Published April 16, 2015
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered this assessment of the American-led negotiations with Iran the day before a deal was announced:
Yesterday an Iranian general brazenly declared, and I quote: “Israel’s destruction is non-negotiable.” But evidently giving Iran’s murderous regime a clear path to the bomb is negotiable. This is unconscionable.
The statement from Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi, commander of the Basij militia of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, came just over a week after Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei—responding to an audience chanting “Death to America”—said, “Of course, yes, death to America.”
What was the White House response to Khamenei’s comment? The statement, we were told, was “intended for a domestic political audience.”
This is a rather clumsy explanation, particularly since a theocracy like Iran is unlikely to worry about a “domestic political audience.” But it does serve to illuminate the dangerous mindset of the president, his administration, and modern liberalism more broadly.
Among progressives there is a reflex to downplay and dismiss the grotesque anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism that is a routine part of the rhetoric of the Iranian regime. It doesn’t matter how explicit the Iranian leadership is; the Obama administration and its supporters simply maintain the rhetoric shouldn’t be taken seriously. But they never explain why it shouldn’t be taken seriously.
After all, this is not a relatively benign government that merely uses loose words now and again. We’re dealing with a regime that is oppressive, expansionist, and violent. Iran is the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, bankrolling Hezbollah and Hamas, mortal enemies of the Jewish state. It has been responsible for the death of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s propping up some of the most brutal leaders on the planet, including Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. (The current death toll from the Syrian civil war is roughly a quarter-of-a-million.) So it’s not as if Iran’s record is at odds with its rhetoric; they are fully consistent.
But there is another, frequently overlooked element here, which is the fundamental nature of the regime. The 1979 Iranian revolution marked a move away from the “quietist school” of Shia Islam to a far more militant and lethal form. Followers of the latter strain see their mission as paving the way for the return of Muhammad al-Mahdi, the “Twelfth Imam,” a messiah who will make all the world Muslim. As the distinguished political scientist Matthias Küntzel has written, Ayatollah Khomeini “vested the myth with an entirely new sense: The Twelfth Imam will only emerge when the believers have vanquished evil. To speed up the Mahdi’s return, Muslims had to shake off their torpor and fight.”
For two generations that fight has been primarily (though not exclusively) targeted at Israel and the West. Many on the left discount this, trying to detach the Iranian regime from its core, animating beliefs. They ignore the power of political Islam and the role eschatology plays in it, as well as the fierce hatred for Jews and Christians.
That’s a potentially perilous blind spot. It’s not like we haven’t been down this road before. Mein Kampf (My Struggle) was written by Adolf Hitler while in prison and published in 1925. In it the future chancellor of Germany outlined his political ideology and malevolent intentions. Here is some of what Hitler wrote:
If . . . the Jew is victorious over the other peoples of the world, his crown will be the funeral wreath of humanity and this planet will, as it did thousands of years ago, move through the ether devoid of men.
Eternal Nature inexorably avenges the infringement of her commands.
Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.
In the case of Nazi Germany, the guiding beliefs were not religious but a toxic mix of nationalism, Aryan racial superiority, and social Darwinism. But militant Islam and Nazism share certain common features, including imperialism, anti-Semitism, and a deadly utopianism.
No one can say for sure that if Iran gets a nuclear weapon it will use it. The Iranian revolution happened more than three-and-a-half decades ago, and Iran’s leaders have not shown suicidal tendencies. At the same time, a nuclear weapon would give them a destructive capability far beyond anything they have ever possessed. Even today, without nuclear weapons, Iran is pursuing its expansionist aims with a ruthless and lethal efficiency. It is a regime that shows no signs of making its peace with the current world order, international and moral norms, or the existence of Israel. It remains at its core a revolutionary and deeply dangerous nation. It is beyond reckless to assume, as the president does, that Iran’s rulers don’t mean what they say. That there are heretofore hidden moderate and modernizing impulses that Barack Obama will summon from the vasty deep. And that the true desire of the mullahs is rapprochement with Israel and America.
In his introduction to the English translation of Mein Kampf, the outstanding Nazi-era historian Konrad Heiden wrote that “in its pages Hitler announced . . . a program of blood and terror in a self-revelation of such overwhelming frankness that few among its readers had the courage to believe it.” Mein Kampf, Heiden said, “was written in white-hot hatred.”
Iran’s leadership has announced with utter frankness its program of blood and terror. The question now, as it was in generations past, is whether those who hear words spoken with white-hot hatred have the courage to believe them.
Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.