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Of films, riots and hatred III: Scorsese and Verhoeven

Monday, September 17th, 2012

[ by Charles Cameron — The Last Temptation of Christ troubles, an early warning re the upcoming Jesus of Nazareth movie — the blood libel and more ]

American and European Christians, too, can react violently to films they perceive as blasphemous, and this too we should remember as we weigh our own responses to the rioting in Cairo and elsewhere.

Martin Scorsese‘s Last Temptation of Christ gives us a sense of how modern American and European Christians can react to perceived blasphemy, while the forthcoming Paul Verhoeven movie of his own book Jesus of Nazareth will test the degree to which we’ve learned the lessons of a quarter century ago — and of this last week.



Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ: stirred strong feelings when it opened. I was in LA at the time, and was following the controversy fairly closely having attended an early screening, and having both literary and theological interests.

The short video clip below is a little choppy, it doesn’t make it particularly clear that the clips you see are from the film Martin Scorsese made of a novel — written by the Nobel laureate Nikos Kazantzakis — which makes no attempt nor pretense to be a historical or religiously orthodox portrayal of Christ. IMO, it is worth watching for the glimpse it gives of just how strong the undercurrents of emotion aroused by Scorsese’s film were at the time:


I’m bringing this subject up and attending to it in some detail because NBC World News mentioned Martin Scorsese’s movie on the 13th of this month, in an explanation as to Why films and cartoons of Muhammad spark violence, but without gwetting the picture quite right:

Director Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of a book by the same name showed Jesus struggling with lust, depression and doubt, and engaging in sex — in his imaginings — before snapping back to reality and dying on the cross. That movie was seen as blasphemy by some Christians, who — though not violent — were vocal enough to prevent the film from being shown in many parts of the United States.

There may have been no violence done to humans in the US — but there as certainly damage to property, and some vicious threats made, as The Encyclopedia of Religion and Film records:

At the Cineplex Odeon Showcase Theater in New York City, vandals slashed seats and spray-painted threats aimed at the chairman of MCA: “Lew Wasserman: If you release ‘The Last Temptation of Christ,’ we will wait years and decimate all Universal property. This message is for your insurance company.”

In parts of Europe, the violence was more intense:

Overseas, at the September 28 opening in Paris, demonstrators who had gathered for a prayer vigil threw tear gas canisters at the theater’s entrance. Catholic clergy led rock-throwing and fire-bombing assaults on theaters in many French municipalities. A thousand rioters in Athens trashed the Opera cinema, ripping apart the screen and destroying the projection equipment.

In Paris, specifically, the violence severely injured some human targets. From Wikipedia (with their footnotes removed — you can track the various quotes from the original page):

On October 22, 1988, a French Christian fundamentalist group launched Molotov cocktails inside the Parisian Saint Michel movie theater while it was showing the film. This attack injured thirteen people, four of whom were severely burned. The Saint Michel theater was heavily damaged, and reopened 3 years later after restoration. Following the attack, a representative of the film’s distributor, United International Pictures, said, “The opponents of the film have largely won. They have massacred the film’s success, and they have scared the public.” Jack Lang, France’s Minister of Culture, went to the St.-Michel theater after the fire, and said, “Freedom of speech is threatened, and we must not be intimidated by such acts.”

The Catholic response — from the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris among others — reproved both the blasphemy and the rioting:

The Archbishop of Paris, Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, said “One doesn’t have the right to shock the sensibilities of millions of people for whom Jesus is more important than their father or mother.” After the fire he condemned the attack, saying, “You don’t behave as Christians but as enemies of Christ. From the Christian point of view, one doesn’t defend Christ with arms. Christ himself forbade it.” The leader of Christian Solidarity, a Roman Catholic group that had promised to stop the film from being shown, said, “We will not hesitate to go to prison if it is necessary.”

There was apparently a connection with French far-right politics, too:

The attack was subsequently blamed on a Christian fundamentalist group linked to Bernard Antony, a representative of the far-right National Front to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and the excommunicated followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Lefebvre had been excommunicated from the Catholic Church on July 2, 1988. Similar attacks against theatres included graffiti, setting off tear-gas canisters and stink bombs, and assaulting filmgoers.

There were legal proceedings following the Saint Michel incident, and it’s notable that Fr. Gérard Calvet OSB, founder and Prior of the Benedictine Abbaye Sainte-Madeleine du Barroux, testified at the tribunal on behalf of the convicted youths, describing their motives if not their mode of expression as “noble”. Would that term be equally applicable to protesters of blasphemies against other faiths? We now live in a dense-packed world where such comparisons are easily made.

Let’s pause for a minute over the twinned remarks of the late (and widely respected) Cardinal Lustiger concerning Last Temptation

Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, said “One doesn’t have the right to shock the sensibilities of millions of people for whom Jesus is more important than their father or mother.” After the fire he condemned the attack, saying, “You don’t behave as Christians but as enemies of Christ. From the Christian point of view, one doesn’t defend Christ with arms. Christ himself forbade it.”

and compare the remarks of a similarly authoritative religious figure in Libya to the Innocence of Muslims video:

Libya’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Sadeq Al-Ghariani, has issued a fatwa condemning Tuesday’s killing of US Ambassador Chris Stevens along with three other American diplomatic staff and a number of Libya security guards. He said those involved were criminals who were damned by their action.

He also condemned the production of any film, picture or article insulting the Prophet Mohammad or any of the prophets by “extreme fanatics” in the US or elsewhere. The Prophet Muhammad, Ghariani said, had specifically forbidden the killing of ambassadors and envoys.


Almost a quarter century has passed since Scorsese’s movie opened, but as I said above, we will soon have an opportunity to show what we have learned from those lamentable events in Paris and the more recent tragedies in Benghazi, Cairo and elsewhere.

Paul Verhoeven — the director of such blockbusters as RoboCop, the original Total Recall, and Basic Instinct — has raised the financing for his upcoming movie Jesus of Nazareth, based on his book of the same name, and scripted by Roger Avary, who shared an Oscar with Quentin Tarrentino for their Pulp Fiction screenplay.

Verhoeven, be it noted, is not only a writer and movie director, but also a member of the Jesus Seminar — a group of scholars which, as Wikipedia nicely puts it, “treats the canonical gospels as historical sources that represent Jesus’ actual words and deeds as well as elaborations of the early Christian community and of the gospel authors” and prepares color-coded editions of the gospels suggesting which sayings of Jesus should be considered original, and which are better understood as later additions.

Here, to give you an idea of what may be on the horizon, is an excerpt from a quick and informal take on the upcoming movie by an admirer of Verhoeven:

Deadline reports that the legendary Paul Verhoeven — a guy who, amazingly, only directed three movies in the past fifteen years — has received financing to adapt his own book, Jesus of Nazareth, which discounts every mythical story surrounding Christ and, instead, opts to present him as a simple human figure with a message powerful enough to radiate throughout time. Roger Avary (Tarantino‘s story partner on Pulp Fiction) will write the film, while Muse Productions are doing the proper backing.

Almost any work going against the long-held Biblical grain will get groups up in arms — no, I don’t even need to provide examples — but the claims of Nazareth are, even in this context, still mighty contentious. Most notable is the idea that Jesus is not the son of God, but was actually the product of Mary being raped by a Roman soldier; so, right off the bat, you’re discounting the entire foundation of his story.

I am pointing this out because right now would be a good time for the various churches to begin a general conversation about the film-maker’s right to hold an opinion, write a book and make a movie, the hurt that may be felt by believers, and the importance of responding without hatred or violence when offended.


In our concern with matters of Christian and Muslim issues, let us not lose sight of the fact that Jews too have movies made about them that may not only hurt feelings but also represent real threats against them, reminiscent of Nazi and earlier Russian antisemitic propaganda fabrications.

From the copious “blood libel” entry in Wikipedia:

In 2003 a private Syrian film company created a 29-part television series Ash-Shatat (“The Diaspora”). This series originally aired in Lebanon in late 2003 and was broadcast by Al-Manar, a satellite television network owned by Hezbollah. This TV series, based on the antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, shows the Jewish people as engaging in a conspiracy to rule the world, and presents Jews as people who murder Christian children, drain their blood and use this blood to bake matzah.

MEMRI has a report with further details, and a MEMRI clip of the scene in which a Christian child is killed by Jews has been posted on YouTube, with the comment:

Al-Shatat: Jews Murder A Christian Child and Use His Blood for Passover Matzos. anti Semite Arab propaganda against Jews, Judaism and Israel.

The following is a scene from the Syrian-produced TV series Al-Shatat. Al-Shatat was first aired on Hizbullah’s Al-Manar TV during the month of Ramadan 2003, and then on two Iranian channels during Ramadan 2004. Al-Mamnou’ TV, a new Jordanian channel, is airing Al-Shatat during Ramadan 2005.

It is worth recalling, too, that Mel Gibson‘s film, The Passion of the Christ, was perceived by many Jews, Christians and others as anti-Semitic — and that nonetheless the Orthodox Jew and conservative movie critic Michael Medved wrote:

The possibility of anti-Jewish violence in response to the film has been irresponsibly emphasized and has become, self-fulfilling prophecy. In parts of Europe and the Islamic world, anti-Semitic vandalism and violence occur daily, and hardly need a film by a Hollywood superstar to encourage them. In this context, Jewish denunciations of the movie only increase the likelihood that those who hate us will seize on the movie as an excuse for more of hatred.


I trust it is not too late to wish our Jewish readers l’shana tova: may your apples be dipped in honey and all our days bathed in peace.

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.

Striking Iran: Two Games and a World – Pt 2

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron board game and board-room simulation of an Israeli strike on Iran ]



[graphic & headline from the New York Times]

[continuing from part I]


Osiraq Redux

Karim Sadjadpour described a very different style of game in Foreign Policy just one day after Michael Peck’s description of Persian Incursion. It was conducted by the Brookings Saban Center, and also written up by Kenneth Pollack in the Center’s Middle East Memo of February 2010, and by David Sanger at the New York Times.

Here is Pollack’s description of the structure of the Brookings game:

The simulation was conducted as a three-move game with three separate country teams. One team represented a hypothetical American National Security Council, a second team represented a hypothetical Israeli cabinet, and a third team represented a hypothetical Iranian Supreme National Security Council.

As a scholar of religion, I would be tempted to add, after the manner of the Athanasian Creed, “Yet there are not three hypotheticals but one hypothetical.”


The U.S. team consisted of approximately ten members, all of whom had served in senior positions in the U.S. government and U.S. military. The Israel team consisted of a half dozen American experts on Israel with close ties to Israeli decision-makers, and who, in some cases, had spent considerable time in Israel. Some members of the Israel team had also served in the U.S. government. The Iran team consisted of a half-dozen American experts on Iran, some of whom had lived and/or traveled extensively in Iran, are of Iranian extraction, and/or had served in the U.S. government with responsibility for Iran.

This game begins with an Israeli strike – that is to say, the strike itself is not what is gamed here: the game is designed to be “a day-long simulation of the diplomatic and military fallout that could result from an Israeli military strike against the Iranian nuclear program.” Again, I will not rehearse nor comment in much detail on what has been reported of play, both in Pollack’s official Brookings report on the game and in Sadjadpour’s account, noting only that the Brookings game features a response from Hizbollah which (as Michael Peck noted) was lacking in the board game.


Differences of style

What interests me is the difference in style between the two games, the two approaches:

  • The emphasis on the initial strike in Persian Incursion focuses that game more tightly on questions of materiel and logistics, while the Brookings game naturally puts greater emphasis on the responses of individuals and groups. And I’d suggest that the structures of the two games in some sense parallels that distinction:
  • The board game is played by two players, typically experienced grognards, wargame hobbyists or designers, often with military backgrounds. Their skill is in decision-making in the context of such games, and Larry Bond has provided them with an exhaustively-researched briefing on the issues he considered salient.
  • The board-room sim is played by a couple of dozen players, each of them already possessing their own highly detailed “takes” on the specific aspects of the game their voices will “represent”.

One might say that Persian Incursion is an entertainment and the Brookings game a high-level albeit informal strategic deliberation — but that comparison fails to account for the detailed research that has gone into PI — and the Harpoon gaming system which underlies it. Both games are serious attempts, at the limit of human imagination, to figure out — to “game” — one specific, now perhaps looming, future.

Taking both games with equal seriousness, then, we can say that both players of PI have Larry Bond and his two associates (in the form of those booklets, maps, target specs and so forth) as their intel resources, whereas the Brookings game features the combined (cooperating and competing) intelligences of the two dozen or so participants.  That’s not quite crowdsourcing, as is the Naval Postgraduate School‘s ongoing MMOWGLI anti-piracy game, but it is polyphonicit allows and attends to a variety of voices…

Of course, if those various voices are selected in such a way that they form too much of a “choir” or “chorus” this advantage is diminished: there’s no great benefit to hearing a dozen or two versions of group-think. And while the individual voices in a group may in fact propose usefully distinct ideas, there’s always the possibility that some key factor or factors will be overlooked, because a single world-view is operating where a true polyphony would require a deeper and richer diversity.

Is Persian Incursion more practical, having a greater emphasis on actual force projection? Is Osiraq Redux more realistic, having a wider set of expertises to draw on?


Omnium gatherum

For the sake of completeness, I should mention that a game not unlike the Brookings game of 2009 was played by a similarly qualified group at the behest of the Atlantic magazine in 2004, as reported by James Fallows. I was particularly intrigued by this piece because Mike Mazaar, with whom I once collaborated briefly, was playing SecDef.

What I’d hope for from ZP’s readers would be some discussion of these two different approaches to gaming, and of gaming itself– along with scenario planning — as a means of exploring possible futures where the impact downstream may be considerable.

The piece of the puzzle that I fear may be missing from both games, as those who know me will have guessed, is the potential influence of messianism — from the Israeli / Judaic, the U.S. / Christian Zionist, and the Iranian / Mahdist sides. But then I generally expect the seriousness of millennial aspirations to be discounted, and try to keep track of those things accordingly myself.

Three puzzle pieces that I would find relevant would be:

(i) the Ayatollah Khamenei‘s fatwa “that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that the Islamic Republic of Iran shall never acquire these weapons”;

(ii) Timothy Furnish‘s observation:

The Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued the Fatwa My own study of both geopolitics and of Shi`i traditions on the 12th Imam leads me to conclude that the clerical regime does NOT believe in nuking Israel (or anyone else), because while the Mahdi will return at a time of great violence and upheaval, there is no Shi`i teaching that creating such bloodshed would induce Allah to send him. Also, I think the ayatollahs are crazy like foxes, not literally crazy-and they know full-well what would be the Israeli (and perhaps American ) response to any use of nuclear weapons against Israel. The Mahdi would not be happy to return and rule over a radioactive wasteland..

For more detail, see also Furnish’s A Western View on Iran’s WMD Goal: Nuclearizing the Eschaton, or Pre-Stocking the Mahdi’s Arsenal?

and (iii) Benjamin Netanyahu‘s statement in opening the Knesset:

Our policy is guided by two main principles: the first is “if someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first,” and the second is “if anyone harms us, his blood is on his own hands.”

The first is “im ba l’hargekha, hashkem l’hargo” — a well-worn phrase that can be found in the Talmud and derives from Exodus; I’m unsure whether the second — “If anyone harms us, his blood is on his own hands” — comes from a Talmudic source, or whether it is an abbreviated restatement of Ezekiel 33 1-9.


Some trivia for good measure…

As Michael Peck points out, the game’s graphic designers write Persian Incursion using a faux-Devanagari script more properly associated with Sanskrit and Hindu sources than Iranian Shi’ism…a minor pity, that.

And ha! — I’m left wondering whether the title, Persian Incursion, came to Larry Bond or his crew out of the ethers — or whether someone had been watching…


Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, Season 5, Episode 39?


Striking Iran: Two Games and a World – Pt 1

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — board game and board-room simulation of an Israeli strike on Iran ]




We suppose we can game the world.

It may in fact be the best thing we can do, or the only thing: we guess, guesstimate, estimate the possible outcomes of an act or series of acts — and somehow in there, we hope to match the major trends in the complexity we seek to understand with selected complexities of our own that we build into our games.

And yet as Richard Danzig noted in the opening paragraph of his Driving in the Dark: Ten Propositions About Prediction and National Security which I quoted here yesterday, “whereas routine, short-term predictions are generally right, strategic judgments about future environments are often, one might say predictably, wrong.”

So we have knee-jerk responses, which can suitably be expressed in barks or sound-bites, and we have deliberative inquiry, which requires suitably nuanced exegesis. And our games and simulations are attempts at the deliberative approach.


The chess board:

So the question of an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities is once again in the air, and we would like to be able to peer as far down the chess-board as a Kasparov, computing the counter-move an adversary would make against a friend’s counter-move to the adversaries response to an initial move. Sadly, though, we all too often find ourselves in the bind that a senior US official in Iraq described to Anthony Cordesman a while back, where our best efforts at gaming the situation are “like playing three dimensional chess in the dark while someone is shooting at you.”

Except that my own version of the board may be more accurate:

it’s more like an n-dimensional spider’s web, with multiple gravities, tugs, and tensions – and some of those tensions are in the category of known unknowns that one of your predecessors talked about, some of them unknown unknowns, and some of them literally unknowable – hidden in the hearts of more devious men than you, and known only to God.


So, anyway, we game things out as best we can.

And since the idea of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities has been in the news of late, so have two attempts to “game” that particular possibility and its sequelae.

What interests me here is not the outcomes envisioned – but the inherent differences between the two games. Let’s take a look.


Persian Incursion.

As Michael Peck — he splashed Persian Incursion into our consciousness with one post on Foreign Policy and another on Danger Room last week, not to mention an interview on NPR – puts it:

Persian Incursion is basically two games in one. There is a highly detailed military game of a seven-day Israeli air offensive in which Israel plans and executes its strikes while the Iranian air defenses try to stop them. But there is also a political game that unlocks the military aspect. Persian Incursion assumes that an Israeli attack is only possible if one of Iran’s neighbors — Saudi Arabia, Turkey, or a U.S.-influenced Iraq — either publicly or tacitly allows Israeli entry into its airspace for the strike on Iran. (The rules state that though Israel could chance an initial airstrike without an agreement, it would need permission for follow-up attacks.) With that in mind, the game comes with various starting scenarios, such as a super-radical Iran that scares its neighbors into allowing Israeli access, or Turkish support for an Israeli strike (note that the game came out in 2010, before the current Israeli-Turkish spat).

Here’s how Clash of Arms, the publisher, describes the game packet:

Persian Incursion provides comprehensive and detailed information on:

• Orders of battle for the Israeli and Iranian Air Forces and the Iranian Air Defense Force
• Analysis of the Iranian nuclear and oil infrastructure
• Iranian ballistic missiles and Israeli ballistic missile defenses
• Target folders for Iranian nuclear facilities, oil terminals and refineries, and airfields
• Variable starting conditions


• Rulebook; Briefing Package and Target folders;
• 17 x 22″ Full color map;
• Short Deck of “Super Cards” (4.25 x 6″);
• 2 Full decks of playing cards (110 cards);
• Cardboard counters;
• Box and dice.

Now I am absolutely not the guy you want to ask about the game-play, or about the game’s possible implications for policy analysis. Michael Peck may well be that guy, but even he doesn’t leave the game with a clear sense of how things might play out in real time:

The real question of this exercise, however, is whether an Israeli strike on Iran is a good or bad idea. Persian Incursion’s answer is an unqualified “maybe.” Israel can’t stop Iran from retaliating with missile attacks and terrorism. But it also can’t guarantee complete destruction of Iran’s nuclear program. Perhaps most importantly, the key to victory is winning the public-opinion, political war.

And when you get granular, “public opinion” turns out to mean the interwoven opinions of many, many and diverse people — some influential, some easily influenced, some whose world-view features a rigorous scientism, some a potentially wrathful deity – all of whom are themselves beset by a myriad of doubts, certainties, hopes, fears, bouts of toothache and who knows what else…

Modeling even one of those minds (and associated hearts) would be quite a trick…

So. That’s the “reference library” approach, to use Peck’s term:

Persian Incursion isn’t a novel — it’s a reference library inside a game. The background information included is staggering. Besides the rules book, there is a target folder and a briefing booklet listing the precise dimensions of Iranian nuclear facilities down to the meter…

The gamer has what we’ll assume is a highly accurate representation of the materiel side of things. Morale, at the granular level of a Netanyahu or a Khamenei?

Who can game the workings of a single human mind (and heart)?

[continued in Pt 2]

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…

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