Bridge Between Past and Future: The Timeless Charm of a Historic Iraqi City

The next president of the United States must prepare to face the challenge of Karbala, a town in Central Iraq where one of the most crucial battles in Islamic history took place. The Umayyad caliphate massacred fellow Muslims who supported the family of Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, the rivals to the Umayyads for power. The death of Ali’s son Hussein culminated an almost 50-year struggle to determine who would succeed Muhammad as the religious and political leader of the Islamic realm.

The massacre at Karbala, while over 1,300 years old, holds significant relevance for understanding the emergence of Iran as a nuclear power and the terror of groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis today. It is not just a historical event for most Muslims, especially those in the Shia world of Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon. The Battle of Karbala is a haunting reality for them.

The events of Karbala are remembered through the theology developed after Hussein’s defeat, which predicts the return of a descendant of Ali called the “Hidden Imam,” who will reassert the Islamic world’s leadership. This theology is a living reality for some Shia Muslims, especially the mullahs and the Revolutionary Guard who control Iran.

For Iran’s religious leaders, Karbala is a lens through which they view the world. It is folly to ignore this and believe that diplomacy alone will dissuade Iran from pursuing nuclear power. The military option will likely not persuade Iranians, but there are other weapons in the battle to isolate the Iranian leadership. This living reality of Karbala is evident in the holy day of Ashura, the Khomeini Revolution in Iran, and the rise of the Shia in the Middle East since the Iranian Revolution.

The reality of Karbala in the nuclear age should awaken the world to the impact of an apocalyptic theology that cannot be stifled through diplomatic negotiations. The Iran “deal” has resulted in events such as those on October 7, 2023, and the reality that the mullahs will have a nuclear weapon shortly.

The writer is a rabbi, essayist, and lecturer living in West Palm Beach, Florida.