William Kilpatrick is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. His books include Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West (Ignatius Press), What Catholics Need to Know About Islam (Sophia Press), and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad.
One of the ironies of our times is that while Vladimir Putin threatens nuclear war, the Biden administration is anxious to enter into a nuclear deal with Iran which, critics say, will only serve to hasten Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.
As the world contemplates the awful possibility of a Russian-inflicted nuclear holocaust, Biden is facilitating the emergence of a similar threat from a country that regards America as the “Great Satan.”
Would Putin actually carry through on his threat? Some experts, such as Russia analyst Fiona Hill say that he would. She points to what he has already done—in Syria, Chechnya, and now in Ukraine. And she cites his obsession with returning Russia to its former greatness.
By contrast, other analysts maintain that although Putin cultivates a “madman” image—someone who might do anything—he is actually quite calculating. He adds up the odds of what he can get away with, and adjusts his moves accordingly.
It’s difficult to say if Putin will use nukes. Maybe he’s bluffing, but it wouldn’t be wise to count on it.
But how about Iran? If they had a supply of nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, would they use them? No one can know for sure, of course, but my guess is that they would.
Why? Because Iran’s clerical leaders would consider it a religious duty. Fighting and dying for Allah is, for a religious Muslim, life’s highest calling. That’s why martyrs are the most highly honored individuals in the Islamic world. That’s why Palestinian youth are taught from an early age to emulate the martyrs.
The martyrs reward? According to Koran 78: 31-33, “Theirs shall be gardens and vineyards, and high-bosomed maidens for companions.” The maidens are described in numerous passages in the Koran—sometimes as “bashful virgins”, sometimes as “dark-eyed virgins, sometimes as “dark-eyed houris.” They recline on soft couches and dwell in shaded gardens surrounded by fruit trees, fountains, and running water.
How many “brides” are assigned to each martyr? The Koran doesn’t say. But according to Islamic tradition the number is 72. Raymond Ibrahim notes that jihadi organizations regularly invoke the following saying which they attribute to Muhammad:
“The martyr is special to Allah. He is forgiven from the first drop of blood [that he sheds]. He sees his throne in paradise…And he will copulate with seventy-two houris.”
Hmm… to the Western ear it sounds like an adolescent daydream. But the Muslim mindset is quite different. The promise of a harem-like paradise is taken quite seriously—if not by every Muslim, then by many. It is, perhaps the main motivation for joining the jihad.
But if young men can be lured into battle by the allures of paradise, how about older men? How about the aging mullahs of Iran who will decide if and when to use nuclear weapons? Well, Islamic tradition maintains that jihadist of whatever age will enjoy almost supernatural sexual power in paradise. And the mullahs will almost certainly be familiar with those traditions.
Moreover, waging jihad does not necessarily entail combat on the battlefield. Pressing the nuclear button will do just fine. And it might even be considered more meritorious since it will result in the death of many more of Allah’s enemies.
And if the mullahs also die in a nuclear holocaust? Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? As jihadists like to say, “we love death more than you love life.” Death means that you are immediately brought into the company of your 72 brides.
Death in the service of Allah also means that you are forgiven all your sins, and thus saved from the fires of hell. That, of course, is another motive—for both young and old—to join the jihad. On a per page basis, descriptions of hell are far more frequent in the Koran than in the ‘Bible. And the descriptions of hell in the Koran are as appalling as the descriptions of paradise are appealing.
In short, there are good reasons to believe that Islamic states which develop nuclear weapons will have a strong incentive to use them. Fortunately, the only Islamic state which does possess nuclear weapons has never used them. Although there is much tension between Pakistan and neighboring India, and although Pakistan has possessed nuclear weapons for over two decades, it has had the good sense not to use them.
One possible explanation is that the leadership in Pakistan (at least until recently) has always been more moderate than the general populace. Unfortunately, the reverse is true in Iran. Ever since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, Iran has been controlled by true believers—men who are more radical in their outlook than the people they rule. Men, in short, who might be willing to risk all for the sake of Allah and for their heavenly reward.
Which brings us back to Vladimir Putin. Theoretically, Putin’s Christian faith should act as a restraint on his conduct of the war in Ukraine. Yet, Putin’s army attacks civilians, and targets them with cluster bombs and devastating hyperbaric “vacuum” bombs. And he is responsible for similar—if not worse—atrocities in Syria, Chechnya and Georgia. According to many observers, he is simply an evil madman.
But there’s another side to the story. Many, both inside and outside Russia look upon Putin as a savior—a man who will resist the decadence of the West and restore Christendom to its rightful place. And many of Putin’s statements and actions suggest that he shares this vision of his role.
It’s tempting to think that Putin is faking it—that he only puts on a show of religion in order to win the support of the Orthodox Church in Russia and of conservative Christians abroad. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Putin does go to church, does confess himself to priests, and does receive communion, but he doesn’t advertise his faith in the way that other politicians—such as Joe Biden—do. In addition, Putin has done a great deal to reconstruct churches, monasteries, and shrines throughout Russia. Moreover, his support for traditional families and his rejection of the LGBT movement seems genuine. One of his complaints against Ukrainian leaders is that they are decadent “Nazis.”
At first glance it looks as though we have to choose between two possibilities—either Putin the evil madman or Putin the Christian hero.
But there is another possibility—namely, that Putin, ‘though a Christian, has a poor understanding of his faith. As with other Christians, it’s probable that he has adopted a pick and choose approach to his faith. In his case, that means a focus on the militant aspect of Christianity and a neglect of the peaceful. In other words, he seems to have compartmentalized his faith. We can assume, for instance, that he assents to the Gospel injunction to “love your neighbor.” However, based on his actions, we can also assume that he’s not going to let the injunction interfere with his ambitions for himself and Russia.
Putin may hardly be aware of the inconsistency, or else, like many Christians, he has learned to rationalize his behavior. Or worse, perhaps he mistakes his own will for God’s will. Such a mistake is not at all uncommon in leaders who possess absolute power.
In short, though Christian belief often does act to put a brake on evil impulses, there is no guarantee that it will always have that effect. Given Putin’s record of invading and brutalizing other countries, and his seeming conflation of Christianity and Russian nationalism, it would be unwise to assume that his nuclear threat is nothing more than a bluff.
Of course, it would be equally unwise to assume that the Islamic Republic of Iran wouldn’t use nuclear weapons once it had acquired enough of them. One might think that the certainty of a devastating counter-attack from Israel (or the U.S.) would give them pause. But the Cold War theory that Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) will deter nuclear war doesn’t apply to cultures that look upon death in combat as the prelude to entering an eternal garden of delights.
The other party whose religious beliefs should be a matter of concern to all is President Joe Biden. ‘Though ostensibly a Catholic, Biden has a habit of interpreting Catholic teachings to suit his own interests and inclinations. It wouldn’t be surprising if he mistakenly thinks that “love your enemy” means “trust your enemy.” Thus far, in his dealings with tyrants and state-controlled corporations, Biden’s trust in their good will has enriched him personally. But it seems fair to say that the rest of us have only been put in greater danger.