A New World Order, III: Iran And Revolutionary Islam

Sep 17th, 2022 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

With the end of World War II in 1945 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, America emerged as the first and only global superpower.  America therefore championed the values of democracy, open markets, human rights and the rule of law—and it had the clout of both military and financial power to impose this moral code on terrorists and tyrants.  The result was a period of peace, prosperity and progress.  That world order championed by the US is breaking down.  What are the elements of the new world order now emerging?  Who are the primary players in this new order?  What will the future look like as the new order unfolds?  With this edition of Issues in Perspective, I complete with my three-part analysis of this emerging world order.  In the last two editions of Issues, we focused on Russia, under Vladimir Putin, and China, under Xi Jinping.  Now, we conclude this three-part series with a focus on Iran, the center of revolutionary, Shiite Islam.

The year 1979 was a decisive year, for revolutionary Islam burst on the world scene: Political Islam erupted onto global consciousness with the Iranian revolution that produced the Ayatollah Khomeini, “the rise of the mujahedeen after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Islamization program in Pakistan and the popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood across the Arab world.”  Robert Nicholson, President of the Philos Project, captures the distinctive assumptions and ideology of modern Islam:  “The political scientist Samuel Huntington was right:  Islamic societies belong to a distinctive civilization that resists the imposition of foreign values through power.  We may believe that argument or not, but trillions of dollars, tens of thousands of lives, and tow decades of warfare have not proved otherwise.”  Islam views the world through the grid of a unified Islamic world.  “Never mind that Muslims speak in such terms, or that local diversity between Indonesia and Morocco does not undermine the basic observance of umma.  The house of Islam has many rooms, but it stands on a few pillars:  The Quran is Allah’s final revelation, binding on all humanity; faith is a matter of private devotion as well as public law, best lived out in a state that blends religion and politics; and Muslims should, where possible, hold power over non-Muslims to ensure that Allah’s law is rightly enforced.  It is doctrines like these that cause the Taliban, al Qaeda, and Hamas to fight the ‘Jews and Crusaders’ who tread on land that historically belonged to Islam.  But their commitments are far from radical; most Muslims see them as normative even if they fail to act on them.”  Fundamentally, the West can neither change nor ignore the Islamic world.

Where does Iran fit into all this?  Of all the Islamic nations in the world, why is Iran so vehement in its hatred of America?  Why is Iran such a crucial pillar in the emerging new world order?  Reuel Marc Gerecht of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations argue that the mood in Iran is triumphal.  “The Islamic Republic has survived severe sanctions, widespread and violent anti-regime demonstrations, the targeted killing of its officials and scientists, nuclear sabotage, a costly war in Syria, anti-Iranian unrest in Iraq, and a grossly mismanaged pandemic that broke the country’s healthcare system.”  In Iran, the office of the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, has fully subsumed the presidency.  The theocracy in Iran has shed any pretense of internal debate—a centuries-old tradition within the religious schools—in “favor of a modern Middle Eastern dictatorship inextricably wedded to an increasingly Islamist creed . . . The war in Ukraine has paradoxically reinforced the Islamic Republic’s paranoia.  Iran’s diplomats ritualistically support Russia while calling for a cease-fire.  Yet in the hardline Iranian echo chamber, the war is another indication of the cost of trusting America.  In this conspiracy theory, Washington deliberately made Ukraine believe that it could be part of the West, dangling before it membership in NATO.  That US ruse was meant to provoke a Russian invasion.  Ukraine is simply another American plot to weaken Russia and galvanize Europe against Mr. Putin.”

As with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping, Khamenei views America as a nation in decline and consistently mocks the US as a former Middle Eastern power.   Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace argues that under Khamenei’s leadership, “anti-Americanism has become central to Iran’s revolutionary identity, and indeed few nations have spent a greater percentage of their finite political and financial capital to try to topple the US-led word order than Iran.  On virtually every contemporary American national security concern—including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Chinese threats to Taiwan, nuclear proliferation and cyberwarfare—Tehran defines its own interests in opposition to the United States . . . Iran’s successful entrenchment of powerful proxies in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, coupled with America’s humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan, have further convinced the country of its own success as well as America’s inevitable decline.”  The paradox of US sanctions is that they may actually strengthen, not weaken, the regime’s grip on power.  Sadjadpour contends that “the goal of Mr. Khamenei and his revolutionary cohort—the remaining true believers—is to avoid a normal Iran and normalization with the United States, which would deprive the Islamic Republic of the external adversary that has helped maintain the cohesion of the security forces . . . His priority has never been Iran’s national interest; its to keep his regime united and the international community divided.”

Iran is, therefore, doubling down on religion, repression and revolution.  It is not easing up in any area.  This is quite evident in its relentless pursuit of nuclear power.  Indeed, Ehud Barak, writing in Time magazine argues that “this summer Iran will turn into a de facto ‘threshold nuclear’ state—one with enough highly enriched uranium for one nuclear device and the technology to make it a weapon.  The Iranians still need 18 to 24 months to polish their skills treating metal uranium and packing it into a missile warhead.  But these steps can be executed in a small lab or workshop and cannot be easily followed, never mind stopped.”  When the US under President Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement to halt Iran’s nuclear program, the Iranian mullahs were some 17 months away from threshold status; today they could be as little as 17 days away.  “For Iran, nuclear capability is actually about the survivability of the regime.  It assures that no one will dare to intervene on a wide scale in Iran, no matter how vulnerable the regime appears.  Nuclear capability will also balance its positioning vis-à-vis Israel and give the Iranians more freedom to sow conflicts and disorder all over the region.  Once Iran goes nuclear, Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia will all feel compelled to go nuclear as well.  As Bret Stephens correctly concludes, “the 42-year old crisis with Iran is about to get worse.”

Due to the loss of US influence in the Middle East, the US is no longer feared; indeed, it is increasingly perceived as irrelevant.  This new reality in the Middle East has caused me to think biblically about this region.  The prophetic Scriptures in Daniel chapters 9 and 11-12 and in Revelation 12-14 speak of powers to the north and to the immediate east of Israel.  [“Gog and Magog” may refer to these geographic areas.]  A resurgent Russia under Putin and a resurgent Persia under Iran fit this description perfectly.  Furthermore, as one studies prophetic Scripture, one struggles to find any reliable section that even remotely refers to the Western Hemisphere, specifically to North America.  The world order put together by the United States after World War II is coming apart.  Who is filling that vacuum created by US withdrawal?  In the East it is clearly China.  In the Middle East it is clearly Russia and Iran.  Since 1945, the US has been the arbiter of a “rules-based” world order, and the war in Ukraine has caused the US to once again assume leadership in countering the brutality of Russia.  Europe, for example, is more united than it has been since the dangerous days of the Cold War in the early 1950s; and the US has helped foster that unity.  Will it last?  We shall see.

The new world order that is emerging centers on Russia, China and Iran challenging the world order organized by the US.  It is also a challenge that focuses on democracy versus authoritarian dictatorship.  Putin, Xi and Khamenei argue that democracy does not work.  People, they argue, are willing to surrender their rights in exchange of order and stability.  If the US in years to come chooses a policy of isolationism and protectionism, the forces of authoritarianism will succeed to a degree.  The US is the only nation that serves as a buffer against the forces of evil represented by Russia, China and Iran.  In many ways, the US is facing unchartered waters.  As Christians, we must engage in fervent prayer for our leaders, regardless of the political party they represent.  1 Timothy 2:1-6 become critically important verses for the Christian in 2022.  May we be people who pray diligently and not people who only criticize, grumble and complain.  We are ambassadors of our king, the Lord Jesus.  May we represent Him well in this challenging and difficult unraveling of the old world order and the emergence of the new.

See David Brooks in the New York Times (28 August 2021); Robert Nicholson in the Wall Street Journal (13 May 2022); Reuel Marc Gerecht and Ray Takeyh in the Wall Street Journal (14 May 2022); Ehud Barak in Time (29 July 2022), pp. 31-32; Bret Stephens in the New York Times (22 June 2021); Karim Sadjadpour in the New York Times (14 August 2022).

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