Two U.S. hikers are the latest casualties in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s escalating war with America and the West. Iran’s state-run TV reported on Saturday that Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer, detained for two years on spying charges, have now been sentenced to eight years in prison.
According to CNN, the two men were seized on July 31, 2009 while hiking in the Iraqi Kurdish region. Iranian authorities have accused them of crossing into Iran illegally and of “cooperating with the American intelligence service.” While no data supporting these charges has been presented, Iran insists that it has “compelling evidence” for them. Bauer’s fiancee, Sarah Shourd, was arrested with the men. She was released on $500,000 bail on September 14, 2010 and returned to the U.S. after 410 days of solitary confinement.
According to the website Free the Hikers President Obama has stated, “I want to be perfectly clear: Sarah, Shane and Josh have never worked for the United States government.” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Desmond Tutu, Muhammad Ali, and others have lent their voices to appeals for the men to be released.
It is possible that Iranian authorities will soon free the men as a humanitarian gesture. Last year, Iran freed an Iranian-American businessman, Reza Taghavi, after holding him for 29 months for alleged links to a bombing in the Iranian city of Shiraz. Taghavi denied any role in the attack. Roxana Saberi, an Iranian-American convicted of spying, was released in May 2009. That same month, a French academic named Clotilde Reiss was freed after her 10-year sentence on espionage-related charges was commuted.
But Iran also has a history of horrific abuse against Western detainees. Since the hostage crisis of 1979-81, the regime has repeatedly held foreign prisoners on false charges and “confessions” elicited through torture. For example, Zahra Bahrami, a Dutch-Iranian who took part in demonstrations against the Iranian regime, was killed on January 29, 2011 after being convicted of drug trafficking. The Iranian government earlier gave assurances to the Dutch government that she would not be executed, then later claimed that she had been hanged according to Iranian law. But evidence also suggests that she died while undergoing torture.
The story behind the story
Is there more to this pattern? Here’s where knowing the religious viewpoint of Iran’s leaders is essential to understanding their actions.
As I make clear in chapter 7 of my latest book, Radical Islam: What You Need To Know, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei are “Twelvers.” This is a branch of Shiite Muslims whose followers believe that a Messiah-like figure called the Mahdi (the “guided one”) will appear at the end of history to dominate the world for Islam. Why has he delayed his arrival? In the minds of many Twelvers, Israel (the “little Satan”) and America (the “Great Satan”) must be attacked first. The Mahdi would then appear to protect the Muslim world from Western reprisal and rule the world for Islam.
On October 26, 2005, Ahmadinejad declared that Israel must be “wiped off the map.” The next year he stated, “Like it or not, the Zionist regime is headed toward annihilation.” He tells his people that “the United States and the Zionist regime are their main enemies” and promises that “this regime would soon be swept away.”
Are Iran’s leaders using the two American hikers and other foreign detainees to incite their people against the West? Did they charge our citizens with espionage so they could claim that the West is attacking Islam? Since the Qur’an requires Muslims to defend Islam (Qur’an 2:190), this accusation would legitimize an attack against Israel and the West out of obedience to Islam’s holy book.
So long as Iran is led by men with apocalyptic ambitions, Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer will not be its last victims.