The Blog

Resurrecting the Caliphate


Whether Britain enters the war against ISIL or not, it is naïve to think the ISIS Caliphate won't try a 'terrorist' attempt in UK. Not because they don't like our lifestyles. They will do so because they seem to predict western reaction with greater accuracy than western analysts understand Al-Qaeda-ISIS gameplan. ISIS agenda of a Caliphate is strengthened if Britain also joins the war.

Within a decade a handful of men holed up in the mountains of Afghanistan have made their main mission the central issue in the Sunni Islamic world. Al-Qaeda started with the idea of resurrecting the Caliphate, ISIS established it in reality much sooner than Al-Qaeda intended. Now more seriously it has caught the imagination of millions of Sunni Muslims, although not a majority. Whether ISIS survives or not, the idea of resurrecting the Caliphate won't die. It has been festering since 1924 when the Turkish revolution under Ataturk abolished it. It is part of Islam.

Instead of lobbying for the Caliphate within Islam, AQ and now ISIS have revived a narrative of survival of Islam against a crusading Christian west. That strategy has drawn in many Jihadis to its cause and made the issue of the 'successor leader' of all Islam, the Caliph, a burning desire in large sections of the Sunni Islamic world. Unfortunately, the west has obligingly been playing in the script.

Western interventions in Middle East in the last 10 years have blindly fallen into traps set by Al-Qaeda and now ISIS. David Cameron might like to ponder if he really is in control of events or merely a victim led by the nose by jihadi masterminds as the US has been. As strategies go the west seems to win battles, but the war seems to be going in favour of Al Qaeda's mission.

From the war of retribution in Afghanistan following 9/11 to current massive air strikes on ISIS occupied lands, the United States has been provoked by the Jihadis into reaction. The unwarranted US invasion of Iraq must have convinced Al Qaeda that its mission is blessed by 'Allah'. It is from the chaos in Iraq rather than Helmand that the administrative institution of the Caliphate took form.

Within a decade of Anglo-American excursion in Iraq, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has taken advantage of the power vacuum in the region and established the Caliphate. Western bombing of ISIS Caliphate is now being propagated by Jihadis as a Christian crusade to deny Muslims of the Caliph.

After all, the coalition of countries taking on ISIS with airstrikes are all essentially Christian countries such as Russia, USA, France, UK and other European countries joined by some Shia countries. 'If the Catholics can have the Pope and the Anglicans their religious sovereign', it is not difficult to see how this is playing in the Sunni Islamic world.

It is also obvious that there seems little interest from the Sunni countries surrounding ISIS Caliphate to take it on. In fact ISIS is complimenting a deeper agenda of the Wahabis in challenging rising Shia power and addressing general concern among Sunni Muslims of resurgent Shia Islam.

The speed with which ISIS established the administrative structures of its rule suggests that ISIS was not only long term in planning but has been aided by some of the powers that precipitated the uprising against Assad. They are the powers that UK and USA calls its friends. ISIS must be getting considerable tacit support, if not direct support from many neighbouring Sunni countries.

The question Mr Cameron should be asking his war machine is not when to join the bombing spree but what is the best strategy to outwit Al Qaeda's mission and ISIS' popularity. Joining bombing and even sending ground troops after a possible terrorist incident in UK isn't going to win this war.

Destroying ISIS wont vanquish the idea of a Caliphate which has now firmly taken root. As one of the powers that aided in bringing the Ottoman Caliphate to an end, UK intervention could make the demand for a resurrected Caliphate even wider within Sunni Islam. History isn't easily forgotten.

ISIS wants western ground troops to come to Syria. If it has any military sense, it must know that it will be defeated. Perhaps that is something it has planned for. But its battle for the idea of the Caliphate will gain even wider currency. If ISIS is defeated, the possibility of an even more violent movement for the Caliphate could arise drawing from a much wider resentful Muslim population around the world and the remnants of a dispersed ISIS.

In fact reactive western responses have made the prospect of a Caliphate an irrevocable one. The issue before the world is no longer whether the Caliphate should exist. That landmark has long gone thanks to ill thought out strategies and responses to Jihadi baiting. The choice now is what form of Caliphate the world can live with. It is time to stop deluded statements such as 'they (Jihadis) don't like our way of life' and address the real issue instead.

Cameron's challenge is to resist the temptation of reacting and instead explore a strategy to outflank and checkmate ISIS in the realm of ideological and abstract war. Will he do it? Trouble is that democracies have an Achilles heel. Democratic leaders look weak if they do not react aggressively to provocations. That is what AQ and now ISIL have preyed on. Ingenious but sheer evil.

What the world is fighting is an idea, not a force. Western bombing is not the answer. Perhaps the only option left for the world now is what version of a resurrected Caliphate can the world accept. The one established by ISIS is seen as unIslamic by most Muslims. The one that might emerge from its ashes may be even more brutal. But there are alternatives.

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