For all the bad publicity that ISIL generates, they are actually trying to do the right thing – establish a society concentrated exclusively on service to God. In that sense it’s not just varṇāśrama, it’s daivī-varṇāśrama that they are after. But let’s start at the beginning.
I can’t stress enough how important the fact that they got control of the land is. In the absence of central authority, like a Pope for Catholics, possession of the land is practically all the proof they need for their legitimacy.
Every Muslim can worship their Allah, everybody can read their Koran, everybody can argue about scriptures, everybody can display some level of purity and dedication, everybody can make sacrifices, everybody can claim having followers, but nobody controls the land in the name of Allah.
Sure, there are lots of Islamic societies and even states around the world and there are lots of individual Muslims who own land but the crucial point is that ultimately all these lands are given to Muslims by infidels and they manage these lands with infidels’ permission. No one has it as a gift from God Himself.
We, ISKCON, usually lease our properties. In best cases we own them and we have deeds to show but these deeds need to be recognized by the state, the secular government. We “own” the land only by the state authority. Theoretically, the state can nationalize it at any point and there would be nothing we could do about it. We could take our case to some international court that has jurisdiction over these matters but even that court would draw its authority from the UN – a secular organization. There’s no higher authority than that in the modern world.
I’m not saying UN represents God, because if God ultimately owns everything and appoints agents to control things on His behalf then all secular rulers must draw their ultimate power from God. There were times in history when the entire universe was ruled by demons and the UN is just a milder version of that. We might recognize its authority but we do not see UN as God’s ministry. Still, materially speaking, we depend on atheists for our survival, they are the ones who give us stuff to live on, not Kṛṣṇa, who is invisible anyway.
ISIL and their Caliphate, otoh, bypass control over the world given to atheists and own their land directly, there are no other agents between them and God, they do not need anybody’s permission and they do not answer to anyone but God and their version of paramparā. This, and the fact that they were able to find a leader with ancestry leading back to Mohammad, gives them all legitimacy they need.
Others might not recognize it, and they don’t, but the principles on which ISIL claims their power are solid. All arguments against it are just details and interpretation of the rules.
We, children of the modern world, might not realize the immense power the idea of Caliphate should have over Muslims and Muslims themselves are not ready to deal with it but eventually they will come around. I don’t think ISIL will become any more acceptable any time soon but when the weight of its claims eventually sinks through Muslim world will be shaken to its very foundation.
Caliphate, basically, is a kingdom ruled by successors of Mohammad and, by extension, Allah Himself – through the prophet and his followers. ISIL is not the first caliphate by any means, various caliphates existed for well over a thousand years. Some traced directly to the prophet, some made rival claims, some were regional outfits which had taken over governing duties from Islamic heartland in Arabian peninsula. Ottoman Empire was the last such caliphate. They wrestled the power from Egyptians at the end of 15th century and they held Islamic torch for almost five hundred years. During the WWI they made a mistake of allying with Germany, lost the war, got conquered and partitioned, and the seat of the Caliph was taken over by secularists and that was the end of it.
So this caliphate declared by ISIL resumes the tradition that was interrupted almost one hundred years ago. No other Muslim state had any rights to claim the caliphate status since then, they all drew their authority from their former colonial powers and they all had to accept all kinds of authorities beside Allah and His prophet, they didn’t even try.
The idea didn’t die, however, and one could argue that Saddam’s Baath party was an attempt at reuniting Muslim world once again. It was trying to become a secular pan-Arabic institution but it obviously failed. ISIL brought religion back into focus and capitalized on Baath experience and aspirations.
Al-Qaeda also talked about Islam conquering the whole world but, as I mentioned yesterday, there’s a gulf of difference between them. Al-Qaeda were just daydreamers comparing to ISIL. Bin Laden might have talked about Muslims taking over New York, London, and Paris but no one had any idea how any of that could have come through. Al-Qaeda couldn’t even unite Muslims in Arabian peninsula itself and no one had any idea how to bring all those Gulf monarchies under one government. And all Bin Laden’s grandiose talk was coming from some unknown cave god knows where and he couldn’t show his face in public because he always had to hide from local authorities. He was no Caliph and no ruler of anything.
ISIL, otoh, is very real, down to earth and back to roots organization. They have their core areas with really really long history and that’s what forms their heartland and that’s where they build foundations of their state. They are not after New York or Europe, their hands are busy at home. They do not care about Saudi Arabia or Arab Emirates, they care about land under their feet, land they lived on for thousands and thousands of years, and land they see as blessed by Allah through His prophet.
Unlike Al-Qaeda, they do not tell Muslims to rise against their rulers and take over their cities, they ask them to come to this historic Levant and make their living there. It’s like a dhama for them. Leaving Levant is not an option, it would be a failure.
Having said that, ISIL gradually spreads its influence but it does so in the Vedic way – by accepting pledges of allegiance from Muslims in outside lands. The biggest such place is now in Libya, that’s what Egypt bombed a week ago, and the farthest such place is Philippines.
Naturally, only terrorists submit themselves to ISIL authority and as such they are not recognized by local governments and to not represent anybody. ISIL affiliated groups were badly beaten in Afghanistan, for example, and by no one else but Taleban, but the principle still works. Some pledges are anonymous but they are still coming. It might not actually expand the Caliphate but it might serve another very important purpose – draw away the fire coming from ISIL neighboring states.
Militarily, ISIL is still in no position to defend itself and with enemies on all sides it’s only a matter of time before it collapses, so creating diversions in Libya or Sinai peninsula or Yemen gives ISIL a space to breathe and the time to build its defenses. If, through its affiliates, ISIL manages to engage Arabs and Turks in fighting elsewhere it might just get lucky.
ISIL also has its own apocalyptic story in which it is all but wiped out so they do not worry too much about their survival, and even less about conquering the West itself, so we are actually quite safe, more so than from Al-Qaeda threats.
Will it succeed? I don’t know. It grew in vacuum left after overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Neither Syria’s Assad nor Iraqi’s “what’s his name” are in the position to assert their authority over ISIL lands. Americans are not eager either, Saudis, Turks, and Jordanians haven’t decided what to do about ISIL, too. The longer they wait, the stronger ISIL would become, and, more importantly, it will become less fanatical and less murderous, it will naturally mellow out like all revolutions do. Without brutal beheadings in the news the sentiment might very fast change to “just leave them alone”.
Now, about those beheadings… It’s a big and difficult topic for us, westerners, to discuss, and I am not about to start it now.