Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | March 14, 2011


The rush of global events – toppled governments, civil wars, earthquakes, tsunamis, the threat of reactor core meltdowns – serves to put a recent “documentary” video from Iran in a unique context.  Assembled by the council of religious scholars in Qom, Iran, the video, which outlines signs of the coming of the 12th imam (or Mahdi) looked for by Shi’a Muslims, is making the rounds on the web.

Its content is worth being aware of; Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have both spoken publicly in the last three years of the need to prepare for the Mahdi-related events predicted in the video.  Yet the documentary is simultaneously eerie and unimpressive.  The video, with subtitles, is available to readers courtesy of Yid with Lid [note: video link works again]. It’s about 28 minutes.  I have three observations on it:

1.  The subject matter isn’t a joke, and the video certainly isn’t intended to be funny – but it is.  It begs for an Onion satire.  For one thing, the production values are basically PBS ca. 1970. But more importantly, the case made in the video draws on the symbols and spooky cachet of Freemasonry, which, for Americans who weren’t aware of this theme in contemporary interpretations of Hojjatieh Mahdism (see the Yid link above), will be variously illuminating, hilarious, and tiresome.

The dollar’s “eye in the pyramid” makes an early appearance, in a series of fleeting images set to a portentous sound track; the Magen David is compared – inevitably, perfunctorily – to the Masonic hexagram; a parade of photos depicts various Western leaders (including, in a touch of awe-inspiring artistry, Laura Bush) giving the fabled Freemasons’ hand signal. The warning is clear:  the Masons are coming!  Save all your data!  Shore up the sandbag berm!

Of course, if you’ve ever done more than a half hour’s worth of web research, you probably know that Ahmadinejad himself has been pronounced a Mason by inveterate Mason spotters.  We may take it that the clerics in Qom would disagree, however, since they clearly regard Masonry as inimical to Islam and the return of the Mahdi.

The Freemasonry theme serves to add hink to an already hinky thesis.  What next?  The Bavarian Illuminati will turn out to be involved?  They’ve been plotting against the Mahdi at that Bohemian Grove thing Bill Buckley Jr. used to attend?

2.  In this context, the video’s identification of figures in prophecy comes off as very Dan Brown meets the Shi’a Apocalypse.  You keep expecting the narrative to cut to an underground vault where Tom Hanks is being menaced by the anguished spirit of a long-dead ulama, as he wrestles to solve the daily crypto-quote from 21 July 874.

At any rate, the documentary finds matches in prophecy for three contemporary personalities, and you’ll be shocked to learn who they are. Two heroic characters, “Seyed Khorasani” and “Yamani,” turn out to be, respectively, Ayatollah Khamenei and the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah.  The third character gets the most documentary attention. “Shoeib” will be appointed by Khorasani as the commander in chief of the Mahdi’s army, and after doing a lot of army stuff will conquer Jerusalem and then hand things over to the Mahdi. I know you’ll be in a terrible puzzle trying to imagine which contemporary Iranian Shi’a this person might be.

3.  I don’t mean to make light of these fevered divinations, but I think it’s important to recognize the banal conspiratorialism that hovers over them, alongside the need to understand that Khamenei and Ahmadinejad actually believe them. Hannah Arendt spoke of the “banality of evil”; we might also speak of the monotony of evil.  Masonic conspiracies?  Detection of prophetic codes?  The eye in the pyramid?  Get some new material, folks.

This is important because it’s a reminder that the motivating ideas of Iran’s Most Xtreme Mahdists are not mighty, mystic, and terrible, they are shallow, derivative, and vulnerable.  To depict the evil of the West, this documentary employs some of the West’s own most hackneyed symbols.  It offers no proprietary, theologically based forensic inspection of the West.  There’s no “there” there; the jaded American viewer figures the only thing missing is the obligatory reference to Blackwater, Halliburton, and Dick Cheney as the henchmen of Beelzebub.

Pushback would do these eschaton-immanentizers a world of good – not, of course, in the theological realm, but in the geopolitical realm.  The “Mahdi” is God’s problem, but the vision in Ahmadinejad’s mind of being the Mahdi’s military commander can be undermined by humans in multiple pragmatic ways.  Ahmadinejad conceives of himself in this flattering light, and conceives of the time as ripe for his glorification, not because America and the West look like a towering evil but because we look weak and stupid.  History affords no examples of a self-fulfilling prophet’s courage and effectiveness increasing when he is confronted decisively with his limits and another’s power.  It’s the lack of confrontation that enables him.

Sane and pedestrian political leaders can rarely bring themselves to mount such confrontations when they might still avert the widening of conflict, and those of our generation fit that pattern.  But the problem is precisely that they haven’t done this.  And that problem is one we can address.

UPDATE (28 March):  The video linked by Yid with Lid was unfortunately deleted by the host site, a recurring problem with the subtitled copy of this video. However, Pajamas Media is now making it available here.  I have left the YwL link in place in the above text as the Yid’s comments are worth the visit.

UPDATE 2:  The video is now viewable once again at the Yid with Lid link.  Enjoy!

J.E. Dyer blogs at Hot Air’s Green Room and Commentary’s “contentions.”  She writes a weekly column for Patheos.


  1. Ridicule, derision and laughter are the cruelest blows to the Islamic terrorist’s ego. But they must be backed up with a willingness to use overwhelming force against those whose response to ridicule, will be violence. Follow up that overwhelming force with more ridicule and you start to make progress because shame and humiliation are corrosive acid to the Islamic radicalist’s soul.

    Terrorist Interview…with Subtitles eloquently makes the point.

    • Love that terrorist interview with subtitles, Geoffrey.

  2. After Leni Riefenstahl produced “The Triumph of the Will” for Hitler, Our War Department (I like that title so much better than “Department of Defense.”) hired Frank Capra, who would go on to direct “It’s a Wonderful Life,” to produce a seven-film series entitled, “Why We Fight.” The films countered Riefenstahl’s masterful presentation of Naziism as an unstoppable force, and instead presented them and their allies as evil that could, and must be conquored.

    The films were powerful and very un-PC. It’s a shame we can’t produce something similar today.

  3. Sounds sorta similar to the “Second Coming” stuff spouted by “Christian” fundamentalists. How come God only gives his instructions directly to the nutters (of all creeds) while the rest of us have to rely on our informed consciences?

    • Might have something to do with prayer…

      the ‘nutters’ distinguishing characteristic, from the rest who rely on ‘informed’ consciences, (informed by whom?) is that they pray, deeply. Might it be that to ‘connect’ with the divine, takes an effort to meet that divine presence at least half-way?

      Which in no way is meant to diminish how ‘nutty’ many of those nutters are…just that if one has a casual-to-non-existent relationship with the divine one can hardly expect a “road to Damascus” experience.

      Nor do I mean to minimize that we all filter whatever we experience through our own perceptions and beliefs, which if you’re a ‘nutter’, seems likely to twist and warp the message.

      prayer 1 (prâr)
      1. A reverent petition made to God, a god, or another object of worship.

    • Speaking as an agnostic, with I believe a fairly informed conscience, I have to say that I find the current societal experiment we are running, namely relying on informed consciences across the whole society rather than inculcating a written code of rules of conduct, interesting and fascinating.

      I hope I’m around long enough to get a good handle on how the experiment turns out.

      • Inculcating a written code of conduct is exactly what Madrassas and Yeshivas do. No thanks, mate. I prefer to take my chances with the good old messy imperfect social experiment that is our liberal democracy.

        • As I said, Paulite, I find the experiment interesting. Eventually our grandchildren will know whether the vast mass of us can be good without God in our liberal democracy.

  4. […] will have to win out over those competitors if she wants to have an Iranian-led army waiting for the Mahdi in Jerusalem.  She’s not just planning a long game against the US now; she’s jockeying against regional […]

  5. […] will have to win out over those competitors if she wants to have an Iranian-led army waiting for the Mahdi in Jerusalem.  She’s not just planning a long game against the US now; she’s jockeying against regional […]

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