City of Brass

This is a guest post by Dean Esmay.

There has been some talk in religious and political circles lately raising fears that recent explosions of protests against dictatorships in the Middle East and the overthrow of dictators like Hosni Mubarak will lead to a “Global Caliphate,” with radical Islamic groups and some radical left-wing groups helping to establish what amounts to a Muslim Dictatorship spanning not just the Middle East but Europe and beyond.

This is not a new idea; Osama bin Laden was busy calling for that back when he started his terrorist attacks, and what’s left of Al Qaeda still wants it. And you can find some Muslims in some parts of the world who say it’s a great idea and they’d even fight to help establish it. And why wouldn’t some of them say they wanted it? A society ruled by a benevolent spiritual leader intuitively sounds like a great idea to a lot of people.

It is not out of line to discuss this issue, but when people start talking as if it has any serious possibility of occurring, I become irritated. And what irritates most is the paranoia-peddlers making a living by scaring everyday people in the US and Europe with the notion that this could actually happen. A “global caliphate” is so wildly improbable you might as well posit a return to global Communism; I’m sorry, it’s so unlikely as to be laughable.

Impossible? Impossible is a big word. But this one rates on the political likelihood scale somewhere near the possibility that America will become a part of the British Commonwealth and accept Elizabeth II as our Sovereign. Would that be possible? Possible? Sure, it’s possible, just like it’s possible a meteor will crash through your window and kill you while you’re reading this. Heck, if you put the question to the American populace you’d probably even get a sizable percentage to say it wasn’t a bad idea, depending on how you phrased the question. Given how ridiculously popular the Brit Royals are in America, you might even get 20, 30% on a first go-round question, especially if you ask the question right. (“Would it be a good idea form a united government with the British and accept Elizabeth as our honorary Queen?” Change that to the late Princess Diana and you might have even won that one in a national referendum.)

Yes such a thing would be possible. It also just plain will not happen in our lifetimes.

The “global caliphate” fantasy falls apart the minute you start trying to figure out who specifically is going to set it up, who’s going to cooperate with each other long enough to make it happen, and how it would even work if you even got that far.

Oh, and when you ponder how many of those millions supposedly willing to kill to establish it? How many would do so when push comes to shove, rather than just being chest-puffing young punks bragging in front of their girlfriends and their buddies? Or people who just answered a snap poll question off the top of their heads, without thinking it through?

And then, on top of that, ask which would-be caliph they plan to follow. Then you really get to the crux of why it’s a silly idea.

This is like asking your average American if our own laws should be guided first and foremost by the Bible. I imagine you could get a good half of Americans to agree on that. But can you get even 10% of them to agree on exactly what that means? In anything but the most broad and nebulous terms? I doubt it.

Heck, just look at Christian Fundamentalists–whose religion I do not agree with, but that doesn’t mean I hate them, I have many friends and family members who are part of this religion, and many of them are swell folks. But just stick ten of them in a room, pitch a half-dozen difficult Bible passages at them, and watch them go at it for hours trying to sort out exactly what they mean. Hours and hours of fun there. I know, I’ve been in too many Fundamentalist Bible Study groups to see it any other way.

“I’m not a member of an organized religion, I’m a Baptist.” Most Baptists will laugh at that joke. You can say exactly the same thing about Sunni Muslims.

To get your global Caliphate you’re going to need a Global Islam, and there isn’t one. Just endless splinters and factions and endless debate and argument.

Yeah yeah, there’s one Koran. And multiple interpretative traditions of it, multiple Hadith sets and subsets and views of same, multiple cultures, multiple languages, and multiple fragmented self-interest conflicts, economic and otherwise. Add together the differences in language, culture, ethnicity, and sheer geographic logistics, and the profound differences between Muslims themselves, and you’re positing an idea with no practical possibility of happening.

In fact, I’m probably being too charitable to the idea; the notion that the US would return itself to British sovereignty is more likely than any “Global Caliphate” being established anywhere except in the fevered imaginations of a few overenthused Muslim kids and naïve people over here who fear them (and the media celebrities who make money feeding people these fantasies).

Besides that, the only people who can take this idea seriously, I suspect, are the Rapturites, who for 200 years now have thought some person called the Antichrist (who isn’t even in the Bible by the way) is directing all world events and soon His Agents will bring about the destruction of a newly-rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem just before the world finally ends in a firey blaze. These folks just keep picking, from one generation to the next, who the bad guys are; at the moment in their eyes it’s the Muslims, when 30 years ago it was the Communists and before that it was all sorts of other people and groups. What-ever.

We’re not going to help ourselves by saying that we need to let the Middle East go to Hell in a Handbasket, and we’re not going to help them or ourselves by treating them like a bunch of dangerous savages too barbaric and bloodthirsty to be anything other than mortal enemies. Nor is anyone helped in any way by saying “to heck with it all, Jesus is coming next week so let’s all get ready for the Apocolypse.”

Taking Osama bin Laden’s ludicrous delusion of said Caliphate seriously nets us… what exactly? Except widespread popular fear of Muslims, and reasonable Muslims feeling like we think they’re nothing but dangerous animals?

We have real people fighting a real struggle for freedom over there, and the price we pay for failing to help them will be much higher 20 years from now than whatever it costs now. And really, what it costs right now? It ain’t that frickin’ much; paying a thug to keep his armies trained and equipped is a lot more expensive than helping people set up and run elections and develop domestic education and pluralist institutions.

Do I sound like a bleeding heart liberal there? “Schools not guns?” I don’t think so. I think it’s just common sense.

Dean Esmay is a Roman Catholic who was raised in a household split between Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christianity and Mainline Protestantism. He blogs at

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