A Caliphate in 90 Seconds


Written by Michael Copeland


The BBC has produced a short video, "What is a caliphate? In 90 seconds". Not being Islamic scholars themselves, they presumably sought Muslim advice to make it. It certainly looks that way. Even in its brief 90 seconds it contains quite a load of old Islamic chestnuts. To mix the metaphor, these are to throw you off the scent.

"Under Suleiman the Magnificent, [the Caliphate] covered the Balkans and reached the gates of Vienna"

Covered? All of its own accord? Like an umbrella? How did it "cover" that area? Answer: by aggressive attacks, killings, rape, plunder, and destruction of churches, libraries and universities, as with Islamic State (IS) today in Iraq. How did it "reach" the gates of Vienna? Answer: by the expedition of a large army equipped to lay siege and to tunnel under the walls.

"Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ... declared himself Caliph Ibrahim"

The subtle subtext here, left unstated, is that "declared himself" is of less value than "was appointed". In fact many Caliphs were self-declared.

Now for more chestnuts: the first one, "some believe" is a favourite.

"Some believe caliphate must enforce Islamic law, or Sharia"

"Some": this implies, without actually saying, that it is a minority. The "some" could be 99%: they are still "some". "Believe": use of the word "believe" weakens the imagined effect of the caliphate in the reader’s mind by implying that it is a matter not of law enforcement, which it is, but of belief, about which, in Western states, there is flexibility. The Western reader will apply his Western notions, unaware that there is no flexibility under Sharia. It is a deliberately misleading statement, about as accurate and useful as saying, "Some believe the British police must enforce British law." The Caliphate is an Islamic Caliphate. It enforces law. The only law it enforces is Islamic law, Sharia. It is not a Methodist Caliphate, enforcing Bantu law.

Now for the distancing devices:

"This concept is central to rhetoric of violent extremists like Al Qaeda"

The subject, the Caliphate, is associated with certain people's "rhetoric". This implies it is hot air, or bluster. "Violent extremists": oh dear, these are some of the oldest chestnuts. Violent extremists (who, we must diligently repeat, can be of any denomination, Quakers, Baptists, Zoroastrians etc.) are presumably those who misunderstand the supposedly peaceful nature of their ideology. As a result violent extremists are, implicitly, not to be regarded as authorities concerning their creed. After all, they must have got it wrong, so cannot be relied on. Just in case you had not arrived at this conclusion the slipping in of "like Al Qaeda" will seal it for you. Al Qaeda can only be given a bad press. Everyone knows they are the bogeymen, so other people will have a low opinion of you if you disagree.

All these distancing devices serve to maintain the dishonest implication that the core beliefs are somewhere else, that they will not be found in what you are given to think is the hot air bluster of those who have got it wrong.

"IS implements a strict interpretation of Sharia"

Here we go: the barrow is beginning to overflow. "Implements" is the word Anjem Choudary uses. Yes, laws in Britain are implemented after they have been passed by Parliament, but Choudary, being Sharia-observant, disdains Parliament and all man-made law (except the Social Security Act). When he says "implement" he means "impose". The posters in Tower Hamlets said "Islamic Rules Enforced". Thus "implement" means "impose by force". Islamic State, usurping the function of a legitimate state, will enforce the law, that is maintain the law by force.

"a strict interpretation"

This is a favourite. Here is an example, an extract from the Koran, all of which forms part of Sharia law: "Kill unbelievers wherever you find them" (9:5). What is the non-strict interpretation? There is not one. Kill means kill. This is the sura, or chapter, the "Sura at-Tawba" cited by the Woolwich killer of soldier Lee Rigby, and backed by numerous other quotations he had set down on a piece of paper. We all know how he "interpreted" that law. He did what it says. He was not crazy: he was obeying the instructions in the book.

"Religious minorities must: Pay tax Convert Or leave"

Ah! Oh yes, misleading by omission. Dear oh dear, one option has been left out. It is rather a tiresome one to have to admit to: "be killed". A little slip-up there. Never mind: it all had to be done in 90 seconds, so you cannot have an encyclopedia, you know. No, but we did get chestnuts.