By Richard Bulliet
President Ahmadinejad “is a Twelver . . . Most people in Iran are not.” So said Glenn Beck recently to warn Americans about danger from Iran. "Twelvers are so dangerous that at one point the Ayatollah Khomeini…said Twelvers are out of their minds, nuts, and he banned them.” These are all lies. None of it is true.
Beck continued: “I’m not a theologian. This is stuff that I’ve done in the last five-six years. Off the top of my head, but we’re pretty close here.” No, not close at all. The most mediocre book on Islam correctly identifies Twelvers as Muslims who believe in twelve spiritual successors to the Prophet Muhammad. This includes almost all of the world’s Shi’ites. That would make Ayatollah Khomeini himself an eminent Twelver.
Why is being a Twelver ominous? According to Beck it is because Ahmadinejad believes that the coming of the Mahdi -- the Muslim messiah -- needs to be hastened. In Beck’s cuckoo version of Islam, only Twelvers are awaiting the Mahdi. But the truth is that nearly all Muslims believe the Mahdi will appear at the end of the world -- though only Shi’ites identify the Mahdi with their returning Twelfth Imam, who has not been heard from in a thousand years.
“It’s not a good idea to hasten the return of the Chosen One, because to do that, the world has to be in chaos, carnage, genocide.” The print transcript of Beck’s television rant adds the words “so the Messiah comes and brings peace.” This reflects actual Muslim belief. But Beck’s bloodthirsty Mahdi resurfaces a few minutes later, as he says, “The Mahdi comes, sets up a global government in Babylon, and they have one religion. And he kills all unbelievers.” More lies. Unlike the Book of Revelation, the Muslim “end time” scenarios never mention a global government in Babylon. Or the slaughtering of unbelievers.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, vilification of Islam has become a standard feature of American popular discourse. However, most Islamophobes maintain the guise of providing true knowledge about Islam. They cite, and distort, genuine Quranic verses, sayings by the Prophet Muhammad, and the remarks of Muslim leaders.
Why are Glenn Beck’s grosser distortions important? Because of his big picture: “We believe that the Antichrist is a person. Twelvers don’t believe in the person of the Antichrist. They call Israel the Little Satan, and we are the Great Satan. So the Antichrist, to them, is us… They think we’re the literal Antichrist. Got it? Now you know the world needs to be washed by blood.” Once again, Beck's statements are all lies.
In fact, all Muslims believe that a bloodthirsty tyrant will appear at the end times and he is an individual called al-Dajjal. They also believe that the person who will kill the Dajjal in battle is Jesus Christ. And it is only after this confrontation between Jesus and the Dajjal that the Mahdi come to preside over a millennium of peace and justice.
Ayatollah Khomeini’s charge that the United States is the Great Satan has nothing to do with the Mahdi. No Muslim end time scenario mentions a Great Satan, much less a Little Satan. Similarly, in his threats against Israel Ahmadinejad has never claimed to be hastening the return of the Mahdi.
Beck thinks otherwise. “The other volatile piece of this puzzle is Israel. Think of this if you are a leader in Israel. Iran wants to wipe you off the map…Now you have some guy, who believes in the Mahdi, and who believes there will be a global government in Babylon to destroy you, and the Little Satan.”
Beck then made a concluding assertion that Iran and Nazi Germany were the closest of allies in World War II. This is also a lie, but an easy one to refute since Iran and Israel got along famously well before the 1979 revolution.
It is Beck’s religious lies that do more damage. People who respond to the drumbeat of Beck’s attacks on a non-existent Twelver Menace fall into step with a movement of religious bigotry as vile and potentially murderous as any in history.
There are cogent arguments to be made on both sides of the debate over whether military force should be employed to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It is an important debate. But there is no place in it for flagrant lies about the faith of Iran’s Shi’ite population.
Richard Bulliet is Professor of History at Columbia University and author of Islam: The View from the Edge and The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization.
Copyright © 2010 Richard Bulliet – distributed by Agence Global