And the article is even better than the title. Here is an analysis of the Baker/Hamilton Report by Timothy R. Furnish, Assistant Professor of History at Georgia Perimeter College, author of Holiest Wars: Islamic Mahdis, their Jihads and Osama bin Laden, and proprieter of the informative website mahdiwatch.org.
In perhaps no region of the world is history more important than in the Middle East; to note just a few of the most striking examples: Jewish claims to Jerusalem and environs are at least partially predicated on the Hebrew Scriptures” 3,000 year-old assertions of divinely-assigned real estate rights; a significant slice of Muslim Arab public opinion resonates to every attempt by Usama bin Ladin and his ilk to link millennium-old Crusader belligerence with the Americans; and millions of Shi`is in Iran, Iraq and Lebanon are waiting for a man who disappeared over a thousand years ago to re-emerge onto the historical stage as the Mahdi.
So it is particularly disappointing when America’s best and brightest bipartisan foreign policy minds, when tasked by the President to devise ways to drain the bog of war in Iraq, come up with a document steeped in historical misunderstandings and downright inaccuracies about Islam, Iraq and the Middle East.
One jarring misapprehension is the ignorance of (or perhaps simple refusal to acknowledge) the eschatological element of two of the major Shi`i players in the region: Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army in Iraq, and””more ominously””Mahmud Ahmadinezhad and the ayatollahs of Iran. These are men who clearly hold, and frequently publicly express, a strong belief in the imminent re-arrival of the long-Hidden Twelfth Imam (a descendant of Ali, Muhammad’s son-in-law and cousin, who died in 680 CE): al-Sadr is said to believe that the U.S. invaded Iraq in order to stymie the Mahdi’s coming-out party, and Ahmadinezhad””when not holding Holocaust denial conferences and musing about a world without Jews or Americans””is publicly praying at the U.N. for Allah to send the Mahdi. Yet Messrs. Baker and Hamilton suggest that we “try to talk directly to Moqtada al-Sadr” (p. 67) and “should actively engage Iran and Syria in”¦diplomatic dialogue, without preconditions” (p. 50).
Is the eschatological fervor, bordering on irrationality, of al-Sadr and Ahmadinezhad not worthy of some consideration? One might think it would somewhat complicate the “can’t we all just get along?” approach that Baker and Hamilton seem to be promoting. The flip side of the coming of the Mahdi is the emergence of al-Dajjal, “the Deceiver” of the Islamic traditions””an anti-christ figure who will lead many believers astray and into apocalyptic battle against the forces of the Mahdi and the returned Muslim prophet Jesus. And the Dajjal, by the way, will be Jewish. How, pray tell, does the U.S. negotiate with folks who not only hold but configure their politics around beliefs like that? Yes, of course, George Bush believes Jesus will return””but has he prayed publicly for that to happen in the well of the U.N. General Assembly, as Iran’s president has done regarding the Mahdi? WWJD”””What Would Jesus Do?–”is not a question bandied about at Bush Administration Cabinet meetings; I am not sure that the same can be said of “WWMD?–””What Would (the) Mahdi Do?–”in Ahmadinezhad’s strategy meetings.
Read it all.