Thursday, September 21, 2006

Fire, Brimstone, and the Twelfth Imam

I had a chance to read the transcripts of the speeches that Bush, Chavez, and Ahmadinejad made before the General Assembly of the United Nations. Bush's was fairly predictable, but Chavez and Ahmadinejad had some truly interesting remarks.

Chavez and Ahmadinejad made some fair points. First, they criticized the United States for allowing the continued bombardment of Lebanon. By not agreeing to support an immediate ceasefire, the United States basically paralyzed the ability of the Security Council to do anything. I agree. I think the United States' policy during the destruction of Lebanon was horrific.

Second, they both believe that the composition of the Security Council is out-dated. I think this is a fair criticism. The Security Council is made up of the victorious countries from WWII. The five permanent members no longer reflect the balance of power in the world, and it should be opened up. Its decisions, which are already starting to be see with a sceptical view, will truly begin to lack any sort of legitimacy as the developing world begins to throw its weight around in other weights (trade, regional organizations, etc.)

Chavez and Ahmadinejad made some other more memorable remarks though. Chavez stated

The devil, the devil himself, is right in the house. And the devil came here yesterday. Yesterday the devil came here. Right here." [crosses himself] And it sells of sulfur still today." Yesterday, ladies and gentlemen, from this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world.

(full transcript). Now I'm no fan of Bush myself, but I think calling any world leader "the devil" is inappropriate diplomatic decorum. Mr. Chavez, I think you made some good points. I have visited Caracas and you have a beautiful country with great music. I also applaud your program of redistributing your nation's oil wealth. I wish Halliburton would follow suit. But calling someone the devil doesn't help any more than referring to countries as taking part in the "axis of evil." They are both examples of meaningless hyperbolic rhetoric.

Ahmadinejad also dropped a gem. He stated
O, Almighty God, all men and women are your creatures and you have ordained their guidance and salvation. Bestow upon humanity that thirsts for justice, the perfect human being promised to all by you, and make us among his followers and among those who strive for his return and his cause

For those of you who are not familiar with Islam (my familiarity is only passing, so correct me if I'm wrong here), this needs a little context. In Shi'a Islam (the kind practiced in Iran), they believe that the descendants of the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH), called imams, were all secretly murdered (by the Sunni, those who refused the legitimacy of the Prophet's cousin as rightful ruler). All except one. Shi'ites believe that the Twelfth Imam, Muhammad al Muntazar, “The Awaited One,” escaped and disappeared, and that he will return on Judgment Day. Similar to the role played by the second coming of Jesus Christ. This is to whom Ahmadinejad is referring to when he says "perfect human being promised to all."

So in essence, it seems that Ahmadinejad is asking for the Apocalypse. Now I'm not sure if this is how Shi'ites normally end their speeches (Bush said "God bless you"), or if he were just wishing in his own way for the world to be made perfect, but coming from a man who says that his country has the right to nuclear materials, all talk of Armageddon should be post-poned for a different debate I think.

All of this "God" and "Devil" and "Twelfth Imam" stuff scares me. And I really don't think it has a place on the floor of the United Nations.

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