The following piece is part of an ongoing series of OffTheBus reports by citizen policy experts critiquing different aspects of Campaign 08. The author is is a retired CIA operations officer who spent 22 years in counterterrorism and worked in the Caribbean, West and East Europe and the Middle East.
Recently, while surfing through the web site for GOP presidential candidate and frontrunner Mitt Romney. Scanning across the topic bar at the top of his web page I stopped on "Issue Watch," pulled down the menu and saw, "Defeating the Jihadists." One of my interests, so I was anxious to see how Romney proposes to deal with the terrorism issue.
But there were no real answers on how to deal with Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, the Taliban, securing the borders in the U.S. or preventing another 9/11. It seems Romney's primary concern is the threat of a global caliphate turning Western democracies into Muslim theocracies. Romney has said "The jihadists are waging a global war against the United States and Western governments generally with the ambition of replacing legitimate governments with a caliphate, with a theocracy." (Omaha World Herald - 01/23/06)
This elusive quest by Islamic fundamentalists for a "global caliphate" has been a holy grail since the time of Muhammad, nearly 1500 years ago, so it's not exactly breaking news. The Sunni and Shia factions of Islam have been fighting each other over who is supposed to be the Caliph since Muhammad died in 652 c.e. That's why they became factions in the first place.
But, most importantly, Osama bin Laden has been successfully using this bête noir of a global caliphate as an effective propaganda tool since he declared war on the U.S. in August 1996 by publishing his "fatwah" in the London-based newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi and on his web site. It's sort of his way of jumping out of your paranoia closet and saying, "boo." It's a fear tactic that, when subjected to even minor analysis, has little substance in actuality. But, there still are a lot of people, including Mitt Romney, evidently, who actually seem to believe it. But Romney seems to be the only presidential candidate who has gone on record as being caliphate-phobic.
Sometimes a good piece of propaganda is merely an updated version of an old theme. Belief in the threat of a global caliphate is just a new twist on the old "communist monolith" theme of the 1950s, when it was believed that Russia, China and communists throughout the world were all involved in the same global conspiracy to create a workers' paradise for us all.
It was the communist monolith theme that got us into the Vietnam War and cost more than 58,000 American lives. The Domino Theory suggested that if one nation in southeast Asia fell to communism, they all would tumble. Few people actually considered that the Russians and Chinese really didn't like each other or that the Vietnamese had been fighting off the Chinese for some two thousand years before they started fighting the Japanese, the French, and finally the Americans.
Is there really a radical fundamentalist Muslim monolith lurking out there? Looking closer at the specter of this global caliphate that seems to worry Mitt Romney, just ask the question: can anyone really expect to see the Pakistanis, the Afghans, the Indonesians, the Kurds, the Iranians, the Saudis, the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Iraqis, the Chesnians and any other Muslim groups sitting around a conference table, along with the secular, Western-oriented Turkish army, discussing who is going to be the next world caliph?
Or, just take one country, Afghanistan. Following years of fighting the Soviet Red Army, from Dec. 1979 to May 1988, the Afghan warlords took only a short pause and then resumed fighting each other for another ten years until the Taliban took over. While the Afghanis are indeed Muslim, and predominately Sunni Muslim, they are also Pastuns, Tajiks, Hazara, Aimak, Uzbeks and Turkmen, and they don't especially like each other or speak a common language.
So, let's narrow it down even farther to look at just one Muslim ethnic group - the Palestinians - who are so angry at Israel that they really don't have much time to be angry at anyone else or be very concerned about issues in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere.
In the small area in the Middle East that includes Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon, there can be found such groups as the ANO, Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Asbat al-Ansar, Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, PLF, PIJ, PFLP and the PFLP-GC. Those are just the terrorists groups, that doesn't include recognized political parties, tribes and a variety of other religions, such as the Druze.
It reminds me of the scene in the Monty Python movie, "The Life of Brian." While sitting in the Roman Coliseum an argument erupts over who hates the Romans and each other more, the Judean People's Front, the People's Front of Judea or the Judean Popular Peoples Front.
Where does the fundamentalist Muslim monolith that is seeking to establish a global caliphate actually exist? It exists in the mind of Christopher Hitchens' "Rage Boy." Writing in Slate magazine on June 25, 2007, Hitchens described Rage Boy. "Over the last few years, there have been innumerable opportunities for him to demonstrate his piety and his pissed-offness. And the cameras have been there for him every time. Is it a fatwah? Is it a copy of the Quran allegedly down the gurgler at Guantanamo? Is it some cartoon in Denmark? Time for Rage Boy to step in and for his visage to impress the rest of the world with the depth and strength of Islamist emotion."
There are thousands of Rage Boys scattered around the world. They seem to congregate mostly around television cameras and vent over issues that seem incomprehensible to the Western mind. But, of the thousands of Rage Boys erupting in anger over the slightest appearance of political incorrectness, they actually constitute a very small percentage of the 1.1 billion Muslims throughout the world who don't want to destroy Western civilization and chop our heads off.
Mitt Romney's fear of the global caliphate is a reaction to his fear of Rage Boy. And it is a frightening example of why our leaders seem incapable of resolving the problems of the Middle East - they have no cultural awareness that extends beyond the stereotypical white, upper class, Judeo-Christian (Mormon), Western democratic perspective.