The War of Gog and Demagogue

Salman Masalha

The War of Gog and Demagogue

Here is a scenario: A devout Evangelical Christian is elected president of the United States. Fundamental to his ideology is the return of the Messiah and therefore he devotes all his efforts to bringing about the End Time and hastening the coming of that Messiah. Does this sound fantastical to you? Not entirely. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were not far from this outlook.

There is no need to cross the Atlantic to see how such processes are taking place before our very eyes. A president like this, though on a somewhat smaller scale, has already been chosen by the ayatollahs and the scenario is already playing out in our region. The president of Iran is an “Evangelical,” only this time a Shi’ite Muslim.

A single sentence from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech in southern Lebanon has not been given sufficient attention. He has repeated this sentence on a variety of occasions and it encapsulates his religious and political worldview. Ahmadinejad made a point of saying at Bint Jbeil that the Mahdi – the Hidden Imam, the Shi’ite equivalent of the Messiah – will come in the near future, in our own times, and bring justice. He also said that when the Mahdi comes, he will be accompanied by the Messiah as his supporter and disciple. As in some branches of Judaism and Christianity, the coming of the Mahdi is a cornerstone of the branch of the Shi’a dominant in Iran.

However, an examination of the Shi’ite literature concerning the coming of the Mahdi reveals something very interesting and surprising. It emerges from this literature that when the Mahdi reappears and sets out on his way from Iraq, he will be joined by 27 persons from the people of Moses (in Arabic qawm Musa) – that is to say, Jews. Among those joining the Mahdi’s retinue are figures like Joshua Ben Nun and King Solomon. Moreover, the Mahdi will pray and utter the ineffable name of God, in the Hebrew language: “When the Imam issues the call to prayer, he will offer a prayer to Allah under his Hebrew name,” we learn from a tradition cited by Al-Nu’mani, a 10th century Shi’ite scholar.

Often, the Hidden Imam’s high status in the Shi’ite literature is compared to the stature of Joshua and the reign and law he will institute will be “like the reign and law of David and Solomon,” according to another 10th-century scholar, Al-Kulayni. Apparently the representatives of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect Naturei Karta who visited Iran and met with Ahmadinejad are aware of some of these traditions.

Of course these and other traditions serve the Sunni Muslims to goad the Shi’ites. Often the Sunnis taunt the Shi’ites that their Mahdi is none other than “the Jewish Messiah,” who prays and utters Allah’s name in Hebrew. Shi’ite scholars see this as a point in his favor, as someone who “knows languages.”

In any case, the tension in our world today between the Arabs and Iran is very ancient tension. Echoes of this tension are heard in the Shi’ite traditions. When the day of the Mahdi’s coming arrives, according to the Shi’ite tradition, the fate of the Arabs will not be glorious, to put it mildly: “When the Mahdi comes, only the sword shall speak to the Arabs and to Quraysh (Muhammad’s tribe),” as we are are told by the scholar Al-Nu’mani. Another tradition says the Mahdi “will slaughter them the way the butcher slaughters a sheep.”

It is always possible to find such things, some of them entertaining and some of them less so, in every religion, in every place and at every time. However, in a part of the world where religious myths are the daily bread of ignorant masses and an elected government, messianic beliefs of this sort are liable to be extremely dangerous. This is because there will always be some reckless disciples, in every ethnic group and religion, who will want to hasten the end time by every means at their disposal. And this is especially so if these people, be they here or there, are leaders who have access to all kinds of dangerous buttons.
Published: Op-Ed, Haaretz, October 22, 2010

For Hebrew, press here

All the professor’s cats

Salman Masalha

All the professor’s cats

For years a certain peddler roamed the streets with a laden sack on his back, declaring he has many good things. Every morning he set out to try to sell his wares. However, only the sharp-eyed knew what he kept in the bag.

One day, a “Canaanite slave” passed through the town and threw down a banana peel. The peddler, who was so engaged in concealing the contents of his bag of good, slipped and fell. However, he continued to hold on tight to the sack and its contents. This peddler had a fine reputation in the town and he is a very respected professor.

Recently Prof. Shlomo Avineri tried in every possible way to conceal his wares from everyone (“A Palestinian people yes, a Jewish people, no?” Haaretz English Edition, August 13, 2010). As a concerned Zionist he exalted the role of “the Zionist revolution” in transforming the Jews into a nation like all nations. He went so far as to make a ridiculous comparison between a Jewish nation and a French nation.

In a second article he published on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (“Biladi, Biladi”, Haaretz English Edition, September 8, 2010), Prof. Avineri left no room for doubt as to his hidden intentions. Apparently a “sensitive Jewish nerve” under his Zionist skin has been damaged. This nerve is making him edgy and keeping him awake nights. Once again he limps to his desk, types his worst nightmare onto the screen and in on go spills out the contents of the “Zionist revolution” sack.

It is worth pausing first over the headline given to his article. “Biladi, Biladi” cries the Hebrew (and English) headline, in transliteration (of the title and opening words of the Egyptian national anthem), and this in order to pluck at the Hebrew readers’ most sensitive strings with the aim of injecting primordial fear into their world, as though this were another Arabic battle cry. It is important that the readers understand what this headline means and not stumble about in the fog. Indeed, translated into Hebrew the title will sound familiar to every man and woman in Israel. The Russian-born Hebrew poet Shaul Tchernikovsky (1875-1943) wrote the Zionist line “My country, my native land” – which is exactly what this headline says and this is a phrase often uttered by Prof. Avineri and many others. The transliterated title aims at arousing panic by means of using the savage sound, the Arab sound that is not understood.

From reading the article it also emerges that the bag Prof. Avineri carried on his back for years indeed contains many “good” things; a trick here and a trick there, a cat here and a cat there and all manner of goods including some Meir Kahane. Prof. Avineri sets forth for the readers an imaginary horror scenario by means of which the tried to warn of a “disaster” lying in wait for the state of Israel: “‘We're all Israelis, equal citizens in our common homeland," declared the Knesset speaker,’” he has the speaker of the Knesset declare in an imagined future session of Israel’s parliament.

Prof. Avineri’s Zionist lie is revealed in this last article. Here, his “Zionist revolution” that exalted belonging to the Jewish “nation” has vanished into thin air in favor of belonging to the Jewish religion.

It seems to me he deserves an Olympic medal for the impressive backwards somersault he executed in his return to the religious origins that shaped him. Indeed, in his second article he reveals in a single stroke everything he previously tried to hide. Suddenly, his main concern is “Jewish sovereignty.” Suddenly he returns to “the synagogue,” to “the Jewish people” and “the God of Israel.”

Equal citizens? A shared homeland? Democracy? Equality and things like that? You’re kidding. Forget it. It’s warmer and cozier in the bosom and in the laws of the Jewish shtetl, the backwards hamlet in the eastern European Pale of Settlement.

True, the “Canaanite slave” has a Canaanite soul and like the Jewish soul in the Israel’s national anthem “Hatikvah,” it too “throbs.” However, according to Avineri, who is familiar with his religious tradition, the law for a Canaanite slave or servant is not the same as for a Hebrew servitor.

Your faithful servant had naively believed that Shlomo Avineri is a professor of political science who propounds democracy, equality, the rule of law and an enlightened state. I was wrong. It turns out he is just another revered Jewish master teacher who lays down rabbinical rulings.

For Hebrew, press here

Salman Masalha, "A Jewish and democratic restaurant"
Shlomo Avineri, "A Palestinian people, yes, a Jewish people, no?"

Alexander Yakobson, "What's in the name?"
Uri Avnery, "Poisonous Mushrooms"
Lev Grinberg, "You can't be a Jewish Muslim"
B. Michael, "A Pravoslavic and republican tomato"