The romance of regression in the time of the Islamic State
History is synonymous with turbulence; but even by its troubled standards, the churn in a single century between 1857 and the 1960s was unprecedented. Every single empire—ancient, middling or modern—collapsed: Mughal, Chinese, Japanese, Ottoman, Iranian, Tsarist, Spanish, Habsburg, German, Dutch, Belgian, Portuguese, Italian, French and British. Strategic stability, always a tenuous reality, went into a spin as post-empire and post-colonial states had to find new equations, not only with old masters but also between themselves and within themselves.
Great empires linger on their deathbed, and it is difficult to pinpoint the precise moment of decline. There are few disputes however about a death rattle.
The Mughals spent over 125 years in hospital, unwilling to die and unable to live after Nadir Shah smashed what was left of their pretensions in 1739. Ottoman fragility was evident when Russia advanced to the Black Sea, France took Algeria in 1830, and Greece became independent in 1832. In 1853, Tsar Nicholas made his famous remark about Ottomans to British ambassador Sir George Hamilton Seymour: “We have on our hands a sick man—a very sick man. It will be, I tell you frankly, a great misfortune if, one of these days, he should slip away from us, especially before necessary arrangements were made.” Sir George’s answer should have been equally famous: “For myself, I will venture to remark that experience shows me that countries do not die in such a hurry.”
This crawl, however, turned into hurry when World War 1 ended the Tsars, Ottomans and Habsburgs. The British Empire enjoyed a false resurrection when it gained nearly 2.1 million sq km of territory in 1919, but by 1947 it had lost India, instigating the downward spiral that finished Europeans as world powers. The age of empire gave way to an era of uncertainty.
The most startling impact, however, was in the Muslim world. With the collapse of the last two great Muslim empires, Mughal and Ottoman, within a space of six decades, every single Muslim from Morocco to Indonesia became a subject of Europe. The Soviet Union, in theory, was a coalition of independent states. Lenin quickly disabused such illusions when he sent troops to reconquer Muslim Central Asia. (The great library of Bukhara was destroyed by Communists after reoccupation.)
Ridicule is the fate of the weak. Queen Victoria, the story goes, asked the Sultan of Turkey why he called himself Caliph when Victoria ruled over more Muslims than him. In 1918 that joke turned into a nightmare. Nothing shocked and psychologically destabilised Muslims more than one fact: for the first time since the advent of Islam, even Mecca and Medina were under Christian control.
A cry that had been building for some time in the subconscious acquired momentum: Islam was in danger.
This triggered a significant political reaction. Muslims began to seek an ideological mooring in Islam both as an inspiration that would revive their ability to defend their faith and to restore the power and glory that was once theirs. This was not instant revelation, but a gradual awakening that often had to lurk within the shadows of debate before it acquired relevance with the birth of new Muslim states. Even when Muslims did fashion a democracy, as in Pakistan, they attached a new notion to their Constitution: an Islamic republic, in which one faith was supreme.
A parallel idea began to flourish: the search for ‘Islamic space’ that would function as a supranational alliance to ensure common security and project Islamic interests. A cursory examination of these concepts would reveal innumerable contradictions, but emotional idealism was not easily deflected by intellectual or practical obstacles.
The most powerful support for Islamism, logically, came where pride in the past was most prevalent; in the successor communities, and then successor states, of the Mughal and Ottoman empires.
The Medina Question: A Bargain with Allah
At the heart of the present Muslim angst lies what once Henry Kissinger described, in a conversation, as the Medina question: how did small bands of 7th century Bedouin from a minor oasis in the Arabian deserts conquer, within a lifetime, the known world between the walls of China and the south of France? The historian and sociologist Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) argued that the answer lay in Sharia, which protected religion and broadened intellect in this life and preserved the soul in the next one. It also created group solidarity, from which emerged battlefield success and empire. Glory, therefore, was the boon of a compact, a bargain between Allah and the people who believed in Him.
If the history of others, wrote Ibn Khaldun, followed the familiar trajectory of rise, decline and fall, then that of Muslims added a fourth dimension: rise, decline, fall and renewal. Renewal was possible through a return to first principles that had turned an oasis into a world power.
Belief in renewal becomes acute, understandably, in any age of loss. It also raises questions: where had Muslims gone wrong? Had Allah abandoned Muslims? The debate was sharpest where humiliation was most keenly felt, within Mughal and Ottoman space.
On the Indian Subcontinent, Muslims joined Mahatma Gandhi after he accepted leadership of the first movement for the restoration of the Caliphate. Uniquely, Gandhi thus became the first non-Muslim to lead a jihad, albeit a non-violent one, which was a condition he imposed. But there should be no confusion about what Muslims wanted from this struggle: a post-British India in which Muslims would offer allegiance to an Imam-e- Hind, a sort of Caliphate-light, and the community live by the Sharia irrespective of what system non-Muslim Indians chose for themselves. This position was repeatedly articulated by the Jamat-e-Ulema. The first nominated Imam-e-Hind was, in fact, Maulana Azad.
At exactly the same time, Arabs rose against the British in an intifada, with its epicentre in Iraq. The British used air force and gas, and recorded 453 dead (mostly Indian troops) and 600-odd missing before calm was restored. London realised that direct rule was impossible, and soon instituted forms of neo-colonisation through feudatories on the lines of the princely states of India.
Neo-colonisation is the grant of independence on condition that you do not exercise it. Implicit in its strategies is partition; the weaker the neo-colony, the more amenable it will be. A serious attempt was made to Balkanise India as well just before 1947; ‘Ulsterisation’ was a familiar trope of our independence discourse. The plan for Turkey after 1918 was a brutal carve-up. But the Arabs did not have either a Kemal Ataturk or a Sardar Patel.
It only remains to note the level of tension that one unresolved problem of a princely state has caused in South Asia, and wonder, perhaps with a shudder, what might have happened if more such states had taken shape.
In the succeeding decades, Arab frustration over various forms of ‘foreign influence’ and lack of Arab unity has grown slowly but surely. Nasser, famously, tried to unite Egypt and Syria; it was a non-starter. Today, the self-styled ‘Caliph’ of the ‘Islamic State’ has made destruction of the Sykes-Picot pact of 1916 between Britain and France (and later Russia), which planted the seeds of Western domination, a rallying point. Details need not detain us, but a personal letter written by Sir Mark Sykes, quoted by David Fromkin in his monumental work on the Versailles treaty, tells its own story. Sykes wrote to a friend, Aubrey Herbert, with that faux seriousness typical of the brighter members of his class, ‘Turkey must cease to be. Smyra shall be Greek. Adalia Italian. Southern Taurus and North Syria French, Filistin British, Mesopotamia British and everything else Russian—including Constantinople… and I shall sing a Te Deum in St Sophia and a Nunc Dimittis in the Mosque of Omar. We will sing it in Welsh, Polish, Keltic, and Armenian in honour of all the gallant little nations.’
While every dream of this project did not become a reality, many did. The British considered every option: fully supplicant Sultans; annexation; ‘spheres of influence’; semi-autonomous regions; reconstitution of Ottoman vilayets into Anatolia, Armenia, Jazirah-Iraq, Syria and Palestine; a railway route to India; and handing the Caliphate to Arabs of the Hejaz. When the Americans finally learnt of this plan, revealed prematurely in December 1917 by Leon Trotsky to a British journalist, an aide of President Wilson, Colonel House, remarked, presciently, “They are making it a breeding ground for future war.”
In March 1921 Winston Churchill created straight-line maps for Arab ‘countries’ at a conference in Cairo, where naturally not a single Arab was invited. Sherif Hussein was allotted Mecca, but the Sauds never accepted his claims, and drove them out of the Hejaz in 1924. The Saudis could not declare themselves the new Caliphs, but they did command one of the essential prerequisites of the title: they became the new custodians of the Two Holy Mosques, in Mecca and Medina.
The Realm of Double Consciousness
The ideological struggle for the future had begun two centuries before. Two theologians, one Indian and the other Arab, born in the same year, 1703, offered theses that control the narrative till today. Shah Waliullah, born in Delhi, died in the 1760s; Muhammad ibn Abd-al Wahab was born in Najd and died in 1792.
After witnessing Mughal impotence in 1739, Shah Waliullah offered a salient prescription: Shias were apostates (murtadd) who had betrayed Islam and hence beyond trust; he urged Sunni unity; traced Sunni decline to dynastic monarchies which had abandoned the practice of consensus in the choice of Caliph; blamed Mughals for wasteful expenditure on monuments rather than public welfare (the Taj Mahal had been built rather recently); and, most significantly, accused Mughal elites of deviation by adopting Hindu practices, and allying with Hindus and Shias. This was shirq, or compromise with polytheism. His list of ‘sins’ is in fact recognition of Mughal inclusiveness, which so perturbed Aurangzeb and which certainly outlasted him.
His solution for shirq was a physical and cultural ‘theory of distance’ between believer and infidel, and advocated a line that resonates powerfully in contemporary below-the-radar discourse: ‘nearer to Arabia, closer to Allah’. His political contribution was significant. When the Marathas entered Delhi in 1758, he invited Ahmad Shah Abdali to cross the Khyber and save Muslim rule. This is, interestingly, a ‘threat’ which would be repeated for generations, in the rhetoric of leaders like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and prominent figures of the Muslim League in the pre-Partition phase.
A new force soon overshadowed such concerns. In 1803, Lord Lake entered Delhi. Shah Aziz, Shah Waliullah’s son, responded with a famous fatwa declaring India a ‘Dar ul Harb’, or House of War. The British represented, in his view, a threat to Islam. Aziz’s disciple, Sayyid Ahmed Barelvi (1786-1831) launched a jihad in the 1820s that would continue under his successors till the 1870s.
Barelvi’s manifesto, written in 1818, shows how close the ideologies of Waliullah and Abdul Wahab were, although Barelvi met Wahabis only when he went on Hajj between 1822 and 1824. Barelvi attacked Indians who indulged in shrine worship (going to a dargah) and ‘obnoxious’ behaviour like singing and dancing during weddings. It is easy to see why the Taliban venerate his shrine at Balakot, despite the injunction against ‘shrine worship’.
In Arabia, Wahabis might have withered but for a charismatic disciple, Muhammad ibn Saud, emir of Najd who stunned the Ottomans by conquering Mecca and Medina by 1804. In India, the British began to describe Waliullah’s followers as Wahabis, and were forced into bitter battles against the ‘Fanatical Host’.
In 1867, a few ulema from the Waliullah school of thought, led by Maulanas Nanotvi and Gangohi, started a seminary that has become an international force, Deoband. However, Deoband’s Maulanas, having experienced 1857, accepted the need for collaboration with Hindus against British. They remained deeply committed, though, to cultural distance, initiating what has now matured into identity politics.
But simultaneously sections of the elite, led by Sir Syed, felt that the British were here to stay and their best interests lay in partnership with the new rulers so that they could regain the administrative and educational ascendancy they had enjoyed in the past.
Shah Waliullah’s inheritance, thereby, broke into two directions: cultural separation through Deoband, and political separation through Sir Syed. The politics of separation led inevitably to separate electorates in 1909 and Partition in 1947.
After Partition, Pakistan’s Muslim League leaders staved off cultural Wahabism for a while, but lost the political argument very quickly, when they accepted Pakistan as an Islamic state in the objectives resolution. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, from the UP landed aristocracy, thought he was conceding nothing more than words; in fact, he was setting the compass towards General Zia ul Haq’s Sharia-compliant Nizam-e-Mustafa. Pakistan is the first Islamic Republic in the post-colonial era, and ‘Islamism’ has changed not only behaviour but history books and polity.
The failure of Islam to keep Pakistan together in 1971 did nothing to weaken its hold on the social and political imagination. While Bangladesh reinvented itself along linguistic ethnicity, a shattered Pakistan reinforced the belief that Islam was the only glue; that it was not Islam which was to blame, but the inability of Muslims to understand their faith.
The conflation of Islam and nationalism has been a guarantee for instability, because religion has never been the basis for political unity anywhere, including in the history of Muslims. Why else would there be 22 Arab nations?
Reality of Caliphs and Imagined History
Internal conflict, which quickly grew into civil war, broke out even in Islam’s pristine age, over succession to Prophet Muhammad, leading to the Sunni-Shia divide. Of the first four ‘rightly-guided’ Caliphs, only one, Abu Bakr, died in bed. Umar, Usman and Ali were assassinated.
Umar was murdered by a Persian servant in 644; Usman was killed in 656 by Mohammad, son of Abu Bakr, because of factional quarrels; Ali was assassinated in 660 by a rebel. In 657 Ali, who had shifted his capital to Kufa, faced Muawiya at Siffin, Syria, in what is known as the Battle of the Camel. Muawiya, with the Prophet’s widow Aisha as an ally, accused Ali of instigating the murder of Usman. Muawiya seized power after he forced the resignation of Ali’s son Hasan, and established the first dynasty, that of the Umayyads. When Muawiya died in 680, Hasan’s brother Husain challenged Muawiya’s son Yazid, but, heavily outnumbered, was killed at Karbala in 680, a martyrdom that is central to Shia lament. Blood and confusion travelled together till the comparative stability of the reign of Abdal Malik.
Caliphates became dynasties; 14 Umayyads, 37 Abbasids; and, in the last phase, 26 Ottomans between 1517 to 1924 when Ataturk abolished the institution and turned Turkey towards modernity. In 1517, Selim the First was unsentimental when he wrested the Caliphate from Arabs; he claimed the office by the right of the sword.
As in any dynasty, great names mixed with mediocre ones. The best Caliphs had open minds. Harun al Rashid (786-809) had Sanskrit texts and Greek philosophers translated for his House of Wisdom in Baghdad. He also partied with his court poet Abu Nawwas, who wrote classical verse. The Ottoman Caliph Bayezid sent boats to rescue Jews expelled by the Spanish Inquisition. In 1839 Abdülmecid the First introduced secular law alongside Sharia, gave non-Muslims equal rights, banned slavery and opened taverns. Abdulhamid, who ruled between 1876 and 1909 and was the last Caliph to exercise genuine power, loved music; his daughters played the piano and sons the cello. On Thursday nights he would join Sufis in dhikr, and the next day his imperial orchestra would play Offenbach on the way home after Friday prayers. Western music was played at imperial banquets. His wife Sehsuvar was painted reclining with Goethe’s Faust in her hand— and not a veil in sight. French was a court language, along with Persian, Armenian and Arabic.
None of them would have been considered ‘legitimate’ by today’s Islamist radicals.
The office of the Caliphate has Quranic sanction. It derives from ‘khalf’, meaning ‘left behind’ or inheritor. It might surprise some hardliners to learn that the model Caliph in the Qur’an is King David. Verse 2:30 says: ‘Behold, thy Lord said to the angels, ‘I will create a viceregent [khalifah] on earth’.’ The first was Adam, the second was David. The great example of faith against the odds, and belief in Allah as a prerequisite for victory, is that of David who fought Goliath. Verse 2:249 says: ‘How oft by Allah’s will hath a small force vanquished a big one? Allah is with those who steadfastly persevere.’
This verse inspires the conviction that numbers do not matter on a battlefield as long as you have faith. In today’s context, therefore, small bands of terrorists believe they can destabilise superpowers, if they are ready to become martyrs. Since the road to Paradise is under the shade of swords, it is a win-win situation for those ready to die for the cause of Allah. This is Jihad fi sabil Allah: War in the cause of Allah (also, incidentally, the official motto of the Pakistan armed forces).
No poet used the phrase, ‘shade of swords’, more effectively, or evoked the romance of an Islamic past better than that great poet of loss, Sir Muhammad Iqbal, who is rightly revered in Pakistan as an intellectual architect of the two-nation theory.
Iqbal: Questions and an Answer
Iqbal’s most influential work is surely Shikwa, ‘the complaint’, followed by Jawab-e-Shikwa, ‘the answer’ to this complaint. Shikwa, first recited in Lahore in 1909, was an unusual lament, for it laid the blame for Muslim decline not on man but on God.
Ay Khuda! Shikwa-e-arbab-e-wafa bhi sun ley
Khugarey-hamd sey thora sa gila bhi sun ley
(O’ God! Hear out this complaint of the faithful
Hear the lament of those who sing hymns in praise)
Tujhko maloom hai leta thha koi naam tera
Kuwat-e-baazu-e-Muslim ney kiya kaam tera
(You know well who used to invoke your name
The strong arm of Muslims spread your fame)
Thhey hameen ek tere maarika-aaraon mein
Khuskiyon mein kabhi larhte, kabhi dariyaon mein
Dee aazaanein kabhi Europe ke kalisaaon mein
Kabhi Africa ke taptey huey sahraaon mein
Shaan aankhon mein na janchti thhi jahandaro ki
Kalima padhte thhe hum chhaaon mein talwaron ki
(We were the warriors who battled for your cause
Sometimes in deserts we fought, sometimes on water
We called the faithful to prayer in Europe’s churches
And sometimes in Africa’s hot desert sands
The glory of temporal regimes did not hold us in awe
For we would attest our faith under the shade of swords)
Torhey makhluq-e-Khudawand key paikar kisne?
Kaat kar rakh diye kuffar ke lashkar kisne?
Kisney thanda kiya aatish-kad-Iran ko?
Kisney phir zinda kiya tazkir-ey-yazdaan ko?
(Who humbled all those false gods?
Who crossed swords with infidelity?
Who cooled the flame of Iran?
Who revived the worship of only One God?)
Aa gaya ain ladhai main agar waqt-e-namaaz
Qibla hokey zameen-bos hui qaum-e-Hijaz
Ek hi saf mein khare ho gaye Mahmud-o-Ayaz
Naa koi banda raha aur naa koi banda nawaaz
(If in the midst of war came the time for prayer
Turning to Mecca, the people of Hejaz would pray
Shoulder to shoulder would stand Mahmud and Ayaz
Nobody is anyone’s man and nobody anyone’s master)
Rahmatein hain teri aghiyaar ke kaashanon parr
Barq girti hai toh bechaarey Mussalmanon parr
(Your mercies have been for the unbelievers
While your wrath strikes hapless Muslims)
Jawab-e-Shikwa was recited in Lahore too, in 1913, to raise funds for Turkey, then defending Istanbul from the Bulgarian army.
Qaum mazhab sey hai, mazhab jo nahin tum bhi nahin
Jazba-e baham jo nahin, mehfil-e-anjum bhi nahin
(Community is formed by faith, without which you’re
none/If there’s no passion for unity, there’s no gathering)
Waz mein tum ho Nasara, toh tamdud mein Hunud
Yeh Musalman hain jinhey dekh ke sharmaye Yahud
Yunh toh Sayyad bhi ho, Mirza bhi ho, Afghan bhi ho
Tum sabhi kuchh ho, batao toh Musalman bhi ho
(You’re Christian in lifestyle, Hindu in culture
The kind of Muslims whom Jews would find strange
That way you’re Sayyad too, Mirza too, also Afghan
You’re everything, and if asked, then Muslim as well)
Hai tumhey maut ka darr, usko Khuda ka darr thha
(You have the fear of death, he had the fear of God)
Aql hai teri sipar, ishq hai shamsheer teri
Mere darvesh! Khilafat hai jahangeer teri
Mai siwa Allah ke liye aag hai takbeer teri
Tu Musalman ho toh kaqdeer hai tadbeer teri
Ki Muhammad sey wafa tooney toh Hum terey hain
Yeh jahaan cheez hai kya, loh-o-qalam terey hain
(Intellect is your shield, love is your sword
My dervish! The Caliphate is your conquered world
For only Allah does your fire burn, for Allah’s greatness
If your’re Muslim, your conviction is your message
If you’re loyal to Muhammad, then God is yours
Not just the world, God’s revelation is yours)
The Caliphate cannot be missed in the answer that
Iqbal fashioned for Allah.)
The Search for Modernity
If the challenge of the 20th century was freedom from colonialism, then the struggle of the 21st is around the content of nationalism. Will the renaissance come from a modern definition of a nation-state, or from a structure like the doctrinaire Caliphate, which despite its flaws in practice still created a historic glory?
The first Muslim leader to answer this question, with astonishing clarity, was Kemal Mustafa Ataturk. He understood the rational causes of Ottoman decline, the loss of technological ascendancy, scientific innovation, gender equality and the fact that the Caliphate had become defunct as an idea. On the eve of World War I, the Ottoman Empire had only around 17,000 workers in a population of 25 million: it was still an agricultural economy. Ataturk could ignore the ulema because his credentials as a nationalist who had saved his country from foreign invasion and dismemberment were impeccable. He had the trust of the people. If we want to understand America’s domination of the 20th century, just list some American inventions from the 19th or 18th: Benjamin Franklin gave us the stove, bifocals and lightning rod; Charles Goodyear, vulcanised rubber; Walter Hunt, the fountain pen, safety pin and breech-loading Winchester; Elias Howe, the sewing machine; Joseph Henry (a professor at Princeton), the telegraph; Graham Bell, the telephone. There were 48,000 km of railways in America by 1860. How many telephones existed in Istanbul in 1880, when there were 60,000 phone lines in America?
The situation in the Arab world through the 20th century was bleak. Where neo-colonies could not be sustained, the alternative was army-backed dictators or despots who tended to create their own dynasties. Worse, these armies were repeatedly defeated by the focal regional foe, Israel; the disaster of 1967, despite the advantage of numbers, became an imperishable memory bewildering the citizen and offering opportunity for a Phoenix waiting to arise from the ashes, Islamism.
1979: A Pivotal Year
History takes a new twist in 1979, when the strategic imperatives of superpowers created conditions for the rise of a Shia Islamic state in Iran, and a Sunni jihad in Afghanistan that acquired such momentum that it has spawned, directly or indirectly, jihadist movements across Pakistan, the Middle East, and north, central and east Africa. (The Taliban revere Shah Waliullah and Syed Ahmed Barelvi.) The Afghan Jihad had Washington’s weapons and blessings, but it was also a Saudi-Pak project that aimed at turning Afghanistan into ‘Islamic space’. That project has succeeded. To their north, the Saudis challenged the Shia ‘murtadd’ through Saddam Hussein, who attacked Iran and started a war that would continue for eight years. The Saudi attempt to overthrow the Ayatollahs failed.
It was now America’s turn to do Shia Iran an epic favour, by going to war against Saddam Hussein and replacing his autocracy with an elected government. The true homeland of Shias is not Iran, which only became Shia when the Safavids came to power, but Iraq, where Ali based his capital, in Kufa. For the first time since the death of Ali, Iraq was back under Shia dominance. The strategic consequences have been dramatic.
There are now three parallel zones: a line from Turkey to the secular, Sunni, Soviet-centric ‘stans’ led by old-style strongmen. Below it is the new Shia line, from west of Mazar-e-Sharif via Herat to Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. To its south is the Pakistan-Afghan Taliban-Saudi axis. These are fluid lines, of course, but retain identity and common purpose during a crisis. The war in Syria is about breaking this Shia consolidation. The Islamic State of Daesh began as a by-product, of fighters financed and armed to protect Sunni interests. They now, of course, have an agenda of their own which threatens even their early if silent sponsors.
The emergence of the Islamic State has made public what has been so far a subterranean urge: the restoration of a Sunni Caliphate that can erase ‘aberrations’ like monarchies, democracies and the many variations in between. This romance of regression has become a geo-political reality. But we should not be so complacent as to believe that IS is the only such state carved out of some existing nation. The Taliban occupies vast space in the AfPak region, while the Boko Haram, Shabab and IS are creating havoc across north, central and east Africa.
A Definition of Regression
I have used the term ‘regression’. What does it mean? All we have to do is examine the doctrine and objectives of Daesh, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi since 2010. His sermon from the Grand Mosque of Al Nuri in Mosul on 5 July 2014 is recognised as the moment when he began to galvanise serious international support. This is now the most militant Salafist movement (the term comes from ‘al salaf al salih’, the pious forefathers: the Prophet, of course, and the first four Caliphs). The problem is not reverence for the forefathers, for that is shared by other Muslims. The difference lies in the interpretation of the past, and its skewered application to the present. Two examples should suffice.
The Qur’an recognises the existence of slavery, although it does enjoin Muslims to free slaves. Daesh glories in the enslavement of non-Muslims. In October 2014 Dabiq, the official magazine of IS, in an article titled ‘The Revival of Slavery Before the Hour’, identified ‘non- Muslims’ as Yazidis, pagans, apostates and lapsed Muslims. Yazidi women and children were offered as rewards for fighters who took part in the Sanjar operations in northern Iraq. Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, chief spokesman of IS (at least till the time of writing), said in a missive to the West: ‘We will conquer your Rome, break your crosses, and enslave your women. If we do not reach that time, then our children and our grandchildren will reach it, and they will sell your sons as slaves at the slave market.’ It requires deep resources of manic hatred to believe in such a present and future.
While the ‘pagan’ is an obvious enemy, the grey area between apostasy and ‘lapsed Muslim’ extends the arc of enmity deep into the heartland of Muslim communities. The IS, like Wahab and Waliullah, condemns Shias as innovators who have deviated from Quranic principles; or as the ‘Rafida’, the ‘forsakers’, who turned their backs on the legitimate Caliphs. Daesh does not consider the Ottoman Caliphs legitimate as they did not enforce Sharia rigidly; and believes that there will be only 12 true Caliphs, of which Baghdadi is the eighth. Even the Muslim Brotherhood is not good enough for IS, while the range of ‘lapsed Muslim’ could extend from Arab monarchies to Muslims, like those on our subcontinent, who visit Sufi shrines to pray to saints like Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti to intercede with Allah on their behalf. The punishment for such deviation is takfir, or excommunication. The heretic in the midst of Muslims is the fifth column, the traitor, an agent of the ‘enemies of Islam’ and arguably more dangerous than the declared foe.
This, in turn, leads to the doctrine of ‘Three Enemies’: the Far Enemy (the West, including Russia); the Near Enemy, hypocrites or deviants within; and those ‘infidels’ who have occupied ‘Islamic space’. India and China are among the countries that ‘occupy Islamic space’.
The final battles, before the ultimate triumph, will be with the ‘Dajjal’, or impostors, on the one side; and against ‘Christianity’ on the other, at Dabiq, near Alleppo. Having lured Russia into Syria, IS-Daesh is now anxious to invite Nato troops there as well so that this ‘prophecy’ can be fulfilled.
Daesh does not recognise any borders, and not merely the ones imposed after 1918; or the nation state as a basis of international stability. The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 is considered a starting point for strategic stability because it established the concept of secure borders, laying the foundations of the nation state. The Daesh Caliphate seeks to reinvent an age when one ‘Islamic power’ ruled contiguous territory. It is perfectly logical, in its view, to expand its war into Afghanistan, and then, following the same logic, into Pakistan and India, against the ‘near enemy’ and occupiers of Islamic space.
Just in case we consider Iraq too distant, a story by the journalist Anthony Loyd published on 5 December 2015 in The Times, London, should clarify doubts. Loyd reports from Abdel Khel in eastern Afghanistan that upto 1,600 ISIS fighters now control swathes of four districts south of Jalalabad, through its affiliate Wilayat Khorasan. On 8 December, Loyd reported that the governor of this Wilayat Khorasan was a Pakistani, Hafiz Saeed Khan, appointed leader in January 2015. According to their admirers, Daesh has a presence in some 80 countries. Even if this is an exaggeration, its ability to strike anywhere between France, India and Indonesia cannot be in doubt.
Challenge of the 21st Century: The Modern State
Daesh would sneer at anyone who accused it of terrorism, and argue that this is merely a tactic to rebalance the uneven distribution of military might in the world. Every soldier is a suicide missionary, and those who choose life on the battlefield face punishment, including death, on return. A suicide missionary is fearless: how do you frighten a man who is not afraid of death?
There is an answer: modernity. This term is used all too frequently, and defined all too infrequently. I offer four principles that define modernity: Freedom for the individual and democracy for the state; faith-equality as a pillar of the Constitution; gender equality as a national mission; and economic equity, where the poorest of the poor feel that they have a stake in economic growth. Daesh, of course, rejects democracy, which is dismissed repeatedly in Daesh literature as shirq , or polytheism. The bad news is that democracy is not in very good health elsewhere too.
The nub of the challenge lies in whether nations adopt faith-supremacy or faith-equality as a fundamental principle of nationalism. Those who believe that they can accept faith-supremacy as a tactic, and tame it to their needs, will discover that the long war will be won by supremacists and not by advocates of compromise. India is a role model for the post-colonial world because it adopted modernity as the template for its Constitution: democracy, faith-equality, gender-equality and economic equity are all embedded in its Constitution.
The Longest War
The conflict between India and Pakistan has now become, without anyone quite realising it, the longest continual war in history. What is the conflict about? This is not about geography, but about ideology. Kashmir is an alienable part of India precisely because it is Muslim, for the Indian Constitution does not discriminate on the basis of religion.
Are we condemned to a thousand years of war, as Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who did his bit to promote Islamism in Pakistan in the hope that it would fetch votes, promised? We might, just now, be witnessing the consequences of an altered situation. There are Pakistanis who are beginning to appreciate the meaning of a ‘near enemy’ and recognise that they are it. A common enemy is the best reason for creating a common front, although I would always add that the past shows that any engagement with Pakistan is a walk on eggshells.
It may be relevant to note that if anyone wants Quranic sanction for faith-equality, it is there just after the famous Verse 2:255, the Surah al Kursi, or Verse of the Throne. Verse 2:256 reads: ‘La ikra fi al deen’: Let there be no compulsion in religion. This is reinforced by another verse: ‘La qum deen o qum wa il ya deen’: Your faith for you, and my faith for me.
Where modernity has failed, or failed to reach, the vacuum is being increasingly filled by the romance of regression.
I am reminded of Walter Nicolai’s dictum. Nicolai was in charge of Germany’s intelligence agency before and during World War I. We have to fight, he said, a ‘war in peace’. A century later, the boundaries between war and peace have blurred to the point of being indistinguishable.