Spencer’s book begins, in a chapter appropriately called “The Ultimate Screwing,” with a summary of the JCPA and its dangerous appeasement of Iran. He explodes the mendacious claims of Obama such as “every pathway to a nuclear weapon” had been blocked and “we have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in the region.” Nor does he let John Kerry off the hook for his equally preposterous claims that “we are watching their centrifuge production with live television, taping the whole deal 24-7 for 20 years.” Subsequent revelations about the deal and Iran’s violations of its terms have shown that the Ayatollah Khamenei’s jubilant boast–– that the U.S. has been “forced to accept and stand the spinning of thousands of centrifuges and the continuation of research and development in Iran” –– is more accurate.
As Spencer reminds us, other terms of the deal represent dangerous concessions to the mullahs rather than ways to change their terroristic foreign policy and prevent them from acquiring the bomb. The deal expires in 15 years, with no mechanism to keep Iran from continuing research and development. Inspectors must give the mullahs up to 24 days’ notice before entering suspect sites. Iran doesn’t have to prove it’s living up to the deal, since sanctions have already been removed, a windfall worth as much as $700 billion from renewed trade deals like the $25 billion agreement just inked with Boeing. A secret side deal allows Iran to inspect its own sites of nuclear related work. And as we have already seen, there are no consequences for violating the terms of the deal, the much touted “snap-back sanctions” being nothing but a fantasy. As former Democratic Senator Joe Leiberman and U.N. Ambassador Mark D. Wallach reported last November, “Iran continues to act as a nuclear weapons outlaw.”
The bulk of the book is aimed at explaining through Iranian history and Shia doctrine the mullahs’ true motives that Obama and Kerry either don’t know or simply ignored in their search for a “legacy” diplomatic achievement. Particularly relevant is the history of the 1979 revolution that created the Islamic Republic of Iran. Just like today, those running our foreign policy back then completely missed or downplayed the religious nature of the overthrow of the Shah. Rather than an anti-colonial movement to establish national self-determination and consensual government, the revolution led by the Ayatollah Khomeini was a reaction against the liberalizing, secularizing, and modernizing program of the Shah and his father before him, who had ordered Iranians to wear Western clothes, allowed more mixing of the sexes, and encouraged women to stop wearing the hijab.
In 1962 the Shah angered the clerical class when he gave women the right to vote and allowed office-holders to take their oath of office on any scared book, not just the Koran. The next year he launched the White Revolution, which also allowed women to hold political office, and instituted land reforms. In the following years he introduced more reforms, such as changing the calendar to mark the years not from Mohammed’s emigration to Medina, but from the creation of the Persian Empire by Cyrus the Great. These changes reduced the influence of Islam and clerics on public life, a repudiation of sharia law. And traditional Muslims saw these reforms as reflections of the malign influence of the secular West, which Islamic theorist Jalal Al-e Ahmad dubbed “Westoxication,” a “disease that comes from without, fostered in an environment [the West] made for breeding diseases.”
As Spencer documents with copious quotations, the cure was a return to the purity of Shia Islam. The eventual leader of the revolution, the Ayatollah Khomeini, made the religious origins of the revolution clear: “What is happening is a calculated plot against Iranian independence and the Islamic nation, and it is threatening the foundation of Islam.” And he made explicit the need for a theocratic form of government based on the model of Mohammed, “who headed the executive and the administrative institutions of Muslim society” and “undertook the implementation of law and the establishment of the ordinances of Islam [Sharia law], thereby bringing into being the Islamic state.” Hence the current rule by clerics established by the revolution, and a government that believes democracy and human rights to be un-Islamic imports from the West.
The role of the U.S. as the “Great Satan” spearheading the Western assault on Islam and the Islamic Republic became established by an act of war–– the storming of the embassy in Tehran in November 1979 by the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s [Khomeini’s] Line. The Ayatollah called this egregious breach of international law the “second revolution” that would neutralize the West and keep it from interfering in the establishment of the theocracy, correctly judging that “our opponents do not dare act against us.” The taking of the hostages was the de facto declaration of war on the U.S, a war Iran has waged for 37 years and regularly celebrates in public chants of “Death to America.”
Moreover, the revolution was just the beginning of a global Islamic revival fueled by jihad. Contrary to Western jihad deniers, Khomeini made it clear that “Islam wants to conquer the whole world” and that Islam says “kill all the unbelievers” and “kill in the service of Allah” the infidels who allegedly want to kill Muslims. Iran began to fund and train numerous jihadist terror organizations still active today, most notoriously Hezbollah, which in 1983 murdered 241 American military personnel in Beirut and today threatens Israel with 150,000 rockets and missiles. As Khomeini’s successor the Ayatollah Khamenei said in 2011, “Wherever a movement is Islamic, populist, and anti-American, we support it.”
As Spencer shows, these strains of grievance over perceived wrongs, and the sense of entitlement to world domination are reinforced and legitimized by the Twelver Shiism followed in Iran. Shiism arose in the 7th century out of a struggle for leadership between Mohammed’s son-in-law Ali and the Prophet’s father-in-law Abu Bakr. Ali and his faction lost, and he eventually was murdered in 661; his son Hussain and Hussain’s infant son were likewise killed in 680. Shiism became a minority strain in the Muslim world, one characterized by a high value placed on martyrdom arising from Ali’s reported self-sacrifice for the sake of Muslim unity; and by a sense of inevitable defeat at the hands of heretics who unjustly stole the leadership of the Islamic world. But as Spencer writes, “Only with the coming of the Islamic Republic did a sense of victory arising from the ashes of defeat become combined with a new and lethal aggressiveness.”
Additionally, Iranian Shiism reveres the tradition of the Twelfth Imam, also known as the Mahdi, who disappeared as a child in the 10th century and according to prophecy currently is in hiding until a third of the world’s population is destroyed and Muslims suffer a great persecution. In the words of another prophecy attributed to Ali himself, a humble man would arise and “conquer the whole world. All would enter the fold of religion willingly or unwillingly. He would fill the earth with justice, equity and proof. No disbeliever will remain without accepting the faith.” And according to another Shiite tradition, “The Imam who will create a world state will make the ruling nations pay for their crimes.”
Western leaders have discounted these beliefs for decades, dismissing them as mere rhetoric used to express political and economic grievances. That’s why Obama in 2009 hoped that the regime would respond to the protests against a rigged presidential election “not with violence, but with a recognition that the universal principles of peaceful expression and democracy are ones that should be affirmed.” Like many Westerners before him, Obama has not paid attention to repeated rejections of democracy and human rights by Muslim religious leaders and Islamic theorists. More importantly, the president ignores the powerful hold these tenets and traditions of Shiism have on the Iranian ruling class. Khamenei continually refers to the Twelfth Imam and his historical role, and sees the Iranian Revolution as an important step toward the fulfillment of the venerable prophecies of his return.
Given these apocalyptic and triumphalist doctrines, Spencer argues, allowing the mullahs to acquire nuclear weapons is lunatic. Such weapons will help the believers to initiate the times of destruction and disorder that are prophesized to usher in the return of the Twelfth Imam and the global utopia he will create. Secularized Westerners who dismiss religion as a quaint lifestyle choice of course sneer at such superstitions. But however strange or fanciful to us Westerners, such beliefs nonetheless can be powerful motivators of destructive human behavior.
There are many other useful analyses in this important book, from Iranian genocidal antisemitism and daily life in an oppressive theocracy, to the history of Persia and the 2009 short-lived Green Revolution. Spencer ends his book with a list of common-sense prescriptions for dealing with Iran, most important of which are understanding accurately the origins and nature of the the mullahs’ religious beliefs, and responding forcefully to provocative behavior in order protect American prestige and power of deterrence. Every president from Carter to Obama has failed at these imperatives, thus emboldening the regime to even greater aggression, and now has brought it closer to the possession of nuclear weapons. For those who want to correct this sorry record, Robert Spencer’s informed, thoughtful, and clearly written book is the best place to start.