On June 25, 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president of Iran. He beat former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in a run-off election, winning a reported 60 percent of the vote.

Ahmadinejad’s election was a clear sign the ruling powers in Iran had decided to move in an ultra-conservative direction. The mullahs evidently had rejected the strategy of reform as a way to appease the widespread domestic dissatisfaction sweeping through Iranian society. The ruling clerics feared that a Gorbachev style perestroika would be seen a sign of weakness, a strategy the mullahs believed would backfire on them, just as it had backfired on the Russian communist rulers who were trying at the end of the 1980s to prevent the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Today the ultra-conservative mullahs that compose the minority ruling Iran are not prepared to tolerate internal dissent or civil disobedience. Instead, under Ahmadinejad, the regime intends to reinforce a strict Islamic moral code that would end Western-type freedoms such as free speech via the Internet. Even the mildest forms of “indecent behavior,” such as young lovers holding hands in public or women who do not properly cover their heads and faces with the traditional hejab when leaving the home, risk severe punishment.

In accepting the victory, Ahmadinejad gave a short but significant statement, emphasizing both his devotion to the late Ayatollah Khomeini and to the radical Islamic revolution Khomeini had led. “Iran has high capacities and can promulgate Islamic civilization worldwide,” he said, as he vowed to fulfill the ideals of Imam Khomeini as well as meet the demands of the Iranian people.

These words were carefully chosen. Ahmadinejad’s spiritual and moral roots are deeply embedded in the radical Islamic revolution brought forth upon Iran by Khomeini. His words affirmed his conviction that the Iranian revolution was destined to be a worldwide revolution.

In the extreme religious views held by Ahmadinejad, everything is fated by God such that no human intervention could change Iran’s destiny, not as long as Iran remained true to Khomeini’s 1979 revolution. Ultimately, Khomeini had prophesied that Shiite Islam would conquer the apostate Sunni version of Islam – all a prelude to Shiite Islam sweeping across the world.

Ahmadinejad’s mystical vision was that he was destined to be the divinely appointed agent who was charged by Allah to do what was necessary to occasion the Mahdi’s second coming. Before the Mahdi returned, there must be chaos, world apocalypse. These are extremely dangerous beliefs for a head of state to profess while pushing for nuclear weapons and professing that Israel needs to be wiped off the map.

Ahmadinejad’s chief spiritual adviser is Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, known as “the Crocodile” for his rugged facial features and his hard-line orthodox religious views. Ayatollah Yazdi has proclaimed that Ahmadinejad is the “chosen” of Imam Mahdi, the person designated to prepare the way for the Mahdi’s second coming.

Ayatollah Yazdi heads the Imam Khomeini Research and Learning Center in Qom, site of the Jamkaran well, down which the Twelfth Imam supposedly disappeared as a child centuries ago, in A.D. 941.

That Ahmadinejad may be moving world events toward some religious vision of an Islamic apocalypse, as preposterous as that idea appears to secular Western minds, needs to be taken seriously. When asked by the people of Iran what they can do to bring on the Mahdi’s return, Ahmadinejad’s simple admonition is “be pure and devout.”

In October 2005, Ahmadinejad placed the military firmly in control of Iran’s nuclear program. This decision strongly undermined Iran’s argument that the purpose of the country’s nuclear program is entirely peaceful. Increasingly, the evidence coming out of Iran suggests that leaders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are dominating the country’s Supreme National Security Council, Iran’s top foreign-policy group under the constitution.

President Ahmadinejad’s unassuming, almost humble presentation of himself should not deceive those who look below the surface. Underneath a self-defacing surface, Ahmadinejad is hard, serious and calculating.

With his acknowledged years of learning, Ayatollah Yazdi qualifies to be ranked an imam, a distinction even the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamanei does not share. Without Yazdi’s support, Khamanei would never have been selected supreme leader. Among the members of the Assembly of Experts, Yazdi would have to be considered a possible future supreme leader himself, something both Khamanei and Ahmadinejad undoubtedly keep in mind.

The mysticism surrounding the Mahdi, Ayatollah Yazdi and President Ahmadinejad are politically important considerations in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a theocracy in which politics and religion are intertwined.

If we fail to understand and appreciate these religious views, we will most certainly fail to understand the mystical politics currently driving Ahmadinejad and the direction he has set for the regime.

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