"Suppose you prove beyond any shadow of doubt that Islam is constitutionally violent, where do you go from there?" This question was asked from the floor by Columbia professor Hamid Dabashi during a 2008 debate titled "Clash of Civilizations" (see first minute here). It came in response to an assertion that Islamists seek to resurrect the caliphate, and, according to the doctrine of offensive jihad, wage war—when and wherever expedient—to bring the world under Islamic rule.
Today, as once arcane words — such as caliphate, jihad, sharia — become common place in the media; regularly evoked by politicians, and increasingly understood by Americans, Dabashi's question returns.
Ever since Egypt became a hot topic in the media, there has been no shortage of pundits warning against the Muslim Brotherhood; warning that an Islamist takeover in Egypt may have a domino effect in the region; warning that the ultimate goal of Islamists around the world is the resurrection of an imperialist and expansionist caliphate (see Andrew McCarthy's recent article).
The very existence of a caliphate would usher a state of constant hostility: Both historically and doctrinally, the caliphate is obligated to wage jihad, at least annually, to bring the "disbelieving" world under Islamic dominion and enforce sharia law. Most of what is today called the "Muslim world"—from Morocco to Pakistan—was conquered, bit by bit, by a caliphate begun in Arabia in 632.
A caliphate represents a permanent, ideological enemy, not a temporal enemy that can be bought or pacified through diplomacy or concessions -- economic or otherwise. Short of agreeing either to convert to Islam or live as second-class citizens, or "dhimmis" — who, among other indignities, must practice their religions quietly; pay a higher tax [jizyah]; give way to Muslims on the street; wear clothing that distinguishes them from Muslims, the start of the yellow star of David required for the Jews by the Nazis during World War II; have their testimony be worth half of a Muslim's; and never retaliate against Muslim abuses—the jihad continues.
A caliphate is precisely what Islamists around the world are feverishly seeking to establish — before people realize what it represents and try to prevent it. Without active, preemptive measures, it is only a matter of time before they succeed.
Yet, as Western people begin to understand what is at stake, what exactly are their governments prepared to do about it — now, before the caliphate becomes a reality? Would the West be willing to launch a preemptive offensive — politically, legally, educationally, and, if necessary, militarily — if these were the only solutions to the establishment of a jihad-waging, sharia-enforcing caliphate? Would it go on the offensive without waiting until its enemies were strong so that by the time one realized what was happening it would be too late,, or would political correctness and pacifist inertia allow the Islamists to have their way?
One can point as a precedent to the preemptive Iraq war, yet there are subtle and important differences. The rationale behind the Iraq war was practical and physical: the war had a limited goal — the elimination of suspected WMDs — and it was limited to a specific region and government (Saddam's regime). War to prevent the creation of a caliphate, on the other hand, is impractical and abstract, not confined to one region nor limited to eliminating material weapons.
The West, alarmingly, does not have a political history or language to justify an offensive against an ideological foe. The same international culture that saw to it that an autocrat like Egypt's Mubarak stepped down — simply because he was handicapped from responding to the protestors in the name of human rights — certainly could not approve a preemptive offensive by the West articulated in terms of a religious threat.
What if an important nation were to go Islamist, such as Egypt -- a big domino in the quest of a caliphate? The Muslim Brotherhood pretends to be secular, recently removing its by-laws from the Web -- bylaws that include its intention of creating an "Islamic state" as a prelude to the caliphate, as reported by Steven Emerson. Yet the Muslim Brotherhood's forthright motto is: "Allah is our objective, the prophet is our leader, the Koran is our law, jihad is our way, dying in the way of Allah our highest hope."
Worse, as Arab governments come crashing down, the Obama administration has made it clear that it is willing to engage the Islamists and permit the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in elections, even before institutions of democracy — such as rule of law, an independent judiciary, and above all, free speech and a free press — have developed.
Likewise, a theocratic, eschatologically-driven Iran is on its way to possessing nuclear weapons — while the international community stands by.
Now that Americans are becoming familiar with the perpetual and determined nature of its enemy — jihad, sharia, and the caliphate have a 1400-year legacy — who will take it to the next level by, not just highlighting the threat, but openly and boldly suggesting what steps the West needs to take to combat it, now and for the long haul? Where do you go from there?