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The Islamic State, the Caliphate, and Theocons

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) November 17, 2014: In medieval times in Europe, Christendom emerged. To be sure, Christendom did not refer to what we today would consider to be a nation-state. So Christendom was not a modern nation-state. But it is much harder to say exactly what Christendom was. Suffice it to say that it was a cultural construct that referred historically to the influence of Christian culture as the prestige culture at the time. This also meant that bishops and priests and religious in the Roman Catholic Church enjoyed a certain status in the dominant prestige culture of the time.

For all practical purposes, the Protestant Reformation led to the historical demise of Christendom as the prestige culture dominated by the Roman Catholic Church. Of course this did not happen overnight. Moreover, the demise of the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church involved bitter fighting between Catholics and Protestants. Catholic and Protestants killed one another in the spirit of what we today would call genocide.

Historically, the prestige culture in American culture has been dominated by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs), who tended to be anti-Catholic. WASPs also tended to be anti-Jew and anti-black and anti other people who were not WASPs.

Today we Americans should never forget the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church historically in the centuries of Christendom. In the book THE THEOCONS: SECULAR AMERICA UNDER SIEGE (2006), Damon Linker calls attention to certain conservative Roman Catholics whom he styles theocons. But in the centuries of Christendom, all Roman Catholics were in effect theocons.

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Incidentally, the Puritans in Massachusetts Bay Colony were Puritan theocons. In the ancient world, Hebrews were Hebrew theocons. Historically, there has been no shortage of theocons in various religious traditions.

Now, in medieval times in the Islamic world, the caliphate emerged. To be sure, the caliphate did not exactly refer to what we today would consider to be a nation-state.

Nor was the caliphate exactly the same kind of cultural construct that Christendom was in medieval times in Europe.

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Nevertheless, all Muslims in the caliphate could be accurately described as Muslim theocons, just as all Roman Catholics in Christendom historically could be described as Roman Catholic theocons.

Thus in medieval times, there was an over-supply of theocons from different religious traditions -- an over-abundance of theocons.

Now, today the so-called Islamic State invokes the caliphate. But the term "Islamic State" seems to suggest what we today would consider to be a modern nation-state. Indeed, the Islamic State has an army and is fighting for territory. But historically, the caliphate invoked by the Islamic State was not exactly what we today mean by a nation-state.

In a well-informed article titled "The Roots of the Islamic State's Appeal" in THE ATLANTIC online recently, Shadi Hamid, a political scientists, reviews the history of Islam, with special attention to Arab Muslims.

Being a political scientist, he also reviews the historical emergence of the modern nation-state in Europe. The Westphalian peace of 1648 that ultimately brought an end to the Thirty Years War established the framework for the emergence of the nation-state system in Europe.

To this day, the modern nation-state system that emerged historically in Europe has not made inroads in the Arab Muslim world. As a result, the Arab Muslim world is still struggling with various authoritarian forms of government.

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Now, Hamid perceptively explains the power of the dream of the caliphate invoked in the appeals of the Islamic State. Hamid says that "the historical political entity governed by Islamic law and tradition [i.e., the caliphate] is a powerful [notion], even among more secular-minded Muslims. The caliphate . . . hasn't existed since 1924." But it "is a reminder of how one of the world's great civilizations endured one of the more precipitious declines in human history. The gap between what Muslims once were and where they now find themselves is at the center of the anger and humiliation that drive political violence in the Middle East."

So what would "the contours of an appropriate post-caliphate model" for the Arab Muslim world look like? The contours have not yet emerged.

In the meantime, the Islamic State has emerged to invoke the dream of the caliphate as a way to appeal to and recruit young Arab Muslims to join their cause.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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