Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Flights of Fantasy: The Orientalist Imagination Gone Wild

Pat Robertson, who agreed publicly and wholeheartedly with fellow evangelical leader Jerry Falwell that the blame for the 9/11 attacks was on the shoulders of "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians", was in Jerusalem today, where he and Olmert joined hands in prayer for "victory".

Robertson, who represents right-wing christians who support the state of Israel based on Biblical end-times scenarios, must be in seventh heaven just about now.

But instead of commenting on the real and avowed connections between believers in such messianic visions and the U.S.'s self-destructive support for Israel, U.S. commentators would rather spend their time employing a kind of numerology in an attempt to figure out those rascally "muuuslims" (also known sometimes as the "suuuni" and the "shee-eyets").

Take for example, this jaw-dropping analysis by orientalist dinosaur Bernard Lewis, who claims that Iran's promise to respond to the nuclear issue by August 22nd is due to this "fact":

"This year, Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to "the farthest mosque," usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (c.f., Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world."

As former Persian Chronicles blogger Alireza pointed out in an email discussion of this ridiculous claim, anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of the Persian calendar system would not have made such a silly calculation: Ahmadinejad did not say that he would respond by August 22nd or by the 27th of Rajab; He said the response would be given by the end of the month of Mordad. The last day of Mordad is the 31st, which happens to correspond with August 22nd and the 27th of Rajab. You see how that works?

And in any case, Alireza went on to point out, the 27th of Rajab is the day that Mohammad was designated as the prophet. So even if Ahmadinejhad had honed in on the specific date of 27 Rajab, which he did not, Lewis is wrong in identifying that date as the night of the prophet Mohammad's flight to Jerusalem, and there goes his reading of a symbolic connection between the date, israel, and the end of the world.

I still haven't fully recovered from my fury to write a letter to mr. Lewis C/O the Wall Street Journal, but if you are more cool-headed than I am, please take a moment to draft a quick response.