When 100 days had passed since Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel on October 7, 2023, Abu Ubaida (Hudhayfah Kahlout), the spokesman for Hamas’s military wing, spoke in a televised message about the reasons for the “Al-Aqsa Storm” operation. One of these reasons was forgotten among the many news reports and stories.

He said: “… as part of a despicable religious myth, they brought the Red Heifer; a myth designed against the sentiments of a nation that lies at the heart of its Arab identity, against the tradition of the Prophet and his Ascension to the heavens.”

About 100 days later, after the retaliatory attack by the Iranian state on Israel, which held the world’s breath in anticipation of another war, many in the international community took action through diplomacy, protest, or media activities to dissuade Israel from launching a widespread counterattack on Iranian soil.

However, a powerful group in U.S. foreign policy did something else, which was not much covered in the news reports: Dozens of Christian Zionists, led by John Hagee—a well-known evangelical preacher and founder of “Christians United for Israel,” the largest organization of Christian Zionism—went to the U.S. Congress building to persuade American officials not to take steps towards calming Israel and preventing it from attacking Iran. These individuals, who have watched the bombardment and destruction from the hills of Sderot during their pilgrimage trips every time the Israeli military attacked Gaza since the early 21st century, are advocates for war.

Why? The Red Heifer is also involved here.

In Numbers 19 of the Old Testament, God (Yahweh) speaks to Moses and Aaron, saying: “Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect, that has never been yoked.”

Then, as per the Old Covenant, a series of commands are listed which include sacrificing and burning the red heifer.

Zionist Christians, because of their belief in the prophetic biblical narratives about the end times—which include the red heifers mentioned by Abu Ubaida, anti-Messiah figures, Gog and Magog, blood rising to the level of a horse’s bridle, and many other elements of such theological superstitions—are eagerly anticipating a catastrophe in the Holy Land. They see these events as fulfilling the apocalyptic prophecies and setting the stage for the end times.

And they are also awaiting the appearance of the Antichrist, who will mark the final hour in battle with Christ: “it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18)

Although rooted in myth and imagination, these theological superstitions have real-world impacts, the most ominous of which is aiding the genocide currently unfolding in Gaza. Christian believers finance and spiritually support Israel’s genocidal actions. To put it more precisely: this is not merely theological superstition, but genocidal theology—a theology complicit in genocide.

They are not alone in their belief in the end times. In fact, three eschatological forces in Iran, Israel, and the United States envision the final battle ahead.

In Israel and the United States, some believe in the apocalyptic prophecy of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a deceased Jewish rabbi, who had predicted that Benjamin Netanyahu would become Prime Minister and would remain in office until the end times, when the Messiah would appear again. This belief, shared by some, fuels a particular vision of destiny and conflict, intertwining religious expectations with political events, further complicating the geopolitical dynamics in the region.

The neo-Kahanists, aligned with Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and originating from unauthorized settlements in the West Bank like Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, draw inspiration from the apocalyptic views of Meir Kahane, a deceased anti-communist rabbi. Kahane’s ideology was based on the notion of divine vengeance: a mystical unity exists between God and His chosen people, the Jews, and because of the historical persecution of the Jews, God has been historically exiled from His true existence until such time as divine retribution is exacted on the enemies of the Jews, restoring God to His rightful place.

Overall, various branches of religious Zionism in Israel, which gained influence after 1967, are awaiting the arrival of the Messiah, believing that the time is near.

Iran’s Islamic narrative

In Iran, eschatological beliefs intertwine with the concept of the Mahdi, and on the other hand, with the annihilation of Israel. The prophecies of the Islamic Republic emerge not only from the Quran but also from the utterances of its supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. These elements reflect how deeply interwoven religious narratives and political ambitions can be, influencing the geopolitical landscape of the region.

In the Quranic example, a cleric named Abdullah Hosseini (who was introduced as a professor at the University of Johannesburg) published a book a decade ago in 2013 called “1401, The Year of the Fall of Israel.” Using verses from the Quran and a ridiculed and weak form of numerology (ironically influenced by Jewish Kabbalah in its formation), he arrived at the year 1444 in the Islamic lunar calendar, which he claimed would be the year Israel would be destroyed (equivalent to 1401 SH in the solar calendar and 2022 AD). At that time, book unveilings were held for him in cities, and state media heavily promoted it, with praises from the deceased Ayatollah Abolghasem Khazali and other clerics.

Khamenei famously stated in a speech in 2015 that Israel would be destroyed within 25 years, after which the regime’s interpretation apparatus set out to establish a Quranic basis for this prophecy. Prior to him, other clerics had referred to verses 4 to 8 of Surah Al-Isra to argue for the prophecy of Israel’s destruction. But what makes this year particularly interesting for these eschatologists in Iran is this narrative: “In 2018, it was reported from Hassan Nasrallah that the leader of the revolution had predicted 12 years earlier that Israel would be destroyed within a maximum of 18 years. Simple calculations show that according to this, the destruction of the occupying regime would be in the year 1403.”

These apocalyptic narratives reference each other and reinforce each other. They contribute to the perpetuation of genocide in Gaza and apartheid against Palestinians, the continuation of a theocratic, centralized, and misogynistic dictatorship in the Islamic Republic, and the continued accumulation of wealth by American televangelist pastors and the growth of the “alt-right” influence in that country, as well as the flow of financial aid to Israel.

The narratives about the apocalypse prophecy differ between Zionist Christians, Orthodox Jews, and extreme religious Zionists. However, several elements in these prophecies are the same.

For the apocalypse and the second coming of the Messiah (for Zionist Christians), and also the appearance of the Jewish Messiah, several conditions must be met:

  • First, Jews must once again gather in Israel and rebuild the nation of Israel;
  • Second, Jerusalem must be a Jewish city;
  • Third, the third Jewish temple must be built, and they must control their temple.

When the state of Israel was established in 1948, Zionist Christians saw it as one of the signs of the apocalypse, fulfilling the first condition. When Israelis occupied Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, the next sign was fulfilled, and they believed that only the last sign, the construction of the third Jewish temple, was left.

Meanwhile, two groups are actively striving for the second coming of the Messiah and the fulfillment of the apocalypse prophecies (Zionist Christians and religious Zionists, known as apocalyptic Christians and Jews), and a third group, Orthodox Jews, believe that humans should not “force the end” and condemn this action—essentially the establishment of the state of Israel and the Zionist project.

Maurice Blanchot, the French philosopher and writer, warns us: “The disaster lies not in the event itself, but in the inability to confront and process it effectively.” This reflection is particularly pertinent as we consider the effects of apocalyptic narratives, which, regardless of their veracity, have profound emotional and political impacts on their adherents—both allies and adversaries.

The Red Heifer, Gog and Magog, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet—all might appear absurd to the so-called “modern” and rational mind. Yet, now they form elements of prophecy supported by the financial and political backing of believers and profiteers, imposing themselves as realities in the Middle East. If Donald Trump, supported by the votes of American Christian Zionists, finds his way back to the White House, these narratives will likely be further imposed. However, it must be reiterated that these currents are only part of the whole story and do not explain the history of colonialism, Western imperialism, and other broader historical forces.

Meanwhile, the right-wing and monarchist opposition in the U.S., which advocates for “limited strikes on nuclear facilities and the IRGC” in Iran, maintains strong ties with Christian Zionists (refer to a sponsored report by a Christian Zionist media about the Pahlavi). Yet, in the eschatological narrative, there is no place for restoring a fantasy monarchy; their ultimate aim is merely to drag Iran and Israel into war.

The current outcome of this prophecy, which is the facilitation and support of Israel’s genocide against Palestinians in Gaza and its apartheid across the occupied territories, is sufficiently disastrous. But we must also take seriously the warning of Maurice Blanchot, the French philosopher and writer: “We were naive to think that the horror had limits.”

By portraying political actions as religiously mandated, a regime can exploit religious sentiments to legitimize its rule and suppress dissent. This creates a scenario where religion veils the political and economic motives of the state, aligning with Marx’s view of religion as a tool that obscures the real conditions of society and pacifies the populace, thus maintaining the dominance of the ruling elite.

History of religion is littered with examples where religious fervor has been manipulated to fuel violence and genocide. This critical use of religion typically involves framing conflicts in terms of cosmic battles or divine mandates, which can validate extreme actions and suppress moral objections among believers.

One of the most critical aspects of how religion can fuel genocide is its ability to frame violence as a divine command. Religious leaders can proclaim that their actions are sanctioned by a higher power, casting their enemies as “evil” or “other,” and therefore not worthy of sympathy or human rights. This dehumanization is a crucial step toward genocide, as it helps overcome natural human resistance to harming others.

Some Historical Examples

  1. The Crusades (1095-1291) – Initiated by Pope Urban II’s call, the Crusades were a series of religious wars sanctioned by the Latin Church in the medieval period, ostensibly aimed at recapturing Jerusalem and the Holy Land from Muslim control. The rhetoric used was heavily laden with religious justifications for war, often depicting it as a penitential exercise guaranteed to cleanse the soul. However, these Crusades led to widespread slaughter of Muslims, Jews, and even other Christians who stood in the way, showing how religious motivations were used to justify extreme violence and mass killings.
  2. The Rwandan Genocide (1994) – During the Rwandan genocide, where over 800,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu were slaughtered by Hutu extremists, religion played a complex role. While some religious figures participated in the violence, others used their faith to offer sanctuary to victims. Notably, the genocide was often framed by its perpetrators within a cosmic struggle, utilizing Christian symbolism and language to justify the mass killings. The local media and propaganda often infused their messages with religious metaphors, calling the Tutsi “demons” that needed to be cleansed from the earth.
  3. The Partition of India (1947) – The division of British India into the two independent dominions of India and Pakistan was marked by horrific sectarian violence between Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs. The religious identities of each group were manipulated by leaders and became a justification for violence and mass killings, with each side portrayed as defending their religious brethren from the existential threats posed by the other religious communities. Estimates of the death toll vary, but it included thousands of women and children and led to a refugee crisis affecting millions.
  4. Massacre of political prisoners in Iran (1980s) – In the late 1980s, particularly around 1988, the Islamic regime in Iran, under the leadership of then-Ayatollah Khomeini, carried out a series of political executions and mass imprisonments primarily targeting left-wing dissidents, including Marxists and communists, as well as members of opposition groups such as the People’s Mujahedin of Iran (MEK). These actions were heavily influenced by religious decrees and theocratic laws. The Iranian regime used a religious framework to legitimize the crackdown. Ayatollah Khomeini issued fatwas (religious decrees) that branded these prisoners as Moharebeh (waging war against God) and mofsed-e-filarz (corrupt on Earth). According to Shia Islamic jurisprudence, these charges are among the most severe and often carry the death penalty. The regime’s narrative framed the elimination of these political opponents not only as a security measure but as a divine command to cleanse the society of individuals who opposed the Islamic Republic’s theocratic principles.

In each of these cases, religious ideologies were employed to justify actions that led to genocide or mass killings. Religion, when intertwined with political aims and used to justify violence, can be a devastating force. It is essential, therefore, to promote interpretations of religious teachings that emphasize peace and respect for all human beings, regardless of their faith or identity, and to critically examine the ways in which religious rhetoric is used to promote or justify violence.

If we want to deeply change reality, our critique must also be deep. Each class criticizes the world to the extent that it wants to change it. In reality, it penetrates as much as it wants to change it. If you want to change society by ten millimeters, you enter into the truth, into the depth of relationships, by ten millimeters; your sociology advances that much, your anthropology does as well, and so does your economy. But if you want to turn everything upside down, then you must go to the depths. Therefore, theory is not just a tool to explain the world.

By portraying political actions as religiously mandated, a regime can exploit religious sentiments to legitimize its rule and suppress dissent. This creates a scenario where religion veils the political and economic motives of the state, aligning with Marx’s view of religion as a tool that obscures the real conditions of society and pacifies the populace, thus maintaining the dominance of the ruling elite.

Marx’s critique provides a framework for understanding the dynamics between religion and political power, particularly how religious ideologies can be manipulated to sustain oppressive regimes. religion contributes to a false consciousness—a way of thinking and perceiving that prevents the people from seeing the true nature of their social and economic situation. This false consciousness supports the creation and perpetuation of an ideology that benefits the ruling class by preventing others from acting against their oppressors.

Theory is the axe and the lever you pick up to strike and penetrate reality and change it. And if our understanding does not advance that far, neither will our hand reach that far, nor will our struggle progress that far, and we cannot change the society.

My journey in creating this space was deeply inspired by James Baldwin’s powerful work, “The Fire Next Time”. Like Baldwin, who eloquently addressed themes of identity, race, and the human condition, this blog aims to be a beacon for open, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable discussions on similar issues.

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My journey in creating this space was deeply inspired by James Baldwin's powerful work, "The Fire Next Time". Like Baldwin, who eloquently addressed themes of identity, race, and the human condition, this blog aims to be a beacon for open, honest, and sometimes uncomfortable discussions on similar issues.

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Support The Fire Next Time by becoming a patron and help me grow and stay independent and editorially free for only €5 a month.

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