Salman Masalha
Haaretz (Opinion)
March 28, 2012 - 12:00am

First of all, when it comes to Iran, it should be acknowledged that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is right. Since the ayatollahs took power Iranian leaders haven't stopped talking about Israel, referring to it as "the Little Satan" at every opportunity. And when these leaders, whose spiritual world is constrained by such messianic shackles, use such a loaded expression it's clear they must take active steps to deal with such a Satan, even a little one. But in saying that Netanyahu is correct, that's as far as it goes.

As the opium of the ignorant masses, religion has always been used by manipulative politicians to achieve their profane goals. The term "evil" served U.S. President Ronald Reagan in 1982 when he labeled the Soviet Union "the evil empire." The term "crusade" served another American president, as the proper Christian response to the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001.

Every ideology that claims to possess absolute truth and absolute goodness needs an opposing, weighty, ideological enemy to flourish. Islam developed in the Arabian Desert on Jewish-Christian foundations and is totally immersed in theological polemic vis-a-vis the Jews and Christians. In essence, Islam combines Jewish monotheism and Christian missionary ideology. If it were deprived of its relationship with Jews and Christians nothing would be left of it. Contemporary Islamic discourse finds an equivalent in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, like the primordial Muslim confrontation with "Ahl al-Kitab," the People of the Book, which from a Muslim perspective includes both Jews and Muslims.

When it comes to Iran, it is no coincidence that Shi'ite doctrine took hold among the Persian peoples. From the outset, Shi'ism was an internal Islamic arena serving to promote Iranian national goals vis-a-vis the Arabs who conquered Persia and forced its inhabitants to convert. It is therefore no wonder that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders make repeated reference to the Iranian nation in their speeches.

Testimony to the deep historical animosity between the Persians and Arabs can be found in Shi'ite literature relating to the end of the world. One traditional tract relating to the appearance of the Mahdi, the Shi'ite messiah, states: "Woe unto the Arab dictators for the punishment that is approaching." And in his reappearance, he will actually start taking care of the Arabs: "When the Mahdi appears, there will be nothing but the sword between him and the Arabs and the Qureish [Mohammed's tribe]," as another traditional account states.

Sunni-Arab Islam fights back and accuses the Shi'ites of basing their doctrine on Jewish collusion. It relies, of course, on Shi'ite literature itself, which also speaks of the Mahdi "imposing the justice of David and Solomon." And, if that's not enough, when he reappears "he will issue the call to prayer by explicitly invoking the name of Allah in Hebrew," as another traditional saying has it.

If that's the case, things in this part of the world are not so simple, to say the least. As the only son in the region of the American "Great Satan," and its beloved ally, Israel is playing in the big league and continues to kick the Palestinians. The prolonged Israeli occupation fulfills the need for the existence of evil, of Satan and the prospect of divine justice. It is the fuel that turns the wheels of manipulation of the seminaries of the monotheistic religions' high priests.

Among other things, the conflict serves as a tool of manipulation for the Iranians in their drive to restore Persian glory. Against the backdrop of ancient Muslim animosity toward the Jews, and through use of the Palestinian pretext, they gain a following among the Arab masses. Christian and Jewish messianists attempt to force the issue and bring on the arrival of their messiahs. Israel is therefore situated at the vortex of the major confrontation connecting the pieces of this monotheistic constellation of forces.


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