By Amir Taheri*
The question has made the rounds in Iran since last month, when a pro-government Web site published a Hadith (or tradition) from a Shiite text of the 17th century. The tradition comes from Bahar al-Anvar (meaning Oceans of Light) by Mullah Majlisi, a magnum opus in 132 volumes and the basis of modern Shiite Islam.
According to the tradition, Imam Ali Ibn Abi-Talib (the prophet’s cousin and son-in-law) prophesied that at the End of Times and just before the return of the Mahdi, the Ultimate Saviour, a “tall black man will assume the reins of government in the West.” Commanding “the strongest army on earth,” the new ruler in the West will carry “a clear sign” from the third imam, whose name was Hussein Ibn Ali. The tradition concludes: “Shiites should have no doubt that he is with us.”
In a curious coincidence Obama’s first and second names – Barack Hussein – mean “the blessing of Hussein” in Arabic and Persian. His family name, Obama, written in the Persian alphabet, reads O Ba Ma, which means “he is with us,” the magic formula in Majlisi’s tradition.
Mystical reasons aside, the Khomeinist establishment sees Obama’s rise as another sign of the West’s decline and the triumph of Islam. Obama’s promise to seek unconditional talks with the Islamic Republic is cited as a sign that the U.S. is ready to admit defeat. Obama’s position could mean abandoning three resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council setting conditions that Iran should meet to avoid sanctions. Seeking unconditional talks with the Khomeinists also means an admission of moral equivalence between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic. It would imply an end to the description by the U.S. of the regime as a “systematic violator of human rights.”
Obama has abandoned claims by all U.S. administrations in the past 30 years that Iran is “a state sponsor of terrorism.” Instead, he uses the term “violent groups” to describe Iran-financed outfits such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Obama has also promised to attend a summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference within the first 100 days of his presidency. Such a move would please the mullahs, who have always demanded that Islam be treated differently, and that Muslim nations act as a bloc in dealings with Infidel nations.
Obama’s election would boost President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s chances of winning a second term next June. Ahmadinejad’s entourage claim that his “steadfastness in resisting the American Great Satan” was a factor in helping Obama defeat “hardliners” such as Hillary Clinton and, later, it hopes, John McCain.
“President Ahmadinejad has taught Americans a lesson,” says Hassan Abbasi, a “strategic adviser” to the Iranian president. “This is why they are now choosing someone who understands Iran’s power.” The Iranian leader’s entourage also point out that Obama copied his campaign slogan “Yes, We Can” from Ahmadinejad’s “We Can,” used four years ago.
A number of Khomeinist officials have indicated their preference for Obama over McCain, who is regarded as an “enemy of Islam.” A Foreign Ministry spokesman says Iran does not wish to dictate the choice of the Americans but finds Obama “a better choice for everyone.” Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Islamic Majlis, Iran’s ersatz parliament, has gone further by saying the Islamic Republic “prefers to see Barack Obama in the White House” next year.
Tehran’s penchant for Obama, reflected in the official media, increased when the Illinois senator chose Joseph Biden as his vice-presidential running mate. Biden was an early supporter of the Khomeinist revolution in 1978-1979 and, for the past 30 years, has been a consistent advocate of recognizing the Islamic Republic as a regional power. He has close ties with Khomeinist lobbyists in the U.S. and has always voted against sanctions on Iran.
Ahmadinejad has described the U.S. as a “sunset” (ofuli) power as opposed to Islam, which he says is a “sunrise” (toluee) power. Last summer, he inaugurated an international conference called World Without America–attended by anti-Americans from all over the world, including the U.S.
Seen from Tehran, Obama’s election would demoralize the U.S. armed forces by casting doubt on their victories in Iraq and Afghanistan, if not actually transforming them into defeat. American retreat from the Middle East under Obama would enable the Islamic Republic to pursue hegemony of the region. Tehran is especially interested in dominating Iraq, thus consolidating a new position that extends its power to the Mediterranean through Syria and Lebanon.
During the World Without America conference, several speakers speculated that Obama would show “understanding of Muslim grievances” with regard to Palestine. Ahmadinejad hopes to persuade a future President Obama to adopt the “Iranian solution for Palestine,” which aims at creating a single state in which Jews would quickly become a minority.
Judging by anecdotal evidence and the buzz among Iranian bloggers, while the ruling Khomeinists favor Obama, the mass of Iranians regard (and dislike) the Democrat candidate as an appeaser of the mullahs. Iran, along with Israel, is the only country in the Middle East where the United States remains popular. An Obama presidency, perceived as friendly to the oppressive regime in Tehran, may change that.
* Amir Taheri is journalist and iranian writer. His new book The Persian Night: Iran Under the Khomeinist Revolution will be published by Encounter Books in November.