US paranoia over the Caliphate

“The word getting the workout from the nation’s top guns these days is ‘caliphate’ – the term for the seventh-century Islamic empire that spanned the Middle East, spread to Southwest Asia, North Africa and Spain, then ended with the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258. Specialists on Islam say the word is a mysterious and ominous one for many Americans, and that the administration knows it….

“So now, Mr. Cheney and others warn, Al Qaeda’s ultimate goal is the re-establishment of the caliphate, with calamitous consequences for the United States. As Mr. Cheney put it in Lake Elmo, referring to Osama bin Laden and his followers: ‘They talk about wanting to re-establish what you could refer to as the seventh-century caliphate’ to be ‘governed by Sharia law, the most rigid interpretation of the Koran’. Or as Mr. Rumsfeld put it on Monday: ‘Iraq would serve as the base of a new Islamic caliphate to extend throughout the Middle East, and which would threaten legitimate governments in Europe, Africa and Asia.’ General Abizaid was dire, too. ‘They will try to re-establish a caliphate throughout the entire Muslim world,’ he told the House Armed Services Committee in September, adding that the caliphate’s goals would include the destruction of Israel….

“A number of scholars and former government officials take strong issue with the administration’s warning about a new caliphate, and compare it to the fear of communism spread during the Cold War. They say that although Al Qaeda’s statements do indeed describe a caliphate as a goal, the administration is exaggerating the magnitude of the threat as it seeks to gain support for its policies in Iraq. In the view of John L. Esposito, an Islamic studies professor at Georgetown University, there is a difference between the ability of small bands of terrorists to commit attacks across the world and achieving global conquest.”

Elizabeth Bumiller in the New York Times, 12 December 2005