THE BLOG
08/23/2006 04:41 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

It's August 23rd. Why Aren't We Dead?

So. It's August 23rd, the day after August 22nd, and -- as you may have noticed -- we're all still alive.

This may come as something of a surprise to those of you who read Bernard Lewis' August 8 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, in which he wrote:

In Islam, as in Judaism and Christianity, there are certain beliefs concerning the cosmic struggle at the end of time--Gog and Magog, anti-Christ, Armageddon, and for Shiite Muslims, the long awaited return of the Hidden Imam, ending in the final victory of the forces of good over evil, however these may be defined. Mr. Ahmadinejad and his followers clearly believe that this time is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced. It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22. This was at first reported as "by the end of August," but Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement was more precise.

What is the significance of Aug. 22? This year, Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to "the farthest mosque," usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (cf Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world. It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind.

It might also come as a shock to those of you who read the Drudge Report, which had Drudge's characteristic emergency red type and banner headlines all day yesterday, asking if we were all about to die at the hands of the Iranians, or to those of you who read ABC News' blog, "The Blotter," which headlined its post on the subject "August 22: Doomsday?" and quoted Robert Spencer, a hawk who had, like Lewis, been pushing all this nonsense, or to those of you who read the National Review, where Joel Rosenberg took up the question of whether Iran was about to kill us all with nuclear weapons they do not have, or to those of you who watched Fox News' "Dayside" on August 21, when co-host Juliet Huddy said Iran "may be itching to pull the nuclear trigger as early as tomorrow."

It's funny: what none of these outlets mentioned was that this is not the first time this ridiculous doomsday scenario has been floated in conservative media circles. In fact, three years ago another supposed Middle East "expert," Michael Ledeen, writing in the National Review to call the U.S. to action against Iran, said,

There is another November date our leaders should take seriously: the 25th, the anniversary of the disappearance of the twelfth imam, and thus the most significant date in the Shiite calendar. Reports from Tehran suggest that the mullahs would like to celebrate that anniversary with a big-time terrorist attack against America.

He also speculated that "Khamenei had hoped to be able to test an atomic bomb by the third week in October, but his scientific advisers recently told him they could not make that deadline. They are now aiming for November 4 or 5, the anniversary of the seizure of the American embassy in Tehran during the revolution." (A hat-tip for this find to the Guardian's Brian Whitaker, whose whole take on the August 22nd brouhaha is worth reading.)

Remember, this was three years ago. None of this has come to pass. And yet Ledeen is still taken seriously as an expert, both by the press and by the administration, and when the exact same claims are floated again by Lewis (who also wrote, despite all available evidence, that "it seems increasingly likely that the Iranians either have or very soon will have nuclear weapons at their disposal") the press starts fretting about doomsday.

This was a win-win situation for those pushing for war. Though they were wrong, they've still implanted in the minds of many Americans the idea that Iran can attack whenever it wants to -- and that it wants to -- and they will suffer no harm to their credibility as foreign policy experts, nor to their careers as pundits and shills for their latest war.

Though all of the prominent conservative Iran war hawks have made a career out of being wrong in their analyses of Iran and the rest of the Middle East, they -- Michael Ledeen, Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, Amir Taheri and others -- continue to be considered credible. When the smoke clears, Lewis will most likely resume his status as one of the most prominent conservative "experts" on the Middle East.

New York media gossip blog Gawker looked at the Journal's op-ed page today and commented,

Feels like it's missing something. What aren't we seeing? Oh, right, AN APOLOGY FOR MAKING US THINK WE WERE ALL GONNA DIE! Could we get that? No? How bout a "whoops"? We'd settle for a "whoops" at this point.

That is, sadly, far too optimistic. The point of all this isn't to get the truth, and to acknowledge mistakes; the point is to spread propaganda and fear, regardless of any connection to any sort of facts. That's the tragic reality of American political discourse; it's a reality that we -- all of us -- have to work to change. We have to show these people that they can no longer scare Americans into fighting their war based on whatever ridiculous notion they dreamed up this week.

More than 2,600 American soldiers and countless tens of thousands of Iraqis are dead because of people like Lewis and all the rest. The lying, the bullshit, the complete and utter lack of responsibility for their actions has to stop now. Those of us in the press need to stand up and say that we will no longer report the words of these fear-mongers, these demonstrably ignorant people, as if they carried any weight or relevance. And those of you not in the press need to stand up and make those media outlets who continue to give any sort of credence to these people understand that you, their audience, will not take this anymore. There are too many victims already.

This post originally appeared at Dfiremedia.org, my blog for the online magazine Dragonfire.