by RB Furlow · 2014 · Cited by 11 — leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as Caliph. This paper analyzes the extremist vision of the Caliphate from a strategic communication point of view

212 KB – 17 Pages

PAGE – 1 ============
De – Romanticizing Vision of the Caliphate R. Bennett Furlow Kristin Fleischer Steven R. Corman Report No. 140 2 / October 2 7 , 2014 This research was supported by a grant (N00014 – 09 – 1 – 0872) from the US Department of Defense Human Social Culture Behavior Modeling Program The CSC is a research unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a strategic initiative of the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University. It promotes advanced research, te aching, and public discussions of the role of communication in combating terrorism, promoting national security, and improving public diplomacy. For additional information visit our website at

PAGE – 2 ============
Copy r ight © 2014 Center for Strategic Communication . All rights reserved 2 De – romanticizing the Islamic State Vision of the Caliphate E XECUTI VE S UMMARY Calls for restoration of the Caliphate are a regular feature of Islamist extremist communication, most recently and notably that of the Islamic State (IS) who in mi d – 2014 declared a new Caliphate and named their leader, Abu Bakr al – Baghdadi , as Caliph. This paper analyzes the extremist vision of the Caliphate from a strategic communication point of view, revealing it s vulnerab ility . Extremists construct a narrative of an ideal system of government that will le. This narrative is comprised of stories that romanticize previous Caliphates and claim they were undermined by Western powers bent o n subjugating the Muslims and destroying Islam. The solution to this downward spiral is restoration of the Caliphate, whi ch will throw off the yoke of oppression and realize the divine plan for all Muslims . Therefore , i toward this goal by abandoning false national identities designed to divide them, and join the fight. This narrative relies on the three important devices. First, it depends on an imagined community of Muslims that is united across the world i.e. one in which Muslims who do not even know one another nonetheless identify ommunities normally depend on institutions of the state for their cohesion. But the extremist narrative rejects the notion of states, so the vision of the Caliphate itself becomes the basis for imagining a unified ummah. Th is requires the second device, un ified diversity , where an idea of the Caliphate is presented in a general way everyone can agree with, while suppressing talk about details for example , who should be Caliph that might surface differences in interpretation , causing disagreement and conflic t. To achieve unified diversity, extremists depend on the third device, a romanticized history of the Caliphate. They portray the Caliphate as a glorious, shining kingdom on a hill, while editing out inconvenient historical details about the infighting, as sassination, civil war, and territorial losses that plagued the Caliphates from the time of We propose three measures to counter the extremist narrative of the Caliphate: (1) De – romanticize the Caliphate by promoting knowledge of its tru e history; (2) deconstruct the imagined community by emphasizing the real differences in interests, beliefs, and religious practices among Muslims in different parts of the world; and (3) challenge unified diversity by raising questions about who is qualif ied to be Caliph, and how this person is to be found among 1.6 billion Muslims.

PAGE – 3 ============
Copy r ight © 2014 Center for Strategic Communication . All rights reserved 3 De – romanticizing the Islamic State Vision of the Caliphate I NTRODUCTION On June 29, 2014, Abu Mohammed al – Adnani, spoke s man for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al – Sham, and more (IS), announced the restoration of the Caliph ate and named Abu Bakr al – as the new Caliph . 1 This makes al – Baghdadi the first Caliph since the reign of Abdulmecid II ended in 1924. Whether or not Muslims, specifically likeminded extremists , will accept al – Baghdadi and this new Caliph ate remains to be seen . M ilitant Islamists have been talking of restoring the Caliph ate for over a decade ; h owever, the reality of the Caliph ate an institution of Isl amic governance that flourished for several centuries after the passing of the P rophet Muhammad is not what is typically depicted in extremist strategic communication . Th e idea of the Caliph ate as it appears in extremist discourse should not be conflate d with a modern nation – state. It differs from a generalized Islamic state within current socio – political borders such as the Taliban created in Afghanistan. It is also distinct from other models of Islamic states such as Sudan or Iran. Indeed, as we discu ss in detail below, the portrayal of the Caliph ate supplant s the idea of the modern nation state with an imagined community based on a strategically ambiguous understanding of an all – encompassing Islamic identity . The Center for Strategic C ommunication has developed a database containing over 5 000 texts collected from various Islamist extremist sources. These texts consist of officially released statements, such as those coming from al – Qaeda, as well as comments made by individuals on Islam ist websites and forums. These texts are drawn f rom groups based in the Middle E ast, N orth Africa and Southeast Asia. Of those, over 400 (roughly ten percent) make mention of the Caliph or Caliph ate. Given this frequency, it seemed prudent to conduct a clo ser analysis of the role that the idea of the Caliph ate plays in extremist discourse. Historically, the Caliph ate is generally considered to have existed in one form or another from 632 to 1924. This period begins with the Rashidun Caliphate or Rightly G uided Caliphs following Muhammad s passing. It ends with the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate and the secularization of Turkey under Kemal Ataturk. In extremist discourse , the idea of the Caliph ate is constructed through a narrative that sanitizes and romant icizes the history of the institution, situates its place in Islamic society , and calls for its restoration. Unsurprisingly, this constructed ideal ignore s much of the historical realit y The reality of the Caliphate is not what is typically depicted in extremist strategic communication

PAGE – 4 ============
Copy r ight © 2014 Center for Strategic Communication . All rights reserved 4 De – romanticizing the Islamic State Vision of the Caliphate intrinsic to any governing institution, especially one that spanned s everal centuries. Broadly speaking, the narrative of the Caliph ate as it appears in extremist discourse contains the following elements : The Caliph ate was an ideal system of government implemented by the Rightly Guided Caliphs that united all Muslims und . The loss of the Caliph ate (either referring to the 1924 Ottoman Caliph ate or an earlier period) allowed Western colonial powers and other threats to dominate and oppress the u mmah, doing irreparable harm to Muslim lands and Islam as a r eligion . The restoration of the Caliph ate will unite all Muslims, regardless of nationality, ethnicity etc, enable them to throw off their oppression by Western forces, and . Therefore it is the duty of all Muslims to work toward the r estoration of the Caliph ate . The following analysis examines the idea of the Caliph ate that is constructed through extremist strategic communication using both broad generalizations and references to specific histor ical instances. First we give an overvie w of how the narrative of the Caliph ate is constructed. We then discuss the function of that narrative as it serves to c reate an – state model of governance and which extremists then use , in part, to just ify their actions . Lastly we highlight just how and where extremists abuse the history of the Caliph ate by differentiating between reality and the romanticized version presented by the extremists . T HE N ARRATIVE The I deal Caliph ate Many modern Islamis t extremists paint a grossly idealistic portrait of the Caliph ate as a form of governance. This romantic portrayal extends not only to the Caliph ate as a governing institution, but its ability to function as uniting force for the whole of the ummah, overc oming false differences in identity based on nationality or ethnicity . These impressive traits are generally ascribed to its supposed Divine origins : It is the Divine system, the Islamic system, the system where there is no e Islamic Caliph ate which gives you the freedom to live in all Muslim countries, where there is no discrimination between Arabs and non – Arabs, and where there is no discrimination based on color or nationality. It is not Arab nor regional, rather, it is Is lamic. 2 By portraying the Caliph ate in such a way, extremists reinforce the idea of a monolithic and united Muslim community , obscuring not only historic Islamist extremists paint a grossly idealistic portrait of the Caliphate

PAGE – 5 ============
Copy r ight © 2014 Center for Strategic Communication . All rights reserved 5 De – romanticizing the Islamic State Vision of the Caliphate divisions of ethnicity, nationality and creed, but modern diversity among Muslims as well. This s tep is necessa ry because in extremist rhetoric the Caliph Muslim population under its umbrella. Accepting the current diversity of Muslim cultures across the world makes the probability of a sin gle governing body exceptionally unlikely. Acknowledging that diversity also they are acting on behalf of u explain below , this strategy allows the justification of violent action on b ehalf of that community . The C ollapse Consistent with the narrative arc, 3 since the Caliph ate is perceived as an ideal form of government, extremist discourse po rtrays its ending as a catastrophe which weakened Islam and allowed outside forces to do ir reparable harm to the unity of the ummah and Islam as a whole : The worst catastrophe that befell the Ummah was the collapse of the Caliph ate that was defending the religion of Muslims and managing their life according to the Sharia. The Ummah was control led by a group of agent rulers who implemented the plots of the Jews and the Christians against the Ummah of Islam in order to disturb it from within and destroy it from without: to destroy its creed, ideas, culture and manners. They are destroying every s eed that can be planted in the righteous soil word to be superior and religion to be only from God 4 Unsurprisingly, in the modern context, the outside forces most com monly viewed as t hreatening the ummah are the United States and its Western allies who are often labeled Caliph ate closely parallels and supports the themes of victimization found in p revious analyses by the CSC. 5 The theme of catastrophe also contains significant elements of betrayal. Forces within Islam acted traitorously, leading to an outside threat conquering or damaging the Caliph ate. This includes stories of both historical and contemporary contexts. Foreign invasion is also central to these stories. In the historical context, betrayal is exemplified by the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongol leader Hulagu Khan in 1258. One of the Caliph viziers, Ibn al – Alqami, apparently betr ayed the Abbasid Caliph , al – – Alqami had been in contact with Hulagu Khan and assured him an easy victory in Baghdad. Al – Alqami lied to the Caliph about the size of the Mongol army and convinced al – reinforcements or prop erly prepare the city for a massive assault. Al – Extremists portray the end of the Caliphate as a catastrophe and Muslims as victims

PAGE – 6 ============
Copy r ight © 2014 Center for Strategic Communication . All rights reserved 6 De – romanticizing the Islamic State Vision of the Caliphate Alqami was Shia and supposedly wanted to eliminate the Caliph and establish a Shia state in the region. The result [of the betrayal] was the collapse of the state of the Islamic Caliph ate, and allowing th e most arrogant and dirtiest military power at that time to practice its dominant influence over the S unnis. In other words, such an act helped them [the Mongols] slaughter the S unnis in the ugliest forms; they slaughtered around 800,000 residents to the e xtend 6 In texts referring to current events, the narrative reinforces the extremist framing of the Iraq War. A Muslim (Ahmed Chalabi or Nouri al – Maliki depending on the text) betrays the government in Ba ghdad and allows a foreign invader (George W. Bush) to conquer the country. The United States came to Baghdad, holding in its hand the sword of treachery that was handed to it by the grandsons of Ibn – al – Alqami, who handed Baghdad to the Mongols and opene d its gates to their armies to occupy it. 7 Just as Hulagu [Khan] entered Baghdad, so did the criminal Bush enter it, through Al – Alqami. 8 The other common context in which events surrounding the Caliph ate are framed as a catastrophe refers to the seculariza tion of Turkey in 1924 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk , which is often discussed as the Ottoman Caliphate. Virtually every text that refers to the Ottoman Caliphate does so within the context of its collapse. Oppression by foreign powers and the bet rayal by an apostate leader are also central themes in stories concerning this period . For example: Europe only left Istanbul to Kemal Ataturk after the Treaty of Lausanne, the conditions of which were: 1. That Turkey would abolish the Islamic Caliph ate exi ling the Caliph from Turkey, and seizing his possessions. 2. That Turkey would subdue every movement made by supporters of the Caliph ate. 3. That Turkey would sever its ties to Islam. 4. That Turkey would select for itself a civil constitution rather than a constit ution based on the provisions of Islam. Kemal Ataturk implemented the above conditions, and the occupying nations withdrew from Turkey. At that time, British Foreign Secretary [George] Curzon said before the British House of Commons: “The point at issue i s that Turkey has been destroyed and shall never rise again because we have destroyed her spiritual power: the Caliph ate and Islam.” 9 The narrative reinforces the extremist framing of the Iraq War

PAGE – 8 ============
Copy r ight © 2014 Center for Strategic Communication . All rights reserved 8 De – romanticizing the Islamic State Vision of the Caliphate agent gang [a reference to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh]. This is the realistic and legitimate solution to end injustice and achieve r ights. They need to put their hands in the hands of the mujahidin until God’s law is applied, the religion is established, rights are returned, oppression is lifted, and a Caliph ate is established. 13 Additionally, Extremists also use the Caliph ate to justif y Muslim dominance over non – Muslims. For example: Do not exchange correspondence with the Dhimmis (Jews and Christians living under a contract of protection in Muslim lands) in case friendship should grow between you and them. Do not call them by their fo rmal names. They must be kept in their place, but not wronged. Command their women not to tighten their waistbands, and not to let their forelocks hang over their faces. Also they should be made to stand in the marketplace so that they can be distinguished from Muslim women. If they refuse, they had better embrace Islam, willingly, or unwillingly . This passage, from the pen of our beloved Khalifah ‘Umar ibn al – Khattab, will strike many of us as strange, because we have been so far removed from the reality of Islamic political dominance. However, this is the reality, whether we like it or not. Islam is meant to dominate. 14 By painting the time of the Caliph ate as idyllic, then telling stories from that period , extremists justify modern day violence. The viol ence that occurs today is no longer political violence; it is instead framed as keeping with the strongest and oldest traditions of Islam. Extremists even argue that the conflict that exists today is somehow divinely inspired or meant to be : Can you see ho w he regards facing the enemy without even using his sword or throwing spears to be better than worshiping God for 60 years! Abu – al – Ghadyah al – Mu’zani said that he heard Uthman Ibn – Affan, may God be pleased with him, preaching the people of Medina by sayin g: “O people, why do you not take part in jihad for the sake of God? Do you find a preacher nowadays, who would say to people: “O people, why do you not take part in jihad for the sake of God? Such preacher would be arrested and jailed right away. There is no might, nor power except from God. Then, he [Uthman] said, as if he is living in our current time, do you not see your brothers in the Levant, do you not see your brothers in Egypt, The narrative of the Calip h ate as detailed above serves a larger purpose in extremist discourse beyond merely looking at history with rose tinted lenses. By constructing the Caliph ate as an ideal system of governance Extremists justify violence by painting the time of the Caliphate as idyllic, then telling stories set in that period

PAGE – 9 ============
Copy r ight © 2014 Center for Strategic Communication . All rights reserved 9 De – romanticizing the Islamic State Vision of the Caliphate that negates all potentially divisive identities within the broad er Muslim community, extremists construct what Benedict Anderson terms an T HE I MAGINED C OMMUNITY OF THE U MMAH the imagined community says that a community can exist if people think they are part of it, even if there is no everyday face – to – face interaction between the members . Anderson uses i in the sense o f not in the sense of The environment in which someone is born shape s the community of that person . A ccording to Anderson, p eople who share a common currency, common language, military, police force, news outlets, entertainment media, and so on all develop a kinship with each other even if particular individuals never meet. No individual American, for example, will ever know every other American, but all Americans think of themselves as part of an American community because of common elements of culture, language, institutions and so on. Because imagined communities dep end on individual perceptions , th ey are flexible . People identify as American s and are perceived as American s no matter where they go in the world. This provides an instant measure of kinship among members of the imagined community of Americans, even if they have never met . Islamist ex tremist groups such as al Qaeda and IS seek to create an imagined communication of Muslims too. But they actively reject the landscape of modern nation – states , viewing them as imposed by Western forces to the detriment of the ummah . They must construct an imagined community of a singular Islamic ummah without relying on the usual tools employed by for example nationalist oriented groups. There is no specifically , because these are inherently part of th e current nation – state system and therefore differ across state or region. So they rely on the vision of the Caliphate to accomplish this. In other words, t he Caliph ate effectively bypasses the usual state – based features that would construct an imagined c ommunity . Constructing the imagined community of the Caliphate relies on the principle of unified diversity . 15 This is a tactic in which communicators present an idea in a general way that everyone can agree with, while avoiding details that might lead to differences in interpretation , causing disagreement and conflict . For example, prior to al – Baghdadi, extremists never named individuals who might be chosen to lead the Caliph ate . Since the emergence of the Islamic State , only AQAP has announced support fo r the group , yet it did not refer to it as a Caliph ate or to al – Baghdadi as the Constructing the imagined community of the Caliphate relies on the principle of unified diversity

PAGE – 10 ============
Copy r ight © 2014 Center for Strategic Communication . All rights reserved 10 De – romanticizing the Islamic State Vision of the Caliphate Caliph . 16 T he narrative is strategically ambiguous , so a diverse audience can engage with it in diverse ways . Thus it can theoretically appeal to all Muslims regardless of nat i onality, ethnicity etc. The ideal outcome for extremists, then , is for Muslims all over the globe to identify themselves first and foremost as Muslims. This identity must supersede the existing national, regional, ethnic and cultural identities already i n existence (i.e. Tunisian, Arab , or Wahhabi ) . The Caliphate may currently be regionally limited, but the idea of a Caliph ate serves as a touchstone to create a n imagined community among Muslims worldwide. As discussed above, however, creation of this im agined community takes several steps. Romanticization is an emotional appeal to the heroic or the ideal. It is common, to romanticize war , for example through heroic depictions in movies or books . Th is lead s to a sanitized view of war , which avoids its bru tality and horrors , instead focus ing on heroism and glory. The extremists attempt a similar transformation of the Caliph ate , using three techniques . First, they glorify the historical Caliph ate by r emov ing any negative depiction of the institution and s tre ss ing how positive the Caliph ate was for Muslims in the past and can be for Muslims in the future. Second, they emphasize the collapse of the Caliph ate , establishing a motivation to restore it by casting Muslims as victims . Third, they romanticize the Cali ph ate in an attempt to shift the loyalties and sense of community the audience feels at a nationalistic level to that of the Caliph ate. Here they are creating the imagined Caliph ate, the inspirational Caliph ate. All of this is done , however , at the expense of truth . Next we explain how t he historical Caliph ate never functioned the way in which the extremist narrative depict s it. T HE H ISTORICAL R EALITY Islamist extremists seek to portray an historical Caliph ate that was ideal, just, and blessed by God. I n this tale, t he institution of the Caliph ate was of great benefit to the Muslims of the era. For example: Had not Al – Sahabah [the prophet’s companions] sought death, those who defected after Prophet Muhammad’s passing away would have triumphed over the g ood Caliph ate State, Islam would have perished, and the entire world would have quickly fallen into the darkness of disbelief and paganism. Had it not been for scores of martyrs of the prophet’s companions, Islam would not have spread in the world nor woul d the two greatest powers at that time have been defeated; namely, Persia and Rome, nor would have people entered “God’s religion in crowds” [part of Koranic verse], nor would have jurisprudence been implemented, nor would have these many nations been libe rated from their slavery to infidelity, injustice, and exploitation, nor would have you, who sit idle, embraced Islam. Instead, you have remained infidels and sons of infields The idea of a Caliphate serves as a touchstone to create an imagined community among Muslims worldwide

PAGE – 11 ============
Copy r ight © 2014 Center for Strategic Communication . All rights reserved 11 De – romanticizing the Islamic State Vision of the Caliphate laboring in the mud of paganism which you were not liberated from but through th e sacrifices of thousands of the prophet’s companions, who thought little about their lives for the sake of God. 17 This passage portrays the P as extraordinary people who worked together to improve the lives of Muslims. But th e period fo llowing extremists would have us believe. In reality , the reign of the Rightly Guided Caliphs ( or Rashidun Caliphate ) was plagued with conflict. First, there was no agreement on who would succeed the P rophet. Muhammad left no clear instruction on who was to take over leadership of the Muslim community upon his death. He had no sons that lived to adulthood , so passing leadership in a hereditary fashion and son – in – law, Ali ibn Abu Talib. Not all of the al – Sahaba (Companions of the Prophet) agreed that Ali was the right man to lead. There was a fierce debate , and in the end Abu Bakr as – Siddiq was elected as the first khalifah (successor). adership was short – lived, and he served only two years . H is primary function in that time was to keep the Muslim community from fracturing. A number of Arab tribes who had submitted to Muhammad claimed that their allegiance died with the P rophet and began to break away from the larger Muslim community. Abu Bakr countered that they had submitted not just to a man, but to a people and a community , which Abu Bakr now led. This disagreement led to the Ridda War , or Wars of Apostasy. Abu Bakr proved success ful in keeping the Muslim community together . However, this incident show s that there were serious difficulties with the Caliph ate from its inception , a fact that modern Islamist extremists seem keen to ignore . First, there was disagreement over who should lead and second, there were those who completely disputed the authority of the Caliph . None of this is part of the extremist narrative of the Caliph ate. Of the four Rightly Guided Caliphs , only Abu Bakr died of natural causes. Umar, Uthman, and Ali were all assassinated , Uthman and Ali by fellow Muslims. 18 This shows a significant discrepancy between the reality of the Caliph ate and the glossy image projected by extremists. Whereas t hey paint a picture of an ideal institution and a time of unity for Muslim s , in fact the period was one of internal strife, assassination , and civil war. Uthman practiced nepotism, plac ing members of his family and tribe in key positions and giving them money from the treasury. 19 Traditionally, land gained through conquest was divided among the warriors who conquered the land. Uthman changed this , Contrary to the extremist narrative of ideal government and unity, the early Caliphate was a time of strife, assassination, and civil war

212 KB – 17 Pages