The new Islamic caliphate and its war against history

The restoration of a caliphate is the stated objective for many jihadist organizations, eager to overthrow the 20th century nation-state system grafted onto the Middle East after World War I.

ISIS, the Sunni jihadist group whose fighters now control a vast swath of territory in Syria and Iraq, punctuated its astonishing rise last weekend with the declaration of an Islamic state, a new "caliphate" to which Muslims everywhere must pay obeisance. "Here the flag of the Islamic State, the flag of tawhīd (monotheism), rises and flutters," read the group's statement, posted online in various languages. "Its shade covers land from Aleppo to Diyala," referring to territory in Syria's north and Iraq's east.

The new caliph is the militants' shadowy leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. My colleagues have already explored what this declaration means for ISIS (now also referred to simply as "IS", for the Islamic State), an al-Qaeda splinter group that is at odds with its extremist parent. The restoration of a caliphate is the stated objective for many jihadist organizations, eager to overthrow the 20th century nation-state system grafted onto the Middle East after World War I.

During their offensive through Iraq earlier this month, ISIS fighters reportedly bulldozed an earthen bulwark on the Iraq-Syria border. A statement posted alongside a picture of the bulldozer claimed the group was demolishing the "Sykes-Picot" border that divided the two countries, nations the militants deem artificial creations by European colonial powers.

"This symbolic action by ISIS fighters against a century-old imperial carve-up shows the extent to which one of the most radical groups fighting in the Middle East today is nurtured by the myth of precolonial innocence," writes historian Malise Ruthven in the New York Review of Books.

The "Sykes-Picot border" is a reference to a secret agreement hatched in 1916 by two leading British and French diplomats, Sir Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot. The two countries covetously eyed the lands of the crumbling Ottoman Empire -- a World War I enemy -- and, alongside Russia, agreed to its partition into separate spheres of influence and control. This flew in the face of separate, more public deals made with Arab leaders, offering guarantees of an independent Arab state with Damascus as its capital in return for support against the Ottomans.

What followed after World War I is the source of justified grievance in the Arab world. While the victorious Allies affirmed the national aspirations of Romanians, Bulgarians, Greeks and other Eastern Europeans who once lived under the Ottoman yoke, they did not afford such courtesies to Arabs seeking their own independence. 

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2014/06/30/the-new-islamic-caliphate-and-its-war-against-history/

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