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Rubio and the “Martyr-State” Myth

Rubio uncritically repeats one of the most ridiculous myths about Iran.

Marco Rubio isn’t giving up on 2016:

Sen. Marco Rubio pitched himself Wednesday as a potential presidential candidate with top-notch foreign policy credentials [bold mine-DL], a sign of how the young Florida Republican plans to counter the argument he’s too green for the White House.

It is a reflection of how little foreign policy experience most would-be 2016 candidates have that Rubio’s four years in the Senate might give him a slight advantage over the others, but it’s still difficult to take this claim all that seriously. It gets even harder when Rubio runs around saying completely ignorant things on these issues. For instance, here he was last night talking to O’Reilly about Iran:

By the way the difference between Shia and Sunni — I mean they both have violent adherence. Shia actually wants there to be an apocalyptic showdown because they believe that that will then usher in the appearance of the hidden — the 13th imam…I mean you listen to their speeches, they’re very clear about that. [bold mine-DL]

Attentive readers will note that Twelver Shi’ites do not look forward to the return of a 13th imam, but the bigger problem with this statement is Rubio’s uncritical repetition of one of the most ridiculous myths about Iran currently in circulation. This is the so-called “martyr-state” myth that holds that Iran’s leaders are motivated by a desire to hasten an apocalypse in order to bring about the return of the Mahdi. There is no basis for this claim. It is a spurious, nonsensical claim that cropped up in the last decade (made famous by Bernard Lewis’ silly prediction here), and has since been eagerly repeated by Iran hawks that unsurprisingly know very little about the country or its culture. As for listening to “their speeches,” I doubt that Rubio has done much of this, since he evidently has no idea what Khamenei’s views are. Matt Duss commented on this back in 2011:

According to Mehdi Khalaji, an Iran analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who spent years studying Shia theology in the Iranian seminary city of Qom, Ayatollah Khamenei — who, unlike Ahmadinejad, actually controls Iranian foreign policy — is much more concerned with the here and now. “Not one of [Khamenei’s] speeches refers to any apocalyptic sign or reveals any special eagerness for the return of the Hidden Imam,” Khalaji wrote in a 2008 report [bold mine-DL], Apocalyptic Politics: On the Rationality of Iranian Policy. “As the theory of the guardianship of the jurist requires, the most significant task of the Supreme Leader is to safeguard the regime, even by overruling Islamic law.”

Like other hawks that endorse the “martyr-state” myth, Rubio is relying on the fact that his intended audience doesn’t know any more about these things than he does. That is also how he will try to be recognized for expertise on foreign policy that he clearly doesn’t have.