Everybody’s Got Something to Hide, Except for Me and the Mahdi: Ahmadinezhad Escapes from New York

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). He is the proprietor of www.mahdiwatch.org.

         Last week, President Ahmadi-nezhad of Iran, the front man for Iran’s real leader Ayatollah Khamaeini, brought his propaganda blitzkrieg to New York.  And although Mick Jagger once advised, regarding the Big Apple, “don’t mind the maggots,”  it’s hard to do so in the wake of Ahmadi-nezhad’s pestilential preaching. 

         Iran’s jefe started his campaign with an obliging “60 Minutes.” 1  While Scott Pelley was much harder on Ahmadi-nezhad than was Mike Wallace last year, the interview still left a lot to be desired.  There were some trenchant questions about co-existing with Israel (sorry, but make that—according to Ahmadi-nezhad—the “Zionist entity” which “is not a a nation) and Iran’s nuclear program (no need, you see, for “the time of the bomb is past”—no doubt is wishful thinking on his part).  But the Islamic Republic’s leader still managed to get in, pretty much unchallenged, his attempts at exploiting the American domestic political situation: “the way the American people voted in the [2006] elections is very telling;” “they [the Bush Administration] should not bug telephone conversations of their citizens” and should “help the victims of Katrina.”  Ahmadi-nezhad came very close to saying “Bush Lied, People Died” about Iraq, and claimed that U.S.  evidence of Iranian weapons-running to the Jaysh al-Mahdi and other Shi`i militias comes from “fabricated documents.”  When Pelley said that Bush, like him, was a “religious man” Ahmadi-nezhad asked what kind of religion tells a leader to occupy another country and kill people?  At one point he reminded Pelley that “I am a Muslim, I cannot tell a lie.”  This, too, went largely unchallenged.  Perhaps Ahmadi-nezhad’s earlier remonstrances that this was an interview, “not a secret prison in Europe…[and]] not Abu Ghraib” caused Pelley to back off a bit.  Amazingly, the interview ended with nary a question about the most frequently-expressed belief that Ahmadi-nezhad expresses: the return of the Hidden Imam as the Mahdi!  Also, Pelley seemed unaware of the Shi`i practice of taqiyah, literally hiding what one truly believes (developed over centuries of living under often-oppressive Sunni rule) but tantamount to, well, lying.  Grade: Pelley B; Ahmadinezhad, A.

         The next, more public venue for Khameini’s mouthpiece was the now-famous Colubmia University speech. 2  Much praise has been heaped on Professor Coatsworth and President Bollinger of Columbia for what is seen by many as their merciless grilling of Ahmadi-nezhad.  But, much like Pelley, these gentlemen often seem to miss the important Mahdist forest for the political trees.  Ahmadi-nezhad began his talk by praying for Allah to “hasten the arrival of Imam al-Mahdi.” Yet no one, in the ensuring Q & A, bothered to ask him about this!  Shi`ism’s self-styled spokesman tried to garner favor with his audience by reminding them he is an academic himself and that he still teaches university students.  But he then says that all too often Western scholars allow themselves to be “misused by bullying powers” as a rationale for “creating non-existent enemies.”  The irony must have been thick enough to cut with the prophet’s sword, since undoubtedly many (if not most) of the Columbia faculty consider President Bush’s GWOT (Global War on Terror) in just this fashion—yet there they sat, accused  by Ahmadi-nezhad of complicity with the Toxic Texan!  The A-man sounded like Usamah bin Ladin when, in response to questions about whether Iran was trying to build nukes, he brought up “new generations of Nagasaki and Hiroshima residents” about whom we should be concerned—just as Bin Ladin has done in a number of his videotapes.  Ahmadi-nezhad broke new theological ground, even within Shi`i Islam,  by claiming that not only would the Mahdi come, but that “Allah himself will arrive with Moses and Christ and Muhammad to rule the world.”  This was allowed to pass without investigation, because the moderators were unprepared—or perhaps simply uncomfortable—with it.  But again, as with “60 Minutes,” the clear and present danger of Ahmadi-nezhad’s Mahdist and eschatological beliefs was simply  ignored, even when he prayed again in his closing comments.

         Iran’s leader also showed up, via teleconference, at the National Press Club.3   And while the seasoned and jaundiced journalists did turn up the heat a bit on Ahmadi-nezhad, it certainly wasn’t the roast one might have expected.  He was questioned about the persecution of Baha’is and of journalists in Iran, but by-and-large Mr. A was able to wax theological in a way that no Western leader would have been allowed.  He began by quoting unspecified verses from the Qur’an and then shortly thereafter launched into a sermon about the “bright” prosperous future that we soon arrive, in line with what Moses, Christ and Muhammad all taught.   Perhaps this frank expression of religious beliefs was meant for divine protection when the Iranian leader claimed things like Iran’s women “are the freeest in the world.”  But the interview ended with a sycophantic softball of a question: “do you plan on running for re-election?”  As if it’s up to Ahmadi-nezhad, and not his ayatollah handlers.  And no one betrayed any glimmer of recognition that his hopes for the “bright” future are references to what the Mahdi will bring, and that there is a “Bright Future Institute” in Qom, Iran dedicated to preparing the way for the coming of the Mahdi!

         Ahmadi-nezhad’s main event was at the U.N. General Assembly on September 26, 2007. 4  As he did last year in the same venue, he opened by praying to Allah to “hasten the arrival of Imam al-Mahdi….”  The usual transparent condemnations of the United States were issued: “certain powers” run “clandestine prisons” and “prosecute scientists and historians for stating their opinions on important global issues” (like global warming, one supposes; perhaps Ahmadi-nezhad has been reading DailyKos and Moveon.org).  Iran’s leader fulminated against the usual suspects: “brutal Zionists” led the list, followed closely by “bullying powers” who “under the pretext of the overthrow of a dictator and…weapons of mass destruction” invaded and occupied Iraq.  (Perhaps the A-man is angling to be invited to the next Democrat Presidential Debate?)  But then, as he had at the previous venues, Ahmadi-nezhad turned into a theologian, telling the General Assembly that true monotheism is the only answer to humanity’s ills and stating publicly that “I invite everybody to line up a front of fraternity, amity…based on monothism and justice under the name of ‘Coalition for Peace.” He even advocated that “monotheism, justice and love for humans should dominate the pillars of the U.N.”  After predicting the “imminent fall of empires” (candidates, anyone?), Ahmadi-nezhad opined  that “the pleasing aroma of justice will permeate the world” once all nations come together in “striving…to give the rule to the righteous and the Promised One” who will “establish the bright future and fill the world with justice and beauty.”  He ended by asking Allah that “this wish will be realized in the near future.” 

         Many Westerners are tempted to dismiss such Ahmadi-nezhadisms as either lunatic ravings or, alternatively, political posturing.  True, the Islamic Republic does not hesitate to trumpet its President’s pronouncements for domestic 5 and foreign 6 political gain, those are not the primary purposes of his public utterances.  Iran’s President, like many (but not all) of the ayatollahs at whose pleasure he serves, is a true believer in the eventual—perhaps imminent—return of the Hidden Imam as the Mahdi.  While the elites of Columbia University, CBS News and the National Press Club seem unaware—or unwilling to discuss—this paramount issue, some other analysts fall off the horse on the other side and wrongly turn Ahmadi-nezhad’s Mahdism into a Shi`i death wish.7   This incorrect take is a variation of the idea of “hot-wiring the apocalypse,” first devised by Professor Reuven Paz. 8  It posits that there is a strain of Islamic eschatological thought which hopes to force Allah’s hand in sending the Mahdi, as it were, via sparking a major conflagration (nuclear, or otherwise) with the West (either the U.S. or Israel).  This may be true of some of the Sunni jihadits with an apocalyptic bent, but there is very little evidence that such an idea is operative in the upper echelons of the Islamic Republic of Iran.  The ayatollahs may be cut-throat, anti-Israeli and anti-American—but they are not stupid.  They know full well that any nuclear attack on Israel of the U.S. would be met with a crushing retaliation.  (Besides, what good would it do for the Mahdi to come and establish his global caliphate over smoking radioactive ruins?) Rather, the Iranian regime, through its spokesman Ahmadi-nezhad, is stoking the very real Mahdist yearnings in both the Shi`i AND Sunni world as a means  for Tehran to grab the mantle of ecumenical Islamic leadership.  And so far, it seems to be working. 

1 http://www.cbsnews.com

2 http://www.azstarnet.com

3 http://www.washingtonpost.com


5 “Ahmadinejad Revealed US, Israeli Lies,” IRIB News, Sep. 28, 2007: http://www.iribnews.ir; “US Efforts to Pass Resolution against Iran Foiled by Ahmadinejad’s Statements,” Fars News Agency, Sep. 30, 2007: http://english.farsnews.net

6 “Turkey Praises Ahmadinejad’s Address at US Columbia University,” Fars News Agency, Sep. 28, 2007: http://english.farsnews.net, for example.

7 Such as Joel Rosenberg, http://joelrosenberg/ or “The Telegraph,” “Will the 12th Imam Cause War with Iran?”, Sep, 28, 2007: http://www.telegraph.co.uk

8 “Hotwiring the Apocalypse: Jihadi Salafi Attitude Towards Hizballah and Iran,” August 2006: http://www.e-prism.org

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omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Is a blameless, guiltless ,lawless Israel that bombs suspicious sites , flouts and ignores UNGA and World court resolutions and assassinates suspected terrorists , ultimately in the interest of the Jewish colony in Palestine??

I think not and tend to believe that the world sooner than later will express its impatience with this member of the international community that has been tolerated into lawlessness for much longer than its over used, over dramatized, over milked tragedy, or services to the common cause, warrant or deserve.

The colony has come to develop feelings and attitudes of extra legal powers and supra legal prerogatives which not only reflects the old, but never totally dormant, "chosen people" complex but reminds its friends and allies that it is doing their own dirty work for them.
However in dirtying its hands for the common cause the colony is exacting a higher price than was reluctantly tolerated at one time and is rapidly turning into an exorbitantly unacceptable one.

What a few billions could settle in the past a religious cultural WAR is now the exacted price.

The colony due to its abnormal birth conditions will never have, will never be allowed to have, a settled normal life like other normal states.
It will, per force, continue to behave and act as the anti legal amoral , criminal entity that it is and thus increase the circle of revulsion and rejection surrounding it which will in turn goad her into more activities that cause greater revulsion that will cause…etc etc .
A bleak future indeed.

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Well Prof Furnish it seems your scholarship has led you where you always wanted to be with it or without it, to Friedman's Acclaim or without it !

The way the erudite society of Pipes, Furnish And Friedman are getting to the scholarly objectives they have been after ,though hardly distinguishable from the fruits of their own collective and individual wishfull thinking ,should be a
source of comfort for the Iranians ; should they bother to look at it. .

Never the less it s truly a sad bad day, for science and manners, when terms like “…the divine brothel in the skies” are used by their master the “august scholar” Bernard Lewis to convey his idea as much as to vent his hatred .

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

It is evident from reading Professor Furnish's essay that HIS main quarrel with Ahmedi Nejjad centers on
-The legality of the "Zionist Entity"
-the , hypothetical, Iranian A-bomb.

My question IS:
-how much do both these issues affect US security and much do they affect Israeli security ?

(Let us just ignore the Bush comic-tragic myths of spreading Democracy and/or regional stability.)

With or without the, hypothetical, A bomb Iran can in no way deter or affect substantially American security.
To pretend otherwise is not only ignorant but naive verging on the moronic.

So it is that Furnish is playing his (predetermined? allocated? self appointed ? )role of pushing the USA into a new war on behalf of Israel.
Derzhowitz "advised" President Bush recently , according to the Guardian, with a similar consul but much more explicitly.
It is now their turn to replay the role played earlier by Wolfowitz re Iraq!
Will the American people allow the USA to be used once more ??

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Good but inherently false, devious and misleading attempt to disguise and white wash ( or cover) Furnish's record and real mission.
Had it been solely a question of an alternative religious vision, say in New Zealand or Honolulu ,would Furnish be as interested in following it??
The trouble with the herd and associates is that they fail to recognize the fact that peoople see through them the minute they put pencil to paper or open their mouths (so to speak).
I believe that the greatest advance achieved in the anti Zionist cause is that its advocates and defenders can no longer speak without being unveiled for what they really are.

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Mr Rodden
" Lewis was a supporter of the US War in Iraq and and a supporter of the neocon agenda in the Middle East."
(Re: Interesting article; one point to raise (#114151)
by Glenn Scott Rodden on October 2, 2007 at 12:28 PM)

***Is not that to expected from a die hard pro Israel "historian"?
***Does NOT that reflect the neocon Zionist/Israeli agenda for the Middle East?

Sooner rather than later American public opinion will find out the whole truth about the Bush misadventure in Iraq.

All you have to do is to ask:
"Who is the primiary BENEFICIARY from this American debacle?"

omar ibrahim baker - 10/19/2007

Iraq War Launched to Protect Israel - Bush Adviser
by Emad Mekay

WASHINGTON - IPS uncovered the remarks by Philip Zelikow, who is now the executive director of the body set up to investigate the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001 -- the 9/11 commission -- in which he suggests a prime motive for the invasion just over one year ago was to eliminate a threat to Israel, a staunch U.S. ally in the Middle East.

Zelikow's casting of the attack on Iraq as one launched to protect Israel appears at odds with the public position of President George W. Bush and his administration, which has never overtly drawn the link between its war on the regime of former president Hussein and its concern for Israel's security.

The administration has instead insisted it launched the war to liberate the Iraqi people, destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and to protect the United States.

Zelikow made his statements about ”the unstated threat” during his tenure on a highly knowledgeable and well-connected body known as the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB), which reports directly to the president.

He served on the board between 2001 and 2003.

”Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us? I'll tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since 1990 -- it's the threat against Israel,” Zelikow told a crowd at the University of Virginia on Sep. 10, 2002, speaking on a panel of foreign policy experts assessing the impact of 9/11 and the future of the war on the al-Qaeda terrorist organization.

”And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don't care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn't want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell,” said Zelikow.

The statements are the first to surface from a source closely linked to the Bush administration acknowledging that the war, which has so far cost the lives of nearly 600 U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqis, was motivated by Washington's desire to defend the Jewish state.

The administration, which is surrounded by staunch pro-Israel, neo-conservative hawks, is currently fighting an extensive campaign to ward off accusations that it derailed the ”war on terrorism” it launched after 9/11 by taking a detour to Iraq, which appears to have posed no direct threat to the United States.

Israel is Washington's biggest ally in the Middle East, receiving annual direct aid of three to four billion dollars.

Even though members of the 16-person PFIAB come from outside government, they enjoy the confidence of the president and have access to all information related to foreign intelligence that they need to play their vital advisory role.

Known in intelligence circles as ”Piffy-ab”, the board is supposed to evaluate the nation's intelligence agencies and probe any mistakes they make.

The unpaid appointees on the board require a security clearance known as ”code word” that is higher than top secret.

The national security adviser to former President George H.W. Bush (1989-93) Brent Scowcroft, currently chairs the board in its work overseeing a number of intelligence bodies, including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the various military intelligence groups and the Pentagon's National Reconnaissance Office.

Neither Scowcroft nor Zelikow returned numerous phone calls and email messages from IPS for this story.

Zelikow has long-established ties to the Bush administration.

Before his appointment to PFIAB in October 2001, he was part of the current president's transition team in January 2001.

In that capacity, Zelikow drafted a memo for National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on reorganizing and restructuring the National Security Council (NSC) and prioritizing its work.

Richard A. Clarke, who was counter-terrorism coordinator for Bush's predecessor President Bill Clinton (1993-2001) also worked for Bush senior, and has recently accused the current administration of not heeding his terrorism warnings, said Zelikow was among those he briefed about the urgent threat from al-Qaeda in December 2000.

Rice herself had served in the NSC during the first Bush administration, and subsequently teamed up with Zelikow on a 1995 book about the unification of Germany.

Zelikow had ties with another senior Bush administration official -- Robert Zoellick, the current trade representative. The two wrote three books together, including one in 1998 on the United States and the ”Muslim Middle East”.

Aside from his position at the 9/11 commission, Zelikow is now also director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs and White Burkett Miller Professor of History at the University of Virginia.

His close ties to the administration prompted accusations of a conflict of interest in 2002 from families of victims of the 9/11 attacks, who protested his appointment to the investigative body.

In his university speech, Zelikow, who strongly backed attacking the Iraqi dictator, also explained the threat to Israel by arguing that Baghdad was preparing in 1990-91 to spend huge amounts of ”scarce hard currency” to harness ”communications against electromagnetic pulse”, a side-effect of a nuclear explosion that could sever radio, electronic and electrical communications.

That was ”a perfectly absurd expenditure unless you were going to ride out a nuclear exchange -- they (Iraqi officials) were not preparing to ride out a nuclear exchange with us. Those were preparations to ride out a nuclear exchange with the Israelis”, according to Zelikow.

He also suggested that the danger of biological weapons falling into the hands of the anti-Israeli Islamic Resistance Movement, known by its Arabic acronym Hamas, would threaten Israel rather than the United States, and that those weapons could have been developed to the point where they could deter Washington from attacking Hamas.

”Play out those scenarios,” he told his audience, ”and I will tell you, people have thought about that, but they are just not talking very much about it”.

”Don't look at the links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, but then ask yourself the question, 'gee, is Iraq tied to Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the people who are carrying out suicide bombings in Israel'? Easy question to answer; the evidence is abundant.”

To date, the possibility of the United States attacking Iraq to protect Israel has been only timidly raised by some intellectuals and writers, with few public acknowledgements from sources close to the administration.

Analysts who reviewed Zelikow's statements said they are concrete evidence of one factor in the rationale for going to war, which has been hushed up.

”Those of us speaking about it sort of routinely referred to the protection of Israel as a component,” said Phyllis Bennis of the Washington-based Institute of Policy Studies. ”But this is a very good piece of evidence of that.”

Others say the administration should be blamed for not making known to the public its true intentions and real motives for invading Iraq.

”They (the administration) made a decision to invade Iraq, and then started to search for a policy to justify it. It was a decision in search of a policy and because of the odd way they went about it, people are trying to read something into it,” said Nathan Brown, professor of political science at George Washington University and an expert on the Middle East.

But he downplayed the Israel link. ”In terms of securing Israel, it doesn't make sense to me because the Israelis are probably more concerned about Iran than they were about Iraq in terms of the long-term strategic threat,” he said.

Still, Brown says Zelikow's words carried weight.

”Certainly his position would allow him to speak with a little bit more expertise about the thinking of the Bush administration, but it doesn't strike me that he is any more authoritative than Wolfowitz, or Rice or Powell or anybody else. All of them were sort of fishing about for justification for a decision that has already been made,” Brown said.

Copyright © 2004 IPS-Inter Press Service

Elliott Aron Green - 10/10/2007

NF & Peter, believe it or not, none other than John Mearsheimer made the same point as did Wilkerson in an interview with Nat Pub Radio.



Here Mearsheimer contradicts one of his own claims in his and Walt's book on the "Israel lobby."

N. Friedman - 10/9/2007


Not that I know of.

R. Craigen - 10/9/2007

Thanks Tim, this helps but still doesn't completely document your deconstruction. I concede, though, that the burden of proof lies on those claiming that Mr. A holds this unusual belief. The citations from Lewis contain no compelling demonstration, his academic credentials aside.

What is needed is not simply an analysis of Shiite theology, as not all Shiites are mahdists (just most of them). Also, we need something more specific than twelver shia doctrine, as I don't believe that this notion of jumpstarting (bootstrapping, or hotwiring) the Apocalypse is a standard twelver doctrine.

Mr. A, however, appears to either adhere to, or have strong sympathies to, the Hojatieh sect, which is known to be very extreme (so extreme that Ayatollah Khomeini distanced himself from them -- whew!) in their interpretation of doctrine.

One would infer that, if anyone might believe in hotwiring the Apocalypse, it would be this sect. At least one article that I know of,


argues (without documentation) exactly this. However, I'd like to see a proper demonstration from Hojatieh, twelver, Shia and/or Islamic source texts.

I think that, subtle as the point may seem, it has important policy implications in the West and should be resolved, for practical reasons if nothing else.

Any Farsi-reading scholars out there?

R. Craigen - 10/9/2007

Seems to me Mr. Pine is pining for someone who repeats Ahmedinejad's own oily self-promotion. Sorry, Prof. Furnish is not a propagandist, and Mr. A is quite capable of generating his own propaganda (and has plenty here who repeat it without question). Furnish bothers with analysis, exposing the underlying intent and the relation of Mr A's propaganda to his actual actions and policies, which is what we need here.

Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Baker, why are you posting an article from three years ago, like it is some kind of new revelation?

N. Friedman - 10/9/2007


Point well taken.

Elliott Aron Green - 10/8/2007

N F, has Pine ever answered your last question about "the positive" in Ahmadinajad's speech??

This reminds me that back in 1933, Hitler's spokesmen at the Geneva conclave of the League of Nations were claiming that Hitler's New Germany was all in favor of democracy, peace, blah blah blah [see books by Genevieve Tabouis]. So Hitler's spokesmen at Geneva had some positive things to say too. Seems to me that Pine's quest for "the positive" among the negative is infantile at best. Let me know if he answers your query.

Elliott Aron Green - 10/8/2007

E Simon, you're driving in the right direction about Western policy. Ex-pm Tony Blair of the UK is eager to set up an Arab state to be called a "palestinian state." Then, he claims, all the other Middle Eastern problems will be settled. This is simplistic and reductionist at best. Blair's claims indicate, at least to me, that the "palestinian issue" represents a pretext for Western Judeophobia. The Western leaders, like Blair, can claim to be humanitarian & peace-loving since they support the cause of Arabs ["palestinians"] wronged [allegedly] by the Jews, which puts the Holocaust and the preceding 1900 years of Western oppression/persecution of Jews into a forgotten corner. It also provides an excuse for continuing Judeophobia. The "palestinian issue" is a convenient excuse for Western politicians and Judeophobes. The claim is often made, by Pres Bush and Condi Riso Amaro and many others, that a "palestinian state" alongside Israel, living in peace, blah blah blah, would be a major contribution to peace. This is ridiculous at best. The Arabs in Gaza and the palestinian authority zones are from wanting peace with Israel on any reasonable terms. Hamas' genocidal ambitions towards Jews are explicit in its charter [see Article 7 et passim]. Abu Mazen and Fatah are just more hypocritical than Hamas, but still Judeophobic fanatics. So whatever may be agreed at Condi's upcoming garden party at the Naval Academy [upon which I hope it rains cats and dogs], there will be no lasting peace. Not even short term peace.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/7/2007

I realize that my viewpoint is strange for you but that is the internet, it brings different views together.

I don’t know anything about the people in Beverly Hills, and indeed there are reasonable people with religious feelings but then there are also a lot of idiots, not all of them are Moslems, though they are the ones to make the news nowadays.

You are right about the Middle Eastern governments. They use the Palestine/Israel issue to occupy their populations, because not only the peasants but also the dictators do not understand what it takes to catch up with the 21st century. Now comes Ahmed using the same issue to out manoeuvre the Arab dictators,to take over the Middle East.
Nothing but more bloodshed in view.

E. Simon - 10/7/2007

It's interesting to hear your perspective, even though you certainly seem set in a viewpoint which is somewhat unusual to most audiences here.

As for religion being the opiate of anything, Karl Marx's phrase was typically translated as being the drug of the people or of the masses. Perhaps he meant specifically the poor, Marx being the class-hyperconscious godfather of socialism/communism. But I think large numbers of celebrities and others of the wealthiest of the wealthy in Beverly Hills and other places can attest to the opposite. This phrase was also best known for promoting the atheist agenda of Communist regimes under master propagandists such as Mao, Stalin, etc. So I'm not so sure these facts give more credence to such a pithy platitude being anything but. The reason for differences in levels of religiosity between the West and Dar al-Islam are probably multiple, and economics may come into play in some way, but probably moreso as as part of a larger reason that could address both.

There may be something to your point about the West feeling more inclined or more quickly inclined to intervene in the killings of their co-religionists or people of other cultures that more easily fit into our framework of Western civilization. And there may have been lessons that Turks took, rightly or wrongly, from the results of their own, similar interventions. But the fact remains that as long as the West continues to see such regular horrors as the genocide in Darfur, stonings of adulterers and hangings of homosexuals in Iran and elsewhere, women prohibited from driving cars in Saudi Arabia, voting basically... well, nowhere, and the disgusting hypocrisy of so highly promoting the Palestinian cause as an issue of land when none of their OWN leaders give a damn about currently recognizing any of their many other "rights" until they get that magic land, then the West will continue to perceive that that part of the world only cares about what outsiders do to their own people, and not about what disgusting abuses their OWN leaders can get away with doing to their own people. When it is about the honor of preventing the West, the "Other" from allowing to happen what they so sheepishly permit to occur in their own sphere, then yes, the West will and does conclude that is about honor and not about any kind of morality that they can relate to, let alone win favor or at least gratitude for doing anything about it.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/7/2007

1. Well, yes. But they are also poorer and need the faith in a better life, if not now than after death. Religion is opium for the poor. Ever heard that before?

2. My point is, the West stopped the Serbs after the West’s targets had been reached. They could have prevented the whole episode, if they had wanted to. Nobody would have died. The Islamic world played no role. Most Moslem countries are satisfied by hating Israel, policies of significance in the real world exceed their intellectuel abilities. Turkey could have stopped the Serbs as she stopped the Cypriot Greeks, but the West bankrupted Turkey when she stopped the Cypriot Greeks. This time, having learned their lesson, they let the British coordinate the effort to kill as many Bosnians as they felt must die and stop the Serbs after that. The Turkish press was quite explicit that any effort by Turkey to stop the Serbs would motivate the West into killing an even greater number of Bosnians. Not a point of view to motivate people into trusting their nominal allies.

The US policy was demonstrating to the big mouthed Europeans that they could do nothing without Uncle Sam. If it had been Christians dying and not Moslems, they would have used a different opportunity to demonstrate the obvious.

E. Simon - 10/6/2007


1. A difference in levels of religiosity is a difference nonetheless.

2. While you might never forget what certain Christians did to the Moslems of Bosnia in the 1990s, and I assume that by "Christians" you mean principally the Serbs, but also their Russian allies as well as a perhaps indifferent Britain and even German public or media to which you ascribe even darker motivations, it cannot be forgotten that it WAS the West that ultimately intervened effectively enough to put an end to the episode - not Islam. Perhaps a naive U.S., whose history with powerful religious institutions both native and alien was less substantive than was Europe's, had humanitarian motivations that those in the "Old World" can't see, but they existed nonetheless. The principle voices opposed were, as they always are, founded on the basis of there being a lack of any American interest at stake. But this argument was weakened by the idea of whether a secure, free and liberal Europe - as America's ally - could tolerate a genocide on this scale so soon after the horrors of WWII, without questioning the character of so many of America's Western allies and, further, making a farce out of the project Europe had been undertaking to re-invent itself in that light.

N. Friedman - 10/6/2007


Reword the foregoing as follows:

Other than create a phony revision of a speech (i.e. claiming that he does not call to wipe Israel from the map, when even the Iranian government's news agency says he does) as those who would apologize for Ahmadinejad would do, what do you have in mind when you speak of "the selective omissions of what was positive about President Ahmadi-nezhad’s views"?

N. Friedman - 10/6/2007


Other than phony revision of a speech (i.e. claiming that he does not call to wipe Israel from the map, when even the Iranian government's news agency says he does) that those who would apologize for Ahmadinejad what do you have in mind when you speak of "the selective omissions of what was positive about President Ahmadi-nezhad’s views"?

Jonathan Pine - 10/6/2007

A very useful article for people who wish to stay secure in their stereotypes of Islam. Whether he desires to foster understanding or not, Furnish always does an excellent job with his subject. But somehow when I read an article like this I never feel I gain a balanced view: is it because of the selective omissions of what was positive about President Ahmadi-nezhad’s views, as well as with the rest of Islam since Furnish’s “word art” tends to obfuscates the pro-western, pro-Christian view between its lines? Also I can’t deny that what I’ve read of his other articles are very academic and accurate views but still they seem like an apology for the spread of American Fundamentalism, and pre-emption. But so what, I can always read the studied avoidance of Islamic aims from the naïve, pro-eastern academics to get the other side of the truth.

R. Craigen - 10/6/2007

Fahrettin says, "what bothers me a bit is the assumption that moslems are fundamentally different people than non moslems"

Fahrettin, what kind of blinders do you have on? When was the last time you saw riots in the streets, houses burned an women raped by Christians because someone insulted Jesus or one of the apostles or drew a bland cartoon? When was the last time the Jewish religious or political leaders issuing calls for the murder of someone because they wrote a book they didn't like, or converted to a different religion? When was the last time a Jewish or Christian girls' school burned to the ground, like the recent one in Saudi Arabia, and official representatives of the government and faith PREVENTED rescuers from entering the building, and ordered the escaping girls back into it (to their deaths), because they were "improperly dressed" to be seen in public (not meaning they were naked but that their heads weren't covered!)? Do you think these Islamic leaders were simply motivated by purely secular objectives, and that their religion is a mere frosting, a gentle patina that hardly distinguishes them from leaders of other faiths?

I would agree that, underneath all, in the basic psychology and biological nature, all humans are roughly the same. In the west we have a doctrine (to which I wholeheartedly subscribe) that all men (and women) are equal before God. However, once one's identity is completely wrapped up in one's religion it can radically affect one's actions, as illustrated above -- and thousands more incidents like those I allude to, which have no parallel in the west. Thank God not all muslims are like this. I know many muslims whose outlook on life and whose feeling toward those of different faiths are very much as we are used to having in the west, and I count a good number of muslims as fairly close friends.

But every day the news from around the world shows that a very different mindset holds sway in Dar al Islam among extremists -- and we have every indication that Mr A falls on that side of the equation. More importantly, the entire Iranian regime including the clerical class that actually hold power, and for whom Mr A is little more than a mouthpiece, appears to sit firmly there. To pretend blindness to this, or to wave the fact off as irrelevant, is sheer ignorance.

R. Craigen - 10/6/2007

And some have a deepseated fear of anything religious and can't bring themselves to acknowledge it, unless it's bashing the Christian right or possibly the zionist lobby, seeing these as easy targets one can poke at like lions in a cage without having to say anything particularly religious in response, or knowing what one speaks of. Say the wrong thing about Islamic religion, on the other hand...

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/6/2007

It is true that Islamic societies are more religious than Western European societies, though I don’t know if this is also true of places like the Balkans, Latin America and the Philippines, which are at the same level of development as Islamic Societies. The impression from Turkey is that say the Serbs and Greeks are nutty Christian Moslem haters, no better than West hating Islamic fanatics. Please do not forget: not a very long time ago a quarter of a million Bosnian Moslems were murdered by Christians. In fact there were British and French troops in Bosnia at the same time and every time there was an international movement to intervene to stop the slaughter, the British and French started shouting that their soldiers would be hurt in case of an international intervention and so helped the Serbs to continue killing. At the time the Turkish president Ozal, the most pro western politician Turkey has had in her history, said the British did not want the mass murder to stop. In the German press the opinion was that the Serbs were calculating that no Christian power wanted a Moslem Bosnia and thus the West was supporting Serbia as the murderers expected their co-religionists to do. Only after enough Moslems had been killed to break the backbone of the Bosnian Moslems to make them accept the status of a colony of the European Union did the West stop the slaughter.

Read again what I wrote. I did not say “Islamic societies are not fundamentally more religious in their orientation than are those in the West.” I said “assumption that moslems are fundamentally different people than non moslems.”

In the countries where you people live the Bosnian massacres are ignored, you all talk about nutty Ahmed. For me Bosnia was the water shed where I lost my confidence in the West and specifically in England as a civilized entity. You might choose to ignore this, nobody in the Moslem world will forget what the Christians did to the Moslems living among them in the 1990ies. In fact, it might have helped convince the Iranian leadership that they can not be secure without the bomb.

N. Friedman - 10/6/2007


You write: "On the other hand politicians will tell their people what it takes to motivate them"

This is a very important point. What it takes to motivate people can tell you a great deal about a society. In the case of Iran, it is an exceedingly religious society. That is the point.

Now, the question is whether the leader also is exceedingly religious or a phony. If he really believes the things he says, that makes him a very dangerous person. If not, you may well be correct.

E. Simon - 10/6/2007

You've got to be kidding us if you think you can make a convincing case for how in 2007 - aside from a few select examples such as Turkey - Islamic societies are not fundamentally more religious in their orientation than are those in the West. Some "grievances" might have a secular root here or there, but you are placing the burden for causing the interpretation of those those grivances through a religious prism on the West, rather than on the Islamic society that so easily finds its politicians capable of making a successful appeal to the framework of a religious perspective through which to address that claim. You can't have it both ways, Fahrettin. There are plenty of political and military insults incurred by Western countries during the same era we are addressing and before, in which the response of the Western country or countries in question was not primarily an overwhelming internal reversion to religious appeals.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/6/2007

To put it more precisely: What policies would a secular politician running Iran today follow? He might concentrate more on economic growth but he might also work on making Iran the leading power in the Middle East, as all Iranian governments did, when they were powerful enough, over the last 3000 years. He might also do it more competently that Ahmed. In fact the late Shah was working on it when he got overthrown by the Ayatollahs and then was heards complaining that the US had engineered his demise. If you don't like the Ayatollahs and are critical of the US, this can be interpreted as the US engineered replacement of the Shah by idiots to assure that Iran remains a weak country. One of the idiots talking about imams and the mahdi is much easier to manage than Iran the industrial economy as leading power of the Islamic world would have been.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/6/2007

I think it is quite ok to demask politicians, and if one shouts from the rooftops about the 12 imam, by all means ask him where he thinks his imam is hiding.

On the other hand politicians will tell their people what it takes to motivate them, even if that means telephone calls to god. Some American politicians seem to be inspired by Jesus, you'll find that everywhere.

what bothers me a bit is the assumption that moslems are fundamentally different people than non moslems. maybe I tend to ignore religious aspects, but the whole discussion here ignores the secular aspects which behind the religious rhetorics motivate moslems as all other people.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/6/2007

So Hitler was greedy, wasn’t he?

Most of the discussion in the English speaking world is about what went wrong with the effort so stop Hitler before he started the war. There is no discussion about the racist European colonialist system which created Hitler.

E. Simon - 10/5/2007

"WWI and II happened not because of realpolitik but because the Europeans were too greedy."

The wishful thinking and concessions made to Hitler on the part of the nations that later become the Allied powers were not made out of greed.

N. Friedman - 10/5/2007


What if it is BS? Is that not all the more reason for the press to ask about it? After all, that might help unmask a phony, if that is what he is.

For what it is worth, Professor Furnish, in his interesting book, has provided substantial documentation regarding the behavior of Muslims - or at least Sunni Muslims - claiming to be the Mahdi and their followers. It is not a pretty picture.

Tim R. Furnish - 10/5/2007

Perhaps it is to you and me, Fahrettin. But Islamic history with rife with people who thought they were following the Mahdi, and with leaders who claimed they were. So take off your secular blinders and think about it from that perspective.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/5/2007

Maybe nobody asks Ahmed about the 12th imam because it is too obviously bullshit ..

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/5/2007

Don’t be offended, but that is all too intellectual. WWI and II happened not because of realpolitik but because the Europeans were too greedy. First they divided up the whole world among them, then they started fighting each other because even that was not enough. After 1945 the US as the dominating power leading them against communism prevented new wars among Europeans. As soon as the cold war ended the Europeans started a hot war in Bosnia, again because the French wanted a Serb dominated Yugoslavia and the Germans didn’t. The European Union is the instrument with which France and Germany coordinate their greed and rule the continent. With Sarkozy in France changing directions there is no knowing which way the experiment will go.

Tim R. Furnish - 10/4/2007

Probably not, Ms. Paul, since I'm not in favor of a global caliphate--which the (in)actions of the peaceniks is helping promote.

N. Friedman - 10/4/2007

Omar might want to pay a visit to Occam's barber shop to see the razor.

E. Simon - 10/4/2007

"The Europeans believe that they are far ahead the US on the moral ethical stuff. They presently have nothing to gain by joining the US or supporting Israel."

I'm not so sure. See recent election results in France and, before that, Germany, for details.

As for believing one is ahead on the other score, I think Europe underestimates the degree to which its "moral" sensibilities stem from the same sense of a "balanced and nuanced" realpolitik that helped make WWII inevitable. It's a sense of confusion that can't differentiate between the two, and in any event, the realpolitik only helped justify disaster. Even the basis of the E.U., formed in part to make a future continent-wide war unlikely, was a practical idea based in the just as practical policy of creating a common market for coal and steel, in order to prevent one country from getting the edge in those resources of war. Ideology might have later become an increasing part of the European project, but the sense of patriotism that fuels the kind of feelings that can be more easily channeled into promoting such ideology is complicated when working with a unique trans-national entity whose goal is the political integration of the age-old nationalisms that are contained by it.

N. Friedman - 10/4/2007


I forgot. Perhaps, some of these writers are plain lazy and cannot bother themselves to examine what is being said.

N. Friedman - 10/4/2007


I think that you ask THE question about all of this. It amazes me as well.

I can imagine a whole host of reasons - but I do not know which, if any or some combination, is most likely the most explanatory.

Some may think the ideas so crazy that they cannot imagine anyone really believing them such that the crazy language amounts to filler and is not worth covering.

Some in the press may worry that if they speak harshly about the crazy talk, they will be denied access to other information that, on their view, must be more important to understanding things.

Some may be invested in the anti-imperialist or anti-colonialist theory whereby the only topic that explains events is the behavior of the West. People of this view do not even seem to care that the message is also anti-feminist and anti-gay. Many of these people take the view that the events in, for example, Sudan ought simply be ignored.

Some of these writers are racists and think that Arabs and Iranians are lesser humans. Ergo, whatever they do or say does not matter.

Some of these writers are Antisemites and believe that the doings of Jews explain all that occurs in the world, especially in the Muslim regions. And, on their view, if Iran hates Jewish Israel, they have a good idea anyway.

Some of these writers are just plain stupid.

There may be other reasons.

N. Friedman - 10/4/2007


The website does not provide the sort of details that would help me understand you comments.

In any event, by the time of the end of WWI, the fate of Armenians was largely one of already very dead people - as in more than a million people dead by that point. In fact, the massacres mostly occurred in 1915 into 1916. If I understand what you are referring to - and I am not entirely sure -, you are confused.

I think you would do well to pick up some books written about the matter. I might recommend a book written by the then US ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau, which is now titled Ambassador Morgenthau's Story. He describes what came to his attention from his own sources and his dealings with Enver, Talaat and Jamal and the German ambassador.

Morgenthau shares the typical prejudices of the era about "races" but, beside that, it provide a lot of details about unprovoked massacres that simply cannot be explained away. He has no imaginable reason to have made things up - most especially since he was reporting the events to the US State Department as part of his job as Ambassador.

And, as you may know, the US never went to war against the Ottoman Empire, even though the US entered WWI on the side of the UK and France. President Wilson made an exception to the general rule of war that treats all party opponents as war enemies.

Tim R. Furnish - 10/4/2007

A no-doubt apt application of Ockham's Blade, methinks.

N. Friedman - 10/4/2007


I think he is saying that he does not like Professor Lewis, Pipes and Furnish and he does not like me.

Tim R. Furnish - 10/4/2007

Mr. Young,
Oh, no one at MESA knows anything about the 12th Imam--they're too obsessed with textiles, eunuchs, gender relations and the like.
Look at it this way: suppose President Bush truly went around giving speeches in which he prayed "Come Lord Jesus" every time, like the Bush-haters claim that he does. And then imagine that no one in the press or in any venue ever asked him about it.
That's the situation. You don't have to have an academic specialty in Islamic eschatology to read about Ahmadinezhad's obsession with it. He talks about it all the time. Yet NO ONE ASKS HIM ABOUT IT. Now why is that?

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/4/2007

www.tallarmeniantale.com for a turkish viewpoint.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/4/2007

The point about Col. Ralph Peters is, that US Army officiers in the Nato tried to discuss his ideas with their Turkish collegues, making them in Turkish eyes a semi offical viewpoint of the USA. What the Kurds or Arabs or Iran or others get out of terrorism is simple: it is very effective way of putting countries under pressure. Costs little money and (at least in democracies) hell is loose when innocent people get murdered. Terrorism was invented by the Christian nations of the Balkans who used it against the Moslems living there to give them the choice of going elsewhere or stay and risk getting killed.

The Europeans believe that they are far ahead the US on the moral ethical stuff. They presently have nothing to gain by joining the US or supporting Israel.

Tim R. Furnish - 10/4/2007

Can someone steeped in Islamist apologetics and deconstructionism perhaps tell me what in Hades Omar is trying to say?

N. Friedman - 10/4/2007


I certainly hope that your view is correct.

Tim R. Furnish - 10/4/2007

Understood. But, with all due respect to Professor Lewis, that statement is generically true of Islam in general and really does not advance the thesis that the Tehran regime is particularly prone to mass-suicide-as-eschatology-starter.
And I think that to truly make that argument, one has to ground it in some Iranian Shi`i texts. That's all I'm saying.

N. Friedman - 10/4/2007

Professor Furnish,

I did not take Lewis' position to be based on a close reading of Shi'a theology. I think he was based on what the country's leaders, including Ahmedinejad, seem to believe, based on what they say and what like minded people say. As Lewis noted, the view among some of Iran's leaders is that death does people a favor. As Lewis noted:

In the final scenario, and this applies all the more strongly if they kill large numbers of their own people, they are doing them a favor. They are giving them a quick free pass to heaven and all its delights, the divine brothel in the skies. I find all that very alarming.

You might also want to read this article.

Tim R. Furnish - 10/4/2007

Mr. Friedman,
I posted a reply, separately, way down at the bottom on the comments.
I await your response.

Tim R. Furnish - 10/4/2007

Mr. Friedman (and others),
Regarding my disagreement with B. Lewis and R. Paz on the "hotwiring the apocalpypse" scenario: I bow to no one in my respect for Dr. Lewis, who has forgotten more about Islamic history, in general, than I know. However, in his writings on this topic, I have yet to see any Persian Shi`i sources adduced which establish an apocalyptic mindset among Shi`i theologians; that is, I know of no Twelver Shi`i theologian or scholar over the centuries who has argued that the re-emergence of the Hidden Imam as Mahdi will be preceded by mass destruction. I am not saying such do not exist (and I am primarily an Arabist, not a Persianist), but isn't the burden of proof on those who argue for the mindset, to prove it exists--rather than on me, who is simply saying "I'm not convinced?" As for the estimable Reuven Paz on this topic, he is absolutely right about this mindset existing among SUNNI jihadist-apocalyptists; but he has yet to demonstrate that such an idea is regnant (or even exists) in Shi`i Islam. I am currently working on some Shi`i Arab (Hizbullah) books (in Arabic) and perhaps that will shed some light in the future on this important issue.
(I wonder how Omar will find a way to attack me on this, and/or work Israel into the equation?)

N. Friedman - 10/3/2007


Please provide me with some sources for your assertions. They differ markedly from what I have read. I want to see what you are referring to so that I can consider your points.

E. Simon - 10/3/2007

Well Glenn, what we have are TWO standards, and maybe more, depending on how capable someone is of understanding that laws are applied based on the particular circumstances of the case and that there is, uh, like more than just ONE law on the "books". Not every case is identical to the next. I know this is hard for some people to conceive of. Like when Israel bombs targets in Syria (but does not go to war against the country - which has ironically been at a state of war declared against Israel since its founding) upon finding curious shipments from North Korea landing on its shores, a country that despite its desperate starvation and isolation still seems to find much time to declare its development of atomic weaponry - a program which requires no shortage of resources.

As for the rest of your post, it's hard to even know where to begin. But self-defense would be a good concept to familiarize yourself with. So would the difference between military action as a humanitarian intervention versus wars threatened to end a state's existence just because you don't think it should exist, in apparent disagreement to the wishes of the large majority of the people who vote to continue that existence.

E. Simon - 10/3/2007

More shooting of messengers so that the intellectual inadequacies of those unwilling to stand deciphering the message keep their false honor intact while their brains remain buried in the ground.

E. Simon - 10/3/2007

Many things to address in your post. First, an independent Kurdistan would probably indeed benefit the U.S. as an important ally, regardless of whether it takes part of modern-day Turkey with it as a result. Second, this geopolitical consideration is separate from the problem of terrorism, which shouldn't be condoned in any event, and which I don't understand what it has to do with the first or what the Kurds feel they get out of it. Third, in the U.S. freedom of speech is important. I'm not sure who Ralph Peters is and the mere fact that you had to direct to his Wikipedia entry means his obscurity likely speaks for itself. Colonels generally don't make policy, let alone policy that is at odds, so far as I can tell, from official U.S. government policy - so there shouldn't be much to worry about on that score. And last, as for the E.U., well they've always been a bit behind on the moral/ethical eight ball, at least until they realize that as a supranational entity, they actually come close to having the strength to start standing up for the right things every now and then; a strength that their constituent nation-states lacked in the past. But as for having the balls to do the right thing, of course, that tends to take a little bit longer to learn.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/3/2007

Both WWI and the Greek invasion which followed it were civil wars. The Armenian politicians as well as part of the population joined the Russians, and started a revolt behind the front. This was what prompted the Ottoman government to force the Armenians out of Anatolia. A very large number of Moslems (various ethnic groups) were killed by Armenians in an attempt to disatract the Army from the front and reduce the Moslem majority. This can fairly be called a civil war, nationalists call it treason.

N. Friedman - 10/3/2007


My view is to take religions - especially other peoples' religions - as sets of ideas - albeit not subject to refutation by simple argumentation -. The ideas can be read and understood as such. And, religious people can and sometimes do make very pragmatic plans based on such ideas.

I thus think when a seemingly religious lunatic takes power in a country and then lays out a plan to further, seemingly, his religious vision, those ideas must be examined. Why? Because they somehow must have something to do with that person's plans and thoughts and way of thinking - most especially of a person who would say the sort of loony, scary things that Ahmadinejad says when the entire world is listening, not to mention to his own people.

N. Friedman - 10/3/2007


Note that I did not raise the issue of the Armenians. I merely responded to what Glen wrote.

I do not plan to answer you in detail about what occurred to the Armenians, which is not the issue for today, except to note that the worst of the massacres occurred during WWI, not in any civil war. In fact, most of the killing occurred from 1915 to 1916.

Your other comment is more interesting. Without addressing or necessarily remotely agreeing with your understanding of the facts for each of the examples you mention - and some is plain incorrect -, it is certainly the case that Europeans - and most especially Europeans -, Americans and everyone else employ a great deal of hypocrisy, especially to advance an agenda. On that, we certainly agree.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/3/2007


It is wrong to say that Turkey does not have good relations with the Kurds. Quite a lot of Kurds are good integrated citizens. The problem is with nationalists, who would like to break away a chunk of Turkish territory. That is something no state will accept. Remember the American Civil war.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/3/2007

Mr Friedman,

Yo are right of course that I don’t not really understand the religious mind. I try to pick out the rational core of what people do but as you say that might be misleading. I do tend to believe that Ahmedinejat is as interested in the hidden imam as George Bush is on free elections in Qatar. Mehmet II by way of analogy did conquer Constantinople but then his advisors had to talk him out of becoming a Catholic to have himself recognized as the Emperor of Rome by the Pope. He wrote poems about how wonderful the service was in the Catholic churches in Constantinople. As they say power corrupts, not only in Washington.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/3/2007

It always amazes me that no matter what the issue in discussion is, some people always attack Turkey. Reminds me of Hitler who always attacked the Jews, no matter what the issue was. Such racism led to the murder of 5 Million Turks during the 19th century and the Balkan war 1912, a crime which no single christian nation acknowledges. It does not appear in their history books. Instead they concentrate on the Armenians who died in the civil war, which they themselves had started. They want the Turk to accept that they by surviving the planned extermination of their people commited a crime. That is not going to happen. It is especially cynical that the French, who killed 1 Million Algerians in the Algerian war of independence as well as being responsible for the deaths of 800 000 people in the Hutu-Tutsi genocide in the 1990s and the Americans who have caused the deaths of over 1 Million Iraqis since 1990 make the most noise about the issue while never talking of their own crimes, for which the very politicians, who run their countries today are responsible.

N. Friedman - 10/3/2007


As always, you present your views cogently. I find myself not fully agreeing with you although I agree that at least some - but this bears noting, not all and probably not even most (a lot of it being self-inflicted denial of homegrown problems and desires for glory and privileges lost to history), although a good deal - of the hatred stirred up among a great many Muslims is the result of Western, most actions.

On the other hand, I cannot say I agree with you when you write: "Talking about hidden imams and the Mahdi to analyse their policy is nonsense." Surely, you cannot dismiss the role of religion, including about the Mahdi, in the policy, including the foreign policy, of Iran, a country that expressly defines itself as a theocracy and is ruled by a clique of people who - although there are obviously exceptions - believe in theocratic governance including people who are clerics. So, religious ideology, including about the Mahdi, surely plays a role in how these people think.

The question to ask is how large that role is. I note that Iran is not Turkey. It has not made a clear decision to adopt a modern way of thinking. So, your own experience may mislead you to some extent, if your view is based primarily on an analogy about how things work in Turkey. Imagine, if you will, a very different Turkey where the current religious group that has some power were the extreme left of the governing spectrum but the opposition was not secular, for the most part, but ultra-reactionary men of unreformed religion. Place Ahmadinejad and, arguably, most of the ruling mullahs, perhaps, in that ultra-reactionary group.

Iran's leaders are mainly religious clerics and the country is, by its own definition, a theocracy. While it can be imagined that the leadership would use religion to advance a secular cause, there is also the possibility that that secular cause is, for them, also a religious cause, as their conception of religion, if it is traditional in any sense, makes no distinction between religious and political.

My point being that there is likely a combination of what you and I would call Iranian national and religious agendas at work but which they may well see as advancing a religious agenda, in which case the religious agenda would tend to play an important role in what they do. Maybe. It is always difficult to know.

By way of analogy, the great Mehmet II appears to have wanted Constantinople both because it made him and his empire a more conspicuously obvious successor to the Romans and fulfilled an Islamic agenda, as he understood it, among several other things that surely inspired him.

Also against your view that the role of religion here is nil, I note that if you are correct, Ahmadinejad has gone to a great deal of trouble to sound like a complete fruitcake and religious fanatic. Recall that he stood up, previously, at the UN, in front of the leaders of the entire world, and claimed to have seen a vision of the hidden imam - again, this was in front of the leaders of the entire world. Your theory would dismiss that entirely. Mine says that it is part of the mix.

For what reason would he do such a thing? Was it for home consumption and used cynically? If so, is there the danger of Iran being pushed into actions by that ideology whatever the true beliefs of its leaders? Or, is he a true believer hoping to persuade those in his country? I certainly do not know.

I also note that this time around in New York, he also made a pretty impassioned explanation of his religious views. I note a recent analysis of his speech. One does not have to agree with her view to take what Ahmadinejad says seriously. However, I think she fairly accurately summarizes what he said.

For what it is worth, I think that one cannot wholly dismiss what the lunatic says as being unconnected to what Iran does. The connection may not be one to one, as Ms. Glick's above noted article proposes, but it is not unrelated and it is probably not something to ignore - which she correctly notes that newspapers tend to do.

N. Friedman - 10/3/2007


The topic which focuses the minds of every Israeli I have ever met is the survival of their small state. In order to survive, Israel has close relations with even Germany.

Lewis has commented, and later seemingly contradicting himself, about the label to be applied to the fate of the Armenians. In his brilliant book, The Emergency of Modern Turkey, he notes - albeit does not focus on - the extermination of the Armenians. However, when he has played politician, he may have downplayed somewhat the label he thinks ought to be applied to the horror into a question mark. He, along with some scholars at Princeton, according to scholar Peter Balakian in his excellent book, The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America's Response. I do not think that such is due to the discovery of important new facts.

There is a point to note. Those involved in the genocide of Armenians are all, with very few exceptions, dead quite a long time ago. The current generation of Turks, continuing denial notwithstanding, are not to blame for what their great, great grandparents did, at least not to the extent of being entirely shunned. This is not to say that recognition of reality is acceptable but only that moral blame goes to those who did the killing. One might also hope that Kurds acknowledge their role and that Syrians acknowledge their role in that horror. I do not see that happening either.

One might also note that Israel has good relations with Kurds in Iraq, Kurds, as noted above, having played a very significant role in the extermination of Armenians. Turkey, however, clearly does not have good relations with the Kurds. Israel, on the other hand, does not have any peaceful relations with Syrians, who also played a significant role, although more so in the warm up massacres of 1894 - 1896 than those which occurred during WWI. Presumably, Israel's motivation is the desire to survive.

You note that Lewis is not persuasive. In that what I quoted is from a newspaper interview, I do not think he was presenting any evidence for his proposition. He was merely stating his conclusions from evidence he saw. My point in quoting him is to note that a major historian - and I am assuming he is not making things up but, rather, presenting his views based on what he has examined - sees things in a different way than Professor Furnish.

So far as what is occurring in Iraq, I am inclined to agree with most of what you say. I would, however, note that the US is attempting to build not only an alliance with Iraqi Sunnis (in order to assuage their concerns) but as part of a wider Sunni alliance against Iran. And, to that extent, I note that such alliance includes, strange as it may sound, a tacit Sunni alliance with Israel, Shia Persia being the graver threat, as seen by Sunni Arabs.

Glenn Scott Rodden - 10/3/2007

Mr. Green:

That would be a case of selective prosecution and an about face for the neocons in the Bush Administration. President Bush himself openly mocked international law when he was preparing to launch the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Why appeal to the international law now?

And why single out the leader of Iran for special treatment? The same day A-jad was speaking at Columbia University, the president of Turkmenistan was speaking at the same university. This man is a brutal dictator who rules his country with an iron fist. Would you support his arrest?

What about President Bush himself? Shouldn't he be arrested for supporting and causing sectarian violence in Iraq and threatening war with Iran and Syria? Shouldn't the president of Israel be arrested for the recent bombing of Syria? Or do we have a double standard?

Glenn Scott Rodden - 10/3/2007

Mr. Friedman:

Thank you for summarizing the views of Professor Lewis. That is the type of exchange I always wanted to see on the HNN, but it rarely happens.

It is ironic that Lewis supports Turkey and its alliance with Israel. If Lewis is concerned about genocidal Islamic regimes, why would he support a nation that still denies that it committed genocide? How can Israel, a country founded by holocaust surviors, having anything to do with the Turkish regime? Furthermore, how can the Bush Administration talk about a war on terror and then support two Islamic terror organizations in Iraq: 1. the MEK; 2. the PKK?

Lewis is interesting but not convincing when he claims that Iran is ruled by genocidal/suicidal leaders. Iranian foreign policy looks like it is based on national security concerns and not fanatical ideology.

Most of what is being written by Furnish, Lewis, et al. is aimed at justifying another war in the Middle East.

I do agree that Israel did not want and is not benefitting from the US War in Iraq. Iran has clearly the winner in the Iraq War.

Finally, three things concern me about the Bush Administration's policy toward Iraq and Iran:

1. The Bush administration is claiming that the military surge is working, but the Maliki regime is failing; 2. The administration is blaming all problems in Iraq on Iran; 3. The administration is entering into an alliance with Iraqi Sunnis.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/3/2007


are you sure he is the only one planning war and genocide?

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/3/2007

Iran is one of the three Islamic Powers in the Middle East, being financed by oil more independant of the West than the other two, Turkey and Egypt. They are following a classical Major Power strategy of trying to become the dominating power. Talking about hidden imams and the Mahdi to analyse their policy is nonsense. The dilemma for the US is that they are one one hand not prepared to let the Arabs keep their oil money and use it to develop their economies because this would lead to the rise of new Islamic Powers which might not do as the US government orders them to do, leading to the end of anglo american control of the oil they have had since 1918. On the other hand as the defeat in Iraq shows the period in history where such control was possible has ended and the attempt to continue is leading to a very violent opposition, of which Ben Laden and the coming Iranian Bomb are just two aspects. The violence which the US is using against Moslems is alienating all Moslems, who have began to look first at Iran, then at China as their saviour.

R. Craigen - 10/3/2007

I find neither Lewis' articulation of the "start the apocalypse" thesis nor Furnish' critique of that thesis particularly compelling; both are principally rhetorical and don't reference any sources.

Can someone provide some actual analysis of the relevant twelver beliefs insofar as they are held in the particular sect to which Ahmedinijad and Khameini adhere?

It would be interesting, and perhaps of great importance, to determine exactly what they do believe along these lines, and what the main point of amassing these weapons might be, in their way of thinking ... I don't expect them to tell us directly.

Elliott Aron Green - 10/2/2007

what disappoints me is that A-jad was not arrested in New York for his violations of international law. To wit, it is illegal to threaten war and genocide, to spread ethnic/racial/religious hatred, as far as I know. Would the arrest of A-jad be offensive to Rodden as a presumably neocon act?

N. Friedman - 10/2/2007

So, the administration went to war against Iraq to do what the Israelis were not looking to the Bush administration to do.

According to Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's chief of staff at the State Department and not a neo- con, Israel was consistently warning the administration that Iran was the main threat, not Iraq.

According to Wilkerson: "The Israelis tried their best to persuade us that we were focused on the wrong enemy." In fact, according to Wilkerson "they were very leery of destroying the balance of power in the Middle East. But once they understood that we were going to war, come hell or high water, they weren't going to get on the wrong side of the president of the United States."

N. Friedman - 10/2/2007


Arguably, Iran is the primary benefactor, at least so far, from the Iraq war. Certainly, Israel has gained very little, if anything, so far from that war and, further, Israel, as has now been widely reported, did not even want a war with Iraq because Iraq - as they advised the Bush administration - was not a big concern to Israel. Iran was Israel's big concern, then and now.

As it turns out, the US has built up Israel's most potent enemy, at least for the moment. So, presumably, if we go by who stood to gain, the answer seems to be those Persians who hate Sunni Arabs, including Palestinian Arabs, and hate Jews.

You might also note that Arab regimes seem to see the matter the same way Israel does. That may well explain why there was essentially no comment from Arab regimes when Israel recently bombed Syria - Iran's ally. Vis a vis Iran, Israel and the Sunni Arabs are pretty much on the same page.

Charles S Young - 10/2/2007

Timothy Furnish suggests the media was soft on Ahmadinezad, however everything I saw ridiculed the president of Iran. The claim there are no gays in Iran was probably the most repeated quote from the talk at Columbia.

What is Furnish's main evidence that media elites didn't sock it to Ahmadinezad? No one grilled the president about Furnish's academic speciality -- the eschatology of the Mahdi.

I think there might be another reason no one asked about this -- such as the fact hardly anyone has heard of the 12th Imam besides Furnish and MESA.

N. Friedman - 10/2/2007


Lewis did not claim that all Shi'a are fanatics. He said that there is a group of fanatics that rule the country. And, among those fanatics, he said that some are pretty crazy.

In the case of Iran, it is, if we go by what its leaders - and not just Ahmadinejad - say, difficult to call the regime (and not all Shi'a) anything but fanatical. Whether the regime is suicidal is the question raised by Professor Furnish, who thinks it is not, and by Professor Lewis, who thinks it may be.

So far as biases, Lewis' bias is pro-Turkish and he sees the Turkish approach, under Attaturk, as the way forward for Islamic civilization. He is of the view, generally speaking, that Islamic civilization is a great civilization that has made substantial contributions to the world and, as a religion and civilization, is comparable, in some ways preferable and in some ways not preferable, to Christianity and Christian civilization. He has played a role in Turkish history, not only as a scholar but as an adviser. Among things, he had something to do with establishing Turkey and Israel's alliance. He is favorable toward Israel's existence but friendly also to Muslims.

His understanding of the relationship between Muslim civilization and European Christian civilization is one of rivalry in which, at different times, Christians or Muslims had the upper hand. He notes that Islam has a more realistic understanding of war than does either Christianity or Judaism.

With reference to that rivalry, he believes that the current mess between Muslims and the US and other Westerners arises out of the failure of Islamic civilization to address its own problems going back to the 16th Century, when Europeans began to encircle the Ottoman Empire and when the impact of the scientific revolution and political changes in Europe began to place the Ottoman Empire at a disadvantage. Rather than address what was occurring in Europe, the Empire imagined its problems away until they destroyed the Ottoman Empire and Islamic political power.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/2/2007

Bush and Co. supported the Shiites in Iraq, because they want to scare the Sunnites into building a front against the Shiites, which would neutralize both groups easing American security concerns. Of course the Shiites with their para-military religious organisation could become a real power once they get all that oil money, but then nobody is claiming that Bush and Co. are wise people pursuing an intelligent policy.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/2/2007

There is in Wikipedia under Ralph Peters a map of how this gentleman would re design the map of the Middle East. He would break away a large chunk of Turkey as Kurdistan, which Col Peters thinks would be a most loyal US ally. After US Army officers tried to discuss this perspective for the future of the Middle East with their Turkish collegues in an official meeting in the NATO the map is seen as a semi official plan of the Bush government. Turkey has problems with the Kurds of course but if the US invades Iraq and starts discussing how to dismember Turkey, this is not simply a domestic problem which Turkey is refusing to adress. Especially if the terror organisation PKK trains under US protection in Iraq, and crossing over the border daily murders people in Turkey. It is Iran which is fighting a battle against the terrorists of the PKK which hit both countries and not the US which has been an ally for 60 years and is employing the maximum possible pressure on Turkey to prevent her from fighting against terrorists who daily murder her citizens. It is the European Union which prevents Turkey from prosecuting the DTP, the “legal” arm of the PKK who sit in parliament and claim that what the PKK does is “armed opposition”and effectively demand that Turkey recognize terrorism as a basic right in democracy.

There was of course a PKK before Mr Bush invaded Iraq, it was supported by the European Union and fought a succesful war until Clinton got them to stop it. Mr Bush started them fighting again. So yes, the US president does have the influence to start and stop terrorists hitting Turkey.

Glenn Scott Rodden - 10/2/2007

Mr. Freidman:

First, I never said that Lewis was not worth listening to. I am saying that we need to know who he is and what assumptions and biases he brings to the study of Islam. Lewis was a supporter of the US War in Iraq and and a supporter of the neocon agenda in the Middle East.

Second, if Lewis and the neocons want to claim that all Shiites are "fanatics" and therefore "dangerous" they have to explain why they installed a Shiite regime in Iraq that is aligned with the "fanantically dangerous" Shiite regime in Iran.

N. Friedman - 10/1/2007


He was a college professor and, perhaps, among the greatest scholars of Islam and Islamic history of all time. That makes his insights worth listening to.

Consider: a person who understands an issue is not necessarily a person who knows how to solve a problem, even if the person understands the problem.

So, he is important to listen to as a person who may understand the problem. Whether he had the correct approach to dealing with the problem is another matter. Since we do not know what he advised, we cannot say whether his approach would have been a good one.

I would think we are better off listening to a person who studied the matter than one who has not bothered. That, to me, is common sense. That does not mean that his approach to solving the problem is the one to follow. But, it does mean that we should consider his points and take them seriously.

So, if he says the Iranians are sufficiently fanatic to be dangerous, that is a point to consider. What one should do about the Iranians is a completely different matter. He may or may not have any good ideas on that score.

E. Simon - 10/1/2007

I hope the sentiment behind your post is one more reasonable than to give support the often assumed notion that an American president can, if he sufficiently wills it, MAKE politically dysfunctional cultures across the Middle East more superficially stable while they forever put off addressing their own internal ills. I am sure that Kurdish terrorism was a problem before 2003 - (as was and is Turkish suppression of the Kurds), I am sure that Europe's rejection of Turkey into the E.U. had little to do with American intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I am sure that anyone thinking that Ahmedi ne-jihad can give any one in the Middle East anything more than some false hope to buy him time before his handlers lead nothing more practical than a religious movement into ascendancy - is not thinking things through.

The more I see such quid pro quo, zero-sum game, my enemy's enemy is my friend thinking, the more I think that people deserve the government they get. The man at the top is not responsible for what the little guys at the bottom decide NOT to do for themselves.

E. Simon - 10/1/2007

Actually, the article was about how Ahmadi ne-jihad is guided by a vision more religious in nature than some understand and how easily he gets away with not answering tough questions in his recurrent interviews with people who are consistently ignorant of how heavily this perspective influences his brand of rhetoric. Any actual "political" beliefs on his part are really irrelevant because the Mullahs just use him as a mouthpiece to an agenda that is essentially religious in nature anyway. Fanatics like Omar, (just like his hero, the Man of the Mahdi, AJ), read into everything what they want, of course. But the article describes how A. Jihad's "quarrel" with Israel and his encouragement of nuclear weapons development programs are to some degree a part of his program to claim the mantle of a global Islamist movement, which is something that Omar sees beyond perhaps because that doesn't matter to him as much as the side details (destroying a member state of the U.N. through violent external force if need be and the development of nukes by Iran) that he is fascinated and blinded by.

Glenn Scott Rodden - 10/1/2007

I do not know what Lewis said or did not say directly to the Bush administration about invading Iraq, but my point is this: why are we listening once again to people who got everything wrong about Iraq? Why are we listening to them we they want to attack Iran?

N. Friedman - 10/1/2007


I think that an issue for the Bushites was their underestimation of the role of the Muslim religious revival for, not to mention the role of religion in the lives of ordinary, Iraqis. I also think he likely thought that the quick disposal of the Iraqi army would be proof enough to Iraqis that the US could not be challenged. And, he may well have underestimated the divisions in Iraq.

I note that Lewis might have said two arguments to the Bushites, when he spoke with them early on about Iraq. He might have said that Iraq had some prospect to follow the pattern of Turkey's progress that began under the great Attaturk. Or, Lewis might have said that a violent message dropped on Iraq could potentially send a message to religious fanatics that Arabs would suffer massively if they messed again with the US.

Whatever Lewis said, the US did what it did for reasons yet to be entirely learned. Whether the US will get control of the situation in Iraq - something I doubt - is another matter. But, stranger things have happened.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/1/2007

I think it was at that time hard to imagine how dramatically the Bush administration would mismanage the occupation of Iraq. My expectation was that the US once there would try hard to give the people of Iraq a better deal than they had under Saddam. This should not have been very hard. Looking back I do not understand what thought they were doing! The people who hate the US say all they wanted was to destroy Iraq and kill Moslems.

N. Friedman - 10/1/2007


Yes, he is the same Bernard Lewis. Being a first rate scholar - in fact, a leading scholar of the Islamic regions -, which he certainly is, does not mean having the correct prescription to address the problems he saw. That is a completely different skill.

Fahrettin Tahir - 10/1/2007

It is all nutty stuff but the bottom line is this: quite a lot of people in the Middle East, including in Turkey, which is being regularly hit by Kurdish nationalist terrorists training in US protected North Iraq, have become so desperate, that Ahmedi Nezhat is becoming their hope.

Time to replace Mr. Bush by a more reasonable President.

Glenn Scott Rodden - 10/1/2007

Isn't this the same Bernard Lewis that advised the Bush administration to invade Iraq?

Lorraine Paul - 10/1/2007

I suppose it is safe for many of us to assume that Prof Furnish won't be attending the Peace Action birthday bash!

N. Friedman - 9/30/2007


As always, a very interesting and provocative article. Very, very good.

I note one point of possible question. You write:

It posits that there is a strain of Islamic eschatological thought which hopes to force Allah’s hand in sending the Mahdi, as it were, via sparking a major conflagration (nuclear, or otherwise) with the West (either the U.S. or Israel). This may be true of some of the Sunni jihadits with an apocalyptic bent, but there is very little evidence that such an idea is operative in the upper echelons of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

I note, however, that it is not just Reuven Paz who so believes. So does Bernard Lewis. This is what he told The Jerusalem Post:

I have no doubt at all, and my Iranian friends and informants are unanimous on this, that Ahmadinejad means what he says, and that this is not, as some people have suggested, a trick or device. He really means it, he really believes it and that makes him all the more dangerous.

MAD, mutual assured destruction, [was effective] right through the Cold War. Both sides had nuclear weapons. Neither side used them, because both sides knew the other would retaliate in kind. This will not work with a religious fanatic. For him, mutual assured destruction is not a deterrent, it is an inducement. We know already that they do not give a damn about killing their own people in great numbers. We have seen it again and again.

In the final scenario, and this applies all the more strongly if they kill large numbers of their own people, they are doing them a favor. They are giving them a quick free pass to heaven and all its delights, the divine brothel in the skies. I find all that very alarming.

Lewis indicates that Iran's behavior will depend on which element among the ruling clique controls things. He says (from the same source):

That depends entirely on the balance of forces within the regime. There are people in Iran who know that using nuclear weapons, even threatening to use nuclear weapons, could bring terrible retribution upon them. On the other hand there are people with an apocalyptic mindset, and their supporters...

Lewis may not go quite as far as Paz but he goes most of the way in that direction. I would like to think you are correct about this matter but I cannot dismiss a scholar like Lewis. And, I might add, Benny Morris also agrees with Lewis. He, while not a scholar of Islam like Lewis is, is no slouch.

I would like you, if you would, to address Lewis' argument for his proposition.