Ignorance May Be Bliss, but It Makes for Bad Policy: Analysis of the Iraq Study Group Report

News Abroad

Mr. Furnish, Ph.D (Islamic History), is Assistant Professor, History, Georgia Perimeter College, Dunwoody, GA 30338. Mr. Furnish is the author of Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads and Osama bin Laden (Praeger, 2005). Click here for his website: mahdiwatch.org.

In perhaps no region of the world is history more important  than in the Middle East; to note just a few of the most striking examples: Jewish claims to Jerusalem and environs are at least partially predicated on the Hebrew Scriptures’ 3,000 year-old assertions of divinely-assigned real estate rights; a significant slice of Muslim Arab public opinion resonates to every attempt by Usama bin Ladin and his ilk to link millennium-old Crusader belligerence with the Americans; and millions of Shi`is in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon are waiting for a man who disappeared over a thousand years ago to re-emerge onto the historical stage as the Mahdi. 

So it is particularly disappointing when America’s best and brightest bipartisan foreign policy minds, when tasked by the President to devise ways to drain the bog of war in Iraq, come up with a document steeped in historical misunderstandings and downright inaccuracies about Islam, Iraq and the Middle East.

One jarring misapprehension is the ignorance of (or perhaps simple refusal to acknowledge) the eschatological element of  two of the major Shi`i players in the region: Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Iraq,  and—more ominously—Mahmud Ahmadinezhad and the ayatollahs of Iran.  These are men who clearly hold, and frequently publicly express, a strong belief in the imminent re-arrival of the long-Hidden Twelfth Imam (a descendant of Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin, who died in 680 CE): al-Sadr is said to believe that the U.S. invaded Iraq in order to stymie the Mahdi’s coming-out party, and Ahmadinezhad—when not holding Holocaust denial conferences and musing about a world without Jews or Americans—is publicly praying at the U.N. for Allah to send the Mahdi.  Yet Messrs. Baker and Hamilton suggest that we “try to talk directly to Moqtada al-Sadr” (p. 67) and “should actively engage Iran and Syria in…diplomatic dialogue, without preconditions” (p. 50). 

Is the eschatological fervor, bordering on irrationality, of al-Sadr and Ahmadinezhad not worthy of some consideration? One might think it would somewhat complicate the “can’t we all just get along?” approach that Baker and Hamilton seem to be promoting.  The flip side of the coming of the Mahdi is the emergence of al-Dajjal, “the Deceiver” of the Islamic traditions—an anti-christ figure who will lead many  believers astray and into apocalyptic  battle against the forces of the Mahdi and the returned Muslim prophet Jesus.  And the Dajjal, by the way, will be Jewish.  How, pray tell, does the U.S. negotiate with folks who not only hold but configure their politics around beliefs like that?  Yes, of  course, George Bush believes Jesus will return—but has he prayed publicly for that to happen in the well of the U.N. General Assembly, as Iran’s president has done regarding the Mahdi? WWJD—“What Would Jesus Do?”—is not a question bandied about at Bush Administration Cabinet meetings; I am not sure that the same can be said of “WWMD?”—“What Would (the) Mahdi Do?”—in Ahmadinezhad’s strategy meetings.

Baker and Hamilton et al. suggest bringing Saudi Arabia into the diplomatic mix, which is probably a good idea; however, they muse that “the Saudis might be helpful in persuading the Syrians to cooperate” (p. 48).  Well, while it’s true that both the Saudis and Syrians are Arabs (unlike, of course, the Iranians and Turks and, for that matter, Kurds), that is where the resemblance ends.  The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is ardently religious, styling its Wahhabi Sunni sect as the most piously Sunni state of all. 

Syria, on the other hand, is officially secular—the government is run by the Ba`th Party (akin to Saddam Husayn’s ousted one in Iraq), a decidedly non-Muslim, Arab Socialist organization.  However, unlike Saddam or the Saudis, the al-Assad family regime running Syria does so in the name, and with the support, of  a quasi-Shi`i sect called the `Alawis or Nusayris which comprises probably less than 10% of the population.  `Alawis have been considered heretics by Sunnis since the time of Ibn Taymiyah (d. 1328), who issued fatwas condemning them. 1 And since Ibn Taymiyah’s writings were a major influence on Muhammad Ibn `Abd al-Wahhab (d. 1792), the founder of the Wahhabi brand of Islam, one wonders just how the modern Wahhabi Saudi government would have any pull, or even desire to intervene, with the heretical `Alawi regime in Damascus?  And one wonders if the ISG staffers really were ignorant of this rather important facet of Islamic history? 

On page 13 of the report is this statement: “The Shia [sic], the majority of Iraq’s population, have gained power for the first time in more than 1,300 years.”  This is simply not true.  Shi`a have held power before, notably the Shi`i Fatimid dynasty which ruled Egypt for several centuries (969-1171 CE); and even if the report means to refer to Iraq alone, it is inaccurate: the Shi`i Buyids ruled the region from Baghdad for a century or more (945-1055 CE); and Iraq, although contested between the Sunni Ottoman Empire and the Shi`i Safavid Empire of Persia/Iran for centuries, was under the latter’s control for much of the 16th c. CE.  The report seems to be striving here for portentousness, but instead just comes off as, frankly, ignorant.  Furthermore, the ISG here reinforces the ahistorical notion of a nation-state of Iraq going back more than a millennium—whereas in fact al-Iraq was in pre-Ottoman times simply a geographical label and, under the Ottoman Empire, what is now Iraq was divided into three main vilayets, or administrative districts: Baghdad, Basra and Mosul.  There was thus no “Iraq” before the British created one from these three Ottoman districts in 1932.

Other suggestions put forward by the ISG are subject to criticism as well: do the authors really think that “a Syrian commitment to help obtain from Hamas an acknowledgement of Israel’s right to exist” (p. 57) is politically viable? Aside from Syria’s stance, the Hamas charter enjoins jihad for the “liberation” of Palestine.  And Hamas seems to have its hands full these days with deciding whether Fatah has a right to exist—much less Israel.  And even as a former member of U.S. Army intelligence, I have no idea what this means: “human intelligence in Iraq has improved from 10 percent to 30 percent” (p. 94).  In accuracy? Reports generated? Sources interrogated? Without a frame of reference, that statement is meaningless. 

There are, to this military veteran, what appear to be some good ideas in the report: getting the Organization of the Islamic Conference to meet in Baghdad would at least legitimize the Iraqi government (p. 46); creating “a single office in Iraq to…aid a program to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate militia members” (p. 69) probably couldn’t hurt; maintaining quick-strike U.S. special forces to take out al-Qaeda [sic] cells (p. 71) whenever possible should be done for years to come, even after most of our troops come home.  On the tactical, domestic Iraqi nuts-and-bolts issues the Baker-Hamilton report seems pretty solid; but on the strategic, pan-Islamic front it comes off as a rather historically ignorant, Dr. Phil-ish “help us, help you” manifesto.

Related Links

1 See Yaron Friedman, “Ibn Taymiyya’s Fatawa against the Nusayri-`Alawi Sect,” Der Islam, vol. 82, no. 2 (2005), pp. 349-363.

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Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

There are lots of dangers in this world. And we need to stop making them worse.

In 1978-79 the American government and news media badly misjudged what was going on in Iran. The result was the first Islamic Revolution of modern times, the hostage crisis, an oil price shock, the Iran-Iraq war, the rise in power of Saddam Hussein and, ultimately, nuclear proliferation from North Korea and Pakistan into Iran.

In 1989, the first Bush Administration
badly misread Saddam's intentions. The result was the rape of Kuwait, the pollution of Gulf, the massacres of the Shia while America sat on its hands, and the instigational horror (to future Al Qaedaists) of infidel troops permanently stationed for the first time (since the end of the British empire) in the region.

In 1998-99, Republicans in the US Congress misread the public mood, and decided that the adventures of Clinton's male member were more important to fixate on than the disaster brewing with the UN sanctions, Saddam's cat-and-mouse tactics, etc. Among the results were the downfall of Newt Gingrich and the rise of presidential hopeful Junior Bush - one of the least competent politicians imaginable for dealing with the complex threat evidenced by the soon-to-follow 9-11 attacks.

In 2002-03, most of America badly misread the devious and crooked schemes of Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and their treasonous/arrogant/cowardly neo-con advisors, and went along with a blank check and massively bungled invasion of a country that was no more a threat to the US than it had been anytime in the prior 25 years. I guess I don't have to tell you about the resulting monumental fiasco, if you have been even occasionally glancing at the front page of a major newspaper over the past 6 months.

There is a pattern here. A dangerous pattern. Possibly even a "very very dangerous" pattern.

America needs to somehow stop being collectively so repeatedly thick-skulled. Third grade comparisons of Iran's president with Hitler, Billy Graham or Bozo the Clown, however amusing, are not a step towards reversing the past pattern of stupid blunders.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

..but I would identify the purpose, in this analogy, as pretending that by flipping around its tail the fish can somehow smooth down some of the barbs.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

European Jews in the early 1930s who were so worried about a repeat of Czarist pogroms that they assumed that Germany was a much safer place to be, may or may not have been "paranoid," but they were certainly blinded by a narrow view of history. Assuming that Iran under Ahmadinejad will parallel Germany under Hitler may reflect paranoia, or simply pigheaded ignorance of historical fact and context, but there is nothing "pathological" about "shrugging off" kneejerk propaganda and using one's brain instead.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I did not said say that anyone should shrug off "Iran's stated intentions and its "attempts to go nuclear" but only the fanatically blind and historically ignorant assumption that those serious issues are a pure re-release of early 1930s Germany.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I would welcome a real honest historical and indepth journalistic look at Ahmadinjad: who he is, where he came from, and what he has really been up to with all his demagoguery. We have not had that here on HNN to my knowledge. America does need to look carefully and thoughtfully at what is going on in Iran, and not leap to prefabricated and propaganda-oriented conclusions as we did with Iraq 4 years ago. In my humble opinion.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Under any sensible interpretation of the rise of the Third Reich (and solid and competent historians do have varying interpretations), its trajectory in 1937-42 was not predictable in, say, 1935.

The failure of Britain, France, the USA etc. in the 1930s did not lie in their reluctance to use time machines, their unwillingness to read the Nazi leadership's minds, or their disinclination to cling in shivering fear to every rabid pronouncement of Hitler. Their great failure was in being woefully unprepared to act against dangerous German aggression when it occurred, in Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland, particularly. The West was sleepwalking, waffling,and spinning cliches instead of paying attention.

More study of Iran is not an optional luxury. I think you are basically right about the power of religion there, but this is somewhat beside the point. Religion has been important there for millenia, and strongly influencing the government since 1979. But Ahmadinjad is new. He came out of obscurity as an unknown professor only relatively recently. Most Iranians don't seem to care much for him (as was the case in 1932 Germany too where the grievances -Versailles, the depression, etc.- were however, much more tangible, relevant, and powerful for the populace than are A-J's rants against Israel). We don't know as much as we should about him and his country. It is fairly obvious, for example, why India and Pakistan both want to keep nukes, and why North Korea wants to build up its capability as well. By why does Iran's leadership apparently care so much about even nuclear power, let alone thermonuclear weapons? We had better accelerate the generation of better answers that those which would probably have come most readily to mind to inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943.

John Chapman - 12/24/2006

It’s not just the religion, Becker. Arabs don’t like being losers. Being a loser is part of the terrorist mindset, after the Arab civilization which brought forth the world religion of Islam, this civilization reached its apogee during the age of the Caliphate, and 800 years later it plays a central role in the consciousness of the region. The Arab world's sense of pride is hurt not only by military inferiority to the West but also by the impact of intellectual and material dependency. In the last 400 years, not a single noteworthy invention can be credited to the Arabs. They view themselves as losers. Losers can be dangerous. That’s what the West has to fear these days. Like some losers , they’ve overcome their isolation.

Carl Becker - 12/24/2006

Furnish is spot-on trying to get the truth out on Islamic extremism. He’s right and accurate on this but he has a mote in his eye called religion. He and others like him are only an evolutionary rung or two higher up than their Muslim counterparts who have their own version of Jesus juice to drink. Religion and patriotism in this country are deeply interwoven just as state and religion are interwoven in Muslim countries. Too bad. It colors all his articles.

Glenn Scott Rodden - 12/23/2006

Mr. Spence:

Furnish wrote his latest article in order to attack the ISG and to defend the failed Bush administration policies in Iraq. I agree that he offers us very little that has not been said about the ISG report.

I think what has really charged-up Furnish and other Bush supporters is that the ISG actually argues that the cause is lost in Iraq and that the U.S. should admit reality and start withdrawing its forces.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/23/2006

Sure, that's the only "argument" such frauds as you're resort to when they
have nothing to contradict the historical FACTS with...
Now I see that you're more than ridicilous, you're an ideological clown.

James Spence - 12/23/2006

I’m not really sure why Furnish wrote this except to promote his book again and to make sure everybody knows he’s a veteran and formerly with Army “Intelligence”; here he’s mostly critical and combative with posters obliquely calling anyone who’s contrary with him ignorant or a useful idiot, but has little to offer in solutions; seems to imply that the only course in Iraq is to stay the course concurring with our leader’s alpha male behavior. Quite a narrow view and no better than the ISG.

“I am not sure that the same can be said of “WWMD?”—“What Would (the) Mahdi Do?”—in Ahmadinezhad’s strategy meetings.” If Furnish not sure, but is the same time implying that they are praying in strategy meetings , where are his footnotes for this? This is bad history. Bush may not be publicly praying on this because Christian Embassy (http://christianembassy.com/) all his top military and government officials are doing it for him.

“The report seems to be striving here for portentousness, but instead just comes off as, frankly, ignorant.” But frankly Furnish conveniently fails to mention that the Bush administration has not been too brilliant on the Iraq war either.

“al-Iraq was in pre-Ottoman times simply a geographical label” sure, but don’t forget the really import fact that it was a generally common culture which makes Iraq what it is today. And I think the ISGs job is to be concerned about today not 3000 year into the past; I’ve heard they have their own Ivy league historians to confer with.

Yehudi Amitz - 12/22/2006

The Baas movement is a combination of communism and fascism but its practical implementation is based on sectarian (tribal if you want) religious minority rule. In Iraq the Sunni minority was in power and in Syria the Shiia (Alawaite) is in power.
I can't hear your sound, but your written opinion about baby Bush administration doesn't look very sound, especially after the last elections.
Baby Bush is an incompetent president but he learned, advised by Karl Rove, that playing the Christian card is the best way for rallying the most organized group of the republican party, the Christian right. I may be wrong but I believe that the "Christian" essence of baby Bush is only a smoke screen.

DeWayne Edward Benson - 12/22/2006

The Saddam regime was as Islamic, as the Bush administration is Christian. Unless we can redefine this administration as Christian Zionism, then this Christian takes issue with the defination.
It might even be said there is similarity with Saddams Islamic leaning, and the Theocratically active Dominionist/Reconstructionist leanings of the Bush group. Both look good on camera, neither are above denying what was said ten minutes earlier, and if pressed resort to threats.
I don't know about false teachers and prophets in the Quran, but I am totally convinced these will lead many astray, further being possible because it happened.
Do I sound as though I distrust my own government more than the enemy?

Tim R. Furnish - 12/21/2006

Sir, your post reminds me of Lenin's phrase about "useful idiots."

Yehudi Amitz - 12/21/2006

The U.S. constitutional system is based on the "separation of church and state" principle. Other countries, belonging to the western civilization, have similar political systems though the principle may not be expressed in a constitutional form. For sure religion is very important in the American public life but there are enough safeguards making sure that it doesn't take over our political system. I believe that the fear Mr. Dresner expressed about Christianism compromising the military chain of command (and the religious quotient of the White House) it's influenced more by Hollywood movies (where some marines general or colonel invokes "god and country") than the reality.
On the other hand, in the Islamic world, separation of religion and state is a deadly sin (literally and practically deadly not symbolic). Religious eschatology becomes political eschatology in the Islamic world with very few exceptions.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/20/2006

Prof. Furnish,

Maybe it's time to talk about actions, facts, not words?
Iran attacked no country, in the period of time since WWII.
The US attacked a number of countries during the same period of time, specifically, all those that could not, even if they passionately wanted, pose any significant threat to the security of the USA, such as Greece, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Grenada, Panama, Cuba, Afghanistan, and Iraq. (Not already mentioning dozens of countries that US attacked by proxy.)

The US has the greatest arsenal of nuclear weapons in the world and continiue to upgrade it.
Israel by the evaluation of all major
nuclear experts has numerous nuclear
Iran, as far as we and the experts know don't have any.

And yet, it is the US and Israel who started and continue to yell louder than anyone else "Iran is a grave threat to a regional, i.e. MidEast, peace and to security of the UN and Israel!"
Isn't this an occasion when a thief
yells louder than everyone "Hold a thief!"?

Iraq was attacked by the US and UK just on a suspicion that it had WMDs.
Iraq's nuclear facility was destroyed
by Israel when the Iraq was many years
away from making a single warhead (by the way - definite act of war on part of Israel).
One must be nuts to believe that if
US or/and Israel have a firm belief that Iran is closing on weaponization
of its Uranuim/Plutonium they will not destroy those by any means available.
So what deadly threat to Western civilization posed by extremist Islam such historians as you're
are talking about? Who else is a Grave threat to Western civilization?
Osama bin Laden and his followers?
Ridiculous and fraudulent, ... as usual.

Tim R. Furnish - 12/20/2006

I never said it wasn't possible--in fact, I'd say it's a safe be that most of the 15 million or so Shi`is in Iraq do separate eschatology from their everyday lives. But the point is that folks like Moqtada al-Sadr do NOT do so. And neither does Ahmadinezhad--and these guys hold the reins of power.

Jonathan Dresner - 12/20/2006

If it is, as you suggest, no problem for Christians to separate their eschatological and political lives, why do you -- pretty much completely -- deny the possibility of that being true in Iraq?

N. Friedman - 12/19/2006

Mr. Amitz,

Maybe. I do not know the best thing to do. I do note, however, that the ISG report seems to be pie in the sky.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/19/2006

Because this allegedly small current
runs deep.

Barrie Lambert - 12/19/2006

Prof. Furnish, I do admit the truth of Islamic extremism. Admittedly, it is a series of very different truths than your truth not least perhaps because my concerns centre on the UK and our European partners and I think your treatment can all too easily muddy the waters over here. But that's really been Iraq all along, hasn't it?

N. Friedman - 12/19/2006


You are assuming that I disagree. I do not. Lots of mistakes have been made.

Again. You do not see me advocating for war. That is well above my pay grade. On the other hand, there is much to worry about in Iran. You do not need to be a rocket scientist to understand that much.

Tim R. Furnish - 12/19/2006

Mr. Lambert,
At the risk of appearing Hawkeye to your BJ.....this has gotten ridiculous. You take ONE small point out of my article and gnaw on it like a Komodo dragon. And how in Hades would you know whether I'm "emotional" or not? Spare me your patronizing rhetoric.
Try reading the article for the overall point, not some picayune matter of terminology which you deem offensive only because you don't want to admit the truth of Islamic extremism.
To quote Theoden from "Lord of the Rings"--I shall say no more.

Barrie Lambert - 12/19/2006

Prof Furnish, first, your reply is very emotional, and emotion makes for bad policy (it’s none too good for the exercise of commonsense and intellectual restraint either).

Second, in response to your question, yes, you really do - and hysterically so, I might say - by exaggerating (and particularising) "Muslim extremism" (whatever you may mean by the term) in the most offensive way possible. Why not, for instance, be specific in your emotive plea and refer to the criminality of these actions rather than their source in this undefined "Muslim extremism"? Unless, of course, you feel a complete lack of concern at the fact that you may well be encouraging the spread of the very ideas you decry through the sheer offensiveness of your language.

N. Friedman - 12/19/2006


You quote Harris as writing that "Islam is all fringe and no center." Harris defends that point rather well in his book. To be perfectly frank, he has a very strong argument on that point. I might also refer you to Muslim apostate Ibn Warraq who says that there may be moderate Muslims but Islam is not moderate. He also makes a strong argument.

Rather famous scholars, such as Bernard Lewis, note that conquering the world in the name of Islam is a mainstream Muslim belief. Such view is taught, even now, at elite Islamic universities such as al-Azhar.

So, where Harris says that Islam has quite a bit to do with what is going on, he is spot on.

N. Friedman - 12/19/2006


I was defending the point you addressed to me. The good professor can defend or not defend his article at his discretion.

N. Friedman - 12/19/2006


Iran is not a huge mystery - at least not more so than any other country in that region - except, evidently to you. It is the subject of countless books.

Ahmadinejad is new. That is correct. But, his biography is known sufficiently, with some details that might be filled in, to be set forth in Wikipedia in a comparatively - at least for that trash source - matter of fact manner. I do not think he was a professor but, evidently, he was a very good engineering student.

I reiterate that he is not saying anything his predecessors have not said - and said often and repeatedly. He may use more noxious words but there is nothing new in what he is saying. So, his biography, while likely interesting, is probably less important here than you suggest.

Now, the fact that Iran's neighbors might have the bomb may well be a reason Iran wants one - and I assume that this is not just talk on their part -. That Sunni Pakistan and Hindu India and Jewish Israel have them may be a matter of serious concern to Shi'a Iran.

The fact that Iran's leaders are Islamists is likely also an issue. Obtaining the bomb is a known obsession for Islamists.

More likely, however, is Iran's interest in leading the revival of Islamic power. And to do that, having the bomb is rather logical. It makes a country seemingly impregnable. That would allow for a vast increase of terrorist activity - with Iran being able to thumb its nose at the world even more than it does now -.

I did not say that recognizing what the Nazis were up to was a straightforward thing from early on. I said that the policy of the British government, which ignored report after report from its embassy and various spies about what was going on and, instead, sought an answer in root causes (i.e. in the Versailles Treaty) were wrong and that there is a lesson to be learned from appeasing lunatics political philosophies, of which Islamism clearly is one.

You may be correct that, early on, no one could say for sure the direction that Hitler would take. But, by the time of the events at Munich, that was not the case. Many people understood the matter full well. It is my recollection that such even included people in Chamberlain's cabinet. I could be wrong about that.

The current circumstances are, as you say, new - although not new with Ahmadinejad. The past is the past. But, again, there is something to learn from the past when a leader starts saying he intends to reverse the tables of the world. And, again, I am not saying we should go to war. I am not saying we should not go to war. That is way above my pay scale.

What I am saying is that the Iranian regime is a dangerous one. And the fact that it is playing with dangerous toys makes Iran possibly even more dangerous. And the fact that the ruling clique is part of a wide religious revival movement which, by conservative standards, has already killed many millions of people rather needlessly is sufficient basis to be very, very worried. And, the fact that the regime has stated how it hopes to turn the world's tables around is surely of grave concern, most especially from those who would, if the plan were followed, be the first victims.

So, I agree, we should study. But, we should not lose sight of the point that Iran is a very, very dangerous regime.

Tim R. Furnish - 12/19/2006

Mr. Friedman and I "exaggerate the nature and effects of 'Muslim extremism'....?" OK, your true colors are running now. Yes, I have to "exaggerate" Sep. 11, the killing of Theo Van Gogh, the churches burned after Pope Benedict's Regensburg address, the London bombings, the Madrid bombings, the USS Cole bombing, the Kenyan and Tanzanian embassy bombings....yes indeed, I'm "exaggerating" 'Muslim extremism'--which obviously you do not think exists, since you put the very term in quotation marks.
OK, tired of wasting my time.

Sergio Alejandro Méndez - 12/19/2006

Mr Furnish:

Why do you keep evading the damn issue, which is the HOW of the second comming? Or you think that just cause all christians believe in the second comming of Jesus they all believe it is going to happen in the same way? Do you differenciate between different theological approches inside christianity? Are you aware of evangelical and fundamentalist eschatological believes in comparison with "mainstream christianity"? Or you still want to pretend that they are all the same?

On the issue of God speaking to Bush...Do you think it is healthy that the president of the main power on earth takes decision of such gravity as starting a war cause "God told him"?

Barrie Lambert - 12/19/2006

Sorry. The first sentence of my final paragraph should read as follows (with added emphasis):

I am mindful, like many, that the last militantly secularist government to be democratically elected in WEST EUROPE was that of Adolf Hitler, so I am not inclined to press the political virtues of secularity as far as you may or Mr Harris certainly does.

Barrie Lambert - 12/19/2006

I went through Sam Harris' piece, and many of the comments, on the truthdig website and it seems unexceptionable written from a viewpoint which encompasses fear, ignorance and loathing in roughly equal measure It doesn't pretend to deal with the public debates amongst the mainstream left in Europe (for instance, on the wearing of the veil on compassonline.org.uk) and if it did it would be forced to achieve a measure of balance which would make it self-refuting (dialectical, perhaps?).

Take the following passage: "It is time we recognized—and obliged the Muslim world to recognize—that “Muslim extremism” is not extreme among Muslims. Mainstream Islam itself represents an extremist rejection of intellectual honesty, gender equality, secular politics and genuine pluralism. The truth about Islam is as politically incorrect as it is terrifying: Islam is all fringe and no center. In Islam, we confront a civilization with an arrested history. It is as though a portal in time has opened, and the Christians of the 14th century are pouring into our world". Substitute Evangelical Christianity for Islam and Evangelical Christians for Muslims and it is equally true of each and equally untrue of both. It is the Hammer Horror movie school of journalism without the cushion of any degree of self insight.

I am mindful, like many, that the last militantly secularist government to be democratically elected was that of Adolf Hitler, so I am not inclined to press the political virtues of secularity as far as you may or Mr Harris certainly does. I am also aware that religion is most readily viewed as a restraining influence on behaviour rather than a source of violence. Most Europeans, and particularly secularists but not necessarily so, are aware of the need for an appropriate balance between the claims of religious faith - and the behaviour it engenders - and the claims of the secular. Sadly, those claims have been written in our histories. By and large this expresses itself, in practice, as a kind of calculating tolerance, but it is certainly not disingenuous, and particularly not on the Left (of which I count myself a part). I would tend to consider you and Messrs Harris and Friedman as being amongst the truly disingenuous because of the way in which you identify and then exaggerate both the nature and the effects of "Muslim extremism" in a secular democracy. Try reading a decent history of Knoxism in Scotland, something about the recent Troubles in Northern Ireland, or a snippet on the English Civil War. We've been there, done that, and hopefully learned something from our mistakes. As Willie Whitelaw once memorably said, we're quite content to go around stirring up apathy. It works better for us than hysteria.

Tim R. Furnish - 12/19/2006

Mr. Mendez,
I'm not "evading" anything. I just didn't think that was the gravamen of your argument.
But if you want to focus on it:
1) I'm not sure I find Nabil Sha`th a reliable source
2) IF Bush did say that, he also supposedly said God told him so "to create a Palestianian state" too--so what's the problem?
Mr. Mendez, every Sunday probably 1.5 billion Christians profess a belief in the second coming of Jesus (yours truly included); that is NOT automatically, ipso facto evidence of "dangerous" eschatological belief.
Now...how about we move on to the gravamen of MY article--which was that the ISG writers' knowledge of the ME and Islam leaves a lot to be desired?

Sergio Alejandro Méndez - 12/19/2006

Mr Furnish:

First at all Bush joined the methodist church back then in 1977, an its religious pertenence today is not very clear. Yet his own embrace of the evangelical movement and its rethoric speaks very loud.

But again, you are evading the issue completly. IS NOT whatever Bush or his fundamentalist and evangelical allies believe Jesus will return, but is HOW that return is going to take place, which hardly "mainstream" among christianity as you pretend it. And even if it was, if fundamentalistic and evangelical pre mileniarist escathology was "mainstream", how that will make it less dangerous?

By the way, nice way of evading the fact that Bush himself admited he "invaded iraq cause God told him", isn´t it Mr Furnish?

Tim R. Furnish - 12/19/2006

Mr. Mendez,
I am quite aware of that "Left Behind" crowd--but I DO NOT THINK BUSH BELONGS TO IT! What is your evidence that he does?

Sergio Alejandro Méndez - 12/19/2006

No Mr Furnish, Bush is NOT a mainstream christian, at least you pretend evangelical born again christians make up the mainstream of the religion, even in the US. My cntention with Bush is NOT that he believes in the return of Jesus, my contention is is the specific eschatological branch of christianity Bush and his electoral base represente (evangelical-fundamentalist pre milenial). This branch of christians interpret far more literally the book of revelations than mainstream christians, and think that the second comming is inminent, preceeded by specific signs -many of them which they actually look for in events like those happening in the ME-.

Tim R. Furnish - 12/19/2006

Mr. Mendez,
I am quite aware of electoral demographics in this country. Please read my earlier post in this area. You ASSUME that because Bush is a mainstream Christian and professes belief in Jesus' return--which the vast majority of the world's Christians have done for two millennia, INCLUDING by definition any of our Presidents who attended church (which was pretty much all of them)--THAT therefore he is of the same eschatological ilk as Ahmadinezhad.

Tim R. Furnish - 12/19/2006

Well, Mr. Mendez, then you don't know much about Methodists--which Bush is. A "fundamentalist Methodist" is rather an oxymoron.
I said nothing about ignoring the the throngs of evangelical Christians. But to equate the professed belief in mainstream Christianity in the return of Jesus into history SOME day--which I do not doubt George Bush believes--is NOT the same as the President of Iran
praying IN PUBLIC AT THE UN for the Mahdi to come! And Muqtada al-Sadr has been quoted as saying we invaded Iraq in order to capture the Mahdi. Men like this are trying to actualize their eschatology--and there is NO evidencde that Bush is doing the same.
Obviously you fall into the camp of those who think that Bush is somehow uniquely open and strident in his Christian beliefs. Any reading of American history will tell you this is wrong. Lincoln probably invoked God more than any President in our history (not that he didn't have good reason to do so). After Pearl Harbor FDR called on Americans to PRAY. And so on. Beating Bush over the head with these allegations of Christian fundamentalism is just a cheap political shot.

Sergio Alejandro Méndez - 12/19/2006

Mr Furnish:

That minority you speak of right wing christians is the electoral base of the republican party today: white evangelical, in many cases fundamentalist, eschatological pre milenial christians. So is not a "straw man" as wish to think that there are no religious considerations on US foreign policy...

Tim R. Furnish - 12/19/2006

Mr. Lambert,
Now that you've picked to death ONE point I bring up in a rather long article....can we move on to something else? Or do you wish to continue to beat, and perhaps exhume, this expired equine?

Sergio Alejandro Méndez - 12/19/2006

In this article furnish writes:

"Yes, of course, George Bush believes Jesus will return—but has he prayed publicly for that to happen in the well of the U.N. General Assembly, as Iran’s president has done regarding the Mahdi? WWJD—“What Would Jesus Do?"

Shall I remind Mr Furnish that Bush said that he invaded Iraq cause "God told him to do it"? Aside from that, does Mr Furnish wants us to ignore the large evangelical component -with important number of christian fundamentalists- who actually believe we are at the end of times and that armagedon is comming? How can it be explained that the traditionally anti semite souther church communites support israel with so much fervor, if they are not expecting conversion after -or prior, depends of the theology- the apocalypse? I will not be so confident that "what will Jesus do" is not a question considered inside the white house...

Tim R. Furnish - 12/19/2006

Mr. Lambert,
I did not try to claim my evidence was empirical; but enough anecdotal evidence, piled up, isn't chicken feed either.
I would refer to you to Sam Harris' excellent writings on the topic of the Left's denial of, or at least disingenuousness regarding, the violent strain in Islam.
Also: try reading the many posts by my detractors on any of my articles if you think the Left does not turn a blind eye (until perhaps very recently) to Islamic-based killing and violence.

Barrie Lambert - 12/19/2006

Yes, but I certainly wouldn't put it as strongly as you do. And the point of my post is that even the ordinary folks have noticed it. I have found over the years that it is easier to elicit the meaning of a piece if one reads it before responding.

I know secularism has its own extremes but I trust my criticism of Prof Furnish's methodology meets with your approval.

N. Friedman - 12/19/2006


You do not appear to be saying anything. For those killing people like Van Gogh, read While Europe Slept, by Bruce Bawer. Religion has everything to do with what is going on in Europe.

Arnold Shcherban - 12/19/2006

So YOU (tu sola tu) KNOW what "we" would find, if Putin opened Soviet
archives. Then you're better than CIA
and all historians taken together, since they don't; the most they can do is to assume.
Now, many of the Soviet and US archives have been open, and many former US and Soviet political figures spoke, so the Left and the Right found there some interesting facts, e.g. that according to Zbigniew Brzezinski himself the US
provoked or lured the USSR to sent troops into Afghanistan, that the Soviets did not want to do, in spite of 20(!) requests for such a measure received from the Kabul's communist governmenet at the time, then accusing the Soviets in agression.
Another thing that the Left and Right already got from the Soviet, Cuban, and US archives that the US secretly
sponsored, supported, and organized
multiple terrorist acts against Cuba, which killed hundreds of primarily civilians, not mentioning the Florida's Cubans criminal attack against Cuba to overthrow Castro's regime (the event that clearly demonstrated how "much the majority of Cubans wanted to overthrow Castro", the same way as the "majority of Chileans wanted to overthrow Alende").
Analoguously, as the archives have shown how the US govenment overthrowed Guatemalian
democratically elected President in 1954, tossing the country into the fascist lawliness and torture and murder. The same way (and on the same false reason), as the archives shown the same US folks organized overthrowing of the democratically elected Mossadeque in Iran.
The same way as the same folks supported and armed Saddam Hussein's regime, at the time it was commiting
its most heinous crimes.
I could continue to bring up the similar facts accessed through archives up to the NEW Year EVE...
But for lying scums as some are, no facts are meaningful unless they, at least tangentially, support their faulty arguments.

Barrie Lambert - 12/19/2006

Prof Furnish and Mr Friedman, does your secular West extend only to downtown Duluth? Have you heard of, say, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Holland (where one of Vincent's relatives was murdered by a person with a "religious orientation" - and, I would think, a fairly aggressive one at that), France, Germany or Belgium? What about the secularists in Japan (usually included as part of the West since the Korean War), or Australia (they're pretty red hot on those with a religious orientation which verges on the different rather than the fanatic)? Stretching a point, what about the secularists in Israel? Do you think they've not noticed? And don't forget the Canadians: they may be invisible, but they have feelings too.

I must admit that I am less than impressed when Prof Furnish summarises his approach to data gathering in the statement: "I've spoken to a number of them at conferences and have had incredulity expressed to me by high-ranking folks (academic and otherwise) who simply are in denial that RELIGION has anything to do with the violence". Have you ever thought of checking out a few opinion polls in any of the countries I have named, or considered developing your netnographic skills (as my son terms it), or talked to a few of those people who are not "high-ranking folks" you meet at conferences (at which, I suspect, and, of course, depending on which conferences the conferees are attending, are unlikely to be amongst the most representative or the most significant demographic in their respective countries).

Surely you can do better than this?

Arnold Shcherban - 12/19/2006

So Alende was a pawn of Soviets, but
Pinochet was not a pawn of US elite.
Whose pawn is Castro and his regime now, when Soviets are long gone?
Whose pawn is Chavez in Venezuela now?
Whose pawn is today's socialist president of Chili who was tortured by Pinochet's political police, not by Soviet pawns?
Only a real scum can scornfully remind the Left about the "triumph" of Pinochet and his Washington sponsors and protectors, the Left that
were killed and tortured by the former beneficiaries of Chilean populus. Only such scums as the Margaret Thatcher's office people can mourn the death of a fascist criminal, not a notch less than Saddam Hussein.

N. Friedman - 12/19/2006


A sentence should be added to the paragraph that ends: "Knowing that Germany was a great society and that many Germans despised Hitler and that many Germans hated war and that not all Germans hated Jews would be interesting, at the time, to know (and, I dare say, was developed by those who wore rose colored glasses about the Nazis)."

Please add:

Knowing such information was not very important to knowing what the Nazis were up to.

N. Friedman - 12/19/2006


There is always room for study.

On the other hand, the issue with Iraq - setting aside the non-existent weapons and the arguably incompetent tactics -, in my humble view, is not one of failing to understand the nature of the Iraqi Baathist regime but the society it ruled. Underneath the veneer is the same religious Medievalism that prevails across most of the Muslim regions.

Reasoning with true believers of any faith is likely to be a waste of time. When a religion claims the right to spread itself to the entire world by force, reasoning is even less likely to be a worthwhile endeavor.

And, if there will be a failure to understand Iran - which is rather likely -, it will most likely come from people who overlook just how religious a society that has a Mr. Ahmadinejad as its ruler (or that has a supreme religious council that governs) has to be and just how devoted to their religion's hopes and dreams the ruler group in Iran has to be.

There is also the question of how much beyond the pay scale of most journalist studying a truly different society really is. Or, in a word, I think that journalists are not likely to help us understand Iran.

In fact, one of the reasons the West is so deeply divided is the failure of journalists really even to try to see the Muslim regions as they are.

And, there is also the issue of missing the forest by focusing on society, not the leaders. While I am not pointing to 1938 as a model, I note that deciding what to do about the Nazis required listening to what they said and how they behaved and thus realizing that the Nazi party was really, really dangerous rather than hoping to address, as the British government did, the root cause of Hitler's grievance of any given day. Knowing that Germany was a great society and that many Germans despised Hitler and that many Germans hated war and that not all Germans hated Jews would be interesting, at the time, to know (and, I dare say, was developed by those who wore rose colored glasses about the Nazis).

Which is to say, Mr. Ahmadinejad has stated his grievances for all the world to hear. His country has behaved in a manner consistent with his words by supporting the global Jihadist movement. The grievances boil down to reversing the world's pecking order. His predecessors have said and done pretty much the same things as well. And they have waxed about someday using nuclear weapons toward that aim and they have spoken about using Israel as a focus in order to advance that aim. So, we have no great mysteries about what these people want.

Now, while they are not the Nazis, the Iranian regime is nonetheless really, really dangerous. And, there is something to learn from the Nazi era (and, from the Cold war as well) about how governments with rather nasty, rather unlimited agendas should be handled. Appeasing nasty agendas is not likely to have a good outcome. But, that does not mean, by contrast, that going to war against such regimes is a good idea.

Tim R. Furnish - 12/19/2006

Well, I simply don't subscribe to the oft-repeated claim by liberal Christian groups, and the secular Left, that the Bush WH is somehow a John Hagee-like den of nutjobs expecting the imminent return of Jesus. I know of no data to substantiate that charge. I think it's a straw man that critics of the President--and of conservative Christians--like to beat and burn.
It also, I think, presupposes an inability to separate one's eschatological beliefs from one's daily life. I am a Lutheran and every Sunday we recite one of the creeds (as do about 75% of the world's 2.1 billion Christians) and all of them--Apostles', Nicene and Athanasian--state that we believe Jesus will return. That does not mean I vote, or suggest policy in my articles, on that basis. Granted, some right-wing Christians do--but they are a minority.

Jonathan Dresner - 12/19/2006

Mr. Furnish: you clearly misunderstand my purpose. I don't dispute your arguments about Islamic eschatology, though I do have my doubts; I dispute your understanding of Christian eschatology and its role in US policy.

N. Friedman - 12/19/2006

Mr. Lambert,

My experience is that most secular Westerners find it rather difficult to imagine, much less understand, societies and people that have a religious orientation. The Left has tended, as of late, to attract more secular elements and that, to me, suggests there will be more people on the Left who cannot really see religion - in this case, Islam - as a motive force for violence.

However, that blindness is not a product of being on the Left but of secular thinking. Such is shown by the reasonably large numbers of people on the political right who share the same difficulty as many secular Leftists.

In my view, the single most important fact about the Muslim regions and the worldwide Muslim revival is that most Muslims think religion is more important than anything else. It is the very center of life and it is the organizing principle for societal thinking, whether or not the leaders of the society create a seemingly secular veneer. And, it is religion which drives people to fly planes into buildings.

Tim R. Furnish - 12/19/2006

Mr. Dresner,
Regarding the threat of eschatological Islamist groups, see this story today on CNN:
Pentagon: Al-Sadr more dangerous than al Qaeda
Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army has replaced al Qaeda in Iraq as "the most dangerous accelerant" of the sectarian violence plaguing Iraq for nearly a year, according to a Pentagon report. Attacks by Iraqi insurgents and sectarian militias jumped 22 percent from mid-August to mid-November, and Iraqi civilians suffered the bulk of casualties, according to the report.

Tim R. Furnish - 12/19/2006

Mr. Lambert,
I don't BELIEVE it to be true--I know it. I've spoken to a number of them at conferences and have had incredulity expressed to me by high-ranking folks (academic and otherwise) who simply are in denial that RELIGION has anything to do with the violence.
And I'm not alone in this view: read Sam Harris' (NOT a conservative) stuff: http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/20060207_reality_islam/

Barrie Lambert - 12/19/2006

"Yes, Western secularists (many, but not all, on the Left) simply cannot bring themselves to admit that any religion other than Christianity can produce religious fanatics".

Prof Furnish, is this statement merely a rhetorical flourish or do you really believe it to be true?

Yehudi Amitz - 12/19/2006

The Irish and Italians are spread all over the world, the same as the Jews but the essence of the Irish and Italian soul and culture is in Ireland and Italy, which is the same for the Jews after 1948. Of course the history of the Jewish people is a little more complicated because for about 2000 years they had a religion that kept them together (and had Jerusalem as one of the main points of faith) but now they have a country called Israel that is the homeland of the Jews (Israelites if you want). That's the main reason an atheist, like myself, can, in our days, declare himself a Jew without linking himself to god. There were non believer Jews before 1948 but the Jew haters had an additional bone to chew asking the question "how can one be a Jew without religion?". Your questioning of the synonymy between Jews and Israel is, in fact, a restatement of the old link between Jews and religion. What can we do, old habits die hard?

Yehudi Amitz - 12/19/2006

Mr. Friedman,
I believe that US already begun to fund the Sunni Shia fight when the Iraqi army has been dismantled and the building of a new army, from scratch, begun. I also read, a few days ago, that the Iraqi PM called back the about 6000 senior officers (I guess more than 90% Sunni) fired when the old Army has been dismantled. It may fix the problem, in Iraq, but we have to wait and see how the lieutenants, sergeants and regular soldiers will receive the new chain of command giving them orders.
By the way, in my opinion, one of the best ideas I have seen was to redeploy the U.S. Army to the borders with Syria and Iran and let the Iraqi police and army deal with the Iraqis when the outside help will be drastically reduced.

Tim R. Furnish - 12/19/2006

Yes, Western secularists (many, but not all, on the Left) simply cannot bring themselves to admit that any religion other than Christianity can produce religious fanatics. But since I study the UBLs of the world for a living, I have learned to take them at their word. At there political grievances mixed in with their religious ones? Of course. But the jihadists are true believes in an eventual world Muslim government; and Mahdists are even scarier, since they fuse their thirst for political domination of the the planet with charismatic mysticism.
You raise an interesting point about stirring up (even more) Sunni-Shi`i rancor in order to get the focus off of us....I'll have to think about that.

N. Friedman - 12/19/2006

Professor Furnish,

The first real question here is whether, to paraphrase Ayman al-Zahwahiri when he was under arrest regarding the assassination of Sadat, these are Muslims who believe in their religion. Surely, the language they use strongly suggests that is the case. I gather from your article that you think we are dealing with true believers.

The second question - which is more clearly raised by you - concerns the unwillingness of the ISG to even imagine (or, at least, consider) such to be possible. Which is to say, they appear to view the problem as if none of the madness coming from the Middle East, including Iraq, were a product of religious fanaticism. We can call that The Guardian newspaper hypothesis - namely, that the Jihads and beheading come from people perhaps slightly overacting over real grievances, such that by giving here and there, the problems can be resolved. I gather you reject that hypothesis.

For what it is worth, I think you are probably correct on both points. If we are dealing with religious fanatics acting in earnest, that still leaves the question of what to do. I have no idea what might be best. I open this question to you. I wonder whether it even makes sense, if we are to be perfectly Machiavellian, to instigate and fund fighting between Shi'a and Sunni in the hope of changing the direction of terrorism from a global Jihad into an Shi'a Sunni dispute.

N. Friedman - 12/19/2006


It is not quite the same as the 1930's. It is a different, but rather scary, thing. On that point, I think we can agree.

Barrie Lambert - 12/19/2006

"despite the fact that almost all of Chile was for overthrowing Allende"

And a nod is as good as a blink to a blind horse. So that's all right then. 'Nuff said.

Jonathan Dresner - 12/19/2006

I didn't invent the term, not by a long shot. For references on what I'm talking about with regard to the military, start here.

Jason Blake Keuter - 12/19/2006

If find it interesting the Augusto Pinochet's recent death hasn't led to any articles on HNN. Could it be that the left-wing that decried US support for his dictatorship doesn't wish to revisit that period of history given that their policy preference in Iraq was perpetuation of Sadaam's dictatorship?

Or is it that the left was against overthrowing Allende (despite the fact that almost all of Chile was for overthrowing Allende), whom they have contorted into a democratic figure when the historical record clearly shows him to be a pawn of the Soviets?

It strikes me as strange that we don't have any articles on this news story when there's enough documentation to render a semi-sound preliminary verdict. Further, it is a news story in which historians have an interest, as there are CIA files not yet open. People on the left are clamoring to see just how sordid the details of the CIA's relationship to the overthrow of Allende were. I support them in their clarion call for full disclosure and ask that Putin re-open the Red Archives that he closed around the time he was concluding that communism was a great Imperial Age for Russia .. . . those archives might help us understand that overthrowing Allende was really overthrowing Russia.

Had neo-cons been in power, then Pinochet wouldn't have received US support, as such pragmatic deals with the devil are regarded as destabilizing and feeding the fires of anti-Americanism. While Pinochet is bandied about as an indirect attack on the alleged anti-democratic THRUST of American foreign policy, as far as Chile is concerned, his tyrannical rule may very well have purged any hopes communists had of taking power and thus been good in the long run. The left would thus find their present foreign policy platform of realpolitik confirmed by Pinochet's rule...which would present them with yet another problem - openly validating the Kissinger-Nixon foreign policy they advocate in everything but name only.

N. Friedman - 12/18/2006

Peter K C,

Peter Kovachev's point is a rather good one. How ought we to take a religious fanatic who, if he is half serious, believes the hidden imam will appear and cleanse the world? And, when that lunatic plays with WWII propaganda, what are we all to think? And, when he calls to eliminate Israel and his country starts playing with really big matches (i.e. nuclear material), what should people think?

I note that there are various views on this. But, those who are made front and center of such rhetoric (e.g. Israelis and Jews) certainly have good reason for concern. How is that concern paranoia? And, if it is paranoia, the barb thrown by Nixon supporters might be applicable, namely, sometimes the paranoid actually have enemies.

My gut reaction is that Jew hatred is rather central to Islamism. I have thought that since the speech given by the former Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir, when he said that the one thing on which all Muslims could unite was opposition to Israel. That told me that there was some functional reason to make Israel so important to Islamic lunacy, namely, hating Israel could help Muslims to unite. And, that, to me, is what makes the matter not merely an objection to this or that Israeli policy but, instead, something very, very lethal, most especially but not only for Jews.

Peter Kovachev - 12/18/2006

In other words, Peter C, your advice is for Jews to shrug-off Iran's stated intentions and its attempts to go nuclear as someone's "knee-jerk propaganda"? I'm glad that we have you to provide everyone with your presumably non-paranoid, brad view of history.

Peter Kovachev - 12/18/2006

Mr. Smith, practical considerations do indeed trump religious rhetoric, hence the re-emergence of Mahdism over a variety of other possible religious responses. If you've ever looked into the fascinating phenomenon of messianic movements...or have even read Herbert's *Dune* books...you might see how messianism has always been used for very worldly purposes.

As for your dismissal of Ahmedinezhad for a noisy nut, had your name been Cohen, for example, instead of Smith, my guess is that you might feel a littlle differently. Yesterday, Jews awoke to headlines in the paper that declared the Holocaust to be a myth and that called for Israel's annihilation. In the mid 30s the few Jews who took a lunatic leader of a bankrupt, militarily weak country seriously might have been, with some justification, called paranoid. Today, after all that, any Jew who would shrug-off Iran and the re-emergence of antisemitism world-wide as little bit of craziness, is living in pathological denial of reality.

Tim R. Furnish - 12/18/2006

Mr. Smith,
Well, having studied the topic of Islamic eschatology--and in particular the belief in the Mahdi--for over a decade now, I beg to differ. Try reading some of Arabic websites and books on the topic, and you won't think I'm exaggerating.
And I'm not sure on what you base your "practical considerations usually trump religious rhetoric."
You seem not to like eschatological thought--which is fine, but your personal preferences don't change the views of those who are true believers; and contrary to your assumption, it is NOT just "whackos" who believe in the coming of the Mahdi.

Barrie Lambert - 12/18/2006

I sympathise with you. The trouble is, which ever way you look at it, it's all barbs, not least because the reason for the report's existence is to get the United States off the hook even when the biggest fish still thinks he's capable of eating the rod and the fisherman too.

Robert Smith - 12/18/2006

I think you're exaggerating the effect apocalyptic incluences have on the Muslim population in general and Iran in particular.

Sure, Mahmud Ahmadinezhad is noisy and contraversial. But this is true even in Iran. While many Shia look forward to the return of the Mahi this is extremely similar to the Second Coming of Jesus. Only the extremist whackos think that this is happening immeadatley or that Muslims should embrace an apocalyptic path.

Pratical considerations usually trump religious rhetoric, and this is no exception.

Tim R. Furnish - 12/18/2006

True. But I was trying to make this analysis as barb-proof as possible....

Peter Kovachev - 12/18/2006

Mr. Dresner, Mahdism is plain to see and fairly easy to document; Prof. Furnish' uphill battles are not in proving that it exists, but in convincing people to take the obvious seriously. In your attempt to provide what you imagine is a "fair ballance," or to engage in juvenile tit-for-tat you have invented "Christianism." Perhaps you can share with us some of that plentiful evidence that your country's chain of command has been compromised by "Christianists."

Barrie Lambert - 12/18/2006

Hi Prof Furnish
Because it is true doesn't necessarily mean that it is partisan.

Tim R. Furnish - 12/18/2006

Mr. Lambert,
I quite consciously tried to stay away from anything that might be construed as partisan and limit my analysis (mostly) to historical and regional issues.
That said, I think it's also safe to note that my approach is one of "I report, readers decide."

Barrie Lambert - 12/18/2006

I think Prof Furnish has failed to clearly state the nature of the report’s primary recommendation: to cut and run, real slow like, waving a fig leaf, real demonstrably like.

Sadly, neither Bush nor Blair seems to get it either.

Jonathan Dresner - 12/18/2006

With respect to Mr. Furnish's expertise, I'm not at all sanguine about his faith in the lack of eschatological considerations in US policy. There's been a lot of evidence lately that the military chain of command is possibly compromised by what can only be described as Christianism, and the religious quotient of the White House has been very, very high for years.