November 2, 2005 | Scripps Howard News Service

When Someone Tells You He Wants to Kill You – Take Him Seriously

Call it Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Mein Kampf moment. 

Eighty years ago, Adolf Hitler published an autobiography-cum-manifesto. Its title translates as “My Struggle.” In it, Hitler talked of his desire for revenge against France, the German nation's need to control more land, and the means by which his National Socialist Party could gain power.

It also included, of course, a clear indication of his genocidal intentions against the Jews.

Last week, Iran's president echoed those themes. He talked about his “struggle” – the word translate into both Arabic and Persian as “jihad” — his desire for revenge against America and the West, the Islamic nation's need to control more land, and the means by which his Militant Islamist movement could gain global power.

He also included his genocidal intention to wipe Israel “off the map.”

Of course, there are differences between Hitler in 1925 and Ahmadinejad in 2005. Perhaps the biggest is this: When Hitler made his threats he was an obscure politician whom hardly anyone took seriously. 

By contrast, Ahmadinejad is the president of a large and wealthy nation that operates terrorist organizations and is well on its way to developing nuclear weapons.

Had Hitler's threatening words inspired serious action then, millions of people – Jews, Gypsies, Czechoslovaks, Americans, British, Russians and others – would not have been slaughtered in the 20th Century.

If Ahmadinejad's threatening words inspire serious action now, millions of people may be spared in this century. But while President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and others responded with strong rhetoric, neither penalties nor restraints seem likely to be imposed on the Islamist Fascist regime in Tehran. Indeed, not a single European ambassador was withdrawn – not even temporarily.

In most Arab and Muslim capitals there weren't even rebukes for Ahmadinejad. The exceptions were Egypt and the Palestinian Authority which, along with Jordan, have recognized Israel. Muslim leaders who make that concession, Ahmadinejad promised, will “burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury.”

While all this is news it isn't really new. I was a young reporter in Iran in 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini returned from exile in France and took power. Back in those days, too, the ruling mullahs had the will – if not yet a way – to exterminate Israelis, though their loudest chant was always “Death to America!” 

After the Holocaust, civilized people vowed “Never Again!” It has been observed that the phrase has come to mean that never again will German Nazis in the 1940s slaughter millions of Jews in Europe. Anything else is possible. Most members of the “international community” have been averted their eyes from the genocidal campaigns waged in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and Darfur.

Testifying before a U.S. Senate committee this week, Newt Gingrich – a historian before he entered politics – said that Ahmadinejad's threat “calls to mind the reported response of a Holocaust survivor. When asked what lesson he had drawn from the experience, he answered, ‘When someone tells you he wants to kill you — believe him.'”

Little commented on has been the section of Ahmadinejad's speech where he put his threats against Israel into broader perspective, into the context of a long war between what he sees as rival civilizations.

“We are in the process of a historical war between the World of Arrogance [i.e. the West] and the Islamic world, and this war has been going on for hundreds of years,” he said.

“'In this historical war, the situation at the fronts has changed many times. During some periods, the Muslims were the victors and were very active, and looked forward, and the World of Arrogance was in retreat.

“'Unfortunately, in the past 300 years, the Islamic world has been in retreat vis-a-vis the World of Arrogance.”

That will change, Ahmadinejad promised. He said that when people ask him if it is really “possible for us to witness a world without America and Zionism?” he replies: “[Y]ou had best know that this slogan and this goal are attainable, and surely can be achieved.”

There is every reason to believe him and other Islamist Fascists. There is every reason, this time around, to do whatever it takes to stop them.

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies a policy institute focusing on terrorism.