Taking the Iranian Regime at Its Word

Benjamin Netanyahu is coming to the United Nations today to lay out his own red lines on the Iranian nuclear program. Yes, he has mishandled his relationship with the American president, and yes, he shows no urgency in grappling with Israel's other existential dilemma -- how to find compromise and peace with the Palestinians. But it is worth remembering that he is attempting to confront his country's most dangerous foe, a foe who makes it clear that Israel's destruction is the ultimate goal.

Here is an argument, made a few years ago, about the need to take genocidal threats seriously. The writing is a little overripe and hyperbolic, but the author seems to understand the importance of taking the Iranian regime at its word. I would only note that since this piece was written, the regime in Tehran has only become more radical -- it has moved much closer to nuclearization; its suppression of its own citizens has become more brutal; and its support for terrorism has only become more pronounced.

One thing I learned from studying the Third Reich in college: If a genocidal maniac attains power, it's always worth noting what he has said and taking him at his word. There's a tendency in the West not to believe the worst about our enemies. Hitler wasn't really going to kill all the Jews. Mao couldn't be massacring and starving millions, could he? Stalin meant well, no? Democracies, because we create cultures of reason and toleration, find it hard to get our heads around people who really do believe some crackpot theory. Take a look at this helpful essay about Islamist views of the Apocalypse. There are obvious parallels with our own religious far right - in fact, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's views are almost a negative image of Tim LaHaye's. What's also interesting is how modern a lot of this is. The new Christian dispensationalists who are anticipating the Rapture and the slaughter of all infidels in the End-Time are far more numerous and influential today than in the past. The latest Islamist apocalyptic ravings also have a new component: fanatical anti-Semitism, which has been around in the Muslim past but has never been as central to Islamist ideolog as than today. Money quote:
"Most scenarios start with the Arab-Israel conflict, as the basis for the end-time events, though some start with the Gulf War (1990-91). At some time in the near future a demonic being, called the Dajal (the Muslim Antichrist), will gain control over most of the world, with the exception of certain Muslim countries (the lists of these vary, but are usually the most anti-western ones). This being will be a Jew and will control by means of a world-embracing conspiracy, after the fashion of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In general, apocalyptic believers state that this being, if not physically present in the world today, malevolently influences the course of events preparatory to his eventual revelation. An apocalyptic war is postulated between the Dajal, who will lead the west and Israel, against the Muslims.'
Now remember that someone who fervently believes in all of this, someone who has vowed to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, is on the verge of gaining the technology to detonate nukes. We can assume rationality on the part of the Iranian mullahs. But if we do, we are being irrational ourselves. They want the nukes because they expect the apocalypse. It's time we took their views seriously.
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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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