Author: Ali Salman*
In his article published in the Daily Telegraph on 18 August 2017, the author of “The Islamist” Ed Husain, while responding to the recent violent events in Barcelona, has argued that the main objective of the terrorists, including ISIL, is to bring back the Caliphate. According to his analysis, the terrorists, and radicalised Muslims broadly, are “prisoners of history, and this selective narrative of the past fuels their chosen grievances of the present.” They still divide the world into Dar al-Islam (abode of Islam) and Dar al-Harb (abode of war) and “in the mind of the Muslim extremists, Spain is not Spain, but al‑Andalus, part of a Muslim empire that lasted in Spain for 700 years.”
Consistent with his analysis, Ed Husain’s call for action is this: “Muslim organisations, governments, websites, political parties, religious leaders and educational institutions must roundly, unreservedly accept that they no longer need a caliphate. Remove that objective and the violence to justify it falls away.”
I have two comments. In my view, a vast majority of Muslim organisations, governments and religious leaders has never claimed or supported the need of a caliphate- an Islamic Supra-state; and certainly they have not justified the violent extremism. Therefore, it may not be accurate to make this claim that once we reject this idea of a Caliphate, the violence will fall or fade away. Terrorism must be condemned and we must do everything we can to stop it. However, its association with an imagined universal consensus to materialize the Caliphate is questionable. The Muslim world can be neatly divided into specific regions and each region has its own dynamic. We are aware of the term MENA or MENASA for example. It distributes the Muslim majority nations into the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. It is certainly incomplete and must also include South East Asia. Whatever way we look at it, there is no uniformity in the social, economic and political conditions across these regions. The intra OIC trade, the platform of the Muslim countries, is paltry. In fact, the calls for the Caliphate are uniquely traceable to groups based in a couple of countries in the Middle East. Therefore, actually apart from couple of violent and extremist organisations, no one now believes in a Caliphate. And Ed Husain is certainly right in his conclusion that such a belief is not a religious obligation. To be fair, even to have a State is not a religious obligation. For Islam, the individual and society comes first, state later.
Second, while there is no point of blaming the West, historical analysis should be respected. There is a wide recognition in the Western scholarship already which associates current violence to foreign policy of some Western countries and their interventions including recent wars. However, let’s not end it here. It is not just the foreign policy of leading Western capitals. We should also blame the political and economic (i.e. domestic) policies of the Muslim majority countries. In fact, the long serving oppressive and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere have fanned violent extremism and radicalism. They should also share the “blame”. Ultimately, it comes to the prevalence of freedom within these societies which will determine the social and political outlook of our shared future. We must tackle any obstructions to this freedom, whether they originate from within or without.
(*) Ali Salman is CEO of Istanbul Network of Liberty, a global platform of think tank leaders, working to promote the principles and values of a free society in the Muslim world. He can be reached at email@example.com.