The Caliphate, Then and Now

Thursday, July 03, 2014

An Iraqi girl stands inside of a displacement camp for those caught-up in the fighting in and around the city of Mosul on June 28, 2014 in Khazair, Iraq. Tens of thousands have fled ISIS. (Spencer Platt/Getty)

ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, claims to have set up a caliphate and wants to be referred to as "the Islamic State". Fawaz Gerges, chair of Contemporary Middle Eastern Studies and professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and author of  The New Middle East: Protest and Revolution in the Arab World  (Cambridge University Press, 2013) talks about the history of the caliphate - both imagined and real - and why ISIS is trying to establish one (and if they've succeeded).


Fawaz Gerges

Comments [22]

Ken from Putnam Valley

Amy that is in part why I brought up the issue of succession.

What I also see is that militant extremists are building on ancient divisions to foment radicalism. Many of those divisions had to do with how the legacy of Mohammed is viewed; principally from the Shia versus Sunni divide but also with other sects of Islam, and ironically, how more pacifist Islam is being marginalized even by dominant states like Iran and Egypt.

Also what is not understood well here is the difference between the religious affiliation of many in the region versus the cultural allegiance of the groups. Many groups such as the Kurds and Persians, identify themselves as independent cultures that predate Islam but were only unified after lengthy internecine struggle between factions.

Also much of the more fundamentalist extremism we see today perhaps owes its origin to the impact of the Mongol invasions, which both spread Islam throughout much of Asia but also can be seen as a pivotal turning point when Islam begins its decline and ceases to be competitive with the West by the end of the 16th Century.

The Ottoman empire fails to pursue the advances of the period of Enlightenment, which ironically is influenced greatly by knowledge brought home by Medieval Europeans in their failed Holy Land Crusades.

Jul. 03 2014 01:53 PM

Agree with Cliff from Manhattan. And the Iranian cleric, described by Steven from Brooklyn, sounds very much like US Christian zealots who claimed that destructive hurricanes were sent by god to punish us for NOT punishing homosexuals.

Jul. 03 2014 12:41 PM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

Muhammed the last prophet?

L. Ron Hubbard disgrees.

Jul. 03 2014 12:31 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Ken, from what I've heard, the basis of Muslim opposition to Baha'i is that they consider the Baha'ullah to be a prophet, when Muslim belief is that Muhammad was the last prophet, as in there will never be another prophet after him.

Jul. 03 2014 12:27 PM
Edward from Washington Heights AKA pretentious Hudson Heights

Taher from Croton on Hudson said:

"Like much of the comments here it is nothing more then opinion and ignorant emotionalism."

Sounds like a typical program on Al Jazeera. Lots of chest pounding and exchanges of threats and overturned desks and floor crew rushing in to separate the opposing sides.

Jul. 03 2014 12:12 PM
Steven from Brooklyn

An article on the Huffington Post from 2010, written by someone with the wonderfully charming name, Scheherezade Faramarzi, opens with:

BEIRUT — A senior Iranian cleric says women who wear immodest clothing and behave promiscuously are to blame for earthquakes.

Now while I admit that I find this to be unlikely, it does have a certain emotional appeal.

Jul. 03 2014 12:02 PM

What could inspire such ISIS fanaticism?
CIA-sponsored religious training in Pakistan to prepare anti-Russian fighters in Afghanistan?
Or does CIA-sponsored fanaticism have more recent seed programs?

Jul. 03 2014 11:52 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

jgarbuz from Queens, you are right. These people are Fascists, nihilists, sadists not unlike the Nazis with some insane notion of the past to be imposed by horror.

Jul. 03 2014 11:47 AM

Quite a litany of negatives.
But as the caller says: What about the positives?
Doesn't ISIS like dogs? small children? Apple Pie?

Jul. 03 2014 11:46 AM
Clif from Manhattan

This sounds exactly like what's happening here at home. Religious extremists trying to take total control and impose a religious state. They're just not bold enough to use outright violence, rather they try to legislate their ideas and use shady economic tricks.

Jul. 03 2014 11:43 AM
Ken from Putnam Valley

Brian please ask your guest to comment on the use of ISIS to further resurrect and build on the long dormant conflict between Shia and Sunni revolving around the early wars of succession for Mohammed leadership of Islam.

Also please ask about the repression of other Muslim sects like Sufi and Baha'i at the hands of both the dominant branches of Islam due to their more pacifist doctrines.

Jul. 03 2014 11:41 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

The so called neo-Caliphate are reminiscent of the Ḥashshāshīn, the Assassins, of the 12 century.

Jul. 03 2014 11:41 AM

Those Arabs sure can talk!
Brian can't get a word in!

Jul. 03 2014 11:37 AM
Amy from Manhattan

...& in this case, a particularly harsh form of sharia. There are others (& we need to hear more about them).

It sounded as if Prof. Gerges said Pres. Ataturk ended the caliphate not only in Turkey but beyond its borders. Was he in a position to do that?

Jul. 03 2014 11:35 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Well, the Nazis wanted a Third Reich that would cover all of Europe and half the world, and British had their worldwide empire, and so the desire for a whole world Caliphate that would incorporate all the Muslim countries and beyond is just another throwback to the ancient days of vast empires. But that is impossible in a nuclear world. Even small nuclear armed countries like Israel could withstand any attempt of such an empire to invade or coerce others in their Caliphate empire is highly improbable in this day and age.

Jul. 03 2014 11:34 AM

Shouldn’t we SUPPORT ISIS and aid them in their ultimate goal of a war against Shiite Islam and Iran?
We should be encouraging them to the war they want with Iran, not attacking them.
Let them tie each other down and grind themselves in to irrelevance.

Jul. 03 2014 11:33 AM
antonio from baySide

My question is the media getting this caliphate idea wrong? How could a group of people expect a sect of people to act in such a monolithic way. All groups are complex.

Jul. 03 2014 11:32 AM
Taher from Croton on Hudson

@MartinChuzzlewit, You really don't know much about Iran or the Middle East/ Central Asian history current and past. Like much of the comments here it is nothing more then opinion and ignorant emotionalism.

Jul. 03 2014 11:25 AM
john from office

This is a throwback to the Huns, looting their way through Europe and Asia. This is not a way to run a modern nation or economy. What this is, is another example of the failure of the United Nations and the need for a strong, military United States response. There is no other World Power. That reaction need not be boots on the ground, but forceful.

Jul. 03 2014 11:10 AM

It wasn't Mary, it was Athena (or Minerva if you prefer). Even though you abandoned the true gods for an Asiatic false-prophet centuries before they still watch over Europe.

Jul. 03 2014 09:54 AM
Ed from Larchmont

This is what the medieval Church fought against when it was attacked (and Europe fought against) from 700 to 1535 or so. And the Caliphates came very close to taking Italy, except for the decision to attack Malta, which was manned by a small group of Templars, which wore them out. The Victory at Lepanto in 1535 was decisive, credited to Mary's help and the use of the Rosary.
One problem the caliphates had was internal conflict, they had waves of imperialism followed by times of internal struggle and consolidation. Makes the Crusades look quite good and understandable, which they were.

Jul. 03 2014 08:19 AM

Even the LEFT WING Brookings Institution’s Michael Doran sees that Obama is, as always, making the wrong decision and picking the wrong side-

“For Carl von Clausewitz, the great theoretician of war, identifying a conflict’s “center of gravity” is of key importance. Obama’s strategy ignores the center of gravity in today’s war, which is the struggle against the Iranian alliance system. When a state misidentifies the center of gravity, writes Clausewitz, its blows, no matter how hard, strike only air. President Obama is now winding up to throw a big punch at ISIS, but it will never connect. Regardless of his intentions, the effect of his policies is to deliver large portions of Iraq and Syria to ISIS while simultaneously empowering Iran.”


Jul. 03 2014 07:40 AM

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