In case you missed it, Iran’s elected leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has once again threatened to destroy Israel if they engage in war with Lebanon this summer. Oh, and his government’s police has continued to crack down on “cultural invasion” by Western powers:
In a different gathering of mullahs for Friday’s prayer, Tehran’s police chief Ahmad Reza Radan said that since the execution of the “Elevating Society’s Security” plan more than 1,000 shops and businesses have been shut down and more than 1,200 automobiles have been confiscated. More than 75,000 warnings have also been given to both men and women for improper dress code. More than 3,000 arrests have been made.
Not to mention, of course, Iran’s continued insistence to pursue nuclear power. Iran’s position has raised the stakes for the west: will we allow Iran to attain nuclear weapons, and if not, how will we prevent them? That question is taken up by Norman Podhoretz, who defends what John McCain laughingly sang: the time has come to
Podhoretz’s case is comprehensive: He begins by arguing that we are actually engaged in a fourth world war that is parallel to the Cold War (which he argues was the third world war), but that the techniques and strategies of the Cold War (Mutual Assured Destruction, to be precise) would be ineffective with a tyrant like Ahmadinejad. After pointing out that Ahmadinejad, like Hitler, has global ambitions and will stop at nothing to achieve them, Podhoretz critiques the non-military options for deterrence, and offers this prediction:
Accordingly, my guess is that [President Bush] intends, within the next 21 months, to order air strikes against the Iranian nuclear facilities from the three U.S. aircraft carriers already sitting nearby.
Podhoretz’s piece is intriguing reading, not least because he highlights the fact that the Islamic regime of Ahmadinejad will not allow patriotism to get in the way of acting in ways that hurt the Iranian people:
But listen to what Bernard Lewis, the greatest authority of our time on the Islamic world, has to say in this context on the subject of deterrence:
MAD, mutual assured destruction, [was effective] right through the cold war. Both sides had nuclear weapons. Neither side used them, because both sides knew the other would retaliate in kind. This will not work with a religious fanatic [like Ahmadinejad]. For him, mutual assured destruction is not a deterrent, it is an inducement. We know already that [Iran’s leaders] do not give a damn about killing their own people in great numbers. We have seen it again and again. In the final scenario, and this applies all the more strongly if they kill large numbers of their own people, they are doing them a favor. They are giving them a quick free pass to heaven and all its delights.
Nor are they inhibited by a love of country:
We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.
These were the words of the Ayatollah Khomeini, who ruled Iran from 1979 to 1989, and there is no reason to suppose that his disciple Ahmadinejad feels any differently.
The notion that patriotism is “another name for paganism” underscores one of the deep differences between Christianity and that brand of Islam (I do not know the extent to which it is representative of Islamic thought on the whole). Christianity, with its emphasis on the doctrines of creation and incarnation, both of which affirm the goodness of matter and particularity, has room for patriotism. Love of country is not the highest love, but is a love nonetheless, and must be afforded its place. Even Paul, that man who so deeply longed to be where Christ was and who argued that we serve Christ, not Caesar, never denied his Roman citizenship but instead used it boldly and openly. He even went so far as to encourage us to interceed–the greatest act of love outside of martyrdom a Christian can do–for the rulers over us.
It makes me wonder, then, whethher the “invasion of culture” that threatens the Iranian regime is not a pagan culture, but a deeply Christian culture, because it is a patriotic culture. A man is tied to the land of his birth. While he can reject or embrace his land, it is the latter that has made America great, and that a strong position on the Incarnation seems to undergird and foster. If this is true, then there is little wonder that the patriotism of America has prompted the Iranian leaders to act in ways reminiscent of another historical figure: Herod the Great.
More reading on Christianity and patriotism: G.K. Chesterton, “The Flag of the World.“