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COMMENTARY: CLASH of CIVILIZATIONS

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Jihad for a New Caliphate

2008

There are in the world fundamentalist Muslims who want a single caliphate whose authority stretches from Indonesia to Morocco.

The last caliphate was in Turkey, in the Ottoman Empire. Like the first caliphate its authority was a matter of military power. The Ottoman Empire was defeated in the First World War and in 1922 ceased to exist. In 1924 Turkey's Kemal Ataturk abolished the caliphate. In Arabia the Hashim family considered itself descendants of the Prophet Muhammad, and Sharif Hussein ibn Ali declared himself caliph. But in the mid-1920s Ibn Saud drove him from Mecca and conquered the Hejaz and Nejd portions of the Arabian Peninsula. Sharif Hussein ibn Ali Hussein fled to Cyprus and then went to Transjordan where the British had made his son king. The creation of a new caliphate would require a military operation greater than that which united Islam in the seventh century. Suicide explosions here and there will not do it. Neither will capturing power in a single Muslim nation. Conservative, or moderate Muslim powers allied with the West would never allow such a state to be used as a base from which to conquer all of the other Muslim nations.

And there is something else mitigating against a new caliphate from Indonesia to Morocco – the very thing that undermined the unity of Islam beginning in the seventh century. It is impossible to get everyone agreeing on one authority or keeping everyone in such agreement, and there is always a tendency toward a variety of conflicting views. Islam was plagued by civil wars in the seventh century. With the expansion of Islam three caliphates emerged. Conquests of the Arabs was swallowed and diversified the Islam that the Arabs created. The Abbasid Dynasty weakened and disappeared, eventually leading to the Ottoman caliphate.

The United Arab Republic, created after World War II fell apart already in 1961. A caliphate across the globe, from Indonesia to Morocco, is a utopian dream that appears to be interfering with an adjustment to the reality of diversity.

March 15, 2012

In the Washington Post David Ignatius writes of a document left behind by the late Osama bin Laden. In the document, bin Laden described a "doctrinal" dispute or disputes within Al Qaeda – the kind of doctrinal difference that Islam will never be able to avoid. And bin Laden criticized al Qaeda tactics. Spilling "Muslim blood." wrote bin Laden, had resulted in "the alienation of most of the nation [of Islam] from [al Qaeda]."