I read Timothy Rutten’s column, Ahmadinejad’s Evil Words Aren’t Just Talk, today in the LA Times and was inspired to write to him. Below is his whole column, with my notes interspersed.
In the good old days, back before the advent of our still-president, adults didn’t use the word “evil” when they wanted to be taken seriously. I remember translating speeches by Saddam Hussein and snickering at his over-the-top rhetoric. Much to my dismay, in the last eight years it has gotten mainstream for people to sling around the word “evil.”
Weirdly, Tim Rutten also disparages rhetoric. Hmmm…
We Americans are accustomed to regarding political rhetoric much as Dr. Johnson did epitaphs. “They are not,” he wrote, “given under oath.”
In other words, we don’t expect public men or women to speak the truth from public platforms. When it comes to our own parochial affairs, there’s probably a bit of weary realism in that. However, this casual expectation of rhetorical hypocrisy has inhibited from the start our ability to recognize and deal with the threat posed by Islamist radicalism.
No need to name names, right? Each individual reading this column can decide for himself where to draw the line at which Muslim is an “Islamic radical” and which one is a normal person like you or me.
Time and again, the spokesmen for these movements have told the world precisely what they intend. Time and again, the scant handful of Americans who bothered to take notice have dismissed what was said as the product of political alienation, as the consequence of economic marginalization, as a hangover of post-colonial insecurity or as tactical bluster.
And there you have the straw man argument. Reminds me of when George W. Bush told us that the Americans opposed to the Iraq invasion thought that Iraqis were incapable of governing themselves.
What some of us do say is that Ahmadinejad is playing to his base, just exactly the way that American politicians play to their base. Remember Hillary Clinton saying, “we would be able to totally obliterate [Iran]”? She didn’t say that to win votes in Iran.
No. These people mean exactly what they say, and they mean it for precisely the reasons they say they do. They genuinely believe in the extreme and often heretical variants of Islam to which they cleave, that faith guides their actions, and their public statements are expressions of that faith.
Again with the unnamed them. And can a variant of Islam be both extreme and heretical? Doesn’t being heretical make it not-Islam? If we assume he is talking about Ahmadinejad, does that mean that Iran’s president is far out of the mainstream of Shi’a Islam?
As for faith guiding their actions, why is that bad when the faith is Islam but good when it’s Christian? George Bush has made no bones that he answers to “a higher father.”
Time and again, though, we willfully have blinded ourselves to this fact, partly because modern minds balk at accepting what is essentially medieval reasoning at face value, and partly because it’s the conveniently amicable thing do to.
That’s how I feel when Bush and Palin talk about taking their orders from God, but much of America seems to love it.
That, plus the simultaneity of a national election and Wall Street crisis, account in large part for the silence that greeted last week’s abominable speech by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at the United Nations. In the course of a characteristically rambling diatribe, Ahmadinejad, one of the world’s great public anti-Semites, had this to say:
“The dignity, integrity and rights of the American and European people are being played with by a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists. Although they are a minuscule minority, they have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers as well as the political decision-making centers of some European countries and the U.S. in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner. It is deeply disastrous to witness that some presidential or premier nominees in some big countries have to visit these people, take part in their gatherings, swear their allegiance and commitment to their interests in order to attain financial or media support.
“This means that the great people of America and various nations of Europe need to obey the demands and wishes of a small number of acquisitive and invasive people. These nations are spending their dignity and resources on the crimes and occupations and the threats of the Zionist network against their will.”
Timothy Rutten wants to play this as if Ahmadinejad is talking about the Illuminati, which would be ridiculous. Ahmadinejad is remarkably well-informed about America, though, since he knows about the many Christianist Zionist churches who are extremely, uncritically supportive of Israel, and who wield disproportionate influence in American politics. And I just learned a new term: dominionist.
Dominionism describes, in several distinct ways, a tendency among some conservative politically-active Christians, especially in the United States of America, to seek influence or control over secular civil government through political action — aiming either at a nation governed by Christians, or a nation governed by a conservative Christian understanding of biblical law.
Didn’t Obama and McCain feel the need to talk about their faith publicly at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church? Isn’t John McCain proud to have the endorsements of pastor John Hagee? Remember how in 2000 McCain called Jerry Falwell an agent of intolerance, and how in 2006 he went to Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University* and schmoozed them? Ahmadinejad seems to be aware of McCain’s earlier endorsement by pastor Rod Parsley, which, to his credit, McCain later repudiated.
Parsley has called upon Christians to wage a “war” against the “false religion” of Islam with the aim of destroying it. Parsley claims that Islam is an “anti-Christ religion” predicated on “deception.” The Muslim prophet Muhammad, he writes, “received revelations from demons and not from the true God.” And he emphasizes this point: “Allah was a demon spirit.”
Parsley supported John Roberts’ nomination for the Supreme Court of the United States.  Parsley is also a regional director for the Christian Zionist group Christians United for Israel, founded by fellow televangelist John Hagee.
I wish all our presidential candidates were as well informed about Iran as Ahmadinejad is about the US.
There’s a temptation to dismiss all this as simply “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” nonsense. But consider this other statement of Ahmadinejad’s, made in a TV address in 2006: “Zionists and their protectors are the most detested people in all of humanity, and the hatred is increasing every day. … The worse their crimes, the quicker they will fall.”
He said this in a TV address to whom? And clearly he’s talking about a small group of people, not the entire US and western world.
Or perhaps this, from 2005: “Israel must be wiped off the map. … The establishment of a Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world.”
Okay, I want to specify that I disagree with Ahmadinejad about wiping Israel of the map, but I believe he meant the state, not its people. Here’s a rebuttal from an Israeli cabinet minister:
”We must take a neighborhood in Gaza and wipe it off the map” Cabinet Minister Meir Sheetrit, AP, New York Times, 10th Feb 2008
Back to Mr Rutten:
By “world oppressor,” Ahmadinejad means the United States. He happens to belong to a Shiite sect that believes it can hasten the coming of the Mahdi, the Islamic savior, by the creation of chaos in the world. And like his brethren among the Sunni jihadists, he means what he says.
The parallels with Christians are scary. The American Christians who so strongly back Israel do so because they believe Israel has to exist in order for Armageddon to come about, and they fervently hope that it will be soon. I’m confident that there are more American Christians in the US hoping and praying for Armageddon than there are Iranian Muslims doing the same.
Read this Time magazine article. From it:
In a 2006 poll conducted by Pew Research Center, 35% of all Americans say that the creation of Israel is a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy about Jesus’ second coming. And also that Armageddon is just around the corner.
Oh yeah, and also this, from the same article:
Other Jews, in Israel and in the U.S., are less comfortable in the embrace of the American Evangelicals. They cite a verse from Revelations claiming that Jesus will return only after two-thirds of the Jews are killed and the rest are converted to Christianity. “They are not supporting us out of love,” says one opponent, Rabbi Shalom Dov Lifshitz from the anti-missionary group Yad La’achim, “but because they believe that if we convert out of Judaism to Christianity, it will bring on the Apocalypse.” And that, he says, is “a danger to the people of Israel.”
One pastor in Jerusalem from a mainstream church expressed skepticism about the motives of the Christian Zionists — and of the cynicism of Israelis who play along. “It’s the worst kind of anti-Semitism,” says the cleric, who asked to remain anonymous given the sensitivity of the issue. “At the end, these Evangelicals say that all the Jews will be dead except those who become Christians. But in the meantime, the Israelis are happy to fill their hotels with them and use their help to get American weapons.”
Back to Mr Rutten:
Mary Halbeck, one of the West’s foremost scholars of jihadism and its religious origins, describes Islamist extremists as “committed to the destruction of the entire secular world because they believe this is a necessary first step to create an Islamic utopia on Earth.” Their “view of the enemies of Islam means that their depiction in the Koran and hadith [commentaries on the Koran] is valid today in every detail. The Jews in particular have specific negative characteristics. … They are notorious for their betrayal and treachery; they have incurred God’s curse and wrath; they were changed into monkeys and pigs.”
Mary Halbeck–a quick Google search turns up just Timothy Rutten’s article, which is the first hit, and of the 1,330 other hits, none of the other nine on the first page are about a woman named Mary Halbeck.
Anyway, according to her, it’s just the Islamic extremists who hold those views. That makes sense. Logically, we would then strive to improve our relationships with those states that don’t hold those extreme views and at the same time do our best to persecute Islamic extremists such as al-Qaeda’s Osama Bin Laden and the rulers of Saudi Arabia.
This is what the men who brought the hell of 9/11 to America believed. This is what Ahmadinejad believes and what he simply awaits the opportunity to act on.
It almost seems as if Rutten is conflating the Sunni organization, al-Qaeda, with the Shi’a government of Iran. Those two go together like oil and water. I don’t deny that it’s possible that they ultimately have the same ends, but “they want to take over the world” wasn’t believable when we were talking about Hitler, and it’s not believable now.
When the delegates to the U.N. General Assembly applauded Ahmadinejad’s speech last week, and the American media passed over it in silence, this is the sentiment to which they gave their respective explicit and tacit approval.
Shame on them; shame on us.
For a change, the media were concentrating on something important last week: the possible imminent collapse of our economy. It takes a certain kind of person to characterize that as sympathizing with al-Qaeda.
It makes me heartsick to see the way our government keeps treating the people of Iran, who have very much in common with us. Please see this Daily Show clip where Jon Stewart talks with Hooman Majd, the author of “The Ayatollah Begs to Differ.”
*For more on Liberty University, this WaPo article from 2007:
Goodling is one of 150 graduates of Regent University who have served in this administration, as Regent’s Web site proudly proclaims. Pretty impressive for a 29-year-old school. The university says that “approximately one out of every six Regent alumni is employed in some form of government work.” And that’s precisely what its founder desired. The school’s motto is “Christian Leadership to Change the World.” Former attorney general John Ashcroft teaches at Regent, and graduates have obtained senior positions in the Bush administration. The express goal is not only to tear down the wall between church and state in America but also to enmesh the two.
Jeffrey A. Brauch, the law school’s dean, urges that students reflect upon “the critical role the Christian faith should play in our legal system.” Jason Eige (Class of ’99), senior assistant to Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell, puts it pithily in the alumni newsletter: “Your Résumé Is God’s Instrument.”
This legal worldview meshed perfectly with that of Ashcroft — a devout Pentecostal who forbade use of the word “pride,” as well as the phrase “no higher calling than public service,” on documents bearing his signature. No surprise that, as he began transforming the Justice Department, the Goodlings looked good to him.
No, the real concern here is that Goodling and her ilk somehow began to conflate God’s work with the president’s. Probably not a lesson she learned in law school. The dream of Regent and its counterparts, such as Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, is to redress perceived wrongs to Christians, to reclaim the public square and reassert Christian political authority. And while that may have been a part of the Bush/Rove plan, it was only a small part. Their real zeal was for earthly power. And Goodling was left holding the earthly bag.
I also highly recommend reading Matt Taibbi’s account of his weeks undercover at pastor John Hagee’s Cornerstone megachurch in Texas, Jesus Made me Puke. Blurb:
The whole idea behind Christian Zionism is to align America with the nation of Israel so as to “hurry God up” in his efforts to bring about Armageddon. As Hagee tells it, only after Israel is involved in a final showdown involving a satanic army (in most interpretations, a force of Arabs led by Russians) will Christ reappear. On that happy day, Hagee and his True Believers will be whisked up to Heaven by God, while the rest of us nonbelievers are left behind on Earth to suck eggs and generally suffer various tortures.
Update: A friend pointed out that McCain rejected Hagee’s endorsement, and Hagee withdrew it, in May of 2008.