Caliphate Anyone?

By Farish A Noor

Communities have their own ways of dealing with crises of all kinds: structural, institutional, functional or cultural. But what is even more interesting is to see how each community, or sections within each community, deals with such crises and the antidotes that are offered as the panacea for all that is wrong in the world.

In such a depoliticised world bereft of ideologies that are taken seriously and political vocabularies that work, the trend seems to be to offer culturalist solutions to problems that are fundamentally structural-economical. Hence the return to the politics of authenticity and nostalgia that we see all around us lately: As the ravaging effects of globalisation make themselves felt and seen around us, so many communities seem to have retreated to the protective blanket of cultural essentialism, falling back on unreconstructed myths of the past or equally vacuous notions of collective purpose that often deny the contingencies of individualism and personal agency.

In the Indian subcontinent the reaction of the Hindu right was to show two fingers to globalisation via recourse to a politics of nostalgia couched in terms of a politicised myth of Indian greatness and uniqueness. In the Far East the discourse of ‘Asian values’ was the foil used to fend off calls for democratisation, transparency and reform. Why, even in the West the fall-back position of claiming a singularly unique Western civilisational origin seemed the immediate refuge for those who could not cope with the
provincialisation of Europe in an increasingly plural and cosmopolitan world where movement of capital and ideas was becoming commonplace.

What of Islam and the Muslim world? Well the answer to that was given a week ago in Indonesia where a massive rally was held in the stadium of Jakarta, organised by none other than the Hizb’ut Tahrir (HT) movement of Indonesia who had invited their fellow HT activists from all over the planet, to re-affirm their determination to overturn the dominant paradigm of the modern nation state, wage war against the evils of Secularism and democracy, and to restore the fabled Caliphate as the sole and primary political agent on the Muslim landscape. Delegates from other Hizb’ut Tahrir chapters from the Middle-East and Asia were present, and HT chapters all over the world (such as Malaysia next door) held similar rallies to mark their defiance of their own respective states and to hasten the return of the Caliphate. I was reminded by a slogan painted on a bus in London by that other pro-Caliphate group al-Muhajiroun, that read: ‘The Islamic state: Coming soon to a country near you’…

Hizb’ut Tahrir’s historical origins give us some idea of how it has evolved to become what it is today. Set up in the early 1950s as a reaction against the occupation of Palestine and the defeat of Arab Muslim power, the movement has been committed to the struggle against Secular democracy from the beginning. This was based on the HT’s premise that modern secular democratic politics serves only to further the ends of nationalism, which they regarded as profoundly un-Islamic as it placed national identity and belonging above belonging to the global Muslim ummah. The HT was against the pan-Arabism of Gammel Abdel Nasr and the Arab nationalists and socialists of the 1960s, and has been calling for the return to the Caliphate ideal hence.

No-one would doubt that the paradigm of the nation-state, based as it is on the Westphalian model, is problematic to say the least. And we can all agree that nationalism has shown its uglier side time and again all over the world, leading to the rise of Nazism and Fascism in Europe to militarism in Japan and Southeast Asia. Having said that however, it should also be remembered that nationalism was used against itself in the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles of the 1930s-40s and that many a liberation movement still see the securing of an independent nation-state as one of the first goals to be achieved in any struggle for self-determination. Anyone who doubts that should talk to the Palestinians, Tibetans or East Timorese
who will tell you how and why they were — and remain — prepared to die for a nation-state of their own, despite the misgivings of Hizb’ut Tahrir.

What is more worrisome however is the trite and shallow logic at work among groups like the HT who simplistically think that the nation-state can simply be overturned and superceded by any means necessary, while failing to note that in the current age of globalisation this flawed and faulty apparatus may, ironically, be the only defensive tool we have left against the predatory moves of global capital. It is fine to talk about global solidarity between Muslims, a shared Muslim identity and common sets of values etc, as long as we also recognise that this grand Muslim history was not without its own share of problems and contradictions. For a start, HT’s love of the Caliphate ignores the fact that the Caliphs and great Sultans and Emperors of Islam in the past were not all just men (though they were all invariably men, and not women) and that the great Caliphates were also home for double-standards, exploitation, class and racial segregation and violent hierarchies as well.

Why do Muslims still entertain such nostalgic longings for an unreconstructed past that is, at best, two-dimensional and caricatural? Have we not evolved a political vocabulary that exceeds the narrow confines of the mythical universe of the Arabian Nights and Aladdin? Or has the Muslim world grown so jaded, so bereft of ideas and focus in direction that myths and fantasies will do in the absence of rational, workable solutions?

  1. #1 by k1980 on Monday, 20 August 2007 - 8:44 am

    Will Malaysia go the way of the Philippines?
    In the 1970s the Philippines was richer than its neighbors. Yet while it chugged along at growth rates of around 2%, other countries stepped on the gas: it was passed by Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and, more recently, by China. A former American colony, it could have made more of its cultural affinities with the United States, including the widespread use of English. The incompetent and crooked rule of Ferdinand Marcos from 1965 to 1986 bears some of the blame for its failure to do so. A sluggish economy combined with a fast-growing population has forced some 8m Filipinos—equivalent to almost a tenth of the resident population—to seek jobs abroad.

  2. #2 by Toyol on Monday, 20 August 2007 - 8:52 am

    Well, if Malaysia is an Islamic State as the DPM claims, we are indeed going backwards! Its typical of a idealess, leaderless and clueless state.

  3. #3 by k1980 on Monday, 20 August 2007 - 9:48 am

    Note the vast similarities between the Nazis’ Thousand-Year Reich and the Hizb’ut Tahrir jihadists’ Caliphate
    Nazi culture was geared toward a specific goal: the creation and maintenance of a Thousand-Year Reich. The European continent was to be consumed by the Aryan people for their sustenance, procreation, and establishment of a new culture. It will primarily take into account the trappings of Nazi racial policy, as the extermination of the untermenschen, the Jew, the Slav, and many other genetically ‘unfit’ groups will be the over-arching context by which history will judge the Nazi regime forever. Aligned with this is the Aryan ideology and myth by which the Nazis justified these actions of extermination, while also justifying the propagation of the Aryan race and the concept of lebensraum for these ‘perfect’ people. It will also deal with the methods, both conscious and unconscious, by which the German people were integrated into the Nazi culture…The backbone of Nazi ideology lie in the idea that the Aryan people, of whom all Germans were descended, had returned from the ashes of history to reclaim the world.

    Hitler realized in order to create the Thousand-Year Reich, the Nazi movement would have to devise a mythology about itself from the ground up, utilizing elements of the past to serve only as a means towards its foundation, not an end. It would have to contain primarily Nazi and Nazified elements, not pretend that the actual German people and subsequently Nazism itself had a glorious foundation in the past, like ancient Greece and Rome.

  4. #4 by Jeffrey on Monday, 20 August 2007 - 10:14 am

    A religious movement like Hizb’ut Tahrir (HT) would seek to overthrow the modern nation state because a nation state can only be ‘modern’ if it in the first place emphasizes evidence based science and technology and harnessing their powers to improve men’s lives.

    HT would wage war against the evils of Secularism and Democracy because it is precisely Secularism and Democracy – as part and parcel of the pillars of a modern state – that permit individual freedom to develop scientific thought, with matters of faith or variants of it being relegated to a subordinate position to compete with one another with no particular one being dominant enough to extend beyond the private realm.

    However, whilst many would be dedicated to scientific and empirical turn of mind, yet more of others constituting the masses, [more often but not necessarily poorer and less educated] would embrace faith as a panacea of the ills of the Human Condition.

    By the expression of “ills of Human Condition” reference is made to the (a) lack of a sense of purpose in life, (b) a lack of an objective benchmark with which to form moral judgments; (c) a fear of the beyond (after death) to a country from which in Shakespeare’s words no traveler has been to and returned to tell the tale and (d) the impotence against vicissitudes of fortunes whether good or bad (the latter including sickness and accidents) over which humans can exert but little control.

    Religion then religion plays this important role, fill this void, of addressing the uncertainties and ills of the so-called Human Condition in the social and emotional life of man that science and Technology could not, as effectively.

    We are evangelical in matters of faith because by recruiting members to join us, the fact that they are prepared to join and the greater the numbers of those believing in the same would reinforce our sense of reality of the truth of our faith.

    Which necessarily implies that we will ostracize, marginalise and disassociate from others of different or no faiths because their very presence and beliefs will necessarily challenge the basis of our own beliefs and threaten the very fulcrum upon which we have structured our social and emotional lives!

    The aspiration by HT faithfuls to restore the fabled Caliphate as the sole and primary political agent on the Muslim landscape is natural because it was a time when religion was supreme without eclipse of political and economic might.

    In today’s world political and economic might and the pride of it may be able only to be attained based on allegiance to science and technology within framework of Secularism and Democracy at the expense of absolute allegiance to Faith.

    It is an either or situation and does not provide the whole package of both – the Almighty to take care of the soul as well as modernity and progress to take care of bread and butter and living standards.

    It all boils down to issues of eternal conflict between faith and logic, a belief in Man being dependent on the Almighty’s patronage and protection and Man taking charge of his own destiny and finding his own way, an eternal and insatiable desire to have the best of both worlds even though they are diametrically opposed.

    The comments on HT are general enough to apply in varying degrees to other religious faiths as well.

    If the word religion is used in broader sense to mean a matrix of interconnected belief systems by which one conducts one life – with or without God being part of the equation – then the word religion would be wide enough to cover Nazism or even Communism.

  5. #5 by madmix on Monday, 20 August 2007 - 11:44 am

    The old caliphate was created by invasion and waging war against neighboring states. Should HT succeed in taking over a country, I suppose they will want to wage war like the old caliph, on others starting a third world war and getting themselves annihilated in the process.

  6. #6 by anakbaram on Monday, 20 August 2007 - 12:12 pm

    As a whole, the world is moving towards globalisation. It is also moving towards demarcations, transparency and humanitarian reform. This movement should ideally be guided by respect for each human person based on the crucial belief that everyone is created equal. Since everyone is equal, each one deserves that respect due to a human being. This type of development is positive and it needs to be supported and strengthen. This is a movement away from the medieval ways and philosophies which have their barbaric and archaic practices. All policies and institutions in this modern and advancing world if it wants to thrive must be based on this “new” concept.

    Of course the new trend is not perfect and will surely face even more challenges in the future. But all the same the basis is sound so the approach must be continuously reviewed and discussed. We must also understand that there is no system which could be completely flawless and is pleasing to everyone. We have seen so many good that has come out from the advancing modern world so what we do is to keep on perfecting it as we progress. We must not revert back to the old ways out of nostalgia and simplistic sentiments. If the old ways were good what was the actual reasons why they were stopped in the past? You can be sure that there were flaws in them. As a result man have moved on and made changes to overcome those flaws or weakness. If we are to go back to adopting them again, we are not regressing. In this case, it wouldn’t be long before we are all barbaric again.

  7. #7 by dawsheng on Monday, 20 August 2007 - 12:13 pm

    Yep, muslim extremist think [deleted], just like MCA’s Liow. Yucks!!!

  8. #8 by sotong on Monday, 20 August 2007 - 12:17 pm

    Muslims are very insecured. They feared of what the future hold for them….they know they will not catch up with others.

    As long as they are continued to be misguided with damaging political agenda, the future is not good for them.

  9. #9 by takazawa on Monday, 20 August 2007 - 10:08 pm

    As far as they are concerned, they were born Muslims and they will die Muslims. The more closed minded they are, the more fanatical they become in their religion. When ignorance unites with arrogance, fanaticism is born.

    We pity those whose religion is only the product of an accident of birth and culture. They blindly follow whatever religion they were born into. How sad it is to have an unexamined faith; a faith that cannot stand up to reason and science; a faith that merely shouts slogans, stamps its feet and beats its breast in a mindless mob (like what the Kurang Ajar dude is doing).

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