Discussions of jihad terrorism and the best defense against it rarely avoid entanglement in the contentious question of the relationship of terrorist actions to Islam as a religion.  Is the terrorism an aberration of Islam, or is it, judged in light of history, the prevailing orthodoxy?  Indeed, the question is an important one, and, in a society that avoids uncomfortable realities, answering it honestly is less a matter of analysis than of moral courage.

Perhaps less important in theory, but more central in terms of policy, is a question less commonly asked: What is it, exactly, that the terrorists mean to achieve?  Nonstate violence as a political/military methodology is not new, nor does it exist in a vacuum.  It proceeds from a worldview and, in almost all cases, has stated, ideologically defined, conscious goals.  The question then becomes one of whether the terrorists’ motivations are essentially reactive (i.e., they are offended by the presence of infidels on the sacred soil of Arabia, they are opposed to U.S. policy in the Middle East, they are trying to preserve a traditional way of life from the depredations of modern moral corruption, etc.), in which case we would need to stop doing something (pull U.S. forces out of Saudi Arabia, stop supporting Israel, stop exporting trashy movies, etc.).  Or is what they want something affirmative, something that has an independent, positive imperative?

In suggesting an answer to the question, I ask the reader to do a quick Google search for the word khilafah.  When I first tried this about a year ago, the result was in the range of 26,000 to 29,000 links (some of them redundant).  Now, the results are above 50,000, and, by the time you read this, maybe more.  Almost all of these sites link to material available in English; I can only guess what is out there in Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, Turkish, Malay, and other languages.  The location of the site operators is not always clear, but many of them seem to be based in the United Kingdom.  (Since many of the quotations in this article were downloaded a few months ago, some of the sites have been removed, to some extent because of action of the British government.  Since the sentiments expressed on the sites are unlikely to have disappeared as conveniently as the sites themselves, this appears to be, at best, treating the symptom.)

Khilafah—perhaps more familiar in the common form in English, caliphate—historically refers to the state ruled by a successor (called khalifah or, in English, caliph) of Muhammad, beginning in the seventh century.  The khilafah, in one form or another, lasted until it was abolished in 1924 by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk at the founding of the Turkish Republic.

Even a cursory review of these websites shows that in only a very few of them does the khilafah reference pertain to this purely historical entity.  On the contrary, as far as I can see, most of them are found on advocacy sites.  These are people who date the current decrepitude of the Islamic world in comparison with the West to abolition of the khilafah and insist that all Muslims are obligated to work for its revival.  For example, the following is from the website (hizb-ut-tahrir.org) of the Turkish branch of an international political party whose stated goal is reviving the khilafah:

It was a day like this 79 years ago, and more specifically on the 3rd of March 1924 that . . . the criminal English agent, Mustafa Kemal (so-called Ataturk, the “Father of the Turks”!) announced that the Grand National Assembly had agreed to destroy the Khilafah; and . . . he establish . . . a secular, irreligious, Turkish republic. . . .

Since that day the Islamic ummah [nation, community] has lived a life full of calamities; she was broken up into small mini states controlled by the enemies of Islam in every aspect.  The Muslims were oppressed and became the object of the kuffar’s [unbelievers’] derision in Kashmir, Philippines, Thailand, Chechnya, Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afghanistan, Palestine and other lands belonging to the Muslims . . .

So the crime took place and the kuffar tightened their grip over the Islamic lands and tore it up into pieces. . . . In place of a single Khilafah state they established cartoon states and installed rulers as agents to carry out the orders of their kuffar masters.  They abolished the Islamic Sharee’ah [sic; religious law] from the sphere of ruling, economy, international relations, domestic transactions and judiciary.

Without the Khilafah, the Islamic lands will remain torn up and the Islamic peoples will remain divided.  Without the Khilafah the kafir, crusader and colonial states will continue to control us, plunder our resources and create divisions amongst us.  Without the Khilafah, the Jews will continue to occupy our sacred places and kill and humiliate our brothers in Palestine.  Without the Khilafah, the Islamic peoples in Bosnia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir, Uzbekistan and so on will continue to be killed. . . . Without the Khilafah, those Muslims who do not work seriously for its implementation will be sinful and incur the anger of Allâh, even if they fast, pray, make Hajj [pilgrimage] and pay Zakah [alms].  This is because the work to establish the Khilafah Rashidah is a fard [duty] on every Muslim, and it should be conducted with the most extreme effort and utmost speed. . . .

The Khilafah Rashidah on the way of the Prophethood is coming soon by the help of Allâh.  Its prerequisites in terms of system and statesmen are present.  The voices of the Muslims in all parts of the world from Turkey to Nigeria, and from Uzbekistan to Indonesia are resoundingly demanding its return.  It will come back despite the efforts and money spent by the kuffar and the agents to prevent its return.  So strengthen your resolve and work seriously with the sincere da’wah [“invitation” to Islam; i.e., proselytizing] carriers who are working to re-establish the Khilafah, so that you may attain the victory that Allâh has promised.

Two things in particular should be noted in this exposition: First, all existing governments—including those in power in the Islamic world, here called “cartoon states”—are illegitimate (or based on kufr, “unbelief”) and must be overthrown; and, second, Islamic law, sharia, must be established as the ruling legal system.

Some of these sites detail what the khilafah will look like when it is reestablished, and what powers would be exercised by the man, the khalifah, who will rule it.  In summary (from al-islami.com/islam/establish_khilafah.php?p=4):

• The Khilafah [state] must include all Muslim nations in the world.


• There must be only one Khaleefah or Ameer [ruler], with all Muslims giving him their bay’ah or allegiance. . . .

• Shariah law must be implemented in the Islamic state regarding all issues.

• There must be only one military, with a single leadership appointed by the Khaleefah.

If the end sought by people of this persuasion is reestablishment of the khilafah, to what extent do they recognize the legitimacy of using violent struggle—jihad and, by extension, what we call terrorism—as a means to achieve it?  There is actually sharp debate in this community about that issue.  Some take the view that what leads to the reestablishment of legitimate authority is itself legitimate.  This side generally takes a very expansive view as to what constitutes self-defense in such places as Chechnya, Kashmir, Bosnia, Palestine, Kosovo, the Philippines, Uzbekistan, Xinjiang, Sudan, Aceh, Afghanistan, and other places.  Some drop hints, rather than state outright, about how they would answer this question.  One British-Islamic website, muslimstudent.org.uk (now removed), stated:

Sharia’ah verdict obliges the Muslims to abolish the present puppet regimes in the Muslim World, and to establish the Islamic system and unite all the Muslim countries, bringing them back under the banner of one single state, and one single Khalif who would rule by the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Messenger (SAW).  The duty of all Muslims is not only limited to working towards overthrowing the regimes ruling the Muslim countries nowadays, and in liberating occupied Muslim land from the unbelievers [sic] dominance, even if an Islamic rule is put in force, but it includes the work for unification of Muslim countries.  This is a duty and it must not be stalled for any reason even the absence of an Islamic state, for the texts of the Sharia’ah concerning the unity of Muslim land are general and not limited to the presence of a Khalif. . . . Fighting and exterminating Israel is an obligation even if the Muslims fighting are Arab armies loyal to regimes of unbelief, like the Egyptian soldiers when they fought Israel during the Sinai war. . . . The uniting of Muslim [lands] includes the land that Muslims lost control of, including, Turkistan, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece and the land that Muslims had lost like Andalous (Spain) . . . Our duty as Muslims . . . [is] to kick the American, British, and Israeli forces from Hijaz (Saudi Arabia) and Palestine, and to overthrow all these non-Islamic regimes in order to establish the Islamic state on their ruins.

Others take the view that, strictly speaking, jihad can only be unconditionally legal once the khilafah is reestablished.  If that were to occur, there is little disagreement that the foreign policy of the caliphate would be one of jihad.  For example, khilafah.com says:

Thus Islam has come for the whole of mankind and Allah has obliged the Muslims to convey it in a manner which draws attention. . . . [W]hoever stands as an obstacle and prevents Islam from reaching the people, it is an obligation to fight him in order to remove this obstacle, and thus to open the way for the people to Islam: so either they embrace Islam or they submit to the laws of Islam. . . . The true and effective jihad which uproots kufr [unbelief] and liberates the land of the Muslims from the Yahud [the Jew] and Kuffar cannot take place without the existence of the Khilafah State which will unite the Muslims in a single state and under the leadership of one Khalifah who will rule them with the Book of Allah and the Sunna [traditions] of His Messenger, and lead them into the battlefields of jihad to spread Islam and protect the Muslims.

And, according to another site, almuhajiroun.com (currently offline, but this site has a remarkable tendency to reappear following periodic interruptions):

Once the Islamic State is established anyone in Dar Al Harb [realm of war] will have no sanctity for his life or wealth hence a Muslim in such circumstances can then go into Dar Al Harb and take the wealth from the people unless there is a treaty [of temporary truce] with that state.  If there is no treaty individual Muslims can even go to Dar Al Harb and take women to keep as slaves.

Where will khilafah be instituted?  The short answer is, wherever it can be.  Commonly, two general areas have been discussed.  One is in the zone stretching from the Ferghana Valley in Central Asia (overlapping the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) to Pakistan, which includes Afghanistan.  Taliban-ruled Afghanistan would have been the embryo for the Khilafah’s reestablishment in that region, with the eventual subversion of an already semi-Talibanized, nuclear-armed Pakistan, fostering the creation of a sharia superstate with over 200 million people and armed with nuclear weapons.  The other candidate is in Southeast Asia, with the creation of a sharia state in the Aceh region of the northwestern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra as the initial beachhead, to include eventually all of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and parts of the Philippines, Thailand, and Burma, and possibly Bangladesh.

What does all this have to do with anything?  Just this: What we have here is an ideology, one with clearly defined goals, in search of a host—a land and a people in which to bring it to life.  Some might dismiss this kind of talk as the ravings of just a few lunatics, albeit violent lunatics.  Perhaps some might have taken the same view of an Austrian former corporal sitting in the Landsberg am Lech fortress prison in 1924, writing a book about his “struggle,” or of a couple of obscure German scribblers issuing some kind of “manifesto” in 1848.

These disparate elements promoting khilafah share a common, clearly defined vision—one with a lot more moral, historical, and demographic depth than a Hitler or a Marx could have claimed—that should not be discounted.  To call the violence associated with this movement merely “terrorism,” without an awareness of what the violence is meant to achieve, is to miss the whole point.  The khilafists have their collective manifesto, and perhaps, with September 11 and its aftermath, they have had their Paris Commune.  Maybe the next big attack will be their guns of the cruiser Aurora, leading, they hope, to their own October Revolution and the long-awaited rebirth of khilafah.

If this specter is haunting not just Europe but the whole world, why has hardly anyone noticed?  To my knowledge, the only political leader of a major power who has publicly acknowledged the existence of this movement is President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation, who has observed that Chechen terrorism is an initial step in the reconstitution of a “global caliphate,” which amounts, he said, to “world supremacy.”  Mr. Putin also took note of the radicals’ willingness to kill Christians, atheists, and nonradical Muslims who oppose the effort.  There seems to have been absolutely no resonance among other world leaders to this identification.  In fact, in the media, there has been some criticism, as if Putin had made it up.

American policymakers seem unable or unwilling to take khilafah seriously, though they can hardly be unaware of it.  U.S. policy is focused on “state-supported terrorism” and a list of “rogue states” instead of targeting the global khilafah movement and its subsets: jihad ideology and the demand to install sharia.  Indeed, the major bases for that movement are not in the rogue states (with the partial exception of Iran) but in countries regarded by Washington as allies in the “coalition against terrorism”: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan—all close, longtime friends of the United States.  This does not even take into account khilafist strongholds in Europe, especially in Great Britain.

Dealing with this seeming incomprehension of the problem is a far more urgent task than the endless tinkering with the structure of law enforcement and intelligence agencies that disproportionately occupies the attention of official Washington.  Perhaps America—having seen her survival of the Cold War primarily as a vindication of an end-of-history global order based on her materialistic ideology of democratic capitalism—is incapable of recognizing an opposing force based on completely different assumptions about God and man and the purpose of human life.  Even more troubling, we appear to be guided by a worldview that proceeds from philosophical assumptions derived from the Enlightenment that are almost designed to lead to incomprehension.  Our military prowess, though impressive, is only tangentially related to the real threat.