Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Caliphate, Radical or Not?

[All emphases by Always On Watch]

From "Reunified Islam: Unlikely but Not Entirely Radical: Restoration of Caliphate, Attacked by Bush, Resonates With Mainstream Muslims," front-page article in the January 14, 2006 edition of the Washington Post (The same article, a lenghty one, is also here):
"ISTANBUL -- The plan was to fly a hijacked plane into a national landmark on live television. The year was 1998, the country was Turkey, and the rented plane ended up grounded by weather. Court records show the Islamic extremist who planned to commandeer the cockpit did not actually know how to fly.

"But if the audacious scheme prefigured Sept. 11, 2001, it also highlighted a cause that, seven years later, President Bush has used to define the war against terrorism. What the ill-prepared Turkish plotters told investigators they aimed to do was strike a dramatic blow toward reviving Islam's caliphate, the institution that had nominally governed the world's Muslims for nearly all of the almost 1,400 years since the death of the prophet Muhammad.

"The goal of reuniting Muslims under a single flag stands at the heart of the radical Islamic ideology Bush has warned of repeatedly in recent major speeches on terrorism. In language evoking the Cold War, Bush has cast the conflict in Iraq as the pivotal battleground in a larger contest between advocates of freedom and those who seek to establish "a totalitarian Islamic empire reaching from Spain to Indonesia."
Radical Islam uses violence and terror attacks as the means of establishing an Islamic empire, sometimes referred to as the caliphate. Indeed, Al Qaeda used the term "The Voice of the Caliphate" as the name of the Internet newscast in which Osama bin Laden praised the 9/11 attacks.

But according to the Washington Post, both radicals and moderates share a common fondness for the utopian ideal of the caliphate:
"Yet the caliphate is also esteemed by many ordinary Muslims. For most, its revival is not an urgent concern. Public opinion polls show immediate issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and discrimination rank as more pressing. But Muslims regard themselves as members of the umma, or community of believers, that forms the heart of Islam. And as earthly head of that community, the caliph is cherished both as memory and ideal, interviews indicate.

"That reservoir of respect represents a risk for the Bush administration as it addresses an issue closely watched by a global Islamic population estimated at 1.2 billion...."
The article goes on to explain the history of the caliphate. Disputes as to who should be the caliph, referred to in other sources as the successor to Mohammad and Allah's viceroy on earth, arose and caused the division between Sunnis and Shi'ites. The last caliph was Abdulmecid Efendi, who fell from power upon the establishment of the modern nation of Turkey in 1924. Kemal Ataturk, the military leader who led the revolution against Efendi, emphasized that a governmental system should be sovereign and imported France's idea that the state's rule of law should trump religious law. The Turks won self-rule, and portions of the former caliphate were divided up among European nations. This dividing up was not well received by many Muslims, who saw the break-up of the caliphate as a cause of the decline of Islamic nations. In 1953, as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, arose Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group which officially renounces violence, advocates working toward the establishment of the caliphate by subverting national governments.

Membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir, often considered as moderate on the Islamic spectrum, appears to be increasing and claims to be active in forty countries, including Denmark:
"The chorus of 'Allahu akbar!' -- God is great -- was led by ardent young Europeans, a handful of converts in an attentive audience segregated by gender: fashionably dressed young men on the right, women in head scarves on the left.

"For four hours they heard Hizb ut-Tahrir's disciplined, intensely argued belief that the Muslim world lost its moorings when it imported not only scientific advances from the West, but also systems such as nationalism and democracy that emerged at the same time. In a series of 22 volumes on sale beside the podium, and in weekly discussions, the group sketches an alternative governing system it believes lies embedded in the Koran and the teachings of the prophet.

"The system includes a caliphate, revived after national governments are subverted by Hizb ut-Tahrir members working in their highest levels...

"'Bush is saying they would establish a caliphate from Spain to Indonesia,' said Abdullatif, the group's spokesman in Copenhagen. 'The establishment of the caliphate will come by those who work hard.' He said Hizb ut-Tahrir members in Iraq were working to coax a united front with insurgent groups.

"As the Hizb ut-Tahrir meeting in Copenhagen broke for evening prayers, Muziz Abdullah, an affable native of Lebanon, surveyed a hall still with standing-room only. 'Ten years ago, when I started, it was totally unrealistic to think there could be a caliphate,' he said. 'But now, people believe it could happen in a few years.'"
Is the Islamic concept of the caliphate widespread in Islam? Consider these words from Serge Trifkovic's The Sword of the Prophet:
"To whatever political entity a Muslim believer may belong--to the Arab world of North Africa and the Middle East, to the nation-states of Iran or Central Asia, to the hybrid entities of Pakistan and indonesia, to the international protectorates of Bosnia and Kosovo, or to the liberal democracies of the West--he is first and foremost the citizen of Islam, and belongs morally, spiritually, and intellectually, and in principle totally, to the world of belief of which Muhammad is the Prophet, and Mecca is the capital.

"This is not, of course, true for every Muslim but it is true of every true Muslim; it is the central worldly demand of Islam." (page 7).

"Islam starts with a simple profession of a simple faith. It ends by demanding complete, total, absolute allegiance of each individual to Muhammad and his successors. Anything less is disbelief, punishable by eternal torment..." (page 207)
Individual Muslims interviewed for the above Washington Post article expressed a yearning for the good old days, the restoration of the caliphate ruled by a successor to Mohammed. If the goal of Islam is to establish the caliphate, is the major difference between radical Islam and moderate Islam a matter of using different means to reach the same goal?

On January 20, 2006, a Diana West commentary appeared in the Washington Times. An excerpt from "Silence That Speaks Volumes":
"...[A] bombshell dropped out of an early January interview conducted by radio host Hugh Hewitt with Father Joseph D. Fessio, SJ, a friend and former student of the pope. Father Fessio recounted the pope's words on the key problem facing Islamic reform this way: 'In the Islamic tradition, God has given His word to Mohammed, but it's an eternal word. It's not Mohammed's word. It's there for eternity the way it is. There's no possibility of adapting it or interpreting it.' Father Fessio continued, elaborating not on how many ratings stars the pope thinks some biopic should get, but rather on the pope's theological assessment of a historically warring religion with a billion-plus followers, some notorious number of whom are now at war with the West. According to his friend, the pope believes there's no way to change Islam because there's no way to reinterpret the Koran — i.e., change Koranic teachings on infidels, women, polygamy, penal codes and other markers of Islamic law — in such a way as to propel Islam into happy coexistence with modernity."
Are we standing before an abyss which we cannot comprehend and refuse to admit the very existence of?

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