Program Note: Tune in tonight to hear from Reza Aslan on AC360° at 10p.m. ET.
The Daily Beast
Iran’s presumptive president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, heads to New York today to once again address the United Nations General Assembly. And once again, he has prefaced his address to the world body with yet another jibe at Holocaust history.
Last Friday, during Iran’s annual Jerusalem Day festivities—an occasion for Iranians to show solidarity with Palestinians—Ahmadinejad told an assembled crowd at the University of Tehran that “the pretext for establishing the Zionist regime is a lie ... a lie which relies on an unreliable claim.”
“The occupation of Palestine has nothing to do with the Holocaust,” Ahmadinejad continued. “The very existence of this regime is an insult to the dignity of the people, but it won't last long. The Israeli regime’s days are numbered and it is on its way to collapse. This regime is dying. Fighting it is a national and religious duty. The West has launched the myth of the Holocaust but it’s a lie.”
Right on cue, the U.S. media went into hysterics—“Ahmadinejad Denies Holocaust… Again!” was the headline at The Daily Beast—just as Ahmadinejad hoped they would.
Program Note: To hear Reza Aslan's take on the latest developments in Iran, tune in to AC360° tonight 10 P.M. ET. In his piece from earlier this week, Aslan discusses the country's response to its recent, highly contentious presidential election results.
The Daily Beast
So let’s get this straight. We are supposed to believe that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was reelected in Iran’s presidential election last week by a 2 to 1 margin against his reformist rival Mir Hossein Mousavi. That this deeply unpopular president, whose gross mismanagement of the state budget is widely blamed for Iran’s economy hovering on the edge of total collapse, received approximately the same percentage of votes as Mohammad Khatami, by far Iran’s most popular past president, received in both 1997 and 2001? That Mousavi, whom all independent polls predicted would at the very least take Ahmadinejad into a runoff election, lost not only his main base of support, Tehran, but also his own hometown of Khameneh in East Azerbaijan (which, as any Azeri will tell you, never votes for anyone but its own native sons)…and by a landslide. That we should all take the word of the Interior Ministry, led by a man put in his position by Ahmadinejad himself, a man who called the election for the incumbent before the polls were even officially closed, that the election was a fair representation of the will of the Iranian people.
Such bald-faced election fraud is a totally new phenomenon in Iran, which takes its election process very seriously. This is, after all, the only expression of popular sovereignty that Iranians enjoy. Over and over again, the electorate has defied the will of the clerical regime when it comes to choosing the country’s president: in 1997 and 2001, when 70% of the population rejected the establishment candidate, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, in favor of a completely unknown cleric, Khatami, whose greatest political contribution was as head of Iran’s National Library; and again in 2005 when Iranians rejected Hashemi Rafsanjani—the billionaire former president and the quintessential establishment candidate—to vote instead for a little-known mayor of Tehran named Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who until that time had never run for any political office (Ahmadinejad was appointed mayor of Tehran after his predecessor was charged with corruption).
Editor's note: This is an excerpt from Reza Aslan's new book "How to Win a Cosmic War" published by Random House and in bookstores today. See Reza on AC360 at 10 pm ET tonight!
The problem with the ideological War on Terror is that “terrorist” is a wastebasket term that often conveys as much about the person using it as it does about the person being described. It can hardly be argued, anyway, that this was a war against terrorism per se. If it were, it would have included the Basque separatists in Spain, the Christian insurgency in East Timor, the Hindu/Marxist Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, the Maoist rebels in eastern India, the Jewish Kach and Kahane underground in Israel, the Irish Republican Army, the Sikh separatists in the Punjab, the Marxist Mujahadin-e Khalq, the Kurdish PKK, and so on.
Rather, this was a war against a particular brand of terrorism: that employed exclusively by Islamic entities, which is why the enemy in this ideological conflict was gradually and systematically expanded to include not just the persons who attacked America on September 11, 2001, and the organizations that supported them, but also an ever-widening conspiracy of disparate groups such as Hamas in Palestine, Hizballah in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the clerical regime in Iran, the Sunni insurgency in Iraq, the Chenchen rebels, the Kashmiri militants, the Taliban, and any other organization that declared itself Muslim and employed terrorism as a tactic. According to the master narrative of the War on Terror, these were a monolithic enemy with a common agenda and a shared ideology. Never mind that many of these groups consider one another a graver threat than they consider America to be, that they have vastly different and sometimes irreconcilable political yearnings and religious beliefs, and that, until the War on Terror, many had never thought of the United States as an enemy in any war. Give this imaginary monolith a made-up name – say, “Islamofacism” – and an eerily recognizable enemy is created, one that exists not so much as a force to be defeated as an idea to be opposed, one whose chief attribute appears to be that they are not us.
By lumping the disparate forces, movements, armies, ideas, and grievances in the greater Muslim world into a single category (“enemy”), assigning them a single identity (war), the United States manufactured what the counterterrorism expert David Kilcullen termed “an undifferentiated enemy.” And as Sun Tzu said so long ago, if you do not know who the enemy is, you cannot win the war.
Editor's note: Watch Nic Robertson's report from the Israeli/Gaza border tonight at 10p.
The Daily Beast
Would the war in Gaza still be happening if we'd listened to George Bush? The Daily Beast's Reza Aslan on why Bush has every right to say "I told you so" when it comes to the Middle East.
The devastating war in Gaza between Hamas militants and the mighty Israeli army has once again raised a chorus of criticism about the foolishness of George W. Bush’s democracy agenda in the Middle East. “Another pillar in his crusade to spread democracy” is how Margaret Carlson, writing for Bloomberg, describes the rise of Hamas. But the truth is that whatever violence or instability may have resulted from the push to promote democracy in the Middle East, the solution to lasting peace, prosperity, and sociopolitical reform throughout the region, and especially in Palestine, is more democracy, not less.
It was four years ago that a bumptious George W. Bush, fresh from his stunning re-election, took the podium on a cold January morning in Washington, D.C., and laid out an audacious—some would say foolhardy—vision for his second term as president.
We are devoting many posts today to the anniversary of 9/11, with first-hand accounts, insight, and commentary dedicated to that day seven years ago that changed our world.
Reza Aslan | BIO
Author, “No god but God”Perhaps the most significant change to have occurred over the last seven years of fighting the War on Terror is that we are no longer battling a terrorist organization called al Qaeda. We are now fighting a global social movement called al Qaeda.
The truth is al Qaeda was never the coherent, global entity it is so often imagined to be – an organization with an easily identifiable leadership structure and a systematic ideology. That al Qaeda existed only in the imaginations of those of us desperate for the days when America’s enemies were nations that could be assuredly defined and armies that could be conventionally overcome. It is no wonder that word al Qaeda continues to be rendered into English as “the base.” A base implies something concrete and conquerable, something that can be defended or assailed.
But the word al Qaeda also means “the rules” or “the fundamentals,” and is used by Arabs most often to refer to the basic teachings or creed of Islam. In that light, it may be somewhat appropriate to consider al Qaeda an Islamic form of fundamentalism, in so far as that word implies puritanical adherence to the elemental doctrines of a religion. But it is imprecise, and even dangerous, to consider al Qaeda the operational seat of global Islamic extremism.
Iran is making headlines after test-firing missiles... Last night on AC360° we sat down with CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen and Middle East Analyst Reza Aslan to explore the larger implications, and give context to what's happening in the region. Here are their observations and insight:
On attacking Iran:
Former Presidential Adviser
CNN Senior Political Analyst
"The big question tonight is whether, in fact, the United States and/or Israel will attack Iran while George W. Bush is still president in the next six months, before a new president comes in? That's what's rattling the oil markets and why, whenever the saber-rattling comes up, whether it's testing by the Israelis, military maneuvers by the Israelis, military maneuvers by the united states, or now today by Iran, whatever that happens, oil prices shoot upward. And it has put pressure on the candidates. What would you do?... there is a sharp difference here between Barack Obama, who would put much more emphasis on diplomacy, on more carrots, if you would, as well as sticks, versus john McCain, who would have fewer carrots and more sticks."
Author, “No god but God”
The media spotlight on Pope Benedict’s first trip to the United States seems to have completely overshadowed the American tour of another global religious leader, the Aga Khan.
The Aga Khan is the spiritual leader of some 20 million Ismaili Muslims. The Ismailis are Shiah who broke off from the main Shiite branch of Islam, known as the Ithna Ashari, or Twelvers, in the middle of the 8th century. Ismailis live primarily in South Asia, while some 300 million Twelver Shia live mostly in Iran, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East.
The Aga Khan - the title means something like “the Noble Lord” - is believed to be a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. As such, his position among followers is absolute. He has sole authority to interpret the Quran and Islamic law, and his word on both subjects is infallible. But this Aga Khan, the 49th imam in a line that stretches back 13 centuries, is unlike any other spiritual leader.
He is a graduate of Harvard University. His personal worth is estimated to be in the billions. He jaunts around the globe in private jets and yachts. His father, the previous Aga Khan, was once married to Rita Hayworth. In his fitted suits and silk ties, he looks more like a well-aged movie star than a spiritual leader.
But don’t let the clothes and the fabulous riches fool you. The Aga Khan is not only a devout and transcendent man of deep religious faith, he is also one of the most generous philanthropists in the world.
As the three remaining presidential candidates begin staking out their positions on important foreign policy issues facing the country, each will have to explain how they plan to deal with an increasingly powerful, increasing belligerent Iran.
It is no exaggeration to say that America's relations with the Islamic Republic hinges on who will be the next president and commander in chief.
Iran is having an election, too. But unlike the primary season in the United States, Iranians do not support the ballot choices offered to them by the regime of the Islamic Republic.
A new nationwide public opinion survey of Iran conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow and D3 Systems shows widespread disillusionment with the candidates running in the Parliamentary elections on March 14. When asked which candidates they plan on supporting – whether Reformists or Conservatives – a third of Iranians replied "neither," while a quarter said they do not know.
For some time now a trio of self-proclaimed ex-terrorists has been making the rounds of the lecture circuit, charging thousands of dollars for their fantastical tales of life as murderous Muslim extremists.
Walid Shoebat, Kamal Saleem – both US citizens – and Zacharia Anani, a Canadian national, all claim to have been members of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Anani claims personal responsibility for the deaths of over two hundred people. Shoebat says he was part of a terrorist cell inside the United States.
Their most recent appearance was at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, which hosted the three at its 50th Annual Academy Assembly on the topic, "Dismantling Terrorism: Developing Actionable Solutions for Today's Plague of Violence."
Shoebat, Saleem, and Anani were asked to speak about their personal experiences as Islamic terrorists, to provide the next generation of US soldiers with an inside account of radical terrorism.
The selection by the Air Force Academy of these speakers was criticized by both the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Why? Because it turns out these guys are not ex-terrorists at all but—wait for it—fundamentalist Christians posing as ex-terrorists. Their fervently anti-Islamic message, in which all Muslims are labeled as radicals, is a prelude to a testimony about how accepting Jesus into their hearts and becoming born again saved them from a life of terrorism.