His Struggle

Hillel Fradkin’s essay on the letter from Iranian President Ahmadinejad to President Bush is the cover story of the new issue of the Weekly Standard: “Reading Ahmadinejad in Washington.” Fradkin’s essay is by far the best thing I have read on Ahmadinejad’s letter; for the most part, it does not directly address the clueleness of previous commentary on the letter, but it demonstrates it. Fradkin writes:

Neither the Bush administration nor its many critics appear to appreciate the significance, ideological and practical, of the letter. Nor do they appear to appreciate the remarkable boldness of Ahmadinejad personally. For the formal characteristics of the letter as well as its substance have ancient and modern analogs–letters of Muhammad to the Byzantine, Persian, and Ethiopian emperors of his day warning them to accept Islam and his rule or suffer the consequences, and a letter from Khomeini to Mikhail Gorbachev along similar lines.

Thus, Ahmadinejad presents himself as the true heir of Muhammad and Khomeini and may even be suggesting that he is a founder himself. At the least, he presents himself as the spokesman and leader of Islam and the Muslim world in its entirety, transcending the Shiite/Sunni divide. Both this boldness and this claim are consistent with the whole series of pronouncements and actions Ahmadinejad has taken in the brief period since he was elected last summer. But the letter, in its form and substance, raises this to a new and much higher level of clarity and power as well as menace.

Fradkin’s essay comes on the heels of yesterday’s reports of Iran’s new dress code. The reports appear to emanate from Ami Taheri’s account in yesterday’s National Post, carried in today’s New York Post: “Iran okays Nazi social fabric.” Taheri’s description of the law’s separate dress codes for religious minorities has been denied by Iranian authorities, and the status of the dress code is uncertain. but Taher’s description of the rationale is of interest:

According to Ahmadinejad, the new Islamic uniforms will establish “visual equality” for Iranians as they prepare for the return of the Hidden Imam.

Taheri has previously discussed the relevance of Ahmadinejad’s belief in the Hidden Imam to Iran’s nuclear exploits. Iran’s leaders have not stinted in explaining their intentions and their actions. See, for example, Mark Steyn’s invaluable City Journal essay “Facing down Iran” and Mathias Kuntzel’s New Republic essay “Ahmadinejad’s demons.” It is long past time that we take the words and thoughts of Iran’s leaders as they have explained them to us seriously. In his City Journal essay, Steyn writes:

In the latest variation on Marx’s dictum, history repeats itself: first, the unreadable London literary novel; then, the Danish funny pages. But in the 17 years between the Rushdie fatwa and the cartoon jihad, what was supposedly a freakish one-off collision between Islam and the modern world has become routine. We now think it perfectly normal for Muslims to demand the tenets of their religion be applied to society at large…

He deduces five elements of Iranian foreign policy:

Anyone who spends half an hour looking at Iranian foreign policy over the last 27 years sees five things:

1. contempt for the most basic international conventions;
2. long-reach extraterritoriality;
3. effective promotion of radical Pan-Islamism;
4. a willingness to go the extra mile for Jew-killing (unlike, say, Osama);
5. an all-but-total synchronization between rhetoric and action.

Paul Starobin’s National Journal essay on Iran and deterrence downplays the religious component of Iranian action. Starobin accordingly finds it appropriate to juxtapose the thought of Bernard Lewis — the world’s foremost living scholar of Islam — with the thought of Michael Scheuer — a nut. Lewis thinks Iran would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons despite mutual assured destruction; Scheuer thinks otherwise. One of them knows what he’s talking about.

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