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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:; for more in-depth info, see the links here to my other writings, including my book on Mahdism.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Paging Peter Jackson....

For a number of years the U.S. Government has been seeking the ideas of prominent science fiction writers in visualizing possible futures, and of course has enlisted their help since 9/11 in the War on Islamic Terror (that's what it really is, no matter how politically-correct and anodyne a title the State Department tries to give it):
Perhaps they could learn something from a sci-fi writer who's been dead for 20 years--Robert Heinlein. In his story "Revolt in 2100," a Second American Revolution (led by the Freemasons!) is required to get rid of a Protestant Fundamentalist Religioius Dictatorship in the U.S. (and no, it's not the Bush Administration).  Heinlein's story was originally written right before World War II, and it posits a backwoods fundamentalist Christian preacher, albeit one blessed with tons of charisma, inheriting a fortune and gaining enough (presumably right-wing) political allies to get elected President sometime in the mid- to late-20th century as the "First Prophet"--whereupon his descendants rule an American theocracy for over a century.
Heinlein's rather irrational fear of evangelical Christians has much in common with many on the Left today, but the point I wish to focus on here is rather the mechanism he posits the followers of this First Prophet, Nehemiah Scudder, using to keep their minions convinced of the validity of the theocracy: every year after his death, in a nationally-televised event, the ruling Prophet actually transforms into the First Prophet, Nehemiah Scudder, himself via special effects so convincing that no one ever suspects it's a fake.  Heinelin didn't yet know the phrase CGI--"computer-generated imagery"--but that's exactly what he was describing here, from the viewpoint of the protagonist of the story, a former believer who has become a leader in the Revolution:
"The Prophet started his invocation. His compelling, organlike voice rolled....Then he asked the blessing of Eternal God for the people....He paused, looked at me again, then rolled his eyes up to Heaven, lifted his hands, and commenced his petition to the First Prophet, asking him to confer on his people the priceless bounty of seeing and hearing him in the flesh, and offering for that purpose the flesh of the present prophet as an instrument. He waited. The transformation started--and my hackles stood up....The features of the Prophet began to change: his rich robes darkened--and there standing in his place, dressed in a frock coat of a bygone era, was the Reverend Nehemiah Scudder, First Prophet and founder of the New Crusade. I felt my stomach tighten with fear and dread and I was a little boy again, watching it for the first time in my parish church."
Substitute "Supreme Leader" for "Prophet Incarnate;" "Allah" for "Eternal God;" "Twelfth Imam" or "Mahdi" for "First Prophet;" "black robe, beard and turban" for "frock coat of bygone era;" "Twelfth Imam" or "Mahdi" for "Nehemiah Scudder;" and "mosque" for "parish church"--then throw in some state-of-the-art CGI and voila! The Mahdi has (re)appeared. And even if most of the Muslim world scorns and rejects such a "miracle," a small percentage of that world's 1.3 billion--or even a minority of Iran's 70 million--buying into it would be hugely problematic. 
Let's hope no one in Iran reads sci-fi, especially Heinlein.

1:21 pm edt          Comments

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Tactics v. Strategy
In a story about the 1,500 Usama bin Ladin audiotapes seized from Afghanistan and being translated by a University of California-Davis professor (,2933,425562,00.html), Brian Jenkins--terrorism expert at RAND--observes that "the United States has focused almost exclusively on trying to obtain operational intelligence from Al Qaeda—such as imminent plans and specific threats—and hasn't spent enough time trying to fully understand the terrorist organization's motivations."
Certainly we should applaud the good folks in the intelligence agencies and military who are focusing on imminent plans so they can, as they have many times, thwart specific threats against Americans.  But based on my experience with various U.S. government entities and individuals, there is still a reluctance to even acknowledge, much less "fully understand," those who claim Islamic texts, history and traditions as their motivations for violence and political activism.
There are still analysts--and some rather high-profile ones, at that--who refuse to acknowledge that al-Qa`idah's violence has any basis in Islam itself. Don't believe me? Check out this online debate between Raymond Ibrahim (a native Arabic speaker whose book The Al Qaeda Reader translates directly from Arabic texts of Bin Ladin and al-Zawahiri) and Michael Scheuer (former head of the "get Usamah" team at CIA whose doctorate is in Canadian diplomatic history):
Read the entire post, including the comments by Scheuer, then decide for youself who makes more sense.
Much the same sort of willfully ignorant calculus as Scheuer applies--and remember, he was a senior analyst at CIA for a number of years!--has been regnant in American policy circles regarding Iraq and Iran since we toppled Saddam in 2003.  (In fact, I pointed this out almost two years ago, in a critique of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group report: .)
Perhaps the success of the American surge in Iraq is partially due to a more realistic understanding of, and grappling with, the ideological bases of our opponents in Iraq and Iran--I have no way of knowing. But as this article by Babak Rahimi indicates ("The Mumahidun: Muqtada al-Sadr's New Militia," Jamestown Terrorism Monitor, September 4, 20008:, we have also spent an inordinate amout of time and energy analzying weapons trails to and from the former Jaysh al-Mahdi and not enough delving into what Rahimi calls al-Sadr's (and Iran's) new emphasis on "intellectual jihad."  We need more of the sort of reporting and analysis that Rahimi does in this piece, although I would raise the following reservations and questions about some of his points:
1)  It may not be all that positive that "the change of the militia's name from 'Jaysh al-Mahdi' to 'Mumahidun' [those who pave the way for the Mahdi] means that "al-Sadr seems no longer to consider his movement as the immediate embodiment of the Mahdi...but rather a mere prelude to...a distant messianic future?" Or that al-Sadr  is "moving toward a more standardized, institutionalized Shia-based millenarian position." Hizbullah, with its Imam Mahdi Scouts for the Lebanese Shi`i youth, seems likewise enamored of a future, not imminent, Mahdiyah--yet it is not exactly peaceful.  Similarly, the Islamic Republic of Iran holds a traditional, "institutionalized Shia-based millenarian position" (in fact, the Tehran/Qom view of such is the quintessential Twelver Shi'a one)--yet that's not exactly good news, especially lately, for other Muslims or for the non-Muslim world.
2) Tehran's role in encouraging (threatening?) al-Sadr to focus on intellectual, rather than military, jihad does not stem from any sudden wish among the ayatollahs to jump on the peace  train; rather, as Rahimi notes, their concern is to "ensure that Baghdad would thwart any American attempt to use Iraq as a launch pad for military attacks against Iran." The IRI government basically wants al-Sadr and his minions to calm down long enough for Tehran to get its nuclear weapons online. 
3) Several time Rahimi mentions the "traditional Shia authority" model toward which the transformation of the Jaysh al-Mahdi into al-Mumahidun represents, seemingly seeing nothing negative in it. However, "traditional Shia authorities" as every bit as capable of stirring up trouble for Sunnis and Westerners (as well as for other Shi`is!) as are the non-traditional kind.  As noted, Tehran/Qom is a case in point.  But should Ayatollah al-Sistani ever give the word, a good number of Shi`is in Iraq, if not the majority, would turn against the U.S.  Shi`ism, even institutionalized and traditionalist, does not equate to pacifism under the regnant paradigm of Shi`i jihad extant since for the last two centuries--which I described thusly in the article about my trip to Iran in "The Weekly Standard," Sep. 8, 2008:
"Long before the Islamic Revolution, Shiite clerics had ruled that in the absence of Imam Mahdi, offensive jihad could not be waged--only defensive jihad. Hence Larijani's remark that Iranian long-range missiles would be purely "defensive." But the doctrine of defensive jihad has its own troubling aspects: It can be waged in the Mahdi's absence; treaties and truces with dhimmis (Christians and Jews, who enjoy second-class status under Islamic law) can be broken at will; Muslims who cooperate with non-Muslim occupiers of Muslim land can be killed; and, most alarming, there are even fewer limits on the types of warfare that can be employed in defensive jihad than in offensive--in effect sanctioning the use of WMDs" ( )
12:18 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Post-Messiah Stress Syndrome?

Most politically-astute Americans have noticed, by now in this Presidential campaign, that some of Barack Husayn Obama's supporters hold, shall we say, a rather elevated view of him--many have even termed this "messianic."  I have received emails here from both Muslims and non-Muslims speculating whether Barack Husayn Obama might be, if not the Second Coming of Jesus, then the Mahdi (which, for some evangelical Christians, equates to the Anti-christ).  Suffice it to say, then, that the Presidential campaign of BHO is fraught with eschatological overtones for a fair number of people, American and foreign, especially those supporting him who do cast him in something of a messianic role.  
Richard Miniter over on PajamasMedia has commented on the political and, to some extent, the psychological fallout among BHO supporters from an Obama defeat (; but considering the truly eschatological import which some Obamaites attach to his winning the Presidency, I think that "Post-Messiah Stress Syndrome" is a good term for the existential despondency we can expect should McCain win.  And not just among Americans on the Left; there will be blood and tears in the foreign press, especially in the Middle East and Islamic world, over this missed opportunity for America and the world.  America will be branded, by some of its own (Democratic) citizens, and by too many foreigners (especially, but not only, Muslim), as not just dishonest (Republicans will have stolen the election) and racist but frankly anti-messianic. Mark my words.

10:03 am edt          Comments

Friday, September 5, 2008

Taqiyah by Any Other Name
The Islamic Information Center in Washington, DC--an umbrella group for American Shi`i Muslims--has condemned Mayor Rudy Giuliani's remarks at the Republican National Convention this past week as "derogatory and demeaning to all peaceful Muslims in America and around the world" (  According to the IIC "the majority of the world's 1.4 Billion Muslims are peaceful, law abiding, family oriented people - and for Mr. Giuliani to use the phrase 'Islamic Terrorism' implies the opposite, especially when he prefaces such comments with words such 'John McCain will keep us on offense against terrorism at home and abroad'.
There is no such thing as 'Islamic Terrorism'. Islam and terrorism are intrinsically opposite. Whereas Islam teaches fasting, prayer, and good will to one's neighbors, the goal of terrorism is to use fear and intimidation to accomplish political goals. Furthermore, of the eight million Muslims living on [sic] the United States, the overwhelming majority are active participants in American society....No religion can be associated with terrorism, and to do so contradicts both common sense and logic. Religions are focused on the betterment of society, and attaining closeness to God."
Let's analyze the IIC's contentions. First, there are nowhere near 8 million Muslims in the U.S.; the latest demographic assessment by the Pew Research Center showed 2.35 million American Muslims--so since the IIC is so blatantly propagandizing on such a simple, clear-cut issue, how reliable are the rest of their assertions? More importantly, the IIC is at best half-right in saying that "Islam teaches fasting, prayer and good will"--indeed it does, in Surah al-Baqarah [2]:256, "no compulsion in religion" and Surah al-Furqan [25]: Allah redeems righteous living. BUT the Qur'an also teaches dislike of, and even violence toward, non-Muslims: Surah al-Ma'idah [5]:54 says "befriend not Jews and Christians;" Surah al-Nisa' [4]:34 says "those wives whom you suspect of...ill-conduct, admonish them, refuse to share their beds and beat them." And it gets even uglier: Surah Muhammad [47]:3 and Surah al-Anfal[8]:12 both state "behead the unbelievers in battle;" Surah al-`Imran [3]:157, 169, Surah al-Nisa'[4]:74-76, 94ff and 101 say that fighting fi sabil Allah--in the path of Allah--gets one directly to heaven (and huris, those much-ballyhooed virgins, as rewards).  Also, the IIC folks seem woefully ignorant of the directives and teachings coming out of Shi`ism Central Command in Tehran and Qom, where the senior ayatollahs, the President and the Speaker of the Majlis all together say that the Mahdi will not come to power without breaking a few--okay, many--infidel skulls.  Perhas the IIC staff should go on a fact-finding mission to Qom and get with the program.  (Presuming, of course, they're legitimately misinformed about the teachings of their own religion, and not simply engaged in taqiyah, or dissimulation, about it.
Yes, yes, Christianity had the Crusades and the Inquisition and some of the ancient Israelite rulers and even prophets had plenty of blood on their hands. BUT no one with any power or shred of respectability in either of those religions TODAY is citing Biblical (Old Testament or New Testament) texts to justify killing "unbelievers," strangling recalcitrant wives or daughters, or dispossessing Muslims of their rights in the U.S. (or anywhere in the West, for that matter). On the other hand, Bin Ladin, al-Zarqawi, some of the leadership of Iran, and a host of other Muslims in positions of authority (official or unofficial) DO quote the Qur'an, and/or the example of their prophet Muhammad, to reserve the right to, and sometime employ, violence. They do so by quoting their OWN religious texts and traditions--not a clever handbook published by the CIA or Centcom or even Vice-President Cheney's nefarious office.  What kind of cognitive dissonance--or outright lying--does it take to make the incredibly fatuous statement that there is no such thing as Islamic  terrorism?  And here I thought that the Shi`is were more honest about this sort of thing than their Sunni brethren.  Guess not. 
And note that this difference on whether Islamic terrorism actually exists is a major one separating the Republican and Democratic parties.  Congressman Gregory Meeks (D-NY) is, according to IIC's webpage, intimately involved with this organization--yet more proof of the Democratic party's continuing willingness to whitewash the ugly aspects of Islamic political ideology.
1:38 pm edt          Comments

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Paging Tom Petty
Next time I'm in Qom I really need to have tea with this chap:

Qom Seminary Official: Establish 'Ministry of Waiting'
A high-ranking official at the Iranian Qom Seminary School, Samamedding Ghavami, has called for the establishment of a new ministry under the name of "Ministry ‎of Waiting," to facilitate the emergence of Imam Zaman, the Messiah in Twelver Shi'a.

Source: Rasanews, Iran, August 24, 2008 (

Maybe they should call it "The Ministry of Waiting-is-the-Hardest-Part?"
Seriously, recall that the Left's narrative caricature of the Bush Administration runs something like this: W, Condi and various other Cabinet officials circle up in a revival tent pitched on the South Lawn, listen to bombastic sermons by James Dobson and John Hagee, chant "What Would Jesus Do" in unison, then dispatch the 101st Airborne to invade and forcibly convert another Muslim country to Right-Wing Protestantism.  In reality, however, it is in Tehran and Qom that government officials actually try to figure out what their messiah (the Twelfth Imam, the Mahdi) would do and make serious calls for an entire government ministry devoted to such and to paving the way for his coming. 

8:33 am edt          Comments

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Bringing the Mahdi to the (Neocon?) Masses
My article on the political aspects of the Mahdism Conference in Iran has been published by The Weekly Standard in the September 8 issue, under the title "The Importance of Being Mahdist."  Here's the link:
And below are more pictures of the conference in Tehran, and of Qom.
Here is the Ahl al-Bayt ("Family of the House [of the Prophet]") Mosque in Qom:

This is the entranceway onto the grounds of Jamkaran Mosque:

Here's a shot of one of the two large minarets set off some distance from Jamkaran; they are of quite different architectural and aesthetic design--a Belgian scholar/convert described them to me as "Neo-Mamluk"--from the more graceful ones immediately joined to the mosque:

This is the central interior of Jamkaran; I managed to take this picture  before being told to stop (seems we were allowed to use cameras only in the side areas, not the central one):

This is another view of the inside of Khomeini's memorial mosque, with his actual tomb
visible on the lower right:

This is a shot out my hotel window of a huge radio/TV tower to the north, with the Elborz Mountains
behind it:

This is a scene of the conference hall, in-between panels:

Here's another shot of the Hall of Leaders, where the opening and closing ceremonies
took place. Ahmadinejad and Larijani spoke here:

And finally here I am at one of the booths between panels (lots of publishers and web-hosting outfits showed up, almost all of them eschatologically-related--of course):
8:26 am edt          Comments

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

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