The Middle-East cauldron appears to be on the verge of spilling over, presenting an unprecedented situation for world leaders. Unlike previous situations this is not a conflict between two actors,it involves numerous actors with varying agendas and objectives, with no clear statement of allegiance to any one ideological group or state. What began as the Syrian Arab spring soon turned into a civil war and gradually into a chaotic movement of bloodshed and strife. Although recent events have had a catalyzing effect in the flare up, the key to understanding the Middle-East jigsaw puzzle lies in history. To begin with, "the Middle-East" as such did not always exist, what existed was Arabia and then the Islamic empire. Although the entire history of the Islamic empire is rife with revolts,internecine feuds, it is the establishment of the Caliphate and its abolition that had larger ramification than others.
I may post on the former in the next installment, in this post I would rather focus on the abolition of the Caliphate and its effects. For those unawares the concept of Caliphate stands for a kind of Islamic super-state for the global Muslim community, lead by the Caliph or the successor to the Prophet Muhammad and ruled wholly by the Sharia. Although the last Caliph was removed from office and the institution abolished in,as recently as 1924,nearly all but a few Caliphs had allegiance of majority of Muslims. The state that completely fits the description lasted merely 30 years and is referred to as the Rashidun Caliphate for having been led by four Rashidun Caliphs (Rightly Guided Caliphs). After the end of the Rashidun Caliphate, the seat of the Caliph was mostly under attack by different claimants,its capital was frequently shifted and for a period of time more than one Caliphate existed at the same time (Baghdad-based Abbasids,Umayyads of Cordova and Shia Fatimids of Cairo, each claimed Caliphate roughly around same time).
By 15th Century, the Turkish Ottoman Sultans had claimed the title of Caliph but the job was gradually reduced to ceremonial figurehead by the 19th Century. The abolition of the Caliphate after Ottoman empire's defeat in the World War I sent shockwaves throughout the global Muslim community. Although the Ottoman Caliph had a very nominal role to play, the institution had a huge symbolic value (weakly analogous to the Holy See in Vatican) so much so that in the global protests that followed even Hindus under Mahatma Gandhi protested against the move during the Khilafat Movement in India (ironically,the movement actually became the casus belli for the abolition). Anger of Arab radicals for the abolition of the Caliphate is at best misplaced if not hypocritical. Wasn't it the Arab revolt that partly cost Ottoman their empire ?
Perhaps it was the subsequent division of the Ottoman empire and the mandates provided to the Western powers over the territories sowed the seeds of discontent that was to manifest few decades later. Having stroked the fire of Arab nationalism to disintegrate Ottoman empire,dominance of Western influence and especially British and French mandates met with stiff resistance. Further, the Balfour Declaration which for the first time envisaged a Jewish State in Palestine (which was under British Mandate) was savagely resented by the Arabs and continues to be.
While the "Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham" may have swept across a large swathe of territory,taking over important towns and creating a state of its own, the declaration of establishing Caliphate may turn out to be a monumental blunder. It not only declared hostile intent towards neighbouring governments, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Yemen etc but is also expecting global Muslim population offer allegiance to a person who wasn't elected by representatives of Muslims worldwide and not with support of a few thousands gun totting militants. There is a reason why none of the "Islamic countries" including Saudi Arabia and Taliban rule Afghanistan never staked claim to Caliphate. As for territories captured, it was the Iraqi government that created the situation by following a partisan policy.
Wishful thinking ?
The cast includes Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Omar Sharif, Jose Ferrer and Indian actor I.S. Johar.
Of course, the movie is not historically accurate but it does capture the essence of the historical event.
Must watch if you like movies, and more so if you like history too :)