Notes From the Margins…

What Iran Wants: the Day of Judgement

  • January 30, 2012
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Supporters of war against Iran often justify their urgency on the grounds that Iran is not just a ‘rogue state’ but a mad state whose leadership is intent on a nuclear-engendered apocalypse.   According to this school of thought the Iranian regime is motivated by an eschatalogical philosophy peculiar to Shia Islam seeks to bring about the end of the world in order to enable the return of the ‘twelfth Imam.’

In other words,  the Iranian leadership is seeking nuclear weapons so that Iran can be destroyed and its population can all go to heaven.

This argument has been made by various people, from the historian Niall Ferguson to the crazed Zionist zealot Melanie Phillips.  In an article last  week Phillips  supported the EU’s sanctions against Iran, though she condemned the West for believing that ‘the Iranian regime is  capable  of ‘coming to its senses’ and also for

its assumption that these are rational actors who ultimately will act in their own interest. Few in the west understand that, on the contrary, the Iranian regime is impervious to reason. Educated, intelligent and cunning they may be but they are religious fanatics driven by an entirely different set of considerations. That’s what makes this situation so terrifying.

What is that motivates these ‘educated, intelligent and cunning’ Iranians, according to Phillips?

As I have written over and over again, from the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei downwards the Iranian regime is dominated by people (adherents of a sect called the ‘Twelvers’) who believe that the Shia messiah, the Mahdi, will return to earth either as result of or to bring about the apocalyptic end of days. It is that apocalypse that they are intent upon facilitating. That is why the argument that “they wouldn”t dare launch a nuclear attack because they know half of Iran would be obliterated as a result” is so fatuous. They  would be happy  if that were to occur.

Rationality and logic have long been absent from the writings of this Islamophobic bigot.  But she is not the only one to advance such views.  Phillips takes her cue from a piece  by the pseudonymous ‘ex-CIA spy’ Reza Kahlili  entitled ‘Iran is preparing for Armageddon’ posted on the hyper-conservative website World Net Daily – a clearly reliable and entirely trustworthy source –  which declares Supreme Leader Ayotollah Ali Khamanei is already preparing for the Last Days.  According to Kahlili

Khamenei has been heard to say that the coming of the last Islamic Messiah, the Shiites’ 12th Imam Mahdi, is near and that specific actions need to be taken to protect the Islamic regime for upcoming events.  Mahdi, according to Shiite belief, will reappear at the time of Armageddon.

Oh dear.   Better get inside those bunkers readers.  But then we have been here before. In October 2003 neocon spook Michael Ledeen claimed that Iran was preparing a terrorist attack to commemorate the anniversary of the seizure of the American embassy in Teheran the following month.  Ledeen also warned that:

There is another November date our leaders should take seriously: the 25th, the anniversary of the disappearance of the twelfth imam, and thus the most significant date in the Shiite calendar. Reports from Tehran suggest that the mullahs would like to celebrate that anniversary with a big-time terrorist attack against America.

Despite these ‘reports’ there was no such attack, but no matter.   And then there was Bernard Lewis, Dick Cheney’s favourite Middle East expert, warning in an article in the Wall Street Journal on 8 August that Iran might be preparing to launch nuclear armageddon in two weeks time.

Adding the gift of prophecy to his scholarly achievements,  the 90-year-old Lewis rejected the notion that a nuclear-armed Iran might be constrained by the Cold War doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction, on the grounds that “There is a radical difference between the Islamic Republic of Iran and other governments with nuclear weapons’ –  a difference that he attributed to ‘ the apocalyptic worldview of Iran”s present rulers.”

According to Lewis, the Iranian leadership is engaged in a ‘cosmic struggle’ that was specific to Shia Islam, which will culminate in

the long awaited return of the Hidden Imam, ending in the final victory of the forces of good over evil… Mr. Ahmadinejad and his followers clearly believe that this time is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced. It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22.

This was the date on which Mohammed ascended to heaven.  Though Lewis conceded that it was ‘far from certain’ that Ahmadinejad had any such intentions for that date, he quoted a speech from Ayotollah Khomeini in an Iranian school textbook to the effect that:

Either we all become free, or we will go to the greater freedom which is martyrdom. Either we shake one another”s hands in joy at the victory of Islam in the world, or all of us will turn to eternal life and martyrdom. In both cases, victory and success are ours.

Ipso facto:

In this context, mutual assured destruction, the deterrent that worked so well during the Cold War, would have no meaning.    At the end of time, there will be general destruction anyway. What will matter will be the final destination of the dead as hell for the infidels, and heaven for the believers. For people with this mindset, MAD is not a constraint; it is an inducement.

For all its pseudo-scholarship, Lewis was engaging in the demonisation that so many of the ‘real men go to Tehran’ brigade’ are prone to.    All these arguments – or fantasies – have a common purpose: to represent the Iranian leadership – and by extension the Iranian population –  as a target, while simultaneously denying or obscuring any rational motivations or objectives behind Iranian foreign policy or Iran’s behaviour as a state.

Evidence of such rationality is not hard to find, for those who want to look.  In 2003,  a leaked document published by IPS news revealed that Iran had proposed negotiations with the Bush administration on a range of issues in exchange for ending sanctions, in which it asked for ‘ a halt in U.S. hostile behavior and rectification of status of Iran in the U.S’ and ‘recognition of Iran’s legitimate security interests in the region with according defense capacity.’

In return the document’s proposals included an end to support for armed Palestinian factions based in Iran, acceptance of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and ‘action on Hizbollah to become a mere political organization within Lebanon.’

According to Flynt Leverett, a former official on the National Security Council, the 2003 overtures represented a ‘serious proposal’ for a possible rapprochement between the United States, but the Bush administration was intent on isolating Iran as member of the ‘axis of evil’ and ignored them.

In 2007 Leverett claimed that both Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell had seen these proposals and paid them no attention.   In a 2008 article in The Washington Monthly Leverett and his wife Hilary analysed the relationship between Iran and the United States and advocated a ‘grand bargain’ between the two countries that would take into consideration their mutual security requirements.

The Leveretts rejected the idea that ‘the Islamic Republic aspires to become history’s first “suicide nation”‘ and argued that:

Iran’s growing strategic importance and confidence in its role in the region mean it is no longer just a threat to be managed. More than ever, it is now an international actor that can profoundly undermine, or help advance, many of the United States’s most vital strategic objectives.

These recommendations have been ignored by the Obama administration, as they were by his predecessors.   And now that war is closer than ever, we can expect to hear a lot more about Iran’s desire for collective suicide and how there is really just no other choice but to bomb Iran now in order to bring the country to its senses.

That is why the fanatics who have wrought such carnage in the Middle East over the last decade are portraying Iran as a a country desperately seeking paradise.

And if – or when – the missiles fall, we can expect to find them penning another column about how regrettable it all was, but really there was just no other way to stop the madmen  from killing themselves – and us.


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  1. Richard Carter

    26th Mar 2015 - 10:46 am

    And still the neocons are vapouring: here’s the ineffable John Bolton, former US ambassador to the UN where he distinguished himself by idiotically foaming at the mouth at every opportunity, claiming in the NYT that “President Obama’s approach on Iran has brought a bad situation to the brink of catastrophe … The inconvenient truth is that only military action … can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.”

    • Matt

      31st Mar 2015 - 6:43 pm

      I saw this. Bolton’s answer to everything is to just throw bombs at it, the more the better. He’s a kind of political cave person, and of course time is always ‘terribly short’ for him.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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