Apocalyptic Vision: Guest Post by Charles Cameron

Whoever claims that there is lasting peace with the Jews is a disbeliever of what the prophet, may the peace and blessings of God upon him, said. Our conflict with the enemies of Islam will continue until Doomsday.

No definite timeline is given, and bin Laden also remarks that his father waited forty years for the Mahdi — and indeed set aside $12 million to support him on his arrival — but the appeal is to end-times expectation,

FWIW, this isn’t the only time bin Laden has quoted the Gharqad tree hadith, and it is also quoted in the Charter of the Hamas — for more on the topic, see Anne Marie Oliver and Paul Steinberg, The Road to Martyrs’ Square, pp 19-21, and watch this chilling MEMRI video from of Sheikh Muhammad Al-Arifi, speaking on Al Aqsa TV, September 2008.


Why is eschatological or apocalyptic rhetoric significant?

It is an accelerant. Simply put, it is a force-multiplier, acting on morale via the sphere of religion, by providing divine sanction for violence — zeal with a deadline.


Apocalyptic expectation is in part the expectation that “all the injustices of the old world will be put right” very soon, as Damian Thompson noted, and it creates “an especially potent form of charismatic authority, one that rubs off on ordinary believers as well as the prophet.” This extraordinary empowerment of the individual believer comes about because “foreknowledge about one of the most important subjects imaginable — the fate of the planet — creates a special, even intimate, bond between those who share it”:

In every case, the most striking feature of the millennial theodicy is the contrast between present misery and the glory to come: the latter justifies and makes tolerable the formed.

It may also justify and make tolerable the use of violence in the lead-up to apocalypse, as it clearly does in both the Shi’ite call to arms and the Sunni hadith quoted above. And furthermore, in all these cases the misery is the fruit of sin, whereas the glory is the glory of God.

The nature of millennial expectation is conditioned by culture, yet cross-cultural in its basic patterns, and transcendent in its authority. Thompson goes on to note that “the anticipation of violence does not constitute a cost of millenarianism, since the blood being shed will be that of the unsaved” — and Kerry Noble put the point quite succinctly in his retrospective account of a Christian millenarian movement he later left:

I was not looking forward to the coming war, but I was looking forward to the Kingdom of God that was to follow. That’s how many of us rationalized being soldiers of God. We wanted peace, but if purging had to precede peace, then let the purging begin.

Ahmadinejad or bin Laden might say much the same.


Who is awake to this pervasive strand of eschatological thinking, among the Shi’a, among the Sunni, and among ourselves?

I cannot speak for the intelligence community, except to say that a rational, secular analyst monitoring these matters is liable to note the “blips” of open source intel but miss the fire that underlies them. Or again, as Steve Coll put it,

people’s eyes glaze over at the rest because it’s a little bit hard to digest.

That’s not a feature — that’s a bug.

Some on the Christian right get it, because they live in the apocalyptic realm themselves. The two Joels, Rosenberg (author of Epicenter) and Richardson (author of The Islamic Antichrist), were among the few to blog Ali Saeedi’s comments, with Joel Rosenberg picking up on a piece on WND that quotes Joel Richardson, whose own blog,  Joel’s Trumpet, monitors Islamic apocalyptic closely from a Christian apocalyptic perspective.

But short of actual apocalyptic belief of one’s own — which will generally cause one to disparage if not dismiss the equivalent apocalypses of others — it takes an ear open to the whisperings of myth and dream, a mind open to the logic of music and poetry to understand such thinking, such imaginings.

Page 2 of 3 | Previous page | Next page