From the well-guided Caliphate to the pseudo Islamic Caliphate

On June 29, 2014, Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim al-Badri proclaimed, from the top of the minbar of the Al Nouri mosque in Mosul, the establishment of the Islamic Caliphate. He does so under the fabricated identity of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Qurashi fictitiously claiming filiation with the al-Qurashi clan, that of the Prophet and diverting the first name of Abu Bakr As Siddîq (573-634) the first Caliph Rashidun (well guided). Al-Baghdadi designates his supposed place of birth, al-Husseini references the grandson of Mohammed.

This pseudonym and the choice of staging is by no means fortuitous. Daesh claimed to restore in the country of Cham a theocracy defeating the division of the umma by the creation of modern States of the Middle East during the Treaty of Sèvres of August 10, 1920. Very symbolically the IS established its religious capital in Mosul (Iraq) and its administrative capital in Raqqa (Syria), erasing the infamous line drawn in the Syrian-Iraqi desert by the Sykes-Picot agreements of May 16, 2016. In an eschatological vision, the pseudo Islamic Caliphate called its propaganda magazine Dabiq which in Arabic designates the place of a battle won on May 29, 1453 by the Turkish armies putting an end to the caliphate of the Abbasids of Egypt, a place which according to some hadiths will be that of a final battle before the Last Judgment, battle during which the Muslims definitively defeated the Christian armies to conquer Byzantium then Rome.

The Caliphate, a brief moment in Muslim history

From the well-known history of the Caliphate, we will only retain here a few facts which resonate with the Islamic pseudo-Caliphate. The term Caliphate (khalîfa) is used in the Koran to designate Adam and David, two prophets. “The schemas derived from the Arabic root khlf are laconic and obscure, they refer for the most part to the notion of“ lieutenancy ”of God on earth, hence its adoption by the companions of Muhammad. As a theocracy, the cumulative time of the unity of Islam, under the successive caliphates, Umayyads, Abbasids ..., can be counted in very few centuries over a period of thirteen centuries, from 632 (Abu Bakr, first Caliph) in 1924 (end of the Ottoman Empire and a futile attempt by the Sharif of Mecca Hussein Al-Rachid, ancestor of the royal Jordanian dynasty.

Théodore Chassériau, "The Khalif of Constantine Ali Ben Hamet, leader of the Karachas, followed by his escort", 1845.

The Caliphate, a myth of the Arab imagination

According to Nabile Mouline, “A significant part of Muslims associate the caliphate with an archetypal period, a sort of golden age of Islam. Indeed, the caliph institution was at the center of the classical Islamic city. This image, which is undoubtedly not without foundation, has been conveyed, amplified, exaggerated by generations of theologians and scholars until today. Rediscovering this "lost paradise" would therefore necessarily go through the revitalization of the supreme organ of government of the community and symbol of its original unity: the caliphate. Second, and mirroring this phenomenon of idealization, there is an intellectual and political difficulty in the Arab world in imagining or adapting alternative models, especially in contemporary times. This leaves the field open to movements that can be qualified as “messianic”, whether religious or secular ”

The pseudo Islamic Caliphate

According to Henri Laurens, the pseudo Caliphate "is as imaginary as the way in which Hollywood represents the Middle Ages [...] we are in the middle of the second-class imaginary [...] since it has nothing to do with historical reality of the caliphate ”. From a historical point of view yes, but in terms of proselytizing propaganda, the reference was an element of the very strong attractiveness on a part of the umma.

A theocracy

The Caliph, legitimate successor of the Prophet, incarnates a religious authority on the umma, the pseudo Caliph al-Baghdadi thus claims to be the authority of interpretation of the Sharia which is imposed on the subjects of the Caliphate. The historic disagreement of the umma on succession by blood or by the authority recognized by the umma led, as we know, to Shiite dissent. Al-Baghdadi proclaims himself in the name of the authority which the Muslims gathered under the flag bearing the Shahada and the seal of Muhammad would have recognized him. The history of the Caliphate is marked not by harmony but by struggles, assassinations, dynastic overthrowings.

The appearances and the means of a State

The capture of Mosul delivers the coffers of the bank to the jihadist sicaires, an abundance of American armaments. The trafficking of crops, cement x, phosphate, petroleum, looted antiquities, is carried out across the border and with the corrupt complicity of the Turkish authorities until the end of 2014, provoking reprisal attacks by ISIS. IS levies taxes, including the djizia, the poll tax allowing dhimmi, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians but not Yazidis judged by the Devil-worshiping Salafists, to keep their faith. The caliphate beats money, a gold dinar is established.

IS institutes a form of government, censors school curricula, teaches children algebra by counting weapons of war, suppresses natural science lessons. The jihadist raid allows the distribution of candy to children in propaganda clips. The recruits receive comfortable salaries, the highest for Western ones. At its peak, the pseudo Caliphate gathered up to 200,000 combatants thanks to the defections of soldiers from the regular armies and the flow of recruits which reached at its highest several thousand per month. At the end of 2017, more than 90% of the space had been reconquered, the jihadist forces only gathered 10 to 20,000 sectarians, the IS could not reconstitute its forces reduced by losses and defections.

At the height of ISIS in 2015, ISIS's budget was estimated at $ 2 billion. The reconquest of the territories and especially the obstacle put to trafficking by the end of the culpable indulgence of Turkey and the air strikes by convoys of tankers deprived the pseudo-Caliphate of its opulence. Rackets are no longer enough. Some soldiers of fortune desert. Executions aim to terrify the relaps.

A Hollywood saga

The rallying of fighters, especially Westerners, communication and internet experts, provide the pseudo-Caliphate with the weapons of sophisticated and massive propaganda, of cyber-jihad. The Administration of Savagery of Abu Bakr al-Nadj gives the procedure to follow: "To restore the original unity of the Islamic community, the jihadist leaders will have to resort essentially to three ingredients: extreme violence, good management of the territories. submissive and propaganda ”. Propaganda magazines borrow a careful layout from Western codes, are published in Arabic then in English, French and Russian. The Al-Hayat (Life) communications agency produces clips and video that the Al-Furqan (Discernment) News Agency virally disseminates on public social networks, YouTube, Twitter, as well as encrypted messengers such as the Russian Telegram one. IS has its blockbusters Flames of war, its TV series The Tinkling of Swords, its reports, No offense to the disbelievers features the slaughter of eighteen prisoners, dressed in the orange jumpsuit worn by the Guantanamo detainees , by eighteen jihadists, including a Frenchman Maxime Hauchard aka Abu Abdhallah al Faranzi, his advertising clips. The fights are filmed live, the martyrs carry cameras which film their deadly expeditions until the end of the clap marked by the explosion of their explosive belt or their VBIED. The images of the corpses of women and children, collateral victims of bombardments or drones, the war crimes of Bahar al Assad dropping barrels loaded with TNT and sarin gas on schools, so many Guernica which fuel Islamist proselytism and the self-radicalization of young Westerners who go to Syria not for the Koran but out of humanitarian emergency. The music of the soundtracks and the editing of the fights uses the codes of Matrix and Apocalypse now. The nasheeds are so many mantras for the fighters. ISIS's motto is “There is no life without jihad”.

Towards a virtual caliphate

Defeated militarily in pitched battles against the rest of the world, ISIS retains local and international terrorist capacity through its internet propaganda. The world will face a virtual caliphate. According to US General Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command: “Defeating ISIS on the battlefield is not enough. Even after a decisive defeat in Iraq and Syria, ISIS will likely find refuge in a virtual refuge from where it will continue to coordinate and inspire attacks. It will also allow him to continue to build a fan base, a layered community of Muslims led by a Caliph, now Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who aspires to be part of a state ruled by Sharia and located in cyberspace. ".

This prediction is not new. In 2002, John Arquilla, before the invasion of Iraq by the US, announced the failure of the Bush administration's approach to security by force of conventional arms alone: ​​“In the war on the Internet that we face, the bombings have little effect because most networks do not rely on one, or even several leaders, to animate them ... a top-down response is a bad tool to deal with an agile network. You need internet networks to fight other internet networks just as you need tanks to fight tanks in yesterday's wars ”.

Daesh's appeal to the Muslim imagination is a manipulation comparable to the use made by the French nationalist historiography of identity of Clovis, Roland de Roncesvalles or Joan of Arc or, more recently, the attempt to capture the memory of General de Gaulle by populists of all stripes. The Muslim identity, the umma, Islam, feeds on the myths and hagiography of a few characters, the Prophet in the first place but also the Rashidun Caliphs. Memorial transgression of historical reality, the Islamic Caliphate is, at the end of 2017, destroyed in its institutions; the cities raided by him have been taken over one by one since 2015; but the fantasy of an Islamic Caliphate is not demolished; from a pseudo state, which has become a virtual Caliphate, it retains a deadly power of attraction; Daesh's propaganda feeds on the martyrology of the moudjahidin who deserved the houris, the seventy virgins who await them in paradise. Far from being extinguished, the flame of takfirist hatred burns, causing attacks and desolations, in an apocalyptic madness of confrontation with the impious, Muslims and Romans.

The persistence of the hagiography of the Caliphate which experienced its cultural peak and decline with the Caliphate of Cordoba (929-1031) within the umma denotes more than nostalgia, a rejection of the Western model and, more generally, of modernity. As Nabil Mouline puts it, “Beyond the question of the future of the organization of the Islamic State, this kind of phenomenon reminds us of the crisis of deep conscience that plagues a large part of the Arab-Muslim world. ". Samuel Huntington rightly writes that: “The 'desecularization' of the world is one of the dominant social facts of the late twentieth century ... Religion then takes the place of ideology and religious nationalism replaces secular nationalism. ... As a revolutionary movement, Islamist fundamentalism rejects the nation-state in favor of the unity of Islam, just as Marxism rejected it in favor of the union of the international proletariat ”. Two messianisms, one religious, the other atheist, but which both sowed death and desolation in the name of an eschatological doctrine.

Christophe stener
Former student of Sc Po Paris and ENA
Professor of geostrategy at the Catholic University of the West

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