The London Telegraph reports on the theology behind the madness of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:
But listen carefully to the utterances of [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad - recently described by President George W Bush as an "odd man" - and there is another dimension, a religious messianism that, some suspect, is giving the Iranian leader a dangerous sense of divine mission.
In November, the country was startled by a video showing Mr Ahmadinejad telling a cleric that he had felt the hand of God entrancing world leaders as he delivered a speech to the UN General Assembly last September.
When an aircraft crashed in Teheran last month, killing 108 people, Mr Ahmadinejad promised an investigation. But he also thanked the dead, saying: "What is important is that they have shown the way to martyrdom which we must follow."
The most remarkable aspect of Mr Ahmadinejad's piety is his devotion to the Hidden Imam, the Messiah-like figure of Shia Islam, and the president's belief that his government must prepare the country for his return.
One of the first acts of Mr Ahmadinejad's government was to donate about £10 million to the Jamkaran mosque, a popular pilgrimage site where the pious come to drop messages to the Hidden Imam into a holy well.
All streams of Islam believe in a divine saviour, known as the Mahdi, who will appear at the End of Days. A common rumour - denied by the government but widely believed - is that Mr Ahmadinejad and his cabinet have signed a "contract" pledging themselves to work for the return of the Mahdi and sent it to Jamkaran.
Iran's dominant "Twelver" sect believes this will be Mohammed ibn Hasan, regarded as the 12th Imam, or righteous descendant of the Prophet Mohammad.
He is said to have gone into "occlusion" in the ninth century, at the age of five. His return will be preceded by cosmic chaos, war and bloodshed. After a cataclysmic confrontation with evil and darkness, the Mahdi will lead the world to an era of universal peace.
This is similar to the Christian vision of the Apocalypse.
What Christians and Muslims believe is not that different from what today's Chabad messianism believes.
Chabad does downplay the apocalyptic angle and prefers to dwell on the preceived good that will come after Menachem Mendel Schneerson's messianic return. But, as believers increasingly become frustrated with their messiah's delay, the urge for violence against non-believers will increase. And as their ranks are swelled by outsiders receptive to violence – non-observant Jews raised in Christian societies who are familiar with the Apocolypse but unrestrained by normative Orthodoxy's rejection of violence; and by right-wing Israeli settlers whose own, often violent messianic dream lies shattered – Chabad's messianism will take on a harder edge. (We have already seen the beginnings of this with the violence surrounding Disengagement, and with pronouncements from leading Chabad messianists labeling the Disengagement Authority "Nazis" and comparing the Disengagement itself to the Holocaust.)
The greatest danger of this messianism is not theological. The greatest danger is when messianism controls a state that has an army and nuclear weapons, as we are now seeing with Iran – or, in an age where it seems almost anyone can own a nuclear weapon, when it resorts to terrorism. As the West works to resolve the problems of Iranian messianism – by necessary use of force, it now appears – we should keep in mind what the not too distant future might bring for us.
Will messianism ever take the reins of power in Israel? Let's hope not.