On the Caliphate question (pt2)

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How have my views evolved on this subject?

In the 20 years since the word Caliphate entered my vocabulary my views on the subject have certainly evolved though my belief in the idea itself has managed to weather the vicissitudes of time – just like my abiding love for Spurs. On evaluation it seems the more my thoughts evolved the deeper entrenched and pivotal to my political outlook the concept became. Plus ca change.

Two decades ago, in the bloom of my youth (oh how time flies), my understanding of the concept of a Caliphate was informed exclusively by the vision outlined in the numerous publications of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT). Given that at the time they were the only organisation in the UK to advocate the idea of a unified Islamic Caliphate I suppose it was only inevitable. Their description of the caliphate was perspicuously presented and granular in its detail – from the structure of the state, it’s various departments, taxation, details of the social system right down to a draft constitution. In the intervening two decades I have come to the recognition that many of these details are merely ijtihad (juristic opinion derived from Islamic texts) of the party rather than intrinsic facets of a Caliphate. To be fair this was readily acknowledged by more informed members even back at the time. While I still have no issue with the opinions expressed within these publications, I feel their particular blueprint for a Caliphate is but one of many possible models although without doubt the Caliphate as a concept is sui generis. For me the salient aspects of a Caliphate remain: (i) legislation can only be enacted with reference to the divine texts (Qur’an and Sunnah) (ii) unitary nature of the state with a single Khaleefah as its leader (iii) the power to secure and maintain the state must reside with its Muslim citizens regardless of their numerical strength. If these features are present then the state is a Caliphate.

If there is one concept, one ideal that encapsulates the spirit of the Arab spring it would have to be that of accountability. The Arab spring uprisings provided the spur for me to revisit my understanding of accountability as it relates to the functioning of a Caliphate and consequently it’s a subject over which I have spent considerable time ruminating these past several years. The complete absence of accountability throughout the Arab world owes as much to the Arabs’ inherent “might is right” mentality, as it does to Western support for the region’s despots – indeed the installation and perpetuation of these satraps was largely contingent upon the former. The idea that the ruling elite might be subject to censure, their actions and polices subject to scrutiny and legal challenge or that ultimately the ruler and his regime might even be liable to dismissal is completely alien to the Arab psyche. Europeans, by contrast, long since embraced the idea of circumscribing their rulers’ powers by legal statute and establishing effective mechanisms with which to enforce the specified limits. In England this idea goes as far back as 1215 and the signing of Magna Carta with the issue being decisively decided four centuries later by the trial and subsequent execution of Charles I in 1649. While Islamic political theorists did elaborate upon this subject in their writings and provided, in theory, a means for dismissing an incumbent Caliph from office, the unfortunate truth of the matter, however, is that the Caliphate since the time of Mu’awiyah (ra) has effectively been a form of dynastic despotism. For sure a benevolent despotism for the most part but a despotism nonetheless. Historically the people have had virtually no say in the selection of the Caliph nor any means of effective legal redress against the excesses (instances of which have abounded through the ages) of the state. Traditionally the ulema (Islamic legal scholars) were seen as the check against unfettered Caliphal [is that even a word?] authority but then what happens when the ulema themselves come under the sway of the Caliph either through coercion or through their own venality? The absence of an effective separation between the judiciary (drawn from the ulema) and the executive, in tandem with the military’s allegiance to an individual/dynasty rather than the state’s ideology was, in my opinion, the prime causal factor behind the lack of accountability in the Caliphates of past. When the peoples of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen took to the streets almost four years ago it was to demand a system of governance whereby their leaders could be held accountable for their actions, subject to the rule of law and which provided adequate and effective avenues for redressing any injustices perpetrated against them (i.e. an effective judiciary). A common refrain we have heard emanating from segments of these same post-revolution societies, is, to paraphrase, “we didn’t get rid of a secular dictator to replace him with a religious one.” I feel the greatest challenge of the Islamist and Jihadist cause today is to persuade the Muslim masses that their vision for Islamic governance will provide them a commensurate degree of accountability and effective legal protections to those the citizens of Europe and America have come to take for granted. Platitudinous sloganeering simply will not suffice in the modern day. What is required is a detailed cataloguing, down to the minutiae, of how the legitimate Islamic rights of the people will be protected along with a blueprint for holding the leadership of the state to account. In this respect I find myself currently disappointed but hopeful nevertheless.

Today while most Islamic groups agree upon the desirability of a Caliphate they differ widely on the means to attain it. The opinion of HT is that their method is the divinely (therefore only) prescribed way to achieve the goal of an Islamic state. By contrast my understanding is that while the re-establishment of the Caliphate is indubitably of primal importance to the Ummah, the Islamic texts do not prescribe a specific method for the fulfilment of this task. Whichever method is expedient and efficacious and which doesn’t involve forbidden actions is permitted. I cannot stress the italicised caveat strongly enough. Actually I can – so I’ve put it in bold also. Consequently I reject the methodology of groups such as Ikhwan al-Muslimoon whilst still sympathising with their aims. While this piece isn’t intended as a critique of HT, in respect of the evolution of my thoughts I have come to view their understanding of the vertiginous political and societal realities of the Middle East (and the wider geo-political milieu) as facile in the extreme, hopelessly anchored in the assumptions and premises of the immediate post-colonial era i.e. the 1950s and 60s. Additionally I find their repeated appeals to the chimera of Sunni – Shia unity both historically and theologically untenable.

Whereas previously I felt the endeavours of groups other than HT were futile and counterproductive, serving only to divert the Ummah’s collective focus onto subsidiary issues, issues that anyhow could only satisfactorily be addressed under the auspices of the Caliphate, today I have a much more synergic view of the same. The task of re-establishing the Caliphate is a joint enterprise, the fulfilment of which will be as the result of the collective endeavours of all the disparate Islamic groups and movements. Each has a role to play in its return.

For example it goes without saying that a society lacking the ambience of Islamic morals and inclinations is not capable of giving rise to or sustaining an Islamic state. In this respect the efforts of the various Sufi orders and revivalist movements such as the Tableeghi Jamaat have proven invaluable in counteracting the pernicious effects of enforced secularism and state sponsored nationalism in countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Syria.

Despite my longstanding intractable opposition to the use of democracy as a means to achieve an Islamic state, today when I witness the re-election of the Islamist oriented AKP party in Turkey I cannot deny experiencing a certain spiritual uplifting. In this I am far from alone. Even supporters of the various Jihadi outfits who perpetually denounce democracy as kufr (infidelity) have openly expressed pleasure at the ascendancy of Erdogan and the AKP in contemporary Turkish politics. In Egypt the election of Morsi, fleeting though his reign would prove, similarly reinvigorated the supporters of more “radical” (for want of a better word) movements in the country who clearly sensed that his tenure would provide a more fecund environment for their proselytization and recruitment activities. Like I say, while I still disagree with the democratic path – for pragmatic as well as theological reasons – I can acknowledge that certain tangible benefits have accrued from the efforts of the Muslim Brotherhood (which incidentally is the ideological progenitor of parties such as the AKP).

While I would love to discuss in detail my change in perspective (if any) apropos of the jihadi movement unfortunately I have been advised that it is a legal minefield. The UK’s terrorism laws do not permit free speech. Essentially the Crown Prosecution Service has huge leeway when it comes to adjudicating upon what constitutes incitement or glorification of terrorism. While it is permitted for non-Muslims to advocate and incite all manner of violence against Muslims who advocate Islamic governance any hint or insinuation that a Muslim might possibly be justified in using violence to counter the violence being perpetrated upon him will likely lead to one falling foul of relevant terrorism statutes. Such is the hypocrisy of the British government’s claims to uphold liberal democratic ideals. What I can I say is that it is without doubt that the zeitgeist in the Muslim world today is much more favourably disposed towards those who groups who favour armed struggle in order to effect the transition of the Middle East’s dictatorships to a Caliphate (or some form of Islamic governance). Regarding the use of violence then consider, for example, that the UK government (and the West in general) supports the violent overthrow of the Assad regime – but only by those violent revolutionaries intent on raising the edifice of pro-US-Europe-Israel polity upon its ashes. The violent revolutionary activity of all others is, naturally, “terrorism” – regardless of how much support it carries amongst the Syrian populace. To the cynical it might appear that violence for the attainment of Western foreign policy objectives is deemed righteous while all other violence by definition is criminal and barbaric but I’ll leave that as a judgement for the reader to make. Incidentally the term ‘jihad’ itself has, in recent years, undergone a paradigm shift in its usage. Previously a descriptor for a noble, righteous struggle – when the opponents were communist soviet troops at any rate – it is now usually prefixed with the adjective “violent” (as if earlier versions involved cuddly toys) and denotes a campaign of unmitigated depredation actuated by a desire to impose a (supposedly)regressive 7th century ideology upon largely recusant populations.

What do I make of Islamic State (formerly known as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria)?

Do I support Islamic State? To such a pointed question I’m afraid I don’t have a succinct “yes” (which would incidentally constitute a criminal offence) or “no” answer. What I feel about Islamic State is, in any case, an utter irrelevancy. As to the related question of “what are your perceptions of the Muslim community’s attitude towards Islamic State?”, on this I can perhaps offer some insight with maybe a few of my personal musings thrown in.

First off please (re-)read my disclaimer in pt 1. Nothing in what follows (or in what’s preceded) should be misconstrued as advocacy or support for any proscribed organisation. Granted the ill-defined and catch-all definition of the word in the various statutes, nevertheless nothing herein should be misconstrued as a “glorification” of terrorism. Once again, I realise that might be asking a bit much of some but do try your best. It seems that for some, unless you’re prepared to expectorate gobbets of ebullient bile at the mere mention of Islamic State then you are a terrorist sympathiser. Conversely for many (though not all) Islamic State supporters any manner of criticism of their self-declared Caliphate and the actions of its soldiers/officials constitutes “appeasement of the infidels” and/or “selling-out”. I’m truly caught here between a rock and hard place. Constrained then as I am by stifling provisions of the UK’s anti-terrorism statutes, I shall nevertheless endeavour to provide as candid an analysis as I can on the entity known as Islamic State (Arabic: “Dawlah Islamiyyah”).

I apologise in advance if what follows is slightly verbose and not a little discursive. It hasn’t been easy collating and transcribing my inchoate mass of thoughts and sentiments on this matter into something that resembles a coherent disquisition. For that I apologise but please do persevere to the end if you can.

It would be futile to try and understand Islamic State (IS) and what it represents without familiarising oneself with the history of the Middle East post WW1. After that an understanding of the politics of Iraq post US invasion and deposition of Saddam is essential. While a monograph on these topics is obviously beyond the scope of this article I will attempt to provide a cursory overview in order to construct something of a context for my answer. I would also recommend the following superlative PBS documentary as essential viewing for those interested in the more granular details pertaining to the ascent of IS in post invasion Iraq:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/rise-of-isis/ .

Shortly after coming to power in 2006 the regime of Nouri al-Maliki in concert with its Shi’ite paramilitary auxiliaries began to wage a relentless war on the Sunni community of Iraq. Death squads targeted Sunni neighbourhoods of Baghdad. Young Sunni men would be detained (read kidnapped) at checkpoints dotted around the city, never to be seen again or if they were only in the form of trussed up corpses bearing the marks of the most horrific forms of torture. The Iraqi army was purged of its senior Sunni officer rank. Eventually Maliki moved to purge his cabinet of its Sunni members thus completing his drive to disempower and disenfranchise the entire Sunni community. None of this provoked any meaningful response on the part of the White House, Maliki’s chief Western sponsor, effectively signalling thereby a thumbs-up from the US for his blood-thirsty sectarian campaign.

The Sunni insurgency lead by Al Qaeda in Iraq and its successor organisation Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) eventually buckled and petered out under the combined pressure of a huge US troop surge and attacks by the newly formed Sunni tribal militias of Anbar. The turning of the Sunni tribes was orchestrated under the aegis of the US military sponsored “Sahwa” programme. However, the vicious sectarian campaign waged by Maliki and his cohorts soon alienated these same tribes leaving them feeling victimised and despondent. In Maliki’s understanding, the entire Sunni community constituted a dormant threat that needed to be decisively crushed. Consequently, regardless of their efforts in driving Al Qaeda from Anbar he terminated the state’s payment of salaries to the Sahwa [“Awakening”] militias, instead demanding their disarmament and demobilisation. Eventually, after a series of bloody crack downs on peaceful Sunni protests the Anbari tribes rose up again, this time turning their guns on the Iraqi security forces. Sensing a renewed opportunity, into this bloody imbroglio stepped the remnants of ISI, hitherto rusticating in the Anbar desert, readily offering their protection services to the embittered Sunni community. Conveniently enough at the same time the incipient Syrian civil war afforded ISI the opportunity to despatch a small group of cadres across the Sykes-Picot border in order to establish cells, forge links and initiate operations against the Assad regime. As Anbar gradually slipped away from Baghdad’s control the border region became increasingly porous allowing ISI fighters to cross it largely at will. The rest, as they say, is history. ISI to ISIS to IS. After a repose of almost a century the spectre of the Caliphate again loomed large over the West.

So having provided a synopsis of their rise what do I actually make of Islamic State? The first thing that must be noted is the lack of impartial credible information we receive regarding the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Stories of brothels in Raqqa, forced evictions of Christians, burning of churches, FGM fatwas etc. – such harrowing anecdotes are regularly smattered across the Western media yet precious little by way of independent corroboration is ever adduced. The “witnesses” that are presented, decrying the alleged depredations of “the jihadists” more often than not have a vested interest in stoking up Western opprobrium to the “Islamist” cause. While I don’t deny for one second that serious crimes (according to Islamic law) may have occurred such incidents are also, sadly, an inevitable, if regrettable, feature of such internecine civil wars. Where there are wars there will always be war crimes. What needs to be considered is whether these incidents are anomalies or part of a sustained pattern of conduct.

Undoubtedly detractors will point to the self-publicised mass executions and the enslavement of the Yazidis as evidence of IS’ irredeemable barbarity. Regarding the former it should be borne in mind that these mass executions (the ones which we have credible evidence for at any rate) have been perpetrated against armed combatants and combatants who have previously demonstrated a wanton disregard for the sanctity of human life – civilian or combatant. The Shia dominated Iraqi security forces and their auxiliaries, the Shi’ite militias, have a track record of extreme brutality against Sunni civilians let alone combatants. Framed in this context their shrill jeremiads on Islamic State cruelty evoke precious little sympathy in me or, I suspect, most Sunnis. [Next two lines have been self-censored due to the UK’s anti-free speech laws].

Regarding the treatment of Christians then it is the claim of IS that it doesn’t drive them from their homes, interfere with their places of worship or seize their wealth and property provided they pay the Jiziya and don’t oppose Islamic rule. In opposition to this claim are the images of Christian homes in Mosul inscribed with the Arabic Nun symbol (the first letter of the Arabic word for Christian) accompanied by a statement that the property had been seized by the Islamic State. In addition numerous testimonies of Christians who fled Mosul state that they were relieved of all their money at Islamic State checkpoints as they departed. In respect of places of worship then the main Islamic State propagation centre in their capital, Raqqa was formerly an Orthodox church. In both cases Islamic State contends the Christian owners voluntarily abandoned these properties thereby rendering them state assets. I, for one, find this explanation hard to swallow. It is clear that these people were fearful for their safety (whether they were justified or not in their fear is irrelevant) and as the situation is one of war and instability their decision to temporarily relocate to more irenic environs should not have been utilised as a pretext to rob them. I’m sorry but that is the only word appropriate to describe such behaviour – robbery. Furthermore, the jiziya is a payment taken in return for protection. If IS cannot provide any meaningful protection from enemy bombing then upon what basis has this money been taken? Again I reiterate I’m not a scholar but these are my personal musings on the matter. In the interests of balance and fairness I should relay that a source (@BintWater) on the social media platform, Twitter who claims to be a resident of Raqqa, recently cited a report of a Christian family returning to the town and being permitted to reclaim their property upon payment of the jiziya.

On the issue of slavery and the treatment of the Yazidis I have already made my views abundantly clear. While I don’t deny the permissibility – according to the Islamic shariah – of seizing slaves during warfare, the better course of action, clearly, is to free all captives of war. Furthermore there is a difference of opinion in Islamic jurisprudence regarding who precisely can be seized – whether it refers to only those present on the battlefield or to the entire conquered populace in general. While it is true that the Prophet (saw) did seize slaves it is also the case that the Prophet (saw) freed all the captives of the Hawazin tribe after the battle of Hunayn – even offering to compensate those Muslims who were unwilling to give up their slaves voluntarily. Such behaviour endears Islam to non-Muslims; selling people’s wives and daughters in slave markets quite obviously doesn’t. While in a bygone era such behaviour was the accepted norm, with neither side in a conflict viewing it as excessively cruel or unusual today that clearly isn’t the case. To those who will inevitably declaim against my “appeasing of the kuffar”, they should understand that the ultimate purpose of Jihad (assuming the jihad of IS is legitimate) is not to shed blood or enslave people. Rather its purpose is to remove the tangible obstacles that prevent the message of Islam – the preeminent facet of which is the implementation of the divine laws – from reaching the non-Muslim masses. The shedding of blood is an incidental, if inevitable, epiphenomenon. If an act is not obligatory (and enslaving people certainly doesn’t fall into this category) and its omission would advance the cause of Islamic proselytization then it’s really a no-brainer to me what policy should be adopted with respect to it. Should a Prophetic precedent be required then one might adduce the case of the Thaqif tribe. They requested the Prophet (saw) for permission to leave their idol of al-Lat intact for a period of time and to be exempted from performing the prayers. Both of these issues were of course non-negotiable and accordingly the Prophet (saw) refused. However, whether they would be required to destroy the idol by their own hands or whether simply permitting a representative of the state (i.e. a delegate of the Prophet [saw]) to perform the deed might suffice was a question which allowed for a degree of latitude. On this point, therefore, the Prophet (saw) acceded to their request not to have to carry out the destruction by their own hands. Like I said, when it comes to an issue where either of two competing actions/policies are both permissible then the one which provokes the least consternation amongst the people should be adopted.

“Treat people with ease and do not be hard on them; give them glad tidings and do not make them run away (from Islam).” [Bukhari and Muslim]

The reintroduction of slavery after having previously been eradicated (at least in its most basic form) runs counter to the maqasid (yes such a thing does exist despite its abuse by the modernists) of the divine law. The policy of Islamic State with respect to both slavery and jiziya is misguided in my humble opinion. The strongest opinion according to the Islamic texts is that – with the exception of the Arab mushrikeen – the jiziya is taken from all non-Muslims. What I find strange in this regard on the part of some of the more vociferous, inveterate supporters of Islamic State is that when the subject of madhabs and difference of opinion is mentioned their normative mantra is “we should follow the Sunnah not a scholar/madhab” yet on this particular issue, in the face of the preponderance of textual evidence and scholarly opinions stacked against them, their response is “it’s a difference of opinion – we follow our scholar’s opinion.” Whatever happened to following the text?

So then why has Islamic state managed to garner such a huge amount of support across the Sunni Muslim world? What is inspiring young Muslim men in the West to exchange the appurtenances and comforts of the so-called first world in order to suffer the privations (not to mention bombs and bullets) of Iraq and Syria?

For the Sunnis of Iraq, the allure of Islamic State lies squarely in the protection it provides from the brutality of the sectarian Shi’ite dominated army (and its paramilitary ancillaries). Many, most likely, are not overly enthused about the ideology of Islamic State and probably initially welcomed them as a stop-gap measure until a more moderate, inclusive regime could be installed in Baghdad. Similarly in Syria, the brutality of the Nusayri (Alawite) dominated (and Iranian backed) regime of Bashar al-Assad found a commensurate response in the brutal policies of Islamic State. As the murderous ravaging of the regime intensified so too did the Sunni population’s own thirst for revenge and retaliatory actions. Although it may be the case that sections of the Syrian population under Islamic State rule resent the trammels of IS’ strict religious code, given a choice between enforced prayer and niqabs on one hand and the tender mercies of Assad’s Shabiha militia on the other, it’s not hard to understand why they might plump for the former.

As for the Western recruits then there is no one answer. Some have gone seeking martyrdom and the resultant absolution, some simply desiring to degust life under Islamic law. Others have been actuated by a desire to defend their Sunni Muslim co-religionists from the savagery of Assad and Maliki (and now Abadi). Since the declaration of the Caliphate back in June many have felt religiously obligated to make hijrah (migration) and move to the territory controlled by IS. For some it’s a combination of all of the above. And yes, I suppose for a fair few it’s something akin to an adventure holiday – a heady mix of “Call of Duty”, trekking in the Brecon Beacons and Glastonbury avec AKs – all recorded, curated and disseminated in real-time to a worldwide audience of supporters (encompassing a growing number of smitten young women) and critics. Young men, will be young men and the allure of guns and a righteous cause – violence and religious idealism, if you will – is a powerful one. If my words seem invidious then rest assured mockery isn’t my intent. I have no doubt as to the sincere intentions of these foreign recruits but sometimes in the callowness of youth discerning one’s own true intentions isn’t always the simplest of tasks.

But what underpins all of the above? I mean what is it specifically about Islam that inspires British Muslims to travel 2500 miles to participate in a conflict to which they have no ethnic or cultural connection? In part 1 I talked of how the concept of Ummah lies central to the orthodox Islamic worldview. It serves to explain why, in the minds of a British born and raised Muslim he is anything but a “foreigner” as he traverses the dust ridden plains of Syria on the back of a Toyota pick-up. However, there are concepts that lay even more fundamental to this. Explaining them though is not easy and perhaps even impossible. How can I impart to a non-Muslim, who views life through the twin lenses of “the pursuit of [material] happiness” and “you only live once”, the overbearing sense of trepidation a Muslim, even a non-practising one, feels (even if intermittently) towards matters such as Judgement Day and the Hereafter? When one reads the verses in the Qur’an that talk about the punishment reserved for disbelievers and also for those Muslims who prove perfidious to their covenant, how can one not shudder? As a result it is often the more dissolute and theologically jejune Muslims who experience the greatest attraction to jihad seeing it as a means of expiating their abundant misdemeanours. To most Western non-Muslims, of course, talk of judgement day, heaven and hell is completely opaque if not meaningless; such concepts being relics of a bygone pre-rational, pre-scientific epoch. For someone who doesn’t hold an unshakeable conviction in such beliefs, attempting to rationalise the actions of these young men (and an increasing number of young women) is much akin to a Year 7 science pupil attempting to fathom the mysteries of quantum mechanics. For Muslims, however, these concepts define our very existence. They inform many of the crucial choices we make in life. They imbue in us a deep seated sense of angst, borne of the aleatory nature of our covenant with Allah, yet also with an irrepressible sense of hope; a hope rooted in His profluent Mercy. In the face of otherwise insufferable adversities a Muslim can always seeks solace in the cognisance that while the travails of this life are ephemeral the delectations of the next are eternal. For those that keep the faith, that is; and there is no greater testimony to faith than being prepared to give one’s life for it.

I have prepared for My righteous servants what no eye has seen and no ear has heard, nor has it occurred to the human heart.[Hadith Qudsi – Bukhari, Muslim]

The plain reality is that as a result of IS’ endeavours the old colonial border between Iraq and Syria that Messrs Sykes and Picot delineated a century ago has gone. Like a hideous, disfiguring scar the border served as a perpetual reminder of the Ottoman Caliphate’s humiliation at the hands of the British and French in the aftermath of WW1. Its dismantlement has undoubtedly proven immensely popular and inspiring amongst large sections of the Sunni Muslim communities on both sides – both for its historic resonance and for more pragmatic reasons. The enforcement of the prayer, the establishment of courts that judge according to divine law, the hisbah patrols that protect and enforce the legitimate rights of the citizenry – all spectacles which no doubt meet with widespread approval amongst the Muslim masses. The constitutive rhetoric issuing from IS regarding Islamic unity carries immense resonance amongst huge swathes of the global Muslim community. The head of Islamic State, the soi-disant Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi stated during his inaugural Friday sermon:

“Soon, by Allah’s permission, a day will come when the Muslim will walk everywhere as a master, having honour, being revered, with his head raised high and his dignity preserved. Anyone who dares to offend him will be disciplined, and any hand that reaches out to harm him will be cut off.”

Such words, without doubt, would have struck a chord with the millions of Muslims who heard it or read it in transcript. From our current state of arrant humiliation it’s hard to see which Muslim wouldn’t aspire to a situation where we are accorded the same respect and deference as is currently the preserve of Americans and Europeans (and increasingly the Chinese)? Why should the defence and protection of downtrodden Muslims be reliant on the caprice of non-Muslim hegemons, who act only upon their own selfish “national interests”? The right to be free from persecution and foreign interference, to have our religion respected and our blood and wealth held inviolable is the legitimate aspiration of hundreds of millions of Muslims worldwide and Baghdadi in his address gave voice to this in candid, forthright terms.

There exists a near uniform (and wholly justified) perception across the Muslim world that the West applies both double standards in its dealings with other nations (especially Muslim ones), in it’s advocacy and enforcement of human rights and in it’s application of both military and civilian justice. Appealing to such perceptions, Baghdadi undoubtedly echoed the thoughts of innumerable Muslims when he stated:

“Terrorism is to refer to Allah’s law for judgment. Terrorism is to worship Allah as He ordered you. Terrorism is to refuse humiliation, subjugation, and subordination [to the kuffar – infidels]. Terrorism is for the Muslim to live as a Muslim, honourably with might and freedom. Terrorism is to insist upon your rights and not give them up.

But terrorism does not include the killing of Muslims in Burma and the burning of their homes. Terrorism does not include the dismembering and disemboweling of the Muslims in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Kashmir. Terrorism does not include the killing of Muslims in the Caucasus and expelling them from their lands. Terrorism does not include making mass graves for the Muslims in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the slaughtering of their children. Terrorism does not include the destruction of Muslims’ homes in Palestine, the seizing of their lands, and the violation and desecration of their sanctuaries and families.

Terrorism does not include the burning of masajid in Egypt, the destruction of the Muslims’ homes there, the rape of their chaste women, and the oppression of the mujahidin in the Sinai Peninsula and elsewhere.

Terrorism does not include the extreme torture and degradation of Muslims in East Turkistan and Iran (by the rafidah[Shia]), as well as preventing them from receiving their most basic rights. Terrorism does not include the filling of prisons everywhere with Muslim captives. Terrorism does not include the waging of war against chastity and hijab (Muslim women’s clothing) in France and Tunis. It does not include the propagation of betrayal, prostitution, and adultery.

Terrorism does not include the insulting of the Lord of Mightiness, the cursing of the religion, and the mockery of our Prophet (peace be upon him). Terrorism does not include the slaughtering of Muslims in Central Africa like sheep, while no one weeps for them and denounces their slaughter.

All this is not terrorism. Rather it is freedom, democracy, peace, security, and tolerance! Sufficient for us is Allah, and He is the best Disposer of affairs.

{And they resented them not except because they believed in Allah, the Exalted in Might, the Praiseworthy} [Al-Buruj: 8]

It is my strong suspicion that most Muslims would concur with Baghdadi’s assessment – including those who demur his favoured remedy. The above words of Baghdadi elide the innumerable crimes of the US and her allies in nations such as Vietnam, Honduras, Guatemala, Chile, Indonesia etc. The sheer scale of the bloodshed the US and her allies have visited – directly or indirectly – upon innocent men, women and children over the past 60 years has no parallel in human history. But then I suppose Noam Chomsky summed it up best: “For the powerful, crimes are those that others commit.” Such glaring, rank hypocrisy is by far and away the greatest reason why so many in the Arab and Muslim world are drawn with such alacrity to the narrative of Islamic State and groups like them. Should the CPS be reading I’d request that I not be censured for telling you this. After all I’m merely the messenger and as such not to be shot – or thrown into Belmarsh for that matter.

While the rise of Islamic State may be directly attributed to a chain of events in Iraq and Syria commencing with the 2003 US-led invasion, for a clearer understanding of their origins it is incumbent to look beyond and appreciate the wider social-political context in which such groups have germinated, incubated and ultimately effloresced.

For the past 100 years the Arab world has been characterised by dictatorship and the complete absence of any form of representative, accountable governance. In Saudi Arabia the as-Saud dynasty, originally the creation and lickspittle of the British crown but long since having transferred its allegiance to the United States, still holds dominion over some 25% of the world’s known oil reserves. Any manner of dissent or criticism is crushed, women’s rights suppressed and discrimination against religious and racial minorities is both endemic and widespread. All of which, of course, barely elicits a whisper of rebuke from Western capitals despite their pretensions as champions and defenders of “universal human rights”. Across the border in the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan – another early 20th century British construct – a descendant of the traitor Shariff Hussein, viz. the half-British Abdullah II, still occupies the throne. Whilst somewhat less austere than the House of Saud his rule is nonetheless similarly absolutist in its nature. As in the case of Saudi Arabia, Western leaders are decidedly reticent about the abysmal human rights situation – including the widespread use of arbitrary detention and torture. One can only speculate as to why.

In Egypt, the Middle East’s most populous country and its cultural hub, having endured three decades of gruelling, grinding oppression at the hands of a Western backed tyrant, people finally decide enough is enough and take to the streets to demand change. Following the ousting of Mubarak, free and fair elections result in the ascendance of Islamist parties, leading to the instalment of a Muslim Brotherhood President and a new ‘Islamic’ constitution for the country. Less than a year into his tenure this democratically elected leader is ousted in an illegal coup, replaced by a military dictator who promptly orders mass arrests going on to summarily murder thousands in cold blood on the streets of the capital. Over the subsequent months hundreds more are sentenced to death in sham trials, including some 500 in one day – a spectacle even Lord Chief Justice Jefferys might have blanched at. All opposition and dissent is crushed. And the response to this from Western leaders? A few half-hearted rebukes interlaced with the odd expression of “concern” about the fate of erstwhile detained incumbent Mohammed Morsi. Oh and a brief curtailment of military aid. As incontrovertible and emphatic a condemnation if ever there was one. For his part former Prime Minister Tony Blair – the incongruous Middle East ‘peace’ envoy – has been positively effusive in his praise of the brutal military dictator, now turned President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, citing the need to secure strategic interests as being the paramount concern. Naturally, for Mr Blair and his ilk, such concerns will always trump fanciful scruples about “universal human rights” and associated lefty babble.

In Syria the Assad family, first under Haffez and subsequently his son Bashar, ruled with an iron fist for decades until finally in 2011 the Sunni majority rose up in peaceful, and then violent, protest. The Assad family hails from the heterodox Alawite minority sect that was propelled to power in the early 20th century by a French colonial authority keen to utilise them as pliant overseers of the deeply resentful and inimical Sunni majority. The past three years have witnessed an almost apocalyptic level of devastation as the regime attempts to eviscerate all opposition to its tyrannical rule. The scale of the killings by the regime are unmatched by any opposition group, included IS, and earlier in the conflict constituted the main focus of attention for Western media outlets’. Since the latter part of 2013 and the contemporaneous shift in Western foreign policy towards Syria, scant attention is paid anymore by these same outlets to the regime’s continued butchery of its Sunni citizens. Instead today we are subjected to a constant stream of updates on the latest IS beheadings and assorted other misdeeds. The idea that the major Western media outlets are “free and independent” of their respective governments influences is sadly a fantasy, but one which millions blindly indulge.

Although outside the Middle East as such, the aborted elections in Algeria back in 1992 which the Front for Islamic Salvation – another Muslim Brotherhood inspired movement – had been set to win, serves as another stark reminder of the West’s breathtaking hypocrisy with respect to upholding democratic ideals.

Viewed then in context the current unfolding tragedy in Syria and Iraq is but the culmination of, inter alia, the antecedents catalogued above. One needs hardly be an IS ideologue to appreciate this and feel the consequential acute sense of resentment and animosity towards those nations responsible for creating the current incomprehensible map of the Middle East – an incongruous pastiche of impotent plutocracies, each with little to no historic unifying national identity. After the failed dalliance with pan-Arab socialism in the 50, 60s and 70s it has become increasingly obvious that the only identity around which the Arabs (notwithstanding the non-Muslim minority) can successfully cohere is the Islamic one – the same one which for centuries successfully bound together, Arabs, Kurds and Turks in relative peace and harmony. When peaceful attempts to assert and politically reify this Islamic identity have been made they’ve invariably met with the same vicious, bloody response from the West’s in loco satrapies. When you subject people to an unrelenting programme of disentitlement (aka “grinding poverty”), dehumanisation and torture (directly or via proxies), what do you expect the end-products to be? Tree hugging hippies?

With respect to the elusive Caliphate then as any doctor will tell you, when a natural birth is not possible the only alternative available is a caesarean. Or to put it in the words of JFK: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” After 100 years of repression the cauldron has finally boiled over. The conflagration the US lit by its invasion of Iraq in 2003, having already consumed that nation and its neighbour will in due course go on to engulf the entire region. By declaring itself a Caliphate, IS has let the genie well and truly out of the bottle and there will be no forcing it back.

I’ve already made clear my misgivings and opposition regarding some of the more sanguinary aspects of Islamic State’s policies. Their unjust killing of the aid worker Alan Henning galled most Muslims, even the most committed jihadists. More recently news has emerged of their execution of the HT member, Abu Bakr Mustafa Khayal. While killing armed members of rival jihadist groups might be understandable given the situation (even if not condonable), to kill a member of an Islamic party that eschews violence and any manner of Western alliance or intervention should cause any Muslim to shudder with horripilation. Their liberal use of takfeer and apparent fixation on precipitating eschatological showdowns dismays and baffles me in equal measures. The obsession with beheadings (by knife to a bound prisoner), mutilations and gratuitous public displays of such savagery causes me to severely doubt their claims to being a Caliphate upon the Prophetic method. Something in me questions, for example, whether the Rasul (saw) would have organised a public lynching followed by tying one of the battered corpses to the back of a horse and riding it around the centre of Madinah to the jeering approval of his companions? Many of the Muslims I have spoken to harbour similar grave reservations about IS as well as the overarching vision of a Caliphate they espouse but nevertheless wholeheartedly support their struggle against the Syrian and Iraqi regimes. The start of the US-led coalition airstrikes against ALL Islamist rebel groups has only lead to an upsurge in support for Islamic state both within and outside Syria/Iraq and to many this conflict is beginning – as has long been the desire of IS – to assume the shroud of a civilisational one.

In the 13th century (CE), Sultan Baibars all but eliminated the Crusader presence in the Holy Land. Now by all accounts Baibars was a ruthless thug; a man who spared neither man nor woman, neither the innocent nor the guilty. In the face of the Crusaders’ own prodigious track record of barbarity though some have argued that such a leader was the unfortunate necessity of the time. It is through the same prism that many Muslims today view Islamic State (and their precursor Al Qaeda). Such a viewpoint is, in many ways, reminiscent of the attitude of the Irish community towards the IRA in the 70s and 80s and most Muslims I speak to today espouse a similar sense of reticent ambivalence towards the question of IS.

Notwithstanding my objections outlined above, I have little time for the hypocritical denouncements of Western politicians and commentators. Those who advocate or excuse the mass killing of innocents – millions of them – for rapacious “strategic interests” (i.e. exploitation of natural resources) are in no position to decry the depredations of others. Is the act of obliterating dozens of (mostly innocent) human bodies via 500 lb ordnance really so more civilised than cutting off an individual innocent’s head? If any of the #NotInMyName morons happen to be reading this please do NOT attempt to use any excerpts from this article as part of your campaign. Although I disapprove of many of the actions and policies of IS they remain, nevertheless, Muslims and I refuse to curse them at the behest of those responsible for slaughter and bloodshed on an exponentially greater scale.

In respect of whether I regard the territory Islamic State controls as a Caliphate and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the Khaleefah, the short answer is no. I have already alluded to the reasons why in earlier blog pieces but essentially I would say it boils down to the issue of security and sustainability. I believe these two elements are lacking in their extant proto-polity. I realise this will be bitterly disputed by IS supporters but they should appreciate that I am merely proffering an evaluation of my personal perception of the ground reality in Iraq and Syria, rather than delivering a binding fatwa. This subject is not a matter of scholarly interpretation but rather a case of analysing the extant military and political realities – as best as one can from 2500 miles away. Of course such realities are constantly in a state of flux and should the dynamics change then my evaluation would necessarily require revisiting. I’ve previously stated that should IS achieve a credible air defence capability or even a rudimentary air force this would clearly significantly alter the equation. If Baghdad were to fall or should the current rump Shi’ite Iraqi state or perhaps Turkey extend IS recognition – be that even de facto rather than de jure – and normalise trade and infrastructure ties then this would clearly also materially alter the ground reality. In such scenarios IS’ claim to the Caliphate would suddenly assume an altogether different magnitude. Until such a time, however, my position is that such a claim remains a vain pretension, reflecting aspiration rather than the reality. It is my earnest wish to visit the territory controlled by Islamic State, most notably their capital, Raqqa, to see for myself the daily reality of life under their rule and if it comports with my personal vision for a Caliphate. Obviously arranging such a trip would be fraught with logistical and legal obstacles yet perhaps it isn’t completely beyond the realms of possibility. We shall see.

To conclude it’s my opinion that Islamic State will prove a brief stretch on the inexorable highway that leads to the final destination of a Caliphate upon the model of the Prophethood. Grotesque as many in the West may find it, it behoves them to appreciate that Islamic State is the manifestation of the long standing desire of the peoples of the Middle East to assert a political independence and identity that has been repeatedly denied them. The apodictic truth, however much sneering it might provoke in right-wing circles, is that the disastrous self-defeating policies of the West, both created IS and are now corralling people, some reluctantly, into its camp. Regarding the current campaign against IS then I believe Brooking’s Institute fellow, Shadi Hamid cuts to the heart of the matter when he asks: “You can kill an organisation but can you kill an idea deeply rooted in a society?” The answer, as posterity will record, in the case of Islam & the Caliphate is a resounding, “no”.

My vision for an “ideal” Caliphate I will cover in part 3.

May the peace and blessings of Allah (swt) be upon our master Muhammad.

NOTE: Somebody has objected that the West doesn’t actually seek the overthrow of Assad. When the rebellion first broke out the West did seek the removal of Assad, believing they could replace him with someone more amenable. When it became obvious the Syrian people wouldn’t accept Western imposed puppets and were coalescing around the Islamist rebel groups their attitude started to change. Then with the ascent of ISIS attitudes hardened dramatically and the recent leaked letter from Obama to Rohani revealed what most of us had suspected for months i.e. that the US and the Assad regime (via his chief sponsor, Iran) had come to an understanding.However, publicly in the media at least, the West maintains the charade that they support the “moderate rebels” in their campaign to overthrow the Assad regime – that is what was being referred to. Hope that clarifies the matter.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Len duToi says:

    A Masterful piece that accurately analyses the trends and views permuating in the Muslim community regarding ISIS. Without a shadow of a doubt the most insightful, as well as accurate piece written on this topic.

    I couldn’t commend this piece more.

  2. godulysses says:

    Peruating??? no such word…must be some sort of typo

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