Waiting for the Rapture in Iran

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad bolsters support with his end-times beliefs

| January 12, 2006

A lot of ink has been spilled covering Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's call for Israel to be 'wiped off the map' and his balking at EU and US demands for the country to stay its nuclear program. But there's been little focus on the reasoning that fuels his blustering and the domestic support it has earned him. One common explanation for the president's popularity is his commitment to the poor. Another is that his anti-western rhetoric has struck a chord with the Iranian people. Scott Peterson of The Christian Science Monitor has another take. He says that every issue Ahmadinejad has taken up 'is designed to lay the foundation for the Mahdi's return.'

The Mahdi is the Islamic messiah prophesized to bring about the final battle between good and evil. The idea of the imminent rapture is taking hold in the political atmosphere fostered by Ahmadinejad. A group calling itself the Bright Future News Agency has set up a website to broadcast messianic news. There is even a hotline for people to call in and ask questions about the end-of-days.

Ahmadinejad seems to be tapping into this religious climate. It's estimated that 'focus on the Mahdi's imminent return appeals to 20 percent of Iranians,' and the president is using his position to advance the religious cause. His cabinet has reportedly directed $17 million of the Iranian budget to the Jamkaran mosque in Qom, 'where the link between devotees and the Mahdi is closest,' Peterson writes in a second piece on Iran's rapture fervor.

To many Americans, the idea of a president appealing to a religious base for political gains hits close to home. Evangelical Christians remain one of President Bush's most influential power bases after seeing him through two elections. The issues of abortion, same-sex marriage, and so-called 'intelligent design' can all be linked to a belief system deeply rooted in religious fundamentalism. Some have even suggested that the Bush administration's policies on Israel and the environment give succor to those that want the arrival of the end-times hastened.

In spite of obvious differences, the parallel between Bush and Ahmadinejad is powerful. They are both deeply religious leaders who make no secret of their devotion. Amir Mohebian, the political editor of the Iranian newspaper Resalat, quipped, 'Bush said: 'God said to me, attack Afghanistan and attack Iraq.' The mentality of Mr. Bush and Mr. Ahmadinejad is the same here -- both think God tells them what to do.'
-- Bennett Gordon

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