For the past few weeks, Israel and Iran have overtaken Iraq in Middle-Eastern news. They're fighting over the nuclear designs that Iran says will used for peaceful power generation. Israel claims that Iran is developing a bomb to wipe them off the map. These claims are muddled, due to the fact that the IAEA has given differing levels of intelligence concerning exactly what Iran plans to do, and whether they are in a position to fully develop their capabilities. Their current head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, has been a controversial figure, as the US and Israel claim that he is being too lenient with the government of Iran. All in all, we are looking at the setup for a massive Middle-Eastern shootout.
What's the fight over? On the surface, the claim is over what Israel's Arabic neighbors call " the occupation". It boils down to an argument that the land where Israel sits is Palestinian land. The Arabs want Israel to either be destroyed, cede the land back to the Palestinians, or, best case scenario, for both to happen at the same time. The Israeli's claim that their statehood was declared somewhere around 1000 B. C. , and since they were driven from their land, they are just retaking what is rightfully theirs. The reclamation and reestablishment of Israel is therefore just and fitting, and the Palestinians should deal with it. This is the argument that has been made since Israel redeclared statehood, back in 1948.
Below the surface, where the really deep tensions lie, is a family feud based on two religions, with the input of a third: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The issue is over which son was the chosen one. Islam teaches that Ishmael, the offspring of an Egyptian handmaiden was the chosen son. Judaism, along with the torah, teaches that Isaac was the son chosen by God to inherit the blessings that He gave to Abraham. This does not sit well with Islamic Arabs, not at all. It's one thing to be best loved by daddy, it's another to be the favorite of God on top of that. Along with this, goes the story of Isaac's children, Jacob and Esau. Some traditions teach that the Arabs are descendants of Esau, and the Torah clearly teaches that Jews are the descendants of Jacob. God even took the guesswork out of it by changing Jacob's name to Israel. It is written that God said “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated. ", it's pretty clear from Jewish perspective who has the most favor. Not something you want to bring up at the family reunion.
Another problem that many Israeli's have is the Islamic declaration that Jerusalem is a Muslim holy place. This is a recent development, as most scholars agree that the case for this argument was not made until Israel moved back into the neighborhood in ‘48. Since Israel is never mentioned in the Qur'an, Muhammad never visited Jerusalem(despite the Night Journey of Muhammad legend), and Muslims always pray facing Mecca, Jews consider this a trumped-up claim. The argument goes something like this: “How can Jerusalem be holy to Islam if it was never visited, mentioned, or declared holy by the foremost prophet of the religion, in the most holy book of the Islamic tradition?". Talk about a hard question to answer, I personally would just let it go and move along.
What about the Dome of the Rock, that's an Islamic shrine, isn't it? Yes, yes it is. There is just one peculiarity that sets the DOR apart from the average shrine. The shrine was built over an older Christian church, and it was built specifically to get Christians to convert to Islam. This was never built for a Muslim audience to inhabit, rather to get Christians to abandon their faith in Jesus as Messiah, and accept Allah as the one true god. One other interesting thing: When you enter the shrine, you face away from Mecca. Every other Muslim holy place situates you so that you naturally face Mecca, that you might give respect to that place, and pray more easily. Think about it. It's pretty inconvenient to get 5-700 people turned around, have them kneel, and then bow, when you could have just had them face the proper way in the first place. Let's recap: Old Christian shrine, built over with new shrine, for the sole purpose of converting Christians to Islam. No other importance in Islamic history than that. There goes the Muslim argument for the Temple Mount, and all the hoopla that it has caused over the years. If anyone should want the place, it should be the Christians, so they can restore the church that once stood there.
So where's the beef? This is where we get at what is driving Ahmadenijad and his ilk in the Middle East. Islamic eschatology (or Qayamah) concerns itself with the end of days, last judgment of the world, and the obliteration of all unbelievers by Allah. Yeah, nice. Allah is going to have his faithful kill all those who will not convert to Islam, then he'll send them to hell and, well, I'll just let the Qur'an speak for itself:
YUSUFALI: Those who reject our Signs, We shall soon cast into the Fire: as often as their skins are roasted through, We shall change them for fresh skins, that they may taste the penalty: for Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise.
SHAKIR:. . . (Are these) like those who abide in the fire and who are made to drink boiling water so it rends their bowels asunder.
Yeah, I think I'll pass. The thing is, they also believe in someone who will come and be Allah's instrument for that purpose: The Mahdi. Ahmadenijad is a big believer in the Mahdi. The Mahdi will throw Israel out of it's land, and will lead the Arabs in a fight against foreigners that occupy the land. The Mahdi will proceed the second coming of Jesus, who will deny that he is God's son, and point all to the one true god, Allah. If you are a student of the Judeo-Christian eschatology, you will notice a few parallels with Tanakh's book of Daniel and the New Testament book of Revelation. In the Judeo-Christian version, the Mahdi would fit nicely into the role of the beast, alternately known to the Christians as the anti-Christ.
Ahmadenijad is a fan of the Mahdi. So what? Well, he's more than a fan, apparently. Here's a quote from May 2008, straight from this article in the Washington Post:
TEHRAN, May 7 - Several leading Iranian clerics criticized President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad on Wednesday for saying that the last imam of Shiite Islam, a messianic figure who Shiites believe was hidden by God 1,140 years ago, leads modern-day Iran.
"We see his hand directing all the affairs of the country, " Ahmadinejad told theological students in the city of Mashad during a speech that appears to have been given last month but was not broadcast until Tuesday. “A movement has started for us to occupy ourselves with our global responsibilities. God willing, Iran will be the axis of the leadership of this movement, " Ahmadinejad said.
This sounds nice enough, but there is a much darker meaning hovering beneath the surface of this statement. The preconditions for the full revealing of the Mahdi are that the world must be pure, and at the height of it's reason and morality. To a fundamentalist Muslim, this can only be accomplished when two things have happened: The Great and Little Satan (the USA and Israel) must be dealt with in judgment, and the world must be converted to Islam. After all, what could be more logical and moral than to eradicate the evil that afflicts the earth, and have the world see the light that is Islam.
Naturally, the US and Israel are against this proposition, and I'm pretty sure the rest of the world would be a little shaky on conversion at gunpoint. This is why war is coming, not because Iran is developing nuclear capabilities, but because Iran has a leader who believes his religion gives him a mandate from god to destroy and conquer the world.
To all agnostics and atheists who believe that Christians are to blame for dismissing their place in society, think about the man who would destroy completely those who try to express themselves in it. To all those who have labeled George W. Bush as a fascist, Hitler, whatever, I strongly urge you to redirect your focus to a man far crazier, and far more dangerous. To all who claim their *** preference is being restricted here, take a gander at the man who claimed that " There are no homosexuals in my country. . . . We do not have this phenomenon in our country. " If that were true, it would only be because he has methodically exterminated all of them.
In fairness, not all Muslims or even all Iranians share the Apocalyptic visions of grandeur that Mr. Ahmadenijad so vehemently espouses. The problem is, they are not the ones who control the country of Iran. They cannot tell scientists to stop enriching uranium, or stop purchases of Russian military equipment. They are not even at liberty to chose a religion without the threat of death hanging over their heads.
Ahmadenijad hears the footsteps of the Mahdi. . . how long will you turn a deaf ear?
Kurt Hartman is a self-designated news junkie, and devourer of interesting political and religious theory.
His current day job is as Head of Employee Training at BuyBigTires.com. Their web address is, of course, http://www.buybigtires.com