Ahmadinejad’s Apocalypse-Soon Proclamations: For Real or a Joke?

President Mahmoud AhmadinejadProgressive commentators tend to think that conservatives are naïve to believe that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad longs for the Apocalypse. First, we wonder what their sources are. Second, we think that the right fails to acknowledge how savvy a political player Tehran has traditionally been, even during the fanaticism of the Islamic Revolution. (For more, see Trita Parsi’s Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Iran, Israel and the United States, Yale University Press, 2007.)

If true, though, what does Ahmadinejad gain by making public his Apocalyptic leanings? Holocaust denial may play to his constituents and distract from the bad economy while the nuclear-energy program enhances national pride. Let’s try to find out where the right draws evidence that Ahmadinejad is apocalyptic.

I was recently assigned to review a book by Dore Gold, who served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations during Benjamin Netanyahu’s first term as prime minister and as a foreign policy advisor to him. The Rise of Nuclear Iran made the New York Times bestseller list as did two of his previous books, Fight for Jerusalem and Hatred’s Kingdom (no, not Iran in that instance, but Saudi Arabia).

Of course, one immediately questions their trustworthiness since they were brought out by Regnery Publishing (think Unfit for Command – you know, the Swiftboaters). But it must be acknowledged that most of the sources Gold cites in his footnotes are credible. Furthermore, he supplies some answers to the question of why many conservatives are convinced that Ahmadinejad is an end-timer. Excerpts follow.

Besides the escalation of Ahmadinejad’s anti-western incendiary rhetoric, the second feature of his presidency that has received enormous attention has been his repeated references to the imminent return of the Twelfth or Hidden Imam. In Twelver Shiite tradition, Muhammad ibn Hasan was the twelfth descendent of the Prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law, Ali ibn Abi Talib. He was born in 868, but at the age of six, he vanished and was expected to reveal himself as the Mahdi (literally, the “Rightly Guided One”) at the end of days before the Day of Judgment, when a new era of divine justice will prevail, and Shiite Islam will be recognized as the true global faith. . . .

Ahmadinejad made the re-appearance of the Twelfth Imam as the Mahdi into a hallmark of his presidency. He declared in an address to the Iranian nation shortly after his 2005 election victory: “Our revolution’s main mission is to pave the way for the reappearance of the Mahdi.” . . . In September, he sponsored in Tehran the first annual International Conference of Mahdism Doctrine. He required his cabinet members to sign a symbolic pledge of allegiance to the Twelfth Imam. . . .

Despite his government’s economic struggles with unemployment at 30 percent, Ahmadinejad allocated $20 million in 2005 to expand the [Mahdist] mosque complex at Jamkaran, and further funds for commemorating the Mahdi’s birthday. . . .

It was reported in November 2006 that Ahmadinejad told a visiting foreign minister from an unnamed Islamic country that the current crisis in Iran “presaged the coming of the Hidden Imam, who would appear within two years.” . . . On another occasion he said that it was his mission to hand over Iran to the Madhi at the end of his presidency. . . . in a meeting with [EU foreign ministers in 2005] Ahmadinejad shifted the focus on their conversation unexpectedly and asked the European diplomats; “Do you know why we should wish for chaos at any price?” he then answered his own rhetorical question: “Because after chaos, we can see the greatness of Allah.” . . . .

During his student days in the late 1970s, he was linked with a secretive Islamist movement known as the Hojatieh society. Founded in 1954, [part of its mission was to] pave the way for the appearance of the Madhdi. . . .

Ahmadinejad’s Mahdism had been advanced and supported by those who served as his religious mentors, particularly Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-e Yazdi [whose lectures] repeatedly stressed the theme of hastening the coming of the Mahdi.

You can see that, even though only some of it is substantive, there are enough bones for hawks to chew on and gain enough sustenance to continue to hype Iran as an “existential” threat to Israel.