Sunday, January 22, 2006

End-of-days worldview

Victor Davis Hanson, Washington Times:
"The skirmishes in the occupied land are part of a war of destiny. The outcome of hundreds of years of war will be defined in Palestinian land. As the Imam said, Israel must be wiped off the map." So rants Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Given his apocalyptic rhetoric, we can understand why Mr. Ahmadinejad might want an arsenal of nuclear missiles. He would be able to shake down a constant stream of rich European emissaries, threaten the Arab Gulf states to lower oil production, neutralize U.S. influence in the region -- and, of course, destroy Israel.

In all his crazed pronouncements, Mr. Ahmadinejad reflects an end-of-days view: History is coming to its grand finale under his aegis. Mr. Ahmadinejad magically entrances even foreign audiences into stupor. Of his recent United Nations speech, he boasted: "I felt that all of a sudden the atmosphere changed there. And for 27-28 minutes, all the leaders did not blink."

So the name of the haloed Mr. Ahmadinejad will live for the ages -- but only if he alone takes out the crusader interloper in Jerusalem. The Shi'ites may be the dispossessed of the Muslim world, but, as the messianic figure the Great Mahdi come to Earth, Mr. Ahmadinejad can do something for the devout not seen since Saladin expelled the infidels from Palestine. READ MORE

But for now, barring divine intervention, Mr. Ahmadinejad's task poses two small hurdles: getting the bomb and preparing the world for Israel's demise.

Oddly, the first obstacle may be easier. An impoverished Pakistan and North Korea pulled it off. China and Russia will sell Tehran anything it cannot get from rogue regimes. Ultimately, Moscow and Beijing will probably veto any U.N. punitive action.

Impotent European diplomats will always defer to such an important global figure, "ruling out" force to stop the Iranian nuclear industry as they offer money and trade deals if Tehran will just act sanely.

The United States has a growing antiwar movement, and 180,000 of its troops are busy birthing democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq. And the unpredictable George Bush has less than three years in office anyway.

But the second part of readying the world for the end of the Jewish state is trickier.

True, the Middle East's secular gospel is anti-Semitism, broadcast hourly from Syria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. In these places, state-run media boom out tired sermons about "pigs and apes." Again, Russia and China don't much care what happens to Israel, so long as it does not affect business.

But the West is a different matter. There the history of anti-Semitism looms large, framed by the Holocaust that nearly destroyed European Jewry.

So raising doubts about that genocide is now Mr. Ahmadinejad's aim as much as targeting downtown Tel Aviv. Holocaust denial is a tired game, but his approach is different.

He has studied the recent Western postmodern mind, nursed on its holy trinity of multiculturalism, moral equivalence and relativism. As a Third World populist, Mr. Ahmadinejad expects his own fascism will escape scrutiny if he just recites enough the past sins of the West. He also understands victimology. So he also knows that to destroy the Israelis, he -- not they -- must become the victim, and the Europeans the ones who forced his hand. To quote Mr. Ahmadinejad:

"So we ask you: If you indeed committed this great crime, why should the oppressed people of Palestine be punished for it? If you committed a crime, you yourselves should pay for it."

Mr. Ahmadinejad also grasps that there are millions of highly educated but cynical Westerners who see nothing much exceptional about their own culture. So if democratic America has nuclear weapons, why not theocratic Iran?

"Your arsenals are full to the brim, yet when it's the turn of a nation such as mine to develop peaceful nuclear technology you object and resort to threats."

Moreover, he knows how Western relativism works. So who is to say what are "facts" or "true" -- given the tendency of the powerful to "construct" their own narratives and call the result "history"? Was not the Holocaust exaggerated, or perhaps even fabricated, as mere jails became "death camps" through a trick of language to take over Palestinian land?

We laugh at all this as absurd. We should not.

Money, oil and threats have brought the Iranian theocrats to the very threshold of a nuclear arsenal. Their uncanny diagnosis of Western malaise has now convinced them that they can carefully fabricate a Holocaust-free reality in which Muslims are the victims and Jews the aggressors deserving of punishment. And thus Mr. Ahmadinejad's righteously aggrieved (and nuclear) Iran can, after "hundreds of years of war," finally set things right in the Middle East.

Then a world that wishes to continue making money and driving cars in peace won't much care how this divinely appointed holy man finally finishes a bothersome "war of destiny."

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and author, most recently, of "A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War."