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Saturday, 23 August 2014

What's in a word?

In the chaos that followed the collapse of the Central Powers at the end of 1918, the Ottoman Sultanate was abolished: and with it the title of Caliph which the Ottomans had held - generally benignly - for centuries.

Since then, there has been no titular head of the Islamic world.

Now the dictator of the self-proclaimed Islamic State [in Iraq and Syria] is claiming to be the new Caliph, to whom all Muslims should give obedience. In the extensive territory that the IS has captured, all Christians and other non-Muslims are offered a choice of conversion or death [in some cases, with the option of flight provided all their assets are abandoned]; and all Muslims are expected to conform unconditionally to the dictates of the Caliph.

This use of the word State is highly significant.

For almost a century, while many have spoken of a single 'Nation of Islam' that transcends the claims of national governments as recognised by the UN, there has been no successful attempt by any centre of power to claim the absolute allegiance of all Muslims. Now this totally ruthless machine is claiming just that. This point is central to the understanding of the phenomenon of "British jihadists" . These people accept that there is a greater power, a more comprehensive and commanding State: against that, the claims of British nationality and subjection to the Queen are trivial to vanishing point.

The enthusiasm of fighters in a succession of successful campaigns feeds on itself. Blood-lust is a recurrent and extremely powerful phenomenon throughout history. These tools are deployed by the ambitious Caliph, so far with huge success. The devices that are available in Britain within the framework of common law and human rights to attempt to prevent 'radicalisation' barely scratch the surface of this new issue: the fact that young people are susceptible to recognise a power that is transcendent above a system of exhausted democratic politics.  Perhaps the closest analogy in British history is the Anabaptist and similar groups in the sixteen-fifties who rejected not just the state of Charles I and that of Cromwell but the concept of any terrestrial state claiming - or usurping  - the sovereignty that belongs only to God. In the case of the Islamic State, the necessary command structure is incorporated into the structure.

The command of the Caliph is paramount: his reading of the Koran is the correct reading; his exegesis is not susceptible to any alternative interpretation. Thus for Tony Blair or Nick Clegg to speak about wrong and right interpretations of Islam is even more irrelevant than it is impertinent. There are no shades of interpretation, just a single simple truth to be bolstered and enforced through Sharia; by force, if necessary. So far, many more people have held back from committing themselves, only a few hundred people have taken the plunge. But they are great advocates of their cause, and the attraction is great.

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