Fierce conflict between Islamic radicalism and the West has been one of the defining attributes of the first decade of the twenty-first century.
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The tragic events of September 11, 2001, in the United States and consequent attacks in Madrid and London, combined with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, have exposed how the renaissance of Islamic fundamentalism has fostered among the Muslims the belief that a religious war (Jihad) is compulsory to fight against infidels, who are thought to be invading holy places or working against the Islamic faith due to Christian beliefs (kepel, 2006).
However, it is believed that deserting Jihad is a factual source of the loss of self-respect and separation in which Muslims live in the present day.
Meaning of Jihad
Jihad means “to strive” or “to struggle” in Arabic. The term has a dual religious perception, involving an externally directed struggle against subjugation and tyranny and a secretly directed personal struggle for holiness (kepel, 2006).
Terrorism and Jihad
According to Kepel (2006) “the terrorism that has occurred from union of Islamic radicalism and violent jihad has led to powerful debate over whether the West and the Islamic world are engaged in a fight between civilizations”; it has also led to regime change in Afghanistan and Iraq, electoral overpowers of conservative governments linked with the United States in Spain and Italy, battle over the balance between civil liberties and security, abuse of human rights, and the deaths of thousands of people (p. x).
Initially, the clash was perceived to be a battle against a specific group, al-Qa’ida. However, with the passage of time it has become increasingly obvious that the battle has developed into an ongoing struggle against an unstructured and rarely understood network of religious radicals who believe they are engaged in a holy war against enemies of Islam.
Nexus between global jihad and Islamic radicalism
The link between the global jihad and Islamic radicalism, including the use of terrorism was the root for restoring the caliphate. The term caliphate-al-khalifah in Arabic refers to a unified system of activist authority exercised by a successor to the Prophet Muhammad over the community of believers.
During his lifetime, Muhammad was not only the Muslim political and military leader, but also the source of religious eye-opener as the Muslim prophet. All law and spiritual practice was passed from Muhammad. Most academic scholars agree that Muhammad had not clearly established how the Muslim population was to be ruled after his death in 632.
Creation of the caliphate
The caliphate was created in response to the two critical questions his followers faced: (1) who was to succeed Muhammad? And (2) what political, military, legal, and/or religious authority could be exercised?
The answer was to follow standard Arab practice at the time and use a shura (Arabic for consultation), in which his leading followers choose one of Muhammad’s relatives to be caliph with full temporal authority but no power over religious philosophy.
Historically, the caliph-frequently called the Amir al-Mu’minin, which in Arabic means “Commander of the Faithful”-ruled over the territory called Dar al-Islam (Land of Islam), which was controlled by the caliphate and subject to Islamic law.
The caliphate was created after Muhammad’s death when Abu Bakr, his close companion and kinsman, became the first of the Rashidun (righteously guided) caliphs. Sunnis accepted all four of the patriarchal caliphs who were Muhammad’s kinsmen- Abu Bakr, Umar ibn al-Khattab, Uthman ibn Affan, and Ali ibn Abi Talib- as the Rashidun, but Shi’ites consider Ali to be the first caliph.
After Ali’s demise, a series of powerful leaders – sometimes contending as rivals for dominance took control over the caliphate. The title was claimed by the Umayyads, the Abbasids, and the Ottomans, with other competing ancestries in Spain, North Africa, and Egypt, mainly due to their successful use of military power.
At its zenith under the Ottomans, the caliphate encompassed the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans, and spread into parts of Central Europe. Though, the historical caliphate was abolished in 1924 as a part of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s transformations.
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Contemporary view of caliphate
The current jihadist view of the caliphate significantly hold opposing views from historical experience and traditional understanding. The concept of the caliphate, as used by al-Qa’ida and others, is not based on leadership or territory. As an alternative, it symbolizes the final aim to be attained by a successful global jihad.
It stands for the final point of victory in which Muslims live under God’s authority without illation by corrupt elements. The lack of well-delineated geographical limits for the caliphate helps advance the primary universalism of jihadist ideology, since it supports claims that the caliphate should be restored wherever Muslims live so that they can thrive under Islamic law.
Calls to Jihad
Before September 11, the threat exhibited by Islamic terrorism was most often considered as a local or regional occurrence, even when media coverage brought vivid images such as the carnage at the 1972 Munich Olympics or the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania onto the global stage.
Reflecting the Israeli-Palestinian war, however, the real risks of terrorism remained primarily limited to the Middle East. Starting in the 1980s, three key factors connected to the materialization of Islamic radicalism led to the transformation of modern terrorism.
Mass movements such as Hizballah and Hamas openly grounded their political objectives in Islamist rhetoric with calls to jihad while remaining focused on local or regional goals.
The conquer of the Red Army by the mujahidin and the former Soviet Union’s pull out from Afghanistan in 1989 after ten years of cruel war was announced widely as proof that Islam had conquest over a superpower.
At the same time, al-Qa’ida grew as an openly jihadist oriented organization adopting even more extroverted political objectives: elimination of existing Muslim governments and borders together with re-establishment of the caliphate throughout the Islamic world.
In sizzling public statements, Usama bin Laden positioned the Western world directly in the crosshairs, both for its support to Israel and for what was considered to be an unbearable Western existence and influence in Muslim lands, and for its apparent resistance to the goals of jihad.
The weapon of revenge
In the after effects of the September 11, the alteration of the primary dynamics of terrorism became a reality once the jihadist movement targeted the United States and friendly nations’ interests on a worldwide basis. Terrorism is a planned ploy adopted by the jihadist movement.
It is also an efficient way to shock the political and social climate of the West because of its predisposition to casualties. According to kepel (2006) the jihadists have obviously identified their enemies as rightful targets of violence, and there is no apology for characterizing their actions as terrorism (p.2).
Elements of Jihadist ideology
The jihadist movement stirs up imagery of a holy war promising, after victory, that everything will be immensely improved and that engagement in the noble cause gives meaning to life. For the jihadists, a mythical struggle is bothering and through their actions they are able to affect its outcome.
Those who reveal the inconsistencies between jihadist ideology and Islamic law are automatically considered apostates for their sympathy for the infidels or the killer of Muslims and are therefore also targeted. The need to be accepted as a complete member of the group and not to be considered an outsider can intensify the drive to please one’s comrades-in-arms in this religious struggle.
Moreover, by stressing the mythic aspects of the undertaking and limiting combat roles to terrorism and sporadic insurgency, the jihadist organizations have essentially lengthened the fighting lifespan of their mujahidin (kepel, 2006).
Kepel, G. (2006). Jihad:The Trail of Political Islam. London, UK: I.B.Tauris.