reasonable amount of intelligence and dogged--even mule-headed--determination.  And in point of fact some of the biggest fools on planet Earth have doctoral degrees.  What I am saying here is that the amount of research needed for such a degree is considerably above that demanded of a JD or Master's--and, thus, that the collective worldview of the ruling circle of Iran is perhaps a better informed one about many issues than is that of my own country. 

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The good old days: when Sunnis were Ottomans with killer moustaches, Iranians were Safavids with "Duck Dynasty" beards (rather like today, come to think of it)--and everyone had scimitars!

2:18 pm est          Comments

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Eschatology and the Islamic State
My public lecture at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, last week on ISIS and Islamic eschatology was reviewed and summarized by Dr. Joel Okamoto, professor of Systematic Theology.
(Just for those of you who don't have the time to watch the actual lecture....)

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Still not "Islamophobic" enough for CAIR!  Must try harder....
12:53 pm edt          Comments

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

On War Against the "Cross-Worshippers:" Furnish Lecture on ISIS & Islamic Eschatology
On Thursday, October 23, 2014, I lectured at Concordia Seminary (St. Louis). The title of my lecture was "Fighting for the End of the (Christian) World: Islam, Jihad and Eschatology."
The link is up at iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/fighting-for-end-christian/id934124074?mt=10


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Nineteenth-century Persian rendering of the (Islamic) Last Judgment.
2:43 pm edt          Comments

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Jamkaran Mosque near Qom, Iran (during my trip there Aug. 2008)

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