1) This is the second book with CIA operative David Shirazi. Where does the story pick up from your previous bestseller The Twelfth Imam?
The Tehran Initiative begins about sixty seconds after The Twelfth Imam leaves off. I’ve tried to create a near seamless connection between the two. And there’s another book coming, The Damascus Countdown.
2) You started writing The Tehran Initiative when the Arab Spring began earlier this year. Did events impact your writing or the storyline?
Actually, I was well into writing The Tehran Initiative when the “Arab Spring” began and it was a little eerie because the novel opens with the assassination of the President Egypt and Egypt descending into chaos after the leader’s fall. Fortunately, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak wasn’t killed, but he certainly fell quickly and somewhat unexpectedly and Egypt is still reeling from the aftermath. The novel really focuses a great deal on the intense desire amongst many Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa to build a global Islamic empire, or a “caliphate.” And that’s certainly a growing theme among the Islamists in the region this year.
Perhaps what struck me most curious since the publication of The Twelfth Imam and while I was researching and writing The Tehran Initiative is that the so-called Supreme Leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has began speaking more publicly about the coming of the Twelfth Imam. He used to be silent, or nearly so, on this subject. He let President Ahmadinejad do all the public talking about Shia End Times theology. But Khamenei has become more bold over the past year or so. He has told people that he has met personally with the Twelfth Imam, though we don’t know what he meant. Did he meet with a flesh and blood person? Did he see a dream? Or a vision? We don’t know. But Khamenei has also asserted that he is the personal representative on earth of the Twelfth Imam, as well as the so-called Prophet Muhammad. These developments – along with his support for Iran’s aggressive nuclear development program – suggest Khamenei senses the time is very short before some claiming to be the Twelfth Imam emerges publicly. In part, that’s why the Iranian government released the pseudo-documentary film in early 2011 called, “The Coming Is Near,” about all the geopolitical signs that they believe are indicators that the Mahdi’s arrival is increasingly close at hand. Whether it will really happen or not remains to be seen. But the Iranian leadership is certainly convinced. Most of them, anyway. And, of course, the Bible tells us in Matthew chapter twenty-four to expect false prophets and false messiahs in the last days. So we can’t rule out the possibility that we’ll actually as false messiah emerge from the Shia world.
3) You’ve earned a reputation of writing stories that seemed ripped from tomorrow’s headlines. What is going on in The Tehran Initiative that we can see unfolding in the news?
I think the biggest parallel between The Tehran Initiative and current events is the growing sense amongst Shia Muslim leaders – particularly in Iran – that the Twelfth Imam is coming any moment, coupled with Iran’s feverish efforts to build nuclear weapons, and the Israelis’ growing isolation in the world and feeling that they may have to hit Iran all by themselves.
Did you see Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic address at the U.N. in September, or read the full text? You should. It’s instructive. Ahmadinejad is not a world leader worthy of the world stage. He is the evil leader of an Iranian death cult. A recent U.N. report indicates he is making progress in building nuclear weapons. He is calling for the arrival of the Twelfth Imam and wiping Israel “off the map.” He aspires to be a mass murderer beyond the scale of Adolf Hitler. He deserves to be in prison, or an insane asylum. His U.N. speech was further proof, if more was needed.
Like Hitler’s speeches in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, Ahmadinejad isn’t hiding what he believes. He’s pretty clear. He denied the Holocaust. He blasted the U.S. for bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice. He blamed the terrorist attacks 9/11 on the U.S. government. He insisted that his so-called messiah known as “Imam al-Mahdi” or the Twelfth Imam is coming soon. He insisted Jesus Christ will come with the Mahdi to take over the world. He called for a one-world government when he called for “the shared and collective management of the world.”
Consider these excerpts: “This movement is certainly on its rightful path of creation, ensuring a promising future for humanity. A future that will be built when humanity initiates to trend the path of the divine prophets and the righteous under the leadership of Imam al-Mahdi, the Ultimate Savior of mankind and the inheritor to all divine messengers and leaders and to the pure generation of our great Prophet. The creation of a supreme and ideal society with the arrival of a perfect human being who is a true and sincere lover of all human beings, is the guaranteed promise of Allah. He will come alongside with Jesus Christ to lead the freedom and justice lovers to eradicate tyranny and discrimination, and promote knowledge, peace, justice freedom and love across the world. He will present to every single individual all the beauties of the world and all good things which bring happiness for humankind.”
Though most world leaders do not appear to understand what Ahmadinejad is really saying, students of Shia Islamic eschatology or End Times theology do. The Iranian leader believes the end of the world as we have known it is increasingly close at hand. He believes the time for establishing an Islamic caliphate or global government ruled by the Mahdi is rapidly approaching. What’s more, he believes that the way to hasten the coming of the Twelfth Imam is to acquire nuclear weapons and use them to annihilate the United States, which he calls the “Great Satan” and Israel, which he calls the “Little Satan.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu understands what Ahmadinejad means. So do some of his top military advisors. That’s why they believe Iran is in the eye of a gathering storm in the Middle East, and that the chance of a major war is growing.
“Iran has not abandoned its nuclear program. The opposite is true; it continues full steam ahead,” warned Israeli Defense Forces Home Front Command Chief Major General Eyal Eisenberg in a speech earlier this month. Also noting recent uprisings in the Arab world and growing tensions with Turkey, Eisenberg said, “This leads us to the conclusion that…the likelihood of an all-out war is increasingly growing.”
To me, all this feels ripped from the pages of The Tehran Initiative. Unfortunately, it’s all true.
4) Readers seem to get very attached to your characters. What goes into creating the characters in your novels?
It’s the Colonel’s secret recipe of seven herbs and spices. I could tell you, but then I’d have to….well, never mind….no comment to that one.
5) What experiences in your real life do you draw from to piece together these novels that incorporate geo-politics, espionage, romance, and Bible prophecy?
Someone once told me, “Write where you live in your head.” For some reason, that advice resonated with me and stuck. I’m fascinated with politics, prophecy and the Middle East. Living in Washington, D.C. and working in and around the political world for the past two decades has certainly helped provide context for me to write political thrillers. I think traveling extensively throughout the Middle East and North Africa has been helpful, too. Somehow, it’s all worked together in a way some people find as interesting as I do.
6) You often incorporate Old Testament prophecy in your books. What scriptures do you draw from for this book and why?
There’s no question that I am absolutely intrigued by Bible prophecy, and I like to start with an End Times prophecy – or a group of last days prophecies – and ask, “What if these were to happen in my lifetime? What would it look like? What would it feel like? How might such prophecies realistically be set into motion, and what might be the implications of their fulfillment?” That’s how I approach writing these books. But I don’t think of it like writing a fantasy novel or science fiction. I’m genuinely trying to imagine how it could really play out? I’m not saying these prophecies will necessarily come to pass the way I envision them, but they are interest to war game and see what happens. And given what’s happening in the real world today, I think readers are as curious as I am, and somehow my plots don’t feel that far-fetched.
7) You’ve been successful with your non-fiction books Epicenter and Inside the Revolution and you have a large following reading your analysis of Middle East events on your blog and e-newsletter “Flash Traffic.” Why do you continue to choose writing novels about the Middle East?
What could be more interesting? Presidents and presidential candidates constantly focus on the Middle East. Prime Ministers do. Kings do. Generals do. The media does. The economists do. The fact is, the eyes of the nations are riveted on Israel and her neighbors, the epicenter of the momentous events that are shaking our world and shaping our future. The stakes are very high. There is lots of uncertainty. It’s mysterious and dangerous and complex – it has all the elements of riveting political thrillers. And the Bible says the Middle East will become even more dramatic until the very return of Jesus Christ. Why write about anything else?
Intrigued? Be sure to pick up a copy of The Tehran Initiative today!