The Moving Finger Writes
A major event is currently taking place in Iraq and Syria that may have tremendous repercussions all over the world in the weeks and months ahead if it succeeds in attaining its objectives. Militants are out to capture all of Iraq and Syria to form a new Islamic State of Iraq & The Levitant (ISIL) ushering a “new era of international jihad” under a new Caliph. The leader of the new jihadis, Bakr-al-Baghdadi was declared on June 30 , as the new Caliph in an attempt to revive a system of rule that ended way back in 1924 with the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the rise of Kemal Ataturk.
According to the Chief spokesman of the ISIL Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the declaration of the “restoration of the caliphate” was made after a meeting of a jihadi group’s Shura Council. According to media reports, the Group has called on al Qaida and other related militant Suni factions operating in the region to immediately pledge their allegiance to the new Caliph, al Baghdadi who has already captured cities, mobilised huge numbers of people, ruthlessly killing throughout Iraq and Syria. In a message issued in Ramadan, Baghdadi called on Muslims to immigrate to the self-styled Caliphate and “embrace the chance and champion Allah’s religion through jihad”. Among other things the message said that the jihadis should “terrify the enemies of Allah and seek death in the places where they expect it”. The area marked out for jihadi fighting is from Central African Republic to Myanmar.
The Caliphate in its earliest days laid down the law for all Muslims. The functions of the Caliph included upholding religious orthodoxy, enforcing judicial verdicts, applying the Koranic penalities for offences, waging war against infidels and collecting legally authorised tributes. Turkey was a theocracy under a Sultan in the beginning of the twentieth century which was turned into a secular state by the great soldier Kemal Ataturk. To quote Rafiq Zakaria (The Struggle Within Islam) Ataturk “concluded that Islam was the main cause of Turkey’s difficulties and believed that its regeneration could only come about through rapid westernisation”. According to Zakaria the Ataturk “rammed secularism down the throats of his people and declared that religion should no longer be allowed to interfere in affairs of state”. As Zakaria put it: “He secularised administration and education, he replaced the Sharia by European Civil and Criminal Code, introduced the Roman alphabet in place of the Arabic, banned the wearing of the Fez Cap by men and discouraged the use of chaddar by Women.” As Zakaria saw it, the process of transforming what was, in effect, a theocracy into secular state was by no means smooth…” but it worked.
To quote Zakaria again: “Within a few years the Ataturk Europeanised all Turkish laws, polygamy was banned, divorce made restrictive, equal rights were given to women, Koranic penalties were abolished, licenses for the sale of liquor were freely given, the distinction between Muslims and non-Muslims were removed and both Muslim men and women were given freedom to marry non-Muslim and apostasy from Islam was no longer made a punishable offence” More, “the Ataturk decreed that the wearing of the Fez cap would be punished as a criminal offence.” By 1932, a bare eight years after the overthrow of the Caliphate, Ataturk gleefully announced to Turkey’s Grand National Assembly “We are now a western nation”.
If al-Baghdadi means anything it is going back to pre-Ataturk days and one wonders how many Muslim nations will accept him as a leader.
The real question is: Where will it all end? What would be the role, for instance, of Iran and Saudi Arabia? Will the western world sit back and look the other way round when Baghadadi goes on a terrorist spree? There are as many as 46 countries in the world with a Muslim majority. How many of them will submit themselves to the new self-appointed Caliph? And where would Turkey stand as the only secular Muslim country in the world? Will it also sit back and do nothing? And what would be the role of the United Nations vis-à-vis Baghadadi? It is obviously too early to answer these questions and one can only wait and see. But there is no question but that there is danger ahead.
(The writer is a senior columnist and former editor of Illustrated Weekly)