In “21st-Century Warnings of a Threat Rooted in the 7th,” Elisabeth Bumiller illustrates why we call the New York Times the New Duranty Times: just as Walter Duranty whitewashed and concealed in the Times evidence of the Stalinist famine in the Ukraine in the 1930s, so today the Times calls in John Esposito and his ilk to tell us that the jihadists have virtually no chance of establishing the caliphate, and it is all just scaremongering by the administration — like the Cold War, it says here.
Why? Because the jihadists have no chance of establishing a worldwide caliphate. As if the fact that the Soviet Union had no chance of making the world communist means that it wasn’t a threat as it attempted to do so. These learned heads seem to have no regard at all for the fact that as Al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups try to establish a worldwide caliphate, they are capable of causing immense, catastrophic havoc. The fact that their goals are unattainable doesn’t mean they can’t do anything at all.
If you’d like to debate this point, Dr. Esposito, I am ready when you are.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said it in a speech last Monday in Washington and again on Thursday on PBS. Eric S. Edelman, the under secretary of defense for policy, said it the week before in a round table at the Council on Foreign Relations. Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, said it in October in speeches in New York and Los Angeles. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East, said it in September in hearings on Capitol Hill….
The word getting the workout from the nation’s top guns these days is “caliphate” – the term for the seventh-century Islamic empire that spanned the Middle East, spread to Southwest Asia, North Africa and Spain, then ended with the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258. The term can also refer to other caliphates, including the one declared by the Ottoman Turks that ended in 1924.
Specialists on Islam say the word is a mysterious and ominous one for many Americans, and that the administration knows it. “They recognize that there’s a lot of resonance when they use the term ‘caliphate,’ ” said Kenneth M. Pollack, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst and now a scholar at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, said that the word had an “almost instinctive fearful impact.”
So now, Mr. Cheney and others warn, Al Qaeda’s ultimate goal is the re-establishment of the caliphate, with calamitous consequences for the United States. As Mr. Cheney put it in Lake Elmo, referring to Osama bin Laden and his followers: “They talk about wanting to re-establish what you could refer to as the seventh-century caliphate” to be “governed by Sharia law, the most rigid interpretation of the Koran.”…
General Abizaid was dire, too. “They will try to re-establish a caliphate throughout the entire Muslim world,” he told the House Armed Services Committee in September, adding that the caliphate’s goals would include the destruction of Israel. “Just as we had the opportunity to learn what the Nazis were going to do, from Hitler’s world in ‘Mein Kampf,’ ” General Abizaid said, “we need to learn what these people intend to do from their own words.”
Thanks, General. I have been traveling all over this beautiful nation in 2005 telling audiences just exactly that.
A number of scholars and former government officials take strong issue with the administration’s warning about a new caliphate, and compare it to the fear of communism spread during the Cold War. They say that although Al Qaeda’s statements do indeed describe a caliphate as a goal, the administration is exaggerating the magnitude of the threat as it seeks to gain support for its policies in Iraq.
In the view of John L. Esposito, an Islamic studies professor at Georgetown University, there is a difference between the ability of small bands of terrorists to commit attacks across the world and achieving global conquest.
“It is certainly correct to say that these people have a global design, but the administration ought to frame it realistically,” said Mr. Esposito, the founding director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown. “Otherwise they can actually be playing into the hands of the Osama bin Ladens of the world because they raise this to a threat that is exponentially beyond anything that Osama bin Laden can deliver.”
Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, said Al Qaeda was not leading a movement that threatened to mobilize the vast majority of Muslims. A recent poll Mr. Telhami conducted with Zogby International of 3,900 people in six countries – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon – found that only 6 percent sympathized with Al Qaeda’s goal of seeking an Islamic state.
The notion that Al Qaeda could create a new caliphate, he said, is simply wrong. “There’s no chance in the world that they’ll succeed,” he said. “It’s a silly threat.” (On the other hand, more than 30 percent in Mr. Telhami’s poll said they sympathized with Al Qaeda, because the group stood up to America.)