2. Radical Revisionism, Militant Challenges and Utopian Projects




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Negative aspects of the role of Islamic courts within Somalia as core of governance included: -


  • The role of the Islamic courts sparked threat perceptions from Ethiopia and the United States. Ethiopian threat perceptions were driven in part by earlier operations of Al-Itihaad Al-Islaam, the 'Islamic Union', in the Gedo region which borders Ethiopia, as well as fears that there might be an effort by Al Qaeda or its affiliates to 'radicalise' Ethiopian Muslims, though this had not yet eventuated (Barnes & Hassan 2007; Economist 2007). The US has been active in assessing terror linkage in Somalia, and 2007 bombing raid have targeted Al Qaeda linked targets in southern Somalia (Mira 2007). It has been claimed that Al Qaeda cells operating out of Somalia and Yemen were behind the 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania (Gunaratna 2002).

  • Ethiopia feared Eritrean support for of the Islamic courts, due to longstanding 'regional tensions' and past conflict with Eritrea (Barnes & Hassan 2007). UN peacekeepers are still 'manning the frontier after a 1998-2000 war that killed some 70 000 people' (Reuters 2007a)

  • The courts, though at first driven by local needs and a wide range of interests, soon included militant and 'extremist groups' that set a wider agenda (Barnes & Hassan 2007). This included links to 'transnational Islamist and business finance networks' and 'former member' of Al-Itihaad Al-Islaam, the 'Islamic Union', a 'chapter of the transnational Muslim Brotherhood' (Barnes & Hassan 2007).

  • Enforcement of court decisions depended on support of clan power, at first the Hawiye clan and its business interests, leading to tensions with other clan 'warlords', e.g. with Ali Mahdi, though support was thereafter widened (Barnes & Hassan 2007).

  • The courts were supported by a military force, Al-Shabaab, 'the Youth', which functioned as an autonomous force (Barnes & Hassan 2007). Although a source of law and order at first, local conflicts led to attacks on security officers associated with the Transitional Federal Government

  • Militant groups in 2007 soon moved to a wider militant strategy, including the use of land mines, roadside bombings and some suicide bombings (Nordland 2007; Barnes & Hassan 2007; Economist 2007c).

  • The Courts engaged in some critique of the Transitional Federal Government, which had some international support, had strong nationalist elements, and engaged in sharp criticism of Ethiopia (Barnes & Hassan 2007). This undermined hope of international tolerance of their expanding role.


In the long run, peacekeeping cannot be sustained by Ethiopia, viewed as a traditional enemy, and promised support from major African Union players such as Nigeria has yet to emerge in order to create an 8,000 force to support the 1,600 Ugandans deployed (Economist 2007a; 2007b). Through mid-2007 the African Union has sought logistic and medical support from external sources such as NATO and the UN (Reuters 2007a). Likewise, in the past Somalia was a major market for illegal arms, and its been suggested that a solid arms embargo might prevent the slide of Mogadishu back towards a 'war economy' (Economist 2007a). At present it is not clear whether Uganda and Ethiopia, with backing from the African Union and the U.S., can present themselves as 'a bulwark against Islamist expansion in the Horn of Africa' (Economist 2007b).


2a. Politics and Propaganda


Islamist political claims that it mobilises socio-religious expression of political dissent (Johns & Lahoud 2005, pp19-20). As represented in Western international relations analysis and media coverage these are often presented as a range of loosely connected aims: the right to implement one version of Shariah law within their communities (either at national or local level); justice for Palestinians; a diffuse resentment of US and Western imperialism (at times focused into the real fear of intervention, as in Afghanistan, Iraq, potentially Iran and Somalia); demands for regime change in countries as diverse as Tajikistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia; demands for self-determination and independence, as in Aceh or for parts of southern Thailand; or even the reshaping of international borders by independence movements, as in the vision of an independent East Turkestan (now largely comprising Xinjiang Autonomous Region within the People's Republic of China). From such viewpoints, the current international system is viewed unbalanced and unjust, with the United Nations and related agencies often promoting a double standard, e.g. with irregular enforcement of Security Council resolutions based on a post-colonial system of imperfect states.2 In this context, such claims seem to Western interests to be either 'fundamentalist', looking back to an idealised past, or dangerously revisionist, looking toward a violent future.


Less clearly articulated are the ideas of the creation of modern Emirates and a reborn Caliphate that would bring together believers in Islamic polities that would reshape existing regional and international orders. The call for an Islamic polity at a national level at times is limited to the demand for a more accountable and ‘Islamist’ government, in other cases justifying rapid transformation of political regimes (as attempted in Algeria, and partly achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan). In the case of early Indonesian movements (such as Dar'ul Islam from 1948-1962, under the leadership of S.M. Kartosowirjo), there was an effort to build an Islamic state that would give a key political role for Islam within national borders (Kearny & Wlaters 2005; McAmis 2002, p76). Likewise, Osama bin Laden seemed to have supported the idea of a future Caliphate, perhaps build out of one successful front of activity, but eventually embracing a wider footprint in the Middle East (Gunaratna 2002). He has suggested that most of the Gulf states have lost their real sovereignty and are illegitimate, a call against corrupt regimes re-iterated by al-Qaeda again in 2006 (in Marlin 2004; JUS 2006). When these claims are linked to the call for a Caliphate, however, they suggest linkages to specifically Islamic forms of governance. These new forms are inspired by the past but point towards new political projects, and are not modelled on current national projects in Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Brunei or the Gulf states. For a short time the so-called Emirate of Afghanistan was a partial model to which some militants might turn,3 but one which was readily undermined by American power and by its own limited legitimacy. In the case of recent publicity concerning Jemaah Islamaiah operations in Southeast Asia, there has been a claim that they not only wished to create Islamic polities in Malaysia and Indonesia, and an independent Mindinao, but also envisaged a new Muslim polity that embraces much of the Southeast Asian archipelago (Cochraine 2002, p32).


These more militant, revisionist notions have been played out against a wider sense in Muslim communities that the time is ripe for further development of the role of Islam on the world stage, either to push forward and help transform a greater part of the world into the dar al-Islam (house of Islam), including the reform of corrupt governments, or to find a more lasting interaction between belief, science, and modernisation that does not undermine the pillars of faith (McAmis 2002, p2). Several key questions are hard to avoid for contemporary Muslims, even if formulated in rather blunt terms. A sense of historical dislocation does frustrate many Muslims who see a 'dramatic decline . . . from the leading civilization in the world for over one thousand years into a lagging, impotent, and marginalized region in the world.' (Fuller 2003, p1). From this viewpoint they can question whether the West is ' the greatest threat to Islam in the fifteenth Islamic century?' (McAmis 2002, p72). 'What does it mean today to be a Muslim in a predominantly non-Islamic World?' (Ahmed, II, 2000, p52). When will the current negative conditions be reversed? What level of reform is needed in national governments and the international system to sustain a renewed Islamic civilization? For many Muslims the answer to these questions, including effective opposition to authoritarian governments that have received support from Western democracies, is a reforming Islam or Islamism (Fuller 2003, pp15-16).


Western and regional threat perceptions have been confronted by the partial successes the Taliban through 1996-2001 and their continued embattled survival through 2002-2005, a sustained Taliban offensive in southern Afghanistan from late 2006, plus intense combat operations in 'the Chora district of Uruzgan, the province that is the native place of the Taliban's elusive leader, Mullah Omar' (ABC 2007a), and their continued survival in Pakistan (which President Karzai view as the key to future peace, ABC 2007b), plus the ongoing operations of al-Qaeda or related organisations, the reality of international and transnational terrorism.4 This has furthered intense debate over justice in the international system that has re-emerged since 2001. The resurrection of the ‘Caliphate’ as a political term has been seen in popular media usage through 2005-2007, and has a strange resonance given the fractured history of the early Caliphate, challenges to its legitimacy, its later territorial subdivision (from the 10th century, see below), and the eventual withering and disbandment of the Caliphate as an institution at the end of the Ottoman Empire (through 1922-1924). From 2004 the 'Caliphate' came into usage in Washington as a term for the focus of security threats, and was cited by diverse leaders such as Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Eric Edelman, the Under Secretary of Defence for policy, Stephen Hadley, a national security adviser, General John Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who stated that a failed democracy in Iraq might be the basis of this new caliphate that would then destabilise the Middle East (Bumiller 2005). These warnings were made in part on the basis of a letter sent by Ayman al-Zawahiri, a leading ideologist of Al-Qaeda in July 2005, which proposed such a project, even though only 6% of Muslims recently surveyed in the Middle East supported such an agenda. (Bumiller 2005). These visions of a 'totalitarian Islamic Empire that reaches from Indonesia to Spain', as outlined by a December 2005 speech of President Bush, have been mobilised to bolster waning public support for US operations in Iraq (Bumiller 2005; Republican Policy Committee 2005). This vision of a totalitarian caliphate has also been used through 2006-2007 to bolster support for a victory in Iraq (Arkin 2007).


Likewise, no modern 'Islamic state' has the strength and legitimacy needed to carry forward the leadership claims of an international Caliphate: Iran as a Shi'a society cannot provide this role for Sunnis, the Emirate of Afghanistan fell to American intervention, Sudan remains troubled, subject to international scrutiny and unable to project any leadership or influence, and the battle for Iraq continues, with the sharp division between Sunni and Shi'a interests making it an unlikely prospect for a future, united Islamic state willing to project its potential power. Likewise, though changes of power among groups within Somalia make this a troubled, 'fragile' state that forms the locus of transnational disturbances (2006-2007) rather than a source of leadership (see above).


In this setting, the claims that Jemaah Islamaiah and related Islamic dissident groups seek to set up a new Caliphate based on a wide territorial footprint across Muslim-populated areas of Southeast Asia seem a remote political agenda. The term ‘caliphate’ in this setting may be a symbol or stereotype, perhaps used as propaganda by both proponents and critics in the current ideological wars that are one front of the so-called ‘war on terror’. As we shall see, the aims of regional 'Islamist' organisations is actually quite diverse, with different goals and methods deployed in a generally reformist agenda. Likewise, the term ‘caliphate’ has emerged in some media in relations to tensions in ‘Greater Central Asia’, viewed in this context as a band of discontent and political transition stretching from Dagestan to Tajikistan (Saidazimova 2006a).


Though there are some proto-democratic features in Islamic thought (shura, consultation, and consensus of judgement based social solidarity, Esposito 1992; Gellner 1994, pp26-29; Hefner 2001)5, there is no automatic guarantee that this will be shaped into a liberal democratic pattern of governance. Put another way, within this general orientation there 'is no such thing as human rights without human responsibilities', but these responsibilities are to the 'Giver of human life' and are framed by divine revelation, not just by human laws (Nasr 2003, p30). Purely secular political solutions, with a sharp division between religion and state, are problematic in Islam. Thus traditional Islamic patterns of government are not so much a theocracy as a nomocracy, focusing on the 'rule of Divine Law' and not a Church or priesthood (Nasr 2003, p30). Though there are also strong aspects of consensus and consultation within Islamic traditions, these do not directly equate with Western concepts of representative liberal democracy. In this sense, the current conflict is very much among Muslims themselves as much as with Western states, and involves both deep religious and ideological divisions (Fradkin et al 2005, p1). It is thus much more than a reaction to American foreign policy and the issue of Palestine (though this are important factors), but a deeper conflict over fundamental principles, and for some militants such as Abu Musab al Zarqawi modern democracy remains fundamentally 'incompatible with Islam' (Fradkin et al. 2005, pp5-11).


It seems that current claims made by militant Islam and its Western critics has generated a divisive non-dialogue of propaganda and counter-propaganda directed to divergent audiences, and leaves little space for genuine political dialogue or accommodation.6 It may be necessary to generate a deeper we wish to open up a social and transnational space in which violence remains the last, rather than the first, resort to those (whether states or social movements) seeking their own vision of justice.


2b. The Caliphate as Islamic Governance


A number of terms from Islamic governance have been imported into popular analysis without a clear appreciation of their lineage and meaning (Kinyon 2004, p1; Nasr 2003, pxii). Terms such as Emir (a general, prince or noble who has an independent command or leads an independent state), Emirate, Sultan, Sultanate, Caliph, Caliphate, Sherif and Mahdi are used to signal various pattern of religious and political leadership in accounts of the Arabic and Muslim history.


The term Caliph in its most basic sense means successor and in its original context means 'the vicegerent of the Prophet', or 'Deputy of God' implying a delegated power such as that held by Abu Bakr as the first khalifah (Nasr 2003, p11; Kennedy 2004, pxix). Although the caliph was at first viewed as the temporal, political leader of the threatened Islamic community, it was also expected in the earliest period that he should be 'a man of piety, trust, knowledge, strength, justice, integrity and righteousness' (Ahmed 2000, I, p27). Traditionally, it was also expected that the Caliph should be a member of the Quraish, the tribe to which Muhammad belonged, though some groups such as the Kharijites argued that office should be open to any 'capable' Muslim (Ahmed 2000, I, p61). This placed an enormous burden on the person chosen within the community to have spiritual, moral and pragmatic leadership abilities, though in later period it was not expected that he would necessarily be an expert in law or its interpretation. During the early period he was also the head of the community in that he led the community in prayer and supported key legal decisions, though later Caliphs sometimes chose to delegate this task to specialised officials, the khatibs, from the early 9th century onwards (Ahmed 2000, I, pp275-278). During the period of the first four caliphs an effort was taken to provide consultation among the wider Islamic community, and to try to ensure that some form of community consensus could be achieved, i.e. it was at least proto-democratic in principle (Ahmed 2000, I, p64, p91), though tensions emerged as soon as the claims of Ali ibn Abu Talib were deferred until he eventually became the fourth caliph through 656-661 (Kennedy 2004, p3). The first four caliphs are generally regarded by Sunnis as righteous and pious, signified by the term 'rightly guided caliphs' (Khulfa e Rashidoon, though doubts are sometimes expressed about the third caliph, and sometimes Omar bin Abdul Aziz is added as a later fifth rightly-guided caliph), but this was not sustained in the following the assassination of Ali and the creation of Umayyad dynasty, which in effect converted the caliphate into a 'hereditary sultanate' (Nasr 2003, p116; Ahmed 2000, pp59-73). Writers such as Ibn Khaldun argued that dynasties based on hereditary succession were in fact not caliphs but rather kingships (in AZRA 2005, p7). The assassination of Ali and later conflicts also led to the split between Sunni and Shiites, with the later favouring rule by descendents of the Prophet through his daughter Fatimah and her husband Ali.


The idea of the caliphate as a focus of political leadership and legitimacy linking the international order back to the times of the Prophet and the first caliphs continued to be sustained at the formal and rhetorical level. Thus in the theory of Sunni Islam, even when the Caliphate was itself weak the 'legitimacy of rule . . . flowed from the Caliph who bestowed his favors on ambitious princes and soldiers through a whole range of titles' (Ahmed 2000, I, p58). The early Caliphs, plus even the Caliph Mansur (from 754 C.E), for a time preserved the notion of 'the public performance of monarchy', with the caliph visible at the Friday prayers, and allowing courts of complaint and petition (the mazalim court) where any individual, even the poor and dispossessedm could seek redress for the wrongs of officials, though this process tended to fall to disuse and had to be revived, e.g. in 870 C.E., and strong welfare elements for Muslims (Kennedy 2004, p14, p49, p141, p146, pp204-206).


Illegitimate governments, of course, find it harder to mobilise social and religious support, and tend to need greater levels of force to sustain their regimes (Ahmed 2000, I, p58). At the broader level, Ibn Khaldun asserted that function of the Caliphate was to provide the conditions that allow the community of believers (ummah) to live according to Shariah.7 Islam, with its universalist claims, its wide outreach into communities from Africa to China, with its willingness to include diverse races and its support for international communication and trade, could this be viewed metaphorically as a form of 'proto-globalization' linking Africa, Eurasia, and an emerging Indo-Asian network. It was perhaps 'the waning of this universalist tradition that led to localization and atrophy of what was once an open and searching intellectual society' (Fuller 2003, p5).


In the long run, it was not possible even within the Sunni world for the Caliphate to retain real military power as the Abbasid caliphate weakened and began to fragment: -


Gradually the actual military power of the caliphs diminished; real military and political power fell into the hands of local kings, and the caliph retained only nominal authority. Under these conditions a new theory of political authority was developed by the Sunni jurists (fuqaha'), in which the caliph remained the symbol of the unity of the Islamic community and the rule of the Shari'ah, and the king or sultan, with actual military and political power, had the duty to preserve public order and protect the borders of the Islamic world. (Nasr 2003, p111)


After the first four rightly guided Caliphs, fierce disputes would arise concerning the leadership of the Islamic world, leading to the split between the Sunnis and Shiites, the later supporting the claims of Ali (as son-law and married to the Prophet's daughter, Fatimah) and his descendants to political leadership, and who still owe allegiance to Imams. The dispute in this case was not just on the issue of who should succeed, but also on the nature of the caliphate itself: -


The Sunnis believed that the function of such a person should be to protect the Divine Law, act as judge, and rule over the community, preserving public order and the borders of the Islamic world. The Shi'ites believed that such a person should also be able to interpret the Quran and the Law and in fact possess inward knowledge. Therefore he had to be chosen by God and the Prophet, not by the community. Such a figure was called Imam. (Nasr 2003, pp12-13)


Likewise, from the 860s onwards there was a serious decline in the Abbasid caliphate, which was now virtually controlled by its Turkish bodyguard, and which encouraged the rise of independent dynasties in Morocco and Egypt (Ahmed 2000, I, p49). In this context, the Fatamids (as Isma'ili Shiites) would establish their own powerful empire (909-1171), centred on Egypt and stretching from Tunisia to Syria and make their own claim to the caliphate in the name of their Imam , and from '910 the Fatimid Ubaidullah had declared himself the Mahdi and the Caliph of all Muslims' (Nasr 2003, p11, p124). Thus there were three different claims to caliphal political leadership, by the Abbasids (based on the power of the Turks), by the Fatimids from Cairo (a claim temporarily relinquished in 1171 when Al Aazid died), and the Umayyads from cosmopolitan Cordoba (Ahmed 2000, I, pp171-217; Ali 2002, p33).


One of the great disasters remembered within the Islamic world was the invasion of the Mongols, who conquered Baghdad and killed the last Abbasid caliph in 1258 (Nasr 2003, p128). This led to a short period when there was one recognised Caliph in North Africa (al Mustanir from 1260-1261), but in 1261 the Mamluke's of Egypt 'resurrected the Abbasid Caliphate in Cairo' by inviting a surviving relative to come to Egypt and continue the Abbasid link as a propaganda tool in their conflicts with the Mongols (Ahmed 2000, I, p234, p308). Although later Mongols leaders adopted Islam as the Il-Khanids, they and the following empire of Timur and his descendants lacked the international credentials to lead the Muslim world. By the sixteenth century, the Islamic world had been fractured into three great polities that would represent themselves as leaders of the large Muslim communities - the Ottomans, the Safavids (of Persian), and the Moghuls, controlling most of South Asia (Ahmed 2000, I, p28).


The Ottomans were at first content to use the 'military-political institution' of the Sultanate as their focus for governance (Ahmed 2000, I, pp124-166). The title Caliph, though sometimes used by earlier Ottoman leaders, was formally taken over by the Ottomans in 1517 by bringing the last surviving Abbasid caliph to Istanbul where he abdicated in favour of Selim I (Ihsanoglu 2001, p135; Ahmed II, p40). In part it was taken up due to successful campaigns in Iran (1514) and Egypt (1517), and also a desire in later periods to mobilise this role within the Islamic world as a partial balance against the growing power of European states, though Seyyed Nasr contents that they were really only sultans adopting 'a political order that functioned in many ways like the other caliphates' (Nasr 2003, p131; Ihsanoglu 2001, p203). The re-assertions of the Caliphate from the 13th century onwards might be viewed as necessary 're-inventions' in order provide an international focus for the religious needs of the wider Islamic community during the very periods when its unity had been largely splintered (Ahmed 2000, I, p304).


The diverse line of dynasties that might take up the Caliphate could thus lead to disputes among great powers as to where the Caliphate resided, e.g. between Ottoman and Moghul claims: -


However, there was a clash of grandeur. Both monarchs called themselves 'Caliph', 'shadow of god', 'refuge of the monarchs of the universe'. Ottoman authorities behaved with insolence to Mogul emissaries in Constantinople. The Moguls, for their part, never forgot descent from the great Timur, who had captured the Ottoman Sultan in 1402. Mogul emperors in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries claimed that their capital Agra was the 'abode of the Caliphate'; Constantinople was merely 'seat of the Ottoman sultanate'. (Mansel 1997, p190)


In time the Ottomans extended their claims to the Caliphate to buffer their political power, even as it began to wain in the 18th century: -


This matter took on an even more active form during the reign of Suleyman I. During that time such titles as "halîfe-i kübrâ" (greatest caliphate), "imâmete-i uzmâ" ("supreme imamate"), and "halîfe-i Müslimîm" ("caliph of the Muslims") were used. They were expressions of a universalist perspective on the caliphate which was interpreted as a mission bestowed by God on the sultan. As far as can be determined, for the Ottoman sultan the caliphate took on a somewhat different meaning than it had held during the Abbasid period. For the Ottomans, the idea of the caliphate took on a new meaning which included responsibility for looking after the security of the hajj routes, protection of the sacred places, the defence of Islam, and the inclusion of all Muslims under a security blanket combined with the gazâ tradition. . . . Later, particularly during the period of loss and diminution of the empire, the Ottomans began to place great emphasis on their being the caliphs for all Muslims so as not to lose the authority they had possessed within the Muslim world. (Ihsanoglu 2001, p31; Ahmed 2000, II, p72)


In such roles the Ottoman sultan might also be described as 'God's shadow on earth', 'the leader of the believers', and 'protector of Islam' (Ihsanoglu 2001, p494). One of the specific claims and duties of the later Caliphs was that they protected (directly or indirectly) the holy places of Mecca and Medina, and the major hajj caravans. This could be hard to sustain, with the Caliphate soon finding itself unable to cover the breach between different reform and nationalist movements.


In Arabia, the thought of Ibn Wahhab aimed at a return to a 'golden age' of a pure and early Islam, but was in fact the force both for a reformist revival chained to Saudi political ambitions: -


Ibn Wahhab provided a theological justification for almost everything Ibn Saud wanted to achieve: a permanent jihad that involved looting other Muslim settlements and cities, ignoring the caliph, imposing a tough discipline on his own people and, ultimately, asserting his own rule over neighbouring tribes in an attempt to unite the Peninsula. After lengthy discussions, the emir and the preacher agreed to mithaq, a binding agreement, that would be honoured by their successors in eternity. The two clauses inserted by Ibn Saud indicated what he had in mind. Spiritual fervour in the service of political ambition, but not vice versa. (Ali 2002, p75)

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