Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction

If students lose interest in my lessons, I’ll catch the brightest ones surreptitiously reading fantasy novels about good and evil and wizards under their desks. Last week they learned that what’s happening in Iran is fully as fantastic as anything in their novels. On the blackboard, I wrote “Twelfth Imam”; “Ahmadinejad” and “well.” Then I told them to take out their laptops (which are equipped with wireless internet), google those terms, and find connections.

In prior weeks we discussed Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s statements claiming “Israel should be wiped off the map,” that the “Holocaust never happened,” and that Israel could be relocated to Alaska or eastern Europe somewhere. They were amazed that a leader of a country could possibly deny the Holocaust. “Hasn’t he seen the pictures?” they asked. I responded by shrugging my shoulders and sticking out my lower lip. “That’s ridiculous. Is he crazy?” they asked. Again, I shrugged. I knew what they would find in their search and it only took a few minutes before one raised his hand and said, “Ahmadinejad believes the Twelfth Imam will come out of a well at the end of the world.”

“The Twelfth Imam is also called the Mahdi,” said another, after struggling with the pronunciation a bit. “His name is Mohammed Ibn Hassad, and he’s a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed.”

“Anything else?” I asked.

“He went into occlusion in the 9th century” said still another student, after struggling to pronounce occlusion. “He went into a cave. Allah kept him alive and now he’s down in the well, waiting to come out.”

“He’s been waiting for over a thousand years?” I asked.

“That’s what it says.”

“It says here that Jesus will be with him when he comes out,” said another. “The Twelfth Imam will come out of the well when there’s chaos on earth. The ‘Twelvers,’ are people who believe the Twelfth Imam is coming. Twelvers think they can bring him out by making the chaos. Ahmadinejad is a ‘Twelver’ and so are some others in his government.”

“The Madhi will calm everything down after the chaos,” said a girl. “He’ll bring a thousand years of justice and peace.”

“Okay,” I said. “Supposing Ahmadinejad wanted to create enough chaos to bring the Mahdi out of the well, what might he do?”

“He could shoot a nuclear missile at Israel,” said the student.

“Israel has nuclear missiles too,” I said. “Several of them. If Iran and Israel exchanged missiles, would that bring chaos?”

“Gosh, I think so,” he said. Others nodded solemnly. Some bit their lips as they considered the implications.

One girl was waving her hand enthusiastically and looking at her screen. I called her name and she said, “Ahmadinejad talked about the 12th imam in a speech to the UN last November. I have some of it right here. Should I read it?”

“How long is it?”

“Two paragraphs.” I nodded and she started reading:

“ ‘Dear Friends and Colleagues,
‘From the beginning of time, humanity has longed for the day when justice, peace, equality and compassion envelop the world. All of us can contribute to the establishment of such a world. When that day comes, the ultimate promise of all Divine religions will be fulfilled with the emergence of a perfect human being who is heir to all prophets and pious men. He will lead the world to justice and absolute peace.

‘O mighty Lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the promised one, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace.’ ”

“Thank you,” I said. “Ahmadinejad didn’t mention the Twelfth Imam by name though. You think that’s who he was referring to?”

“It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?” said the girl.

“Assuming you’re right,” I said, “Can the United States reason with someone who thinks the way Ahmadinejad does?”

She shook her head. “No way. He’s crazy.”

“What if the United Nations started a trade embargo?” I suggested. “Might that prevent him from building a nuclear weapon and shooting it at Israel?”

“I doubt it,” said a boy. Others shook their heads.

“What should we do then?”

“Nothing,” said the boy. “Let Iran and Israel wipe each other out.”

I pulled down a wall map of Asia, took my pointer and said, “Iran is here. Right next to it is Afghanistan, here, where we have troops. On the other side of Iran is Iraq, here, where we also have troops, and Iraq is right between Israel and Iran. A lot of the world’s oil goes through the Strait of Hormuz, right here next to Iran. If nuclear missiles start hitting, it will be difficult for all that oil to get through. There would be severe shortages all around the world.”

“Maybe we should send someone in there and shoot him,” said a boy.

“Maybe the Mahdi will come out of the well and fill the world with justice and peace,” I said.

“Yeah, right.”

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