Ideas & Philosophy — 18 August 2011
Questioning Western Hegemony

These cases show that in fact the secular Western models, which have long claimed to be paradigms of neutrality, are actually becoming more totalitarian in nature due to their inability to cope with alternative ideas and values within their societies.

Riots in the ‘mother of democracy’ have again forced the West to question some of their previously held convictions, such as the old enlightenment narrative that the world has been moving in a Darwinist evolutionary fashion to one form or other of secular liberalism, and that this is a good thing. In actual fact as is plainly apparent, religion has not gone away, and specifically Islam is not a spent force whether in binding communities together or in state politics, but rather – it is often discussed either as the greatest threat to world stability or the greatest hope for it, depending on your standpoint. Whatever the case, as Professor Talal Asad has mentioned “if anything is agreed upon, it is that a straightforward narrative of progress from the religious to the secular is no longer acceptable”. Rather, this narrative looks like it is being reversed, as the increase in identity politics generally, and Islamic politics specifically is a current that is explicitly recognizable globally.

Talking about the re-establishment of an Islamic Caliphate – in other words to talk about Islam and Politics on a Global level, as a global entity affecting global issues, is a topic which is extremely provocative, heated and is at the moment occupying the minds of many politicians, thinkers and academics particularly in the West. This is due to many factors, including misconceptions about Islam, various prejudices and historical tensions, but mainly to do with entrenched geo-political considerations of major powers such as the United States which invariably view any change to the global status quo that they constructed post World War Two as a threat to their strategic interests. So while the straightforward narrative of progress from the religious to the secular may no longer be acceptable, it is still not acceptable, in particular but not limited to Western circles, to talk about the legitimacy of a Caliphate, or the legitimacy of an Islamic State, or the legitimacy of the application of Islamic Shari‘a law.

This is taking place in the atmosphere of economic problems within Europe, and the general rise of anti-Islamic sentiment. We have already witnessed the banning of the building of minarets in Switzerland, the banning of the Niqab, or face veil, in France. Towards the end of 2010, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel talked about how the attempt to build a multi-cultural society in Germany, the idea of different communities living side by side in harmony, has in her words “utterly failed”[i]. The new German interior minister publicly talked about how Islam has no place in German society, stating that “that Islam is part of Germany is a fact that cannot be proven by history” [ii].  Like most other European countries, the new Conservative government in the United Kingdom led by Prime Minister David Cameron has also taken the same approach, dictating values to the Muslim community living in the country by excluding them and labelling them as extremist if they simply believe in the right to establish a Caliphate and to have Shari‘a law applied, not in the UK, but in their home countries.

These cases show that in fact the secular Western models, which have long claimed to be paradigms of neutrality, are actually becoming more totalitarian in nature due to their inability to cope with alternative ideas and values within their societies.

This has reached such an extent that the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) has expressed serious concern that there is a growing trend in expressions of populist sentiments by mainstream political parties across Europe. Meanwhile across the Atlantic in March 2011, US Congressman Peter King pushed ahead with a series of congressional meetings to discuss the threat of homegrown terrorism from the Muslim community. On one interview he explained that “the main goal is to show the extent of radicalization within the Muslim-American community, how dangerous that is, how serious that is,” with it being considered “a growing threat”. At the same time, opponents have accused him of carrying out a “McCarthyite witch-hunt” against America’s Muslims due to its exclusive focus on the Muslims living there at the expense of all other threats – leading John Esposito, a professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, to state that “the hearing will be a platform for Islamophobia draped in the American flag, reinforcing ignorance, stereotypes, bigotry and intolerance in the name of national security.”[iii]

These apparent domestic agendas against Islam cannot be looked at in isolation, or as the internal affairs of these countries and how they deal with the immigrant population. Rather, they have everything to do with geo-political considerations, and the perceived threat to what is called the “International Order” set up by America post World War Two, by Islam, and the threat to control over the huge energy resources found in the Middle East. Indeed, it would be accurate to say that the problem certain countries have is not necessarily specifically with Islam, but rather with true independence and freedom from imperial control, and it just so happens that today the dominant force pushing for such real independence in the Middle East is that of an Islamic character. This is a scenario that is taken seriously, with many think tanks and politicians planning for any eventuality.

As an example – the National Intelligence Council (NIC), responsible for producing the most authoritative written judgments concerning national security issues submitted to the Director of National Intelligence in the US government, wrote a report in 2005 entitled “Mapping the Global Future 2020”[iv] which amongst the various scenarios it considered looked at the possibility of the emergence of an independent Islamic Caliphate stretching across the Middle East and North Africa.

In his book “the next 100 years”, George Friedman – the CEO and founder of STRATFOR – which is the World’s leading private intelligence and forecasting company – wrote that Turkey will emerge, at a minimum – as a regional superpower in what he calls its “old role” – as the “dominant force in the region”. He notes that the recent history, the last 80 years, where strong Turkish influence has been largely limited Asia minor is an aberration, and in his words the world will soon see “Turkish power – the Ottoman Empire … begin to re-emerge”, referring back to the last example of the Caliphate which was led by the Ottoman dynasty[v].

As for politicians themselves directly – we can look at the example of the last American President George Bush, who is reported to have mentioned the “Caliphate” 15 times during 2006, and 4 times in a single speech[vi]. This was more than the leaders of al-Qaeda such as Osama Bin Laden had talked about it publicly in the same period.

Another prominent example from the same period would be Charles Clarke during his time as the British Home Secretary, and as such responsible for the domestic security policy of the United Kingdom – giving a speech in America saying “there can be no negotiation about the re-creation of a Caliphate”[vii]. Hence you have the strange scenario that the man responsible for the British home affairs, talking to a foreign audience in America, about what people in the Middle East and Asia should or should not aspire to politically, and what would be accepted from them, as though Britain was still a colonial power with the power to dictate policy in India from London.

In 2009, the former head of the British Army Sir Richard Dannatt said explicitly that the Allies were in Afghanistan to prevent the “Islamist agenda” and the establishment of a Caliphate which would extend from Afghanistan, through the Middle East and North Africa, to Spain[viii].

With the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa which began at the end of 2010 and beginning of 2011 – this is an issue which is being addressed even more in the current climate. As an example when the uprisings in Egypt against the long-time ally of the West ex-President Mubarak began, the Americans in particular were quickly involved at several levels to help ensure that any change was carefully managed, in order to safeguard that their vital security interests linked to the Egyptian dictatorship would be maintained whatever the next personality there may look like. Consequently the politicians and media all lined up to warn against any imposition of Islam in the post-revolution political dynamic, labelling such ideas as “extremist” and unacceptable.

Most explicitly, when the events spread to Libya and the rebellion began against Moammar Gaddafi, the Italian foreign minister and former EU commissioner Franco Frattini warned that the fall of Gaddafi, one of Italy’s ally on the continent, could result in the rise of an Islamic state. “Can you imagine having an Islamic emirate on the borders of Europe? This would be a really serious threat”[ix]. It is not a purely Western concern either, with the Russian President Dmitri Medvedev warning that in his words “religious fanatics” could take power which would “set the region on fire for decades to come”[x].

Such concerns have historically been manipulated and fuelled by the regions many dictators to justify their own human rights abuses upon their populations, and even though the events of the North African uprisings have upset the status quo and highlighted the short-sightedness of the American and European governments of following a policy of stability in the region which were subsequently overturned, the fear plainly still remains and informs policy as can be seen by the baby-steps taken against the Syrian regime as a guard against what may replace it.

However, the reality today is that the hegemony of Western governments and values is being disputed more openly as time passes, and as demonstrated by a BBC international poll released at the end of 2010 there is in fact a worldwide dissatisfaction with Western-style capitalism[xi]. With economic instability and rioting on the streets, much of the shine has been removed from the image of Western ideological superiority. As re-emerging world powers and civilizational identities all assert themselves regionally and internationally, demands to adopt the political values and philosophy of Western European and American governments are less relevant to those involved. Consequently, the attempts to establish a form of Islamic polity which would be given legitimacy by its citizens should be accepted as alternatives to be examined in their own right, without the deliberate policy of framing the debate to deny them legitimacy.

Dr. Reza Pankhurst is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He has a PhD from the London School of Economics Government department, and also blogs at rezapankhurst.net. This article is a section from a forthcoming academic article to be published in JISMOR academic journal, entitled “From Andalusia to Pan-Asianism to the Arab Spring: The Caliphate between East and West”

[i] BBC News, “Merkel Says German Multicultural Society Has Failed,”  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11559451.

[ii] Speigel Online, “New German Interior Minister Reopens Integration Debate,”  http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,749477,00.html.

[iii] Suzanne Goldenberg, “Republican Urges Islam Terror Hearings Amid ‘Mccarthyite’ Witch-Hunt Claims,” Guardian, March 7 2011.

[iv] National Intelligence Council, “Mapping the Global Future 2020,” (Pittsburgh2004).

[v] George Friedman, The Next 100 Years : A Forecast for the 21st Century (New York: Doubleday, 2009).

[vi] Reza Pankhurst, “The Caliphate, and the Changing Strategy of the Public Statements of Al-Qaeda’s Leaders,” Political Theology 11, no. 4 (2010).

[vii] Charles Clarke, “Lecture at the Heritage Foundation – Published October 21, 2005,”  http://www.heritage.org/Research/Lecture/Contesting-the-Threat-of-Terrorism.

[viii] Richard Dannatt, “Radio 4 Today Program May 17,” (2010).

[ix] Telegraph, “Libya: Up to a Million Refugees Could Pour into Europe,”  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/libya/8339225/Libya-up-to-a-million-refugees-could-pour-into-Europe.html.

[x] Paul Joseph Watson, “Medvedev: Revolutions Could Lead to “Disintegration” of Middle East,”  http://www.infowars.com/medvedev-revolutions-could-lead-to-disintegration-of-middle-east/.

[xi] BBC World Service, “Wide Dissatisfaction with Capitalism — Twenty Years after Fall of Berlin Wall “.

 

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