I just finished teaching an undergraduate university class on the Ancient Near East: 15 weeks on Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. I read as many original documents and modern histories—and looked at as much art—as I had time to do. I became intrigued by the many parallels between radical Islam and the ancient historical background. Here are just a few, in no particular order, each of which needs more work:

  1. The idea that the world is divided into the realms of light and truth (ruled by a god's favorite on earth), versus the realm of darkness and lies (ruled by men). There are many parallels between Zoroastrianism (which sees the world as divided into warring realms of light and dark), Manicheism (similar views spread by a Persian mystic in the 3rd century A.D.), and Islam, particularly the Dar-al-Islam versus Dar-al-Harb, or World of Light and Submission versus World of Darkness and Chaos. From such views came Bin Laden's war with the west, which can only end when the forces of Islam have conquered the forces of Chaos.
  2. The idea that the truth can only come from the authority of a higher power, to be accepted by faith. The ancient Persian kings saw a "world of truth" versus "world of lies," in which the Great King triumphs over those who lie. Islamists today see enemies lying to them everywhere—while they accept the grossest lies themselves (teaching their children, for instance, that Jews are born of pigs and monkeys). See Elan Journo's article in The Objective Standard for the conspiracy theory mentality that develops from the idea that myriad enemies are engaged in organized lying.
  3. The idea that evil is a powerful force in the world, to be opposed by the forces of goodness derived from the divine. They see chaos whenever there is no divine force bearing down on men to keep them in line. In such a world, to be at war is natural—and good, if one is on the "good" side. Morally, they claim, those who initiate war for the realm of light are good, while those who defend themselves from such war are evil. Thus Palestinian suicide bombers are said to be good when they blow up little children, while the children are enemy occupiers who deserve death.
  4. The idea that proper political rule is based on the sanction of a divine power, whose commands are enforced by those who fight successfully on earth. For the Persians, it was the god Ahuramazda, among others, who legitimated the king's rule. The "peace" that follows when the king establishes his rule is a distinct parallel to claims by Islamic totalitarians that all will be well once Islamic law is imposed by a totalitarian Caliphate or ruling council. For such mentalities, adherence to divine commands is more important than the consequences on earth; thus the Taliban brought misery to their people, but called it goodness. . . .

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