Lunatic Islam

Let’s start by acknowledging that every religion has its nutters. As a Mormon growing up in Northern California, I remember a guy who would show up at food & crafts fairs selling jars of preserved fruit from what he called “The Tree of Life” (the focal point of a revelatory dream/vision had by one of the Book of Mormon’s key figures). On closer inspection this divine fruit usually turned out to be peaches.

But that man never sought public office and no one ever suggested he should. He occasionally disturbed congregational meetings with his antics, suckered some gullible Mormon moms with some canned fruit and gave everyone else a great laugh and a bit of a story to tell.

His counterparts in the Islamic world are running the show. Ahmadinejad isn’t just a fervent believer in Islam, he’s a fervent believer in Mohammed’s magical horse Buraq that he rode from Jerusalem to heaven and back. He’s also avidly waiting for the return of the “hidden Imam” who seems (after some investigation) to be some kid who fell down a well 1,500 years ago and has since been fetishized into some Arthurian figure or returning God. The good news for everyone else (including the millions of Iranians who just want to live their lives and don’t give a damn about imams or magic horse rides) is that the beloved 5-year old imam is only going to spring out of his well after a long period of chaos and destruction after which Islam will reign supreme.

Is it so wrong for us to come out and say this guy’s nothing but a deranged peasant who wandered into scary-as-hell political power?



  1. First, I love the story about the Tree of Life jam. Classic.

    Second, I too have known many a religious nutter.

    Third, don’t think I’m an apologist for Ahmedinejad*, but…

    …Fourth, are his myths any “crazier” than Christian “myths”?

    You give me a flying horse, I’ll give you a man who walked on water and came back from the dead.

    You give me the Return of the Imam, and I’ll give you the Return of Jesus, who, according to Rapture-believers, will return to earth only after all hell has broken loose (usually in the Middle East) and the righteous have evaporated into the clouds. This stuff is in Left Behind, beloved by Born Agains, a member of whose circle of believers is Born Again In Chief, George Bush.

    Now, I’m not saying Bush = Ahmedinejad, nor that the White House is following some End Times agenda, but be careful in throwing mud at looney religions, it might come back to bite you.

    *How proud I am that I can spell that.


  2. There is some related and interesting commentary by Rabbi Eliyahu Shalem of Jerusalem about this topic (the return of the winged horse Burak and Ahmadinejad) over at The Free West. That post contains a trenchant observation:

    Ahmadinijad is not the Prophet. For better or worse he is simply flesh and blood, and although he has visions, they seem destined to become nightmares for his people.

    The main point was a statement that it was fitting that Ahmadinejad disclosed his nuclear intentions on August 22, the day of the winged horse Burak.


  3. AhmEdinejad!


    BTW, I heard the Mike Wallace interview. He was quite charming, don’t you think? (/Ducks…)


  4. Yes, Ronan. As was Adolf in his march to becoming Time’s “Man of the Year.”

    A few thoughts on your post above: yes, I considered that there are plenty of Christian fantasies and even generally accepted doctrines that look like they’re just a silly as anything about a magic horse or a lost boy down a well. But I think a closer look shows some key distinctions.

    1. Jesus walking on water and rising from the dead are part of a much broader, internally consistent theological framework. Mohammed hitching a ride on the magic horse Buraq is part of a much broader, internally Disneyesque cultural fantasyscape. There is noting theologically or spiritually necessary about the damn horse. There is much that is theologically and spiritually substantive (for Christians) about Jesus on the water and Jesus rising from the dead.

    2. The hidden Imam is a particular Islamesque. Again, absolutely no theological framework built around this kid. He was just a beloved little dude who took a wrong step, plunged down a well then became the centerpiece of a fairytale that comforted his (probably influential) family with the story of a mighty return and a purposeful disappearance. There is no principle that’s demonstrated in the little myth.

    So while I don’t disagree that there is plenty of near-equivalent weirdness in Scary Christian circles (the Rapture is a fine example and as soon as we elect someone who professes to believe in the Rapture I WILL expatriate to Australia) I don’t think that you can compare Christ’s standard repertoire of miraculous moments with a shiny star-trotting horse or the transformation of all-too-mundane boy-down-a-well accident into a sect-defining fantasy.


  5. You’re adorable. You apparently can’t separate “silly hysteria” from verifiable fact. Most of my information on the man comes firsthand from an associate in Tehran, whose father has held high posts in Iranian government and who is, herself, ambivalent towards (but not hostile to) the current regime.

    Some facts for you:

    1. Mr. Ahmadinejad is a devotee (not a casual observer) of the Hojatieh sect of Shia Islam, which believes the return of the 12th Imam (the Mahdi), who disappeared as a child in 941, is imminent and can be hastened by increasing global chaos.

    2. His messianic beliefs have become a major topic of discussion in Tehran–it is widely understood there that he had a meeting with his cabinet shortly after taking office last August when he had members sign an oath of loyalty to the 12th imam, which they dropped into a well near where the Shiite messiah is believed to be hiding. This information circulates widely in Tehran, is believed to be credible and Ahmadinejad’s people have chosen not to refute it.

    3. Mr. Ahmadinejad has called frequently for the destruction of Israel, declaring in an April 14 speech “the Zionist regime is a rotten, dried tree that will be eliminated by one storm.”

    4. He has repeatedly denied the Holocaust. In your unhinged subset of the world population this may be a perfectly sensible belief to hold. In subset of the world population that has developed the capacity for detached analytical thought Holocaust denial is a mark of wolf-faced irrationality and a, shall we say, “mild” anti-semitism.

    5. He can be seen on video saying in his own words (go to that he believes that Islam will in a not-distant day “conquer the mountaintops of the world.”

    So please continue to pretend to “LOL” (the now cliched retreat of anyone who doesn’t actually have an argument but is fumbling for a way to express their adolescent contempt).


  6. I don’t know, Stu. There is nothing necessary in the water walking episode.

    Of course, it’s meaningful that the son of God can walk on water. It’s also meaningful that God provides a special creature to his mouthpiece. If Christ had not walked on water, for most Christians, the gospel would not have to change one jot.

    Before we judge Islam, we need to remember the talk of right wing Evangelicals and Charismatics, at least one of which is a general officer, who justify the Iraq invasion in terms of bringing about the second coming.

    By the time, we consider the craziness of folks in Kansas about Darwinism in the biology curriculum and fundamentalists in DC suburbs about the evils of health education there isn’t much light between wacko Muslims and wacko Christians . . . and that applies especially to a broad subculture in our own religion.

    Do you remember Bo Gritz and Merrill Cook? I don’t want to get lost in details but those two were seriously nutty and seriously dangerous if we had acted on their demands.

    Of course, it’s true Gritz and Cook never became president of their country. Then the real question is why do people like that become the president of Iran but not of the United States.

    The answer is that American political institutions impose greater accountability on political leaders. Therefore there are more opportunities to eliminate wackos from political office.

    Of course, it is true that Ahmedinejad was elected. In light of right wing terror and the role of clerical leadership, however, it would be absurd to claim that Iranians have the same opportunities to hold political leaders accountable as Americans. That’s the difference that accounts for the Ahmedinejad phenomenon.

    The problem has little to do with the relative merit of a country’s dominant religion. Before the age of democracy and the rule of law, there were plenty of Christians who killed thousands and tens of thousands of their contemporaries. Bernard of Clairvaux and the crusaders come to mind first. Then there is the Holy Inquisition and even the Dreyfus affair. Our own religious experience contains similar episodes.

    No doubt, Ahmedinejad’s message is evil. When you have a little time I can introduce you to plenty of Christians who proclaim Ahmendinejad’s message about their own peoples. And I have seen more of them in the United States, especially in the Rockies, then in Germany.

    That doesn’t absolve Ahmedinejad. On the contrary, looking back into our own history we can conclude how dangerous he and his brand of religion are. But if we are honest to ourselves then we have to admit that the same kind of evil is among us and our own.

    According to Hannah Arendt that’s the problem with totalitarianism. The monsters have much more in common with us then we would like to admit.

    It’s also the lesson of the founding fathers. Rather than relying on the virtue of our leaders or their faith we have to constrain their ambitions with checks and balances.

    The founding fathers did not give us a superior religion. They gave us the United States Constitution, which continues to spare us the likes of Ahmedinejad and his American counterparts. It’s a model that has worked well in various regions of the globe across a wide variety of cultures, which also include a wide variety of religions.

    When Muslim people ever enjoy the benefits of an equally effective state, which provides public goods to its population while holding the government accountable then that state will have no more problems than the United States or any other democracy.


  7. I’ve already acknowledged that every religion has its nutters.

    But to say that “there’s not much light” between Muslim whackos and Christian whackos is itself whacky not to mention counterfactual (assuming we’re keeping the conversation in the relevant century and not going back to Bernard in the early 12th… although the fact that we have to refer back to Medieval Europe to find western equivalents for modern Muslim radicalism actually tells much of the story).

    Muslim whackos: behead infidels and justify it with a fatwa
    Christian whackos: challenge sex ed in the courts

    Muslim whackos: shave the head of woman accused of adultery, beat her and kick her publicly, brand her forehead.
    Christian whackos: have fake healings on television.

    Muslim whackos: murder your own sister for shaming the family by flirting with a non-Muslim boy.
    Christian whackos: protest at abortion clinics (and in maybe in a couple super-isolated cases actual commit violent acts at those clinics–important to note that those case are the extreme exception whereas the instances I’ve noted above are routine in the Muslim world)


Comments are closed.