March 19, 2007
Mahmoud's DelusionsBy James Lewis
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives in New York City this coming week, he may see his own theatrical appearance before the infidel UN Security Council as a moment of personal destiny, a confrontation with the Satanic forces of the world -- with Ahmadinejad being the one, true representative of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Because at some level, he has always believed that all the world's songs were about him. It is those paranoid features that make him so ominous. Paranoia and nuclear weapons do not mix.
So this is a moment to watch very carefully. When people of this kind are confronted with firm resistance to their grandiose demands, they can reveal delusional thinking. There is reason to believe that Ahmadinejad is now running into a knotty political bind -- caught in internal warfare between the pragmatic and radical factions in Tehran, said to be shut out by his nominal boss, Ayatollah Khamenei, driven by his own sense of messianic destiny, and above all, confronted with Western opposition to Iranian nukes.
The Security Council may be the moment of truth for all those contradictory pulls, and may therefore present a psychological crisis for Ahmadinejad. From his point of view, he is on a mission from God, and all he must do is explain to his opponents how they must submit. If the infidels refuse, they must face the wrath of Allah. He even may end up threatening the Security Council on the spot, or parade his contempt for them, especially if new sanctions are passed to stop Iranian nukes.
When Carly Simon's fans heard "You're so vain" on the radio, millions of teens probably jumped to the conclusion that the song was about them. It's called a "delusion of reference" in psychiatric jargon, the compelling idea that the little man with the goatee walking behind you is watching you, yes, you -- for the CIA, for God, or for Satan -- or in any case, for some powerful and grandiose agency. It is a mild delusion of grandeur, sometimes just a passing fantasy.
Novelists use such fantasy devices to get their readers involved. Early in the novel, the main character has some moment of being chosen, like young Harry Potter being singled out by the world of magic, to be teleported to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and thereby being lifted out of the boring misery of his everyday life among the muggles. Because every imaginative child secretly believes that he or she is surrounded by boring muggles....
Delusions of reference can become serious when they persist and dominate someone's thoughts over a period of years. Like other paranoid delusions, they can be very long-lasting and stable. Then they are often said to turn into a paranoid personality. One of the major questions today is whether Ahmadinejad fits that profile.
The Shi'a branch of Islam is especially prone to feelings of grandiose persecution. We have seen photos of Iraqi Shi'ites whipping their backs until they were a mass of bleeding wounds. Ayatollah Khomeini managed to politicize the martyrdom complex of Shi'ites, something they had avoided doing until then. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was one of his disciples. As Ahmadinejad repeatedly proclaims, "Martyrdom is powerful."
There is little doubt that he is quite prepared to martyr himself and everyone he cares about in a final war of Armageddon. His war experiences include such things as seeing teenage martyrs sent into mine fields armed with nothing more than green plastic "Keys to Paradise" around their necks, to blow up the mine fields before an assault force. That was Khomeini's conception of martyrdom warfare.
Normal human beings cannot send kids to inevitable death without being profoundly traumatized and guilt-ridden. They must justify their actions by believing it to be the will of God. It all fits the paranoid style of grandiose and persecutory thinking. That is why Ahmadinejad must turn the UN Security Council into a moment of persecution by Satanic infidels. (The very word "satan" means "enemy of Allah" in his beliefs).
The last time Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was at the UN, he told of being surrounded by a halo of light while addressing the General Assembly. That sounds like an experience of reference, a sign of being divinely singled out.
In the months that followed, Ahmadinejad made his Islamic eschatology even more clear. He told followers that he believed the end of the world was rapidly approaching, and that the way to hasten the coming of the Messiah was to launch a global jihad to annihilate Israel and the United States. He also told followers that the "Mahdi" is already on the planet, but has not yet chosen to reveal himself. What's more, Ahmadinejad has said that he has personally been in contact with the "Mahdi" and received instructions from him, instructions that are apparently leading Iran to prepare for an apocalyptic war to annihilate Judeo-Christian civilization as we know it. "
These reports are consistent with a paranoid personality, though it is hard to distinguish his individual features from the cult beliefs of Khomeinism. As a practical matter, it makes little difference.
Ahmadinejad has very narrow personal experience. He does not speak Arabic, the sacred language of the Koran, but only Farsi. He has never really been exposed to different cultural assumptions than the narrow Shi'a cultic beliefs he was brought up in. During the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis that exposed Jimmy Carter's fecklessness, Ahmadinejad was apparently a Basij messenger boy running between the hostage-takers and Ayatollah Khomeini himself.
For an impoverished Iranian boy from the back country, this experience must have been like being plucked out of obscurity by the messianic Khomeini, being chosen to go on a mission for God. According to the hostages, their Iranian captors were full of paranoid fantasies about the embassy, seeing the secret hand of the CIA behind even the most ordinary things they found, like digital watches.
Today Ahmadinejad writes personal letters intended to convert heads of state like George W. Bush to Islam, just as Mohammed did in the 7th century. Those letters are jihad ultimatums. Mohammed's letters warned the imperial rulers of his time to "bow down to Allah" or be destroyed. Early Islam did manage to destroy the two greatest empires of its day in a jihad that must have seemed miraculous to its followers.
Psychiatrists look for signs of pathological "leakage" when disturbed people are in crisis. The coming drama at the UN may tell us more about the degree of dangerousness of the most threatening national leader since Stalin and Hitler.
James Lewis blogs at http://www.dangeroustimes.wordpress.com/