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A very bright future

Thursday, August 6th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — an Ahmadinejad revival, and if so a reference to note? ]

It could be no more than an artifact of translation, but there’s a phrase in this account of a possible Mahmoud Ahmadinejad comeback that catches my attention:

“God willing, victory and a very bright future awaits us. However, there will be bumps and satanic obstacles in our path,” the diminutive former leader, sporting his trademark close-cropped beard and sports coat, told some 400 supporters in Tehran. “One should not forget that the U.S. is our enemy.”

It’s those two words, bright future, that caught my attention.


I’m reminded of the Bright Future Institute in Qom:

The Bright Future Institute was established in early 2004 by a number of scholars and masters of Islamic seminaries in the holy city of Qom with a view to develop the culture of Intizaror Awaiting Imam Mahdi a.s and to increase the knowledge about him both in iranand abroad by supporting research and cultural works of other scholars. this institute is a non-profit making, independent research centre which promotes efforts to reject wrong ideas about imam Mahdi by holding discussion sessions and also by preparing scientific answers to respond to superstitions surrounding him.

Scott Peterson, in his book Let the Swords Encircle Me: Iran, A Journey Behind the Headlines, explains (p. 307):

Launched in 2004, the Bright Future Institute in Qom was the eighth of its kind in Iran designed to study and even speed the Mahdi’s return. It quickly became the largest and most influential. “People are anxious to know: When and how will he rise? And what must they do in order to receive this worldwide salvation?” explained Ali Lari, a keen-eyed cleric at the Bright Future Institute. “The timing is not clear, but the conditions are more specific. There is a saying: ‘Whenever the students are ready, the teacher will come.’”

A Mahdist think tank! This is the outfit that Tim Furnish visited for one of their earler Mahdism conferences.


Back to the possible Ahmadinejad revival. I don’t know that it will amount to anything, and my guess would not be worth much in any case — but if the ex-President does in fact manage a revival, and if that translated phrase wasn’t in fact just an artifact of translation, then “God willing, victory and a very bright future awaits us” is a Mahdist reference, and wpould be quite clearly such to Ahmadinejad’s supporters.

Not too surprising, but worth this brief note, I think.

CENTCOM, Rosenberg and Islamic eschatology, pt I

Monday, March 11th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — who’s giving advice to the head of CENTCOM these days? — a “prophetic” thriller novelist whose latest book concerns nuclear weapons and Iran ]

Here’s the advice apocalyptic thriller writer and political consultant Joel Rosenberg gave GEN Mattis, just two days ago:

I have deep respect for General Mattis as a military leader. Thus, I would encourage him to consider the role eschatology is playing in Tehran’s calculus. Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad and their inner circle of advisors are not being driven by normal geopolitical and economic calculus, but rather by a Shia Islamic End Times theology.

I’m very interested in Islamic end times theology myself, and have a question:

What does Rosenberg claim that theology is, and what does he see as its ramifications in terms of CENTCOM — whose remit most notably includes Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Pakistan and Yemen?


Here’s what he says:

They believe the End of Days is at hand. They believe their messiah known as the Twelfth Imam or the “Mahdi” is coming soon.

That’s the theology as he describes it — the rest is geopolitical interpretation, no doubt favoring as well as influencing his own political ideas:

They believe that the way to hasten the coming of the Mahdi is to annihilate Israel (which they call the “Little Satan”) and America (which they call the “Great Satan.”) I wrote about this in detail in my non-fiction book, Inside The Revolution. And I factor this thinking into my current novel series, including The Twelfth Imam, The Tehran Initiative, and Damascus Countdown to consider how it could play out in real life. Such eschatology requires Iran’s leaders to acquire nuclear weaponry and the means to deliver it in order to please Allah and their coming messiah and king. As a result, the international is unlikely to convince them to disobey their most-deeply held religious beliefs through diplomacy or sanctions. A credible military threat might work, but we’re nearly out of time. Actual military action may soon be the only option. No one wants a war. I don’t. But we don’t want to have a genocidal cult to obtain and use nuclear weapons.

Hey, I don’t want a nuclear war, either. But does the Ayatollah Khamenei? Really?


Do you think nobody in DC listens to Rosenberg? Even before he wrote his books, when he was still only 27 and a “legman” for Rush Limbaugh, the New York Times carried a feature on him calling him “a Force in the Capital” which quoted a Senior VP at the Heritage Foundation:

I’ve been at meetings of conservative activists, and they have paid extraordinary deference and have been solicitous of him.

— but you can read the whole piece. And now, eighteen years later, he has a strong of NY Times best-sellers to his name, both fiction and non-fiction — and for his latest thriller, Damascus Countdown, published this week, Porter Goss, ex CIA Director, writes:

Whenever I see a new Joel Rosenberg book coming out, I know I need to clear time on my calendar. His penetrating knowledge of all things Mid-eastern — coupled with his intuitive knack for high stakes intrigue — demand attention.

So it’s worth asking — just how penetrating is that knowledge? And in particular, just how penetrating is it about the Iranian Twelfth Imam or Mahdi, who features prominently in his most recent series of books?


Three years back, Glenn Beck interviewed this same Joel Rosenberg, who writes about end-times Christianity and Islam and the need to support Israel from an end-times perspective — and the pair of them put out a sadly and dangerously muddled message. This excerpt from the transcript is worth noting for the significance it attributes to Mahdist eschatology and thus insinuates into the minds of millions of Americans:

BECK: OK. So, the Ayatollah Khomeini and the revolution of ‘79, he said these 12ers are too crazy for even him. What happened, because — is Ahmadinejad the only one? Are there a lot of them? It’s my understanding that the government now is full of these people. Is that true?

ROSENBERG: That’s right. Well, the Ayatollah Khamenei, the current supreme leader, was a disciple of the Ayatollah Khomeini.


ROSENBERG: Apparently, it’s turned out that he has been a secret closet 12er, because he clearly believes the same thing as Ahmadinejad.

Here’s what’s wrong: both Beck and Rosenberg seem to have confused “Twelvers” (the Ithna’ashariyya who make up about 85% of all Shi’a, though there are important smaller sects such as the Ismai’li) with a small and secretive faction within the Iranian Shi’a, almost certainly the Hojjatieh.

Beck says:

I want to talk to you about something that nobody seems to ever notice when they talk about Iran. When we’re talking about Iran, we’re talking about people, the leaders, that are called, they’re called “Twelvers” — they believe in the Twelfth Imam, the Mahdi. This is one spooky dude. Twelvers are so dangerous that the Ayatollah Khomeini at one point banned them, said we’ve gotta kill ’em all because they’re too crazy — the Ayatollah Khomeini said that.

It makes absolutely no sense to say that the Ayatollah Khomeini condemned the Twelvers — he was their leader in Iran — but he did oppose the (arguably extremist) Hojjatieh, which was basically a secret society — and that is almost certainly the group that Beck was thinking of.

But then Joel Rosenberg seems to get swept up in Beck’s confused and confusing rhetoric, and goes on to call the Ayatollah Khamenei “a secret, closet Twelver” — a phrase he also uses in his 2010 book, The Twelfth Imam (pp. 178, 259), and which is particularly inept since Rosenberg knows enough to have discussed the Hojjatieh in his book Inside The Revolution (copyright 2009, 2011), in which he writes (pp. 161-62):

During this same period, it appears Ahmadinejad was also involved in a shadowy Islamic society known as the Hojatieh, whose leaders taught that the Twelfth Imam was coming soon and whose members believed they were required to take spiritual (but not political) actions to hasten his coming. … the movement discouraged people from being fully devoted to creating an Islamic state, preferring instead to wait for it to come from the sky. In 1983, therefore, Khomeini actually banned the Hojatieh, and Ahmadinejad seems to have subsumed his sympathies for the group to protect his opportunities for career advancement.


I am happy to report that Joel Richardson, the other Joel currently writing about Islamic apocalyptic from a Christian end-times perspective, corrects Beck and Rosenberg on this point in his blog, Joel’s Trumpet:

Beck needs to have me on sometime. He gets a lot of his info wrong. Ayatollah Khomeini never banned “Twelvers”, as he himself was one. He banned the Hojjatieh of which Ahmadinejad is arguably a member of and which Mesbah Yazdi below is as well.

Beck’s the one Joel Richardson was addressing, but his critique applies equally to both Beck and Rosenberg. But this post is getting overlong, so I’ll continue with background from a scholar friend in a continuation of this post…

Reading a partisan cartoon: the parable of a dog’s ears and teeth

Friday, November 16th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — on the difficulties that may be posed when “reading” graphics ]


The question I want to ask in this post is: how much can you safely read into a political cartoon?

Here is the particular cartoon I have in mind:

It was published in The Guardian (UK) yesterday, and as you may be able to see, it portrays Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu as a puppet-master, with British politicians Tony Blair and William Hague as his puppets, and was published to illustrate the cartoonist’s view of British reaction to the Gaza situation.

How much can we read into it?


If you are used to seeing cartoons such as these —

showing Khamenei pulling Ahmadinejad‘s strings and Petraeus as a puppet of GW Bush, when you come across the Netanyahu cartoon in the Guardian, you may well view it as another in a long series of political cartoons suggesting that someone is running someone else’s show behind the scenes. It’s the old idea of the eminence grise, in other words, expressed in cartoon form.


If, on the other hand, you’ve been exposed way too often to cartoons like these —

the one portraying Churchill, FDR and Stalin as Jewish puppets, taken from a 1942 issue of the Nazi paper, Fliegende Blätter, or the one depicting McCain and Obama as Israeli puppets, taken from a 2008 issue of the Saudi paper, Al-Watan… you may well see the same cartoon in a very different — and distinctly antisemitic — light.


The last two graphics, at least, are extremely offensive, and I would like to offer another graphic here — one which also uses our “puppet master” theme — as a visual equivalent of offering a glass of water to cleanse the palate:

I’ll be addressing this My Fair Lady poster from a very different angle, in a later post in my “form is insight” series — this one on “dolls within dolls”, the “world stage which we have dotted with stages of our own devising” and “turtles all the way down”…


Having hopefully reduced the emotional freight which some of the cartoons above must surely have carried with them, I would now like to offer you some background which seems relevant to me. Characteristically, perhaps, it comes from a very different field of knowledge.

EC Zeeman‘s April 1976 article Catastrophe Theory in the Scientific American was my introduction to the mathematician Rene Thom’s remarkable body of work, an introduction which sailed mostly over my head — but one of Zeeman’s points, which he illustrated with the graphic below, made perfect sense to me.

The annotation to this illustration read in part:

If an angry dog is made more fearful, its mood follow* the trajectory ‘A’ on the control surface. The corresponding path on the behaviour surface moves to the left on the top sheet until it reaches the fold curve; the top sheet then vanishes, and the path must jump abruptly to the bottom sheet. Thus the dog abandons its attack and suddenly flees. Similarly, a frightened dog that is angered followes the trajectory ‘B’. The dog remains on the bottom sheet until that sheet disappears, then as it jumps to the top sheet it stops cowering and suddenly attacks.

My translation:

A dog that reaches the point where its ears are fully pinned back, indicating full-on fear, and its teeth are also fully bared, indicating full on rage, will behave differently depending on whether its fear level or its rage level was the first to be raised to “full”.

Just as a dog’s reaction to a full on mix of rage and fear may depend on which stimulus came first, so — I am suggesting — our own reaction to the cartoon in question — inherently antisemitic, or merely critical of a particular Israeli operation — may depend on our previous exposure to cartoons, politics, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or antisemitism.


We now have several levels of ease or difficulty in reading graphics. The Zeeman graphics are hard to read because they’re too small to be legible — but put them in the context of Zeeman’s article, and view them full size as originally published, and the only problem might be in following Zeeman’s text, itself a popularization and simplification of Rene Thom‘s work.

The Bart Simpson graphic is fairly straight forward, and regular viewers of the show would “read” it in line with hundreds of similar frames in which Bart writes repeated lines on a classroom chalkboard, from Season 1 episode 2’s “I will not waste chalk” to Season 23’s “There’s no proven link between raisins and boogers”.

And then there’s the disputed Netanyahu graphic… which can be “read” differently, depending on what previous “puppet master” associations the viewer beings to the task. Here, it seems to me, the task of interpretation can be viewed in one of two ways: (i) as an exploration of how it is likely to be read, which I’m suggesting will depend on previous association, and (ii) as an exploration of what “must have been” in the cartoonist’s heart.


Assessing the cartoon’s probable impact on segments of the public is one thing — knowing what the cartoonist intended, even though we tend to conflate the two, is quite another. Not for nothing does St Paul in I Corinthians 2.11 ask (in my own translation)

Who knows the qualities of a man but the spirit of that man within him?

An army in Sham, an army in Yemen, and an army in Iraq

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — uh-oh, it’s Mahdi time again.. giving a little wide-angle context, then passing along a hadith of possible current interest — also an aside about an end-times Shiite trinity ]

a ShiaChat map of one end times scenario: the Sufyani will attack Iran, black banners come from Khorasan


We live, as everyone pretty much agrees, in some place called “here” (although that shifts) at a particular moment called “now” (although that shifts too) in a medium often called “spacetime” in honor of Albert Einstein.

The Game-changing Coming Ones of many religions and sects – and even their secular variants, the Game-changing Coming Ideologies and Leaders) – are situated in another area of the same “spacetime” continuum for their respective believers: next up after “wars and rumors of wars” or “come the revolution” or “when the Mayan Calendar runs out” or “next year in Jerusalem”…


My old friend Stephen O’Leary suggests there’s a shifting “window of opportunity” for people who preach “soon comings” – if you warn people that the world will end in a couple of thousand years, or with the heat death of the sun, or even that sea levels are liable to rise precipitously over the next few decades unless remedial action is taken, the view is long-range enough to seriously diminish your impact. Conversely, if you announce the end of the world will occur three minutes from now, nobody has time to get scared or prepared – or to propagate your message.

So “soon coming expectations” generally predict the coming is a little ways around the corner, close enough to matter but no close enough to sell all that you possess and climb Mt Ararat this week.


The “where” is interesting, though. We have news cameras focused 24/7 on the Mount of Olives to catch the Second Coming of Christ, although most observant Jews won’t be expecting that Christianity will be finally vindicated as the true inheritor of Judaism’s mantle there any time soon, and many Muslims expect he’ll descend at one of the minarets of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.

And the Mahdi? Two popular points of anticipated arrival are beside the Kaaba in Mecca, or out of the well behind the Jamkaran mosque, not too many miles from Qom.

But Islamic apocalyptic geography doesn’t end with either place – it extends, minimally, from Khorasan (Iran or Afghanistan) to Jerusalem, with a possible side-expedition to India (the Ghazwa-eh-Hind) and with possible tributaries from Africa and who knows where else… and in at least some Shia strands of apocalyptic thinking, the city of Kufa in Iraq will be the Mahdi’s seat of government.

And now, the hadith:

All this is simply to provide some context for a specific hadith that my friend Aaron Zelin pointed to me today, as recorded yesterday on the Kavkaz Center webpage:

Hadith about Syria, Iraq and Yemen

Publication time:
30 October 2012, 14:58

Sham – the territory of Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Lebanon

Abdullah ibn Hawalah [Allah's blessings be on him] narrated from the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) that he said:

"Matters will run their course until you become three armies: an army in Sham, an army in Yemen, and an army in Iraq".

Ibn Hawalah said:

"Choose for me, O Messenger of Allah! in case I live to see that day".

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said:

"You should go to Sham, for it is the best of Allah's lands, and the best of His slaves will be drawn there!

And if you refuse, then you should go to the Yemen and drink from its wells. For Allah has guaranteed me that He will look after Sham and its people!"

(Imam Ahmad 4/110, Abu Dawud 2483. Authenticated by Imam Abu Hatim, Imam ad-Diya al-Maqdisi, Sheikh al-Albani and Sheikh Shu'aib Al-Arnaut).

Department of Monitoring
Kavkaz Center

Further reading:

For more on this, see especially J-P Filiu‘s Apocalypse in Islam, noting in particular his account of “the revelation of Abu Musab al-Suri” (pp. 186-193), including specifically his discussion of “Sham” in a paragraph on p. 189.


And an intriguing aside:

And since were talking Yemen and the greater Sham here, it may be worth noting as an aside, the presence in Islamic apocalyptic traditions of a figure known as the Yemeni — sometimes identified in Iranian Shia apocalyptic as Hezbollah’s Hasan Nasrallah. Filiu writes (p.156) of:

Shaykh Nazrallah’s transformation into the apocalyptic figure of the Yemeni, completing a very political trinity in which Ayatollah Khamenei served as the standard bearer of the Mahdi and Ahmadinejad as the commander of his armies.

Filiu’s book was published in France in 2008, but the same trinity can also be found in the fairly recent video The Coming is Upon Us attributed by Reza Kahlili to circles around Ahmadinejad. I’ve taken this account of the video and the trinity as it reports it from the Counter Jihad Report, because their version succinctly draws together the strands that most concern me here:

A little-noticed documentary titled “The Coming is Upon Us” was produced by Ahmadinejad’s office last year and it lays out the regime’s beliefs and planned path forward, much like Mein Kampf did. And it debunks the notion that the U.S.S.R. and the Iranian regime are equivalent. The film makes the case that the regime’s leaders are the incarnations of specific End Times figures foretold in Islamic eschatology.

Iran is the “nation from the East” that paves the way for the Mahdi’s appearance. Supreme Leader Khamenei is Seyed Khorasani, “the preparer” who comes from Khorasan Province with a black flag and a distinct feature in his right hand. Khamenei’s right hand is paralyzed from an assassination attempt. Khorasani’s commander-in-chief is Shoeib-Ebne Saleh, who the film says is President Ahmadinejad. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is the incarnation of Yamani, a commander with a Yemeni ancestry who leads the Mahdi’s army into Mecca.

These three “preparers” wage war against the Antichrist and “the Imposters”-the U.S., Israel and the West’s Arab allies. The film also mentions that a figure named Sofiani will side with Islam’s enemies. Former Iranian Revolutionary Guards officer Reza Kahlili, who leaked the film, told me that the full-length version identifies him as Jordanian King Abdullah II.

The film lists various End Times prophecies that have been fulfilled to argue that the Mahdi’s appearance is near. The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran; the invasion of Iraq from the south and subsequent sectarian violence and death of Saddam Hussein; the Houthi rebellion in Yemen; the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the increasing amount of open homosexuality, cross-dressing, adultery and women taking off the hijab are correlated to specific Islamic prophecies.

As to the video’s authenticity and provenance, I can only express my ignorance and keen interest — but whatever the case, it seems likely that the split between Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, together with the latter’s “soon going” from office, renders that particular strain of prophecy moot.

Particular prophetic timelines may fail, and indeed do so repeatedly — the apparatus of apocalyptic hope simply incorporates new figures and events into its calculations, and moves its sense of urgency a little further up along the timeline…

The Twilight War—a review

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

[by J. Scott Shipman]

The Twilight War, The Secret History of America’s Thirty-year Conflict with Iran, by David Crist

When President Obama made a heartfelt opening, a smug Iranian leadership viewed it as a ruse or the gesture of a weak leader. Iran spurned him. Obama fell back on sanctions and CENTCOM; Iran fell back into its comfortable bed of terrorism and warmongering. Soon it may no longer be twilight; the light is dimming, and night may well be approaching at long last. [emphasis added]

Thus concludes senior government historian David Crist’s The Twilight War, and be assured Crist’s language is not hyperbole. Crist masterfully details the tumult of U.S.-Iranian relations from the Carter administration to present day. Using recently released and unclassified archived data from principals directly involved in shaping and making American foreign policy, Crist provides the reader an up-front view of “how the sausage is made;” and, as with sausage, the view often isn’t pretty for either side. Crist’s access wasn’t limited to U.S. policy makers, as he conducted interviews with principles on the other side as well, for instance, he had secret meetings/interviews with pro-Iranian Lebanese officials in south Beirut. In all, Crist estimated he interviewed over “four hundred individuals in the United States and overseas.”

Crist begins his story with the Shah of Iran in the last days of his leadership, as popular sentiment was turning against both his regime, as well as his American enablers. He reveals the Carter administration’s fleeting notion of military intervention following the fall of the Shah, and includes details how the clerics reigned in professional Iranian military members, purging the “unreconstructed royalists.” From the start, the U.S. learned how difficult, if indeed impossible, relations were going to be with the new Iranian leadership. One State Department report summed up the situation:

It is clear that we are dealing with an outlook that differs fundamentally from our own, and a chaotic internal situation. Our character, our society are based on optimism—a long history of strength and success, the possibility of equality, the protection of institutions, enshrined in a constitution, the belief in our ability to control our own destiny. Iran, on the other hand has a long and painful history of foreign invasions, occupations, and domination. Their outlook is a function of this history and the solace most Iranians have found in Shi’a Islam. They place a premium on survival. They are manipulative, fatalistic, suspicious, and xenophobic.

While I am certain the writer of this report was not intending to be prophetic, as it turns out this paragraph captures the essence of our conflict. Each American president has thought himself equal to the challenge and each has thus far failed.

The Twilight War includes the birth of Hezbollah, accounts of the Marine barracks bombing in 1983 (from the men who were there), and the details of the Kuwaiti request for American protection of their tanker fleet from the Iranians. From this decision, the U.S. committed military force to protect Middle East oil—a difficult and at times, contentious decision. This decision resulted in continued sporadic confrontations between the U.S. and Iranian forces in the Persian Gulf.

Crist’s book is an illustration writ-large of a book previously reviewed here at Zenpundit.com; Derek Leebaert’s Magic and Mayhem, The Delusions of American Foreign Policy—as both “magic” and “mayhem” figure large in our on-going relationship with Iran. Most U.S. administrations when dealing with Iran came to rely on the “magic, ” and often divorced, or worse, ignored the realities.

At 572 pages, the fast paced narrative is a must read for anyone wanting insight into the origins and issues that remain in the ongoing U.S.-Iran conflict. The Twilight War is exhaustively sourced.  Crist says in the Notes his book was twenty-years in the making and it shows. Further, this book comes with excellent maps, so keeping up with the geography is made easier.

Tom Ricks said, “this is the foreign policy book of the year, perhaps many years,” and Ricks may be right. The Twilight War is an important and timely book on a vital topic, and comes with my strongest recommendation.


A copy of The Twilight War was provided to this reviewer by the publisher.

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