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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Iran in Perspective

Iran is in the news quite often lately. They enrich uranium. They threaten Israel. They suppress citizen protests. They take political prisoners. They behead criminals. They may be stocking up on nuclear weapons capacity. They even killed Google's email accounts for their citizens. Simply put, the world is becoming more and more worried about Iran and its behavior.

So what is the truth? Iran is a Muslim country. There is no 'separation of church and state' there. They view such a concept as nonsense. And we consider them (or at least their leaders) to be radical lunatics. Is this a fair assessment?

One of the beliefs that distinguishes Shiite Islam from the Sunni sect is that the twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, was shielded by Allah and will return to save the world when it has descended into chaos. The orthodox Shia position is that humans can do nothing to hasten the second coming of this messiah. there is, however, a group of shiites, the Hojjatieh Society, that is governed by the conviction that the twelfth Imam's return will be hastened by the creatio of chaos on earth.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a devotee of the Mahdi, and apparently has close ties to the Hojjatieh and Ayatollah Mohammad taghi Meshbah-Yazdi. (Many mainstream Iranians call Yazdi "the crazed one."

Ahmadinejad has made it clear that he believes the Mahdi will return to save believers and kill infidels --- and that it will happen within the next few years. The legitimate fear (for you and I) is that Ahmadinejad is a madman who is developing nuclear weapons and might use them to try to end the world and hasten the return of his messiah.

So here's the problem. This Islamic belief in a messiah that will return to save His people and destroy the rest looks quite a bit like the belief that Christians hold - where Jesus will return to save His people and judge the rest. Shia's believe that the return of their messiah's second coming will be heralded by an apocalypse: war and chaos. And of course, Iranian leaders believe (and Ahmadinejad has said) that God has spoken to them and speaks through them. They further believe that God calls them to lead the world into the future realm (of God).

What then, is the practical difference between the Iranian president's belief that God spoke through him and calls his country to lead the world into the future realm (of God) and the belief of the American leaders that we exclusively have that role? We're all about advancing the Jesus agenda of equality, democracy, capitalism, freedom, etc. And we're certain that our way is God's way. But they (the Iranian leaders) are just as certain that their way is God's way.

America is convinced that we're on a mission from God, that we're God's chosen people and that our crusade is God's crusade. And we've built the world's most powerful (and nuclear-equipped) military might to ensure that we win. We then are high offended when Iran rises up with a similar belief and begins to build a nuclear arsenal to ensure that it wins or at least advances. And we respond with that offense by threatening sanctions against Iran. (

Seriously, sanctions against Iran in this scenario are like putting a screen door on a submarine to keep the sharks out. I suspect we're going to need a lot more diplomacy with Iran than this. And I'm convinced that the issue we must address with Iran is not their enriching uranium to potentially build nuclear weapons.

The conflict between our core beliefs began long before nuclear weapons were invented. Does diplomacy recognize that reality?

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