Clash Of The Millennarians

As most of you know, I am a fan of Reality TV. The finale of the 4th installment of The Apprentice aired last night, and it was quite a surprise. Anyone who’s watched enough TV was able to recognize that the producers were setting us up for a dual hiring, as neither Randal nor Rebecca were allowed to be portrayed in much of a negative light. Then Trump did a very stupid thing. He quite rightly hired Randal, who –as a Rhodes scholar and successful head of a multimillion dollar company– is clearly the most qualified candidate; but then he asked Randal if he should also hire Rebecca, fully expecting Randal to say yes. But Randal said no, and essentially screwed himself on live TV. It would have cost him nothing to have shared the prize with Rebecca, as Trump and the producers clearly intended. But less qualified or not, Rebecca’s exclusion now makes Randal look like a classless boor. And, really, I now suspect that he is one. Andy Denhart of MSN concurs.

Today’s Charley Reese column is right on the money. It begins with the line, “When they finally hang Saddam Hussein, we’ll probably miss him.” Read it here.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is at it again, running his mouth when he should just shut up and govern. This time, he has confirmed that he is indeed a holocaust denier. He has now lost all credibility with all but a handful of world powers. This is all quite a shame. Despite Ahmadinejad’s zealotry, he had some good political ideas upon coming to office, all woven about the central theme of “putting petroleum dollars back on Iranians’ tables”. The problem is that power seems to have gone to his head, and he –unlike generations of Western teens raised on Marvel comics– is unaware that with great power comes great responsibility. Trigger fingers in Israel grow understandably itchy.

The shame of it all is quite heart breaking. Ahmadinejad has, in minutes, accomplished what billions of dollars of US propaganda could not: paint all of Iran as a stinking bog of medieval values and thought. The truth is that, as a character in the movie Syriana put it, “Iranians are natural cultural allies of the US.” Persians are modern, intelligent, engaged and beautiful people. There is a strong pro-Western, secular sentiment among educated Persians, yet this sector gets little media play in the West. As a diplomat friend who specializes in the Middle East tells me, there are essentially three layers of political Iran: the educated strata, which is decidedly secular; the merchant caste, which tends to have conservative and sometimes fundamentalist views; and the great sea of insulated agrarian workers, whose views on foreign policy matters are shaped by whoever has access to these people.

Complicating these strata is, of course, religion. We all know that Iran is mostly Shi’a Muslim. Within Shi’a there is a sect which is best described as Millennarial. Much like the Millennarians in the West –the Evangelical Christians– this sect believes we are in the End Days. It is sometimes called Twelve Imam Shiism. Under Shi’a, imams have status and authority approaching that of Prophet Muhammed himself. The first imams are historical figures. The final imam is referred to as the “hidden imam” who, much like a returning Messiah, will come forth from hiding and usher in a new and final republic for Iran, initiating the End Days and the final war of Good against Evil. Sound familiar?

Not surprisingly, the Ayatollah Khomeini was thought by many to be the hidden imam, and the wave of revolution he rode in the late 1970s was thought to be the founding of the heavenly republic of the End Days.

What is unclear, at least to me, is the actual prevalence of Twelve Imam Shiism in Iran. Presently, that sect punches a lot of political weight, but how common is the actual belief among the citizenry? This, to me, is a critical question in judging the future of Persia-West relations.

President Ahmadinejad is a Twelve Imam Shiite. And President George Bush is an Evangelical Christian. Both are unafraid of a fight, and both see a clash of civilizations as a good thing which will lead the world into the hands of God. Be afraid, be very afraid.