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And a couple more DVDs

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — Mahdism, pacific and militant, Sunni and Shi’ite ]


So here are a couple more DVDs for your collection…

The Awlaki “End of Time” DVD that I mentioned earlier today has an obvious apocalyptic aspect, but here are a couple of DVDs with specific reference to the MahdiHarun Yahya (aka Adnan Oktar) has a massive publication-machine behind him, and much of his effort is directed to his islamic version of creationism.  It is interesting that his (Sunni) Mahdi, in contrast to al-Awlaki’s, is a peace-bringer.


The Iranian movie, on the other hand, may well be a move on the part of Ahmadinejad in his current efforts to use popular Mahdist sentiment to win power for the presidency and diminish the authority of the scholars in Qom — with a sop thrown to Ayatollah Khamenei, the Supreme Authority, in the form of a role for him (along with Ahmadinejad himself) in the projected soon-return of the Mahdi from occultation.
If so, the move would appear at this point to have backfired — perhaps because the movie was leaked ahead of time — with the Supreme Authority and mullahs of Qom lining up against Ahmadinejad.
By way of commentary:
Were the Mahdi to appear, he would be “rightly guided” by definition — infallible — and only those on whom he showed his favor would hold any religious sway among his followers. It is this disquieting thought which made, e.g., the religious authorities (hawza) of Najaf so upset about a Mahdist uprising a few years back… the Returning One axiomatically trumps all those previously holding positions of spiritual authority.

Soon soon coming of the Mahdi?

Monday, March 28th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron ]


Okay, I’d say things are heating up. Here’s a screen grab from what we are led to believe is a recent video from Iran, made with government backing as described below the fold.


This does not bode well…


The Christian thriller novelist Joel Rosenberg (author of The Twelfth Imam) has a new blog post up, in which he cites a Christian Broadcasting Network story — which in turn refers to a video posted with some introductory materials on his blog by Reza Kahlili (author of A Time to Betray: The Astonishing Double Life of a CIA Agent Inside the Revolutionary Guards of Iran).

According to Kahlili, who has also posted the full video to YouTube, it is a half-hour long program sponsored by the Basij militia and the Office of the President of Iran, affirming the soon-return of the Mahdi.

And containing “inflammatory language” about King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (see subtitle above)?  Can I say that?

For what it’s worth, the supposed “hadith” about the death of King Abdullah is discussed in some detail at The Wake-Up Project, so it’s definitely “in the air” — but I don’t recall seeing any references to it in Abbas Amanat, Abdulazziz Sachedina, or any of the lists of Signs of the Coming I’ve read, so my suspicion is that this is an opportunistic addition to the corpus rather than a reliable hadith.

Which brings me to my last point:

I am not posting these materials to encourage panic — that’s what terrorism strives for, and it is the very opposite of what I would wish to see.  If anything, these stirrings of Mahdist sentiment should make us more careful and attentive to the serious scholarly work that has been done in this area.  Jean-Pierre Filiu‘s book Apocalypse in Islam, which I reviewed for Jihadology, would be an excellent place to start.


There are plenty of other things going on that I would love to track, blog about or comment on these days, but for the next while I shall try to restrain myself and focus in on this particular issue and its ramifications:

  • Contemporary Shi’ite Mahdist expectation
  • The Iranian nuclear program in the light of Mahdist expectation
  • Iranian attempts to use Mahdism to unite Sunni and Shi’a
  • Mahdism and jihad
  • The role of Khorasan in Mahdist rhetoric
  • Christian apocalyptic responses to Mahdist stirrings
  • Joel Rosenberg‘s book, The Twelfth Imam
  • Joel Richardson‘s book, The Islamic Antichrist
  • Glenn Beck‘s increasing focus on Iranian Mahdism
  • The increasing influence of Islamic and Christian apocalyptic on geopolitics

This is a pretty complex and potent mix of topics, and while I’ll post some individual pieces of the puzzle as I see it, I shall also try to put together a “bigger picture” piece with the whole mosaic laid out.


Apart from that, I remain deeply committed to questions of chivalry and peace-making, and will continue to monitor developments and write what I can on those topics as time allows…

Pondering the Pasdaran

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Rand emeritus David Ronfeldt posed an interesting question in the comment section of an earlier post that I wanted to bring to the fore, make a few observations about and open for some crowdsourcing to see if anyone has some good information on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC or Pasdaran) leadership:

I had a stray thought this morning about Iran’s IRGC, and wanted to risk asking about it somewhere.  in doing a quick search of blogs I follow, this is the only one that has recently made passing reference to the IRGC, specifically in this post.  so I’ll try first here.

I keep re-learning what a massive operation the IRGC is – tantamount to  what Jane Jacobs termed a “monstrous moral hybrid” perhaps.  the IRGC/IRG starts as an effort to consolidate various paramiltary forces following the 1979 iranian revolution.  now it has its own ground, naval, air, and special forces.  more interestingly, it has expanded economically, and acquired assets to become a multi-billions enterprise, including public construction projects, and even dentistry and travel.  it can shut out private business competition, for it can easily underbid and then overrun, while also using recruits and conscripts as labor.  in sum, it represents an hybrid of tribal, hierarchical, and market priniciples, if not network ones too. 

Now, that supports the usual way of looking at this:  just a gigantic hybrid operating inside a state, almost as a semi-autonomous state within a state.  and that’s not uncommon in many countries.  the chinese and cuban militaries are heavily involved in economic enterprises too.  and in parallel fashion, this is a growing trend  among criminal enterprises as well, like the zetas mentioned in your reading  recommendations above.  

but then I had this stray thought:  the IRGC is not so much a state within a state, as a caliphate within a state.  I am not well-informed about how to define and think about caliphates.  but the little I know leads me to think this might be a thought worth further consideration and analysis.  esp. if the irgc could be considered as a model for an emerging Shia caliphate, and one that is way ahead of radical Sunni aspirations. 

so: an emerging caliphate within a state.  any comment?  advice for further thinking?   

I am not a Persianist or expert on Twelver Islam but David’s questions cross a number of disciplinary boundaries, as most interesting questions usually do. Using one “lens” here, such as security studies or Iranian history or IR theory, by themselves, are not enough with a semi-opaque government like that of Iran. This analysis probably should be approached in a multi-disciplinary fashion, so I welcome anyone out there with a relevant perspective to add what you know about Iran and the Pasdaran in the comment section.

I think that the issues here are structure, behavior and motivation of the Pasdaran as an institution within Iran.

First on the “state within a state”model:

If we look at previous historical examples of “state within a state” entities with which to compare the Pasdaran, the SS and the NKVD stand out as superior in my mind to that of China’s PLA, which was always tightly integrated into the CCP ( much moreso than the Soviet Red Army leadership in the USSR) and as a regular army, never dominated the party after 1949.  By contrast, the SS after 1934 quickly “mestastasized” to “colonize” the Gestapo ( memory tells me that SS men were something like a third of Gestapo officers) and Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler attempted to do so with other ministries by granting influential Nazi party organ and German state officials high SS rank, enjoying a limited success in penetrating other centers of power in the Third Reich. The war and the Holocaust allowed the SS to field an elite guard army in the Waffen-SS and supplementary expeditionary/constabulary forces abroad in the form of Einsatzgruppen, Totenkopf and ordinary reserve police battalions under SS command.

The expanding concentration camp structure permitted the SS to become an economic power within the Third Reich in its own right both as a provider of slave labor to private industry and Nazi ministries for Labor, Agriculture and Armaments and War Production and in factories and mines controlled directly by SS concentration camp commandants. Albert Speer was Himmler’s most determined (and successful) rival in thwarting the growing power of the SS in economic affairs and Speer’s last book, published posthumously, INFILTRATION is a rambling but detailed account of Himmler’s bureaucratic imperialism and chilling ambitions for a postwar Nazi world ( an understudied and valuable book for insights into what might have been had Hitler won WWII).

The NKVD in the Beria period had an even more privileged and extensive place in Stalin’s USSR than the SS occupied in the Third Reich but the Soviet planned economy was substantially different from that of Germany’s or that of Iran’s today. While the NKVD had its own empire of enterprises, the capacity of the NKVD to maximize their value was sharply limited by fear of Stalin”s paranoid caprice and the absence of any private economy in the Soviet Union with which to profit from any ill-gotten gains. Nazi Germany’s weird, Fascist, economy with it’s mixture of oligopolistic cartels, private enterprise and state planning ( described well in Adam Tooze’s The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy) and the place of the SS in it is a better analogy to Iran’s state enterprises, bazaari business elite, bonyads and undercapitalized small business sectors

On the IRGC as the seed or kernel of a “Caliphate”:

This is an ideological and motivational question that is apart from normal, secular, bureaucratic expansionism.

First, I’m not certain that “caliphate” is the best way to frame the discussion. All Shia Muslims are literally the Shiat ‘Ali or “Party of Ali”, going back to the dispute over succession to the Prophet Muhammed. I have to heavily qualify my comments by stating this is not my area of expertise, but as far as I am aware, “caliphate” has not been a major part of historical Shia dialogue as the modern Iranian clerical establishment emerged under the Qajar dynasty or later under the Pahlavis. The Persian Shahs did not claim that title, which was held by the Ottoman Sultan until it was abolished by Ataturk. A more appropriate question, which I believe David is getting at, would be “Is the IRGC leadership Mahdist?”.

If the IRGC is orthodox Shia in its orientation, then we might expect that the Pasdaran would behave more or less as a secular, if ideologically hardline, national security bureaucracy and a force within Iran for “siloviki” policies, Iranian style.

If the IRGC senior leadership has a heavy crossover in membership with the Hojjatiyeh, that would be far more worrisome and would raise the level of uncertainty regarding Iranian state behavior in crisis situations .

Mahdi” theology is semi-heretical Islamic doctrine and has differing forms in Sunni and Shia Islam, on which I am not qualified to opine, but for our purposes, we can state that it contains a fairly dangerous element of apocalyptic millenarianism as a worldview. Moreover, in the Iranian context, the quasi-divine Hidden Imam emerging from Occultation, as virtually a messenger of Allah, would not be bound by any of the constraints contained within the Quran. Islamic jurisprudence normally disdains “innovation”, in interpreting scripture, but the Mahdi (and more importantly, his true believer followers) would be the great and messianic exception.

Of course, what we really need here is some hard data ( or at least reasonably informed speculation) regarding the factions within the Pasdaran and the clerical hierarchy, and their strength relative to one another. Since the election protests, the Pasdaran appears to have become the major political force inside the regime, akin to the KGB in the days of Andropov, Chernenko and Gorbachev, except the KGB in the 80’s saw the need for economic reform in the USSR and the Pasdaran today appears to be entirely reactionary in its policy prescriptions for Iran.

Comments? Questions? Complaints?

On Iran’s Trend Toward Revolution

Monday, June 22nd, 2009


I am no Iran expert but it seems to me that the Islamist regime of Khameini and Ahmadinejad’s Pasdaran clique is soundly losing the information battle to “own” Iran’s critical cultural-political  myths, rooted in Persian history and Shia Islam, to Mousavi’s Green opposition.

Here’s a piece from an Iranian journalist at al Jazeera:

Some influential moderate clerics privately admit that Khamenei has not done “justice” to the presidential candidates and has not treated them with impartiality.

This behaviour, they believe, could jeopardise his position as leader since one of the main qualities required of the supreme leader is “justice”.

In an Iranian context, the requirement for justice in a ruler is a pre-Islamic, Persian concept known as “farr”. While somewhat ambiguous, it is akin to both the Confucian concept of a mandate of heaven and the Western notion of a social contract. I’m sure an Iranianist might quibble with me here ( please weigh in, if you are reading) but the point is that is their cultural bedrock of political legitimacy. To be “unjust” is like an American president seen to be repudiating liberty. Khameini has made himself appear as he actually is and has always been since his days as Khomeini’s political valet – a tyrannical and hypocritical partisan politician in religious robes.

Secondly, from Shia Islam comes the central idea of martydom of the virtuous. Shooting protestors, notably the young woman Neda, ramps up the sense of persecution and martyrdom that is deeply rooted in Iranian culture. Imagine the Kent State shooting on steroids.

Iran’s hardliners may or may not prevail but right now the protestors are clearly inside the regime’s OODA Loop.

Monday, April 2nd, 2007


That Iran’s illegal propaganda circus with captured British military personnel continues is an indication of the factional state of Iran’s leadership. Returning to the same provocative well once again is a sign that Ahmadinejad’s hardline Pasdaran faction behind the well-planned seizure have not garned the expected payoff that they most likely predicted would occur. So they are playing for time, hoping for a deus ex machina to whip the Iranian people into a nationalistic frenzy.

A second sign is the rather pathetic effort by the regime to employ a rent-a-riot “popular demonstration” against the British embassy. Aside from the laughably small number of “protestors”( probably Ansar Hezbollah or Basij goons), which indicates that the top clerics are keeping a very tight leash, as they could deploy thousands of paramilitary thugs in mufti, if they chose, there is a strong whiff of nostalgia here for the symbols of the 1979 Revolution. What appeal this political gesture will have to the vast number of Iranians too young to recall the seizure of the American embassy, I cannot say but to me it seems like something that would excite only the most partisan elements of Ahmadinejad’s base.

Ahmadinejad is painting Teheran into an increasingly isolated corner. Hopefully, the Bush administration will tailor their moves to maximize and profit from Iran’s diplomatic self-immolation rather than distract from it.


Dan of tdaxp responds to Tom’s criticism

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