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ISIS and 'a 1,400 year old playbook'

ISIS and 'a 1,400 year old playbook'

Categories: Latest News

Thursday July 03 2014

The Evening Standard on Tuesday published a quite outrageous comment piece by Ian Morris, a Classics professor at Stanford University, in which he referred to the early Muslims as ‘fanatics’, said the job of a caliph was ‘as much about fighting other Muslims as Christians or Jews’, and that a Sunni caliph’s ‘first task is to kill Shiites’.

Drawing analogies between the caliphate announced by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and early Islamic history, Morris claims that like ISIS today ‘The original caliphs also commanded just a few thousand fanatics’Referring to the creation of the position of caliph as a unifying force by Abu Bakr, (ra) the companion of the Prophet (saw), Morris states: ‘Islam was then just a chaotic insurgency, and its anarchic Arab warlords wanted nothing to do with a king. A caliph was a different matter. The Arabic word “khalifa” means “deputy” (to Allah) and “successor” (to Mohammed), but not “ruler”, and so Abu Bakr set himself up as a caliph.’

Noting the tribal nature of the Arabian peninsula at the time and the challenge posed to Abu Bakr’s authority by factions that disputed his succession, Morris argues ‘The downside was that Abu Bakr could not force anyone to do what he said — but that had never been a possibility anyway. The upside was that his religious authority could inspire insurgent cells to share the same enemies. Alliances could shift, bands of fanatics could join in or drop out, but the fight would go on.’

Morris goes on to misrepresent the battle that forced the schism of Sunni and Shia, disregarding the claims of improper accession to the position of caliph by the Umayyad rulers, instead stating that ‘being a caliph has always been as much about fighting other Muslims as Christians or Jews’.

Expanding on the point of sectarian violence as endemic in Islam, Morris claims that ‘A Sunni caliph’s first task is to kill Shiites, and so Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has gone on a rampage of amputations, beheadings, and even crucifixions.’

Morris concludes with the argument that the revival of the caliphate by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is drawn from ‘a 1,400-year-old playbook’ whose lessons he has learnt well, as though there were clear similarities and concordances between the early believers and ISIS militants.

The comment piece belies a clear, contextual assessment of Islamic history in the 7th and 8th centuries preferring to regurgitate Orientalist tropes about warmongering Arabs. It uses a present day lexicon, of ‘fanatics’ and ‘insurgents’, to offensively misrepresent Islamic conquests and disputes in the early centuries of Islam.

You can write to the Evening Standard with your thoughts on the column at [email protected].


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