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Tell Iran the Consequences

By David Warren

Yesterday, 27 Rajab on the Muslim lunar calendar, was Lailat al-Miraj. This "festival of the ascent" commemorates a passage in the Hadiths, which greatly expands upon the 17th sura of the Koran. While asleep in Mecca, the Prophet Muhammad was visited by two archangels. They purified his heart, by cutting it out of his breast and washing the cavity with zamzam water. Then they filled him with faith in and knowledge of the divine. By their guidance he mounted a winged steed, named Buraq, and flew to the Masjidu 'l-Aqsa, later interpreted as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. In the course of this nocturnal journey, the Prophet ascended from that mount through the succession of heavens, meeting Adam, and all the previous prophets, and finally Allah. It is during this journey he is told the Muslims must recite the Salat (ritual prayers), five times each day.

Some Muslims take this as a pious legend, and interpret it as symbolic of the human ascent from earth to heaven. Others take it quite literally, glossing over several contradictions in the account. Between those two extremes, there is a continuum. But the dominant forms of Islam today, both Salafist out of Arabia, and revolutionary Shia from Iran, tend to the literalist extreme.

It would be superficial to compare their followers with Christian fundamentalists, incidentally: for the Koran, Hadiths, and Ishaq's "Life of Muhammad" are different in kind from Old Testament, Epistles, and Gospels. One aspect of that difference is exhibited in the Miraj: an oriental fancifulness that rises clear of the persistent moral grounding that is endemic to the Judaeo-Christian tradition. It yields "lessons" that could be taken much more variously.

In this case, the "lesson" chiefly taught today, is that Muslims have a claim to rule Jerusalem, prior to, and excluding, any claims of Christians or Jews. In contemporary Palestinian Arab dogma, the historical fact of the Jerusalem Temple is vigorously denied; Jewish and Christian history is dismissed as all fraudulent. This is the basis upon which the current Muslim religious authorities on the Haram al-Sharif (that Temple Mount) refuse access to Western-educated archaeologists -- although they persist in doing their own mysterious excavations, that threaten to undermine the Western (Wailing) Wall.

As a concession to cultural relativism, and for the safety of their correspondents in the field, even the New York Times presents the actual documented history of Jerusalem, and the Palestinian Arab mystical account, as take-your-pick factual alternatives. They wouldn't want to insist on a rational worldview that might itself be associated with "cultural imperialism".

I mentioned Miraj, at the outset, because it was the date this year on which the Iranian ayatollahs said they would respond, officially, to a proposal from several Western governments. I would characterize this proposal as a package of Western commercial and technological giveaways, offered to the Iranian government if, in return, it would pretend to abandon the huge nuclear weapons programme it is currently pretending not to have. The response from Iran has now been received, and is characteristically incomprehensible. It is nevertheless being reported in Western media, as I write, as if it were a counter-proposal to "begin a serious dialogue".

The reader will recall that Hezbollah, the terrorist force that operates through southern Lebanon, and is the tail currently wagging the official Lebanese dog, is an Iranian proxy (coordinating through allied Syria). With mostly Iranian-supplied rockets and other ordnance, and obviously on Iranian instructions, Hezbollah kept the Israelis floundering for a month, while the world watched in horror. The purpose, according to the more intelligent Western observers, was to create a grand distraction from Iran itself -- where the latest confrontation over the Iranian nuclear and missile programmes is counting down to a mealy-mouthed Security Council resolution.

But given the ayatollah's choice of the festival of Miraj, as a date for some definitive "response to the Crusaders and Zionists", there was also worry that some big surprise attack on Israel might be forthcoming. As well, the Iranian military was on alert as part of a national missile-testing exercise. Note further, they name their missiles with poetical allusions to the Miraj, and to Kaibah (the massacre of a Jewish community, recounted in the Koran). And add finally, an observation that one might fairly abstract from the news, passim: that President Ahmadinejad and the rest of the Persian mullocracy are sick in the head.

At the time of writing, midnight has passed in Tehran, and nothing significant has happened. Just more flowery Persian rhetoric, sprinkled with the usual blood-curdling threats. And more media reports, that translate what is implausible in Persian, into what might seem plausible in English. Certainly no counter-threats have been tabled, nor lines drawn in sand, from the diplomatic sandboxes of the West.

The chief mystery to me is, why not? Why not tell the ayatollahs: "It doesn't matter what you think or believe. If you do this, we will do that."

© Ottawa Citizen

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