Haman And Ahmadinejad
The Iranian dictator bodes potentially much worse for the Jewish people.
ill we go to war with Iran?
That is the question mil-
lions are asking in America
right now. It is also a question that seems
appropriately connected to Purim.
On one level, Purim is a fun holiday, a
Jewish equivalent to the Christian Mardi
Gras. Masks, plays and revelry are wel-
come relief from
the severity of other
But on another
level, Purim is a
the triumph of the
Jews over a wicked
enemy who plotted
the destruction of
the Jews. If the story
Special to the
in the Megillah of
Esther is true, then
there was a prime
minister of Persia (Iran) named Haman
who was arranging for a minor Holocaust.
Today, a modern Haman is the presi-
dent of Persia. His name, Ahmadinejad,
is longer and more difficult to pronounce.
At every opportunity, he announces his
intention to wipe Israel off the face of the
map. He even sponsored a much-publi-
cized conference in Teheran where visitors
were told that the Jewish Holocaust never
happened. According to Ahmadinejad, the
Jews invented the fiction of the Holocaust
to arouse world pity and to justify their
seizure of Palestine.
Ahmadinejad is more frightening than
Haman. Haman was a dangerous Jew
hater. But he was also an incompetent
buffoon, undone by the cleverness of
Mordecai and Esther. Ahmadinejad is a
shrewd politician who has mobilized mil-
lions of people to support his campaign
against America and Israel. And there now
seems to be a secret Jew available in the
present Iranian government to play Queen
Esther against his King Ahasuerus, the
formidable Ayatollah Khamenei.
Today, Iran has become an obsession in
Israel and in many parts of the diaspora
community. The defiance of the United
Nations by Ahmadinejad and the continu-
ing development of Iranian nuclear power
have frightened the Jewish world. No wall
is a defense against missiles, especially
Visions of a nuclear Holocaust terrify
the Jewish imagination. The increas-
ing demand by Jewish leaders that the
Americans do something about Iran has
led many anti-Semites to accuse the Jews
of leading America into a war against Iran.
Given the debacle in Iraq, this accusation
aggravates the earlier accusation that the
Jews led America into war against Saddam.
If Ahmadinejad is our real Haman this
Purim, then we need to know as much as
possible about him and his country.
Persia is an old nation mentioned in the
Bible. The Persians are an Aryan nation,
related by race and by language to the
peoples of Europe. They invaded Western
Asia, conquered many
nations and created the
largest land empire in the
world. Among the peoples
they vanquished were the
Chaldeans, who destroyed
Jerusalem and the First
Temple. The Persians liber-
ated the Jewish captives in
Chaldea and allowed them
to return home to build the Ahmadinejad
preserved it, even though they wrote it in
Sunni Persia was more liberal than
most parts of the Arab world. Painting,
wine and Sufi saints made them less than
orthodox. Jews thrived in this liberal
world. Some of them even made their way
to China and India. When the Turks came,
they blended easily with the Persians. And
the Jews remained very happy.
However, the Jewish "honeymoon"
ended in the 16th century. A group of
Shiite Turks (Azeris) invaded and van-
quished Persia. They were religious
fanatics. In a few years, Shiite mullahs
and ayatollahs replaced the
Sunni imams. The Persians
were forced to abandon their
Sunni liberalism and to adopt
the intensity of their new
Shiite rulers. Life for the Jews
changed for the worse. They
were rejected, segregated and
regarded as ritually unclean.
The arrival in the 19th
century of the British and the
Russians made a difference.
If Ahmadinejad is our real Haman this Purim,
then we need to know as much as possible about
him and the country he governs.
When Persia was young,
the Persians were our
friends. In fact, the many
Jews who went to live in
the Persian Empire became
the foundation of a prosper-
ous and successful Eastern
Diaspora. After the destruc-
tion of the Second Temple
by the Romans, thou-
sands of Jews fled the
Roman Empire to Persia
where great rabbinical
seminaries produced the
Babylonian Talmud and
where the Persian king honored
the Jews with their own king.
When the Arabs defeated
and conquered the Persians in 636, they
replaced the Persian Zoroastrian religion
with Islam, Sunni Islam. But unlike most
of the other nations vanquished by the
Arabs, the Persians did not give up their
native language for Arabic. They proudly
They brought secular Western
culture. A secular anti-mullah
faction emerged in the army.
A sergeant named Reza Pahlevi
overthrew the old shah and made
himself the new shah. He hated the
Shiite clergy and loved modern
European culture. He established
secular schools, liberated women
and emancipated the Jews. He
even gave a new name to
Jews thrived under the
n e w shah and his successor son.
The discovery of large reservoirs of
petroleum brought prosperity to the
aristocracy and to the new middle
class. As for the mullahs, they were
persecuted and humiliated. But the Jews
were on the winning side, enjoying a new
world where religion was less important.
The shah even secretly supported Israel
and supplied it with oil.
But the Shiite clergy burned with hatred
for the shah. They cultivated the resent-
ment of the poor. Their leader was the
charismatic Ayatollah Khomeini who
was forced to flee the country. When he
returned in triumph in 1979, the shah fled.
The Shiite clergy took power again.
Their enemies were purged and executed.
Western culture was rejected. Women were
covered. Schools became religious. A mor-
als police spied on everybody.
Amid all this reactionary change, a
new constitution and a new government
was created. The shah was replaced by
Khomeini, the deputy of Allah. Under
Khomeini cowered the president and the
parliament. Khomeini had the power to
veto any law they passed that he did not
like. Most of the Jews fled. Only 2,500 Jews
remain, and they fear for their safety.
The Shiite fundamentalists turned
America and the Jews into the "Great
Satan:' They also detested Sunni funda-
mentalists like the Saudis and Muslim sec-
ularists like Saddam Hussein. The Israelis
were torn by ambivalence. Who was the
more dangerous — Saddam Hussein of
Iraq or Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran?
Many Israelis imagined that the Shiite
fear of Saddam outweighed their detesta-
tion of Zionism and could serve as a basis
for a renewed alliance of Israel and Iran.
However, when the war with Iraq came,
most Israelis supported the overthrow of
Saddam. The war, created a Shiite govern-
ment in Iraq, which is friendly to Iran.
As for Iran, the regime established by
Khomeini is still in place. Although
Khomeini is dead, the clergy still reigns
supreme. At the top of the government
is the successor to Khomeini, Ayatollah
Khamenei. Less charismatic than
Khomeini, he is a stern fundamentalist
who tolerates no significant opposition.
Together with his mullah Council of
Guardians, he freely vetoes laws passed
by his democratically elected parliament,
purges liberal candidates for public office,
and runs roughshod over any sign of
rebellion in the press and other media.
However, there is a large and vocal
opposition. The economy is rotten. Foreign
investment is negligible. Unemployment is
high. The educated middle class, especially
the young, are weary and resentful of the
oppressive clergy and their antiquated
Haman on page 20
March 1. 2007