Monday, February 28, 2011

The Caliphates - 7. The Ali Connection

Abraham and His Family
Abraham, father of the Jewish and Christian faiths, is also a prophet of Islam. Jews believe they are the descendants of Abraham through his second son, Isaac; Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad is a descendant of Abraham through his first son, Ishmael. Shiites thus believe the Twelve Imams are also descendants of Abraham.

Muslims believe Abraham visited present-day Najaf, Iraq with Isaac. Isaac argued with his father against his intention to settle there because he believed the land wouldn't support growing crops and grazing livestock, but Abraham held his ground, so to speak, saying one day there would be a tomb built there with a shrine where thousands of people would find entrance to Paradise.

Twenty-five hundred years later, Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid was hunting deer with dogs in Najaf when the deer ran onto a piece of raised ground, but the dogs would not follow them. The caliph tried to encourage his horse to follow the deer, but it refused as well. Finally, the caliph asked an old man why his dogs and horse would refuse to enter the ground and the old man told him it was the place Imam Ali was secretly buried 150 years earlier. The old man told him that when he was a boy, his father told him he had accompanied Imam Ja'far Sadiq, who was the Sixth Imam and thus a descendant of Muhammad, to pray over the spot and the Imam told him Imam Ali was buried there.

Imam Ali Holy Shrine
Caliph Harun had the story related to Imam Musa Kazim, the Seventh Imam, in Medina who confirmed it as the burial location of the Imam's grandfather, Imam Ali. The caliph then had a shrine built around the tomb in fulfillment of Abraham's Muslim prophesy.

On April 10, 2003, Sayyid Adbus Majid al-Khoei entered the Imam Ali Holy Shrine in Najaf, Iraq. "Sayyid" is a title given to the known descendants of Muhammad through his grandsons Hasan (the Second Imam) and Husayn (the Third Imam), both sons of the First Imam Ali and Muhammad's daughter Fatima.

As one might expect, Khoei was a "Twelver" Shiite cleric: a proponent of the belief that the Twelfth Imam who vanished several centuries ago would return to preside with Jesus over the Worldwide Caliphate. He was born in 1962 in Najaf, the home of the Imam Ali Shrine.

Sayyid Adbus Majid al-Khoei
In the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, he was part of the movement that expected they would be able to overthrow a weakened Saddam Hussein, but as the movement collapsed, Khoei fled to exile in London. While in London, he remained an outspoken critic of Saddam and his injustices against Shiites. After U.S.-led coalition forces invaded Iraq in 2003, Khoei returned to Iraq, having been warned of the many dangers that remained for him there. He told reporters that in spite of the danger, he wanted to see for himself whether events in Iraq were a repetition of the hollow prospects of 1991 or if they would finally be rid of Saddam.

A week after returning to Iraq, he entered the Imam Ali Holy Shrine with the hereditary keeper of the keys to the Shrine, Haidar Raifee. When Saddam's regime fell, Raifee went into hiding since many Shiites considered him a Saddam operative in the shrine and he feared for his safety. At the encouragement of American and British forces, Khoei tried to reconcile Raifee and those who were loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr so he escorted Raifee from his hiding place back to his post in the shrine.

Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr
In 2003, Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr was 30 years old and popular with young Shiites as the son of a Grand Ayatollah and the son-in-law of another Grand Ayatollah. Sadr's father, two of his brothers, and his father-in-law had all been murdered by Saddam Hussein. Like Khoei, Sadr bears the title Sayyid, tracing his lineage back to the Prophet Muhammad. In Sadr's case, his lineage traces back not only to Ali but also to two of the twelve revered Imams in the Shiite tradition, the Sixth and Seventh Imams. These are the same Imams involved in Caliph Harun's discovery of Imam Ali's grave.

The security detail that had been provided to Khoei for his safety as he approached the Imam Ali Shrine could not accompany him inside the shrine. As he and Raifee entered, therefore, they were quite vulnerable to the mob that confronted them there. As the mob approached and threatened the two, Khoei fired his pistol into the air to warn them off, but it didn't achieve the desired result. The group poured in on Raifee and hacked him to death with knives. Khoei was tied up, beaten, and dragged to the entrance of Sadr's compound.

Witness accounts of what happened next vary somewhat, but the prevailing view was that when Sadr appeared at the door and was asked by Khoei's attackers what they should do with him, Sadr told them to take him away and kill him. Unfortunately for Khoei, he didn't consider the extent to which Sadr regarded him as a rival, or perhaps the extent to which Khoei who was roughly Sadr's age might interfere with a destiny Sadr envisioned for himself.

Tomorrow: The Pan-Islamic Mandate

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Caliphates - 6. The Ottomans

Osman I
The Mongols who captured Baghdad and brought an end to the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258 were Turks. While the Mongol Turks took Baghdad, the Seljuk Turks seized Syria from the Crusaders before the Mongols captured it. The Mamluk Turks established a caliphate in Cairo, Egypt in 1261.

Meanwhile, Anatolia, located in the eastern part of Turkey, experienced weakening and was divided into ten emirates, or principalities. The leader of one of those emirates was Osman I; it's from Osman that the name Ottoman is derived. Osman quickly began to expand his territory. 

Over the next three centuries the Ottomans continued to grow their reach into Europe and North Africa, and even established a naval presence in the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean. It had become such a potent competitor to European trading empires, that Queen Isabella commissioned Christopher Columbus to discover a new route to Asia, one that would avoid the Eastern Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. We know the second part of Columbus' trip, but not really the reason why:  it was the Ottomans.

The Ottomans rose to prominence during a period of military and trading empires. Armies gained ground one year, then lost it again the next. The ebb and flow of cultures that rushed in and out of these empires left the conquerors with a mixed bag of cultures, people, religions, and more. How does an empire conquer new lands and occupy them with native people, particularly when religion is such an important part of the basis for the conquest? That's the challenge that faced caliphates from the start.

The Ottoman Empire
The Ottomans themselves were thought to have been a mix of their own Greek and Turkish heritage, combined with the government administrations of the peoples they conquered like the Byzantines, with an undercurrent of Islam.

Many historians see the Ottomans as having been focused on the Islamic jihadist agenda to the point that they didn't care to trouble themselves with replacing the governmental structures they defeated. That can seem indulgent or tolerant in a way while others might see it as keeping one's eye on the ball. While spreading the Muslim faith, they nonetheless permitted some Christian and Jewish institutions to remain under certain conditions. While Sunni Islam was the official state religion of the Ottomans, they also controlled the Eastern Orthodox Church. For the most part, the Ottomans maintained the "millet" system when it came to handling non-Muslims. Christians and Jews - "People of the Book" - could still practice their faiths as long as they paid a higher tax. That made it okay to keep them around.

In the mid-1500s, the Ottomans moved on to bigger things, taking on the Habsburgs in Hungary. At about the same time, the Ottomans moved into and captured Baghdad, then all of Mesopotamia from the Persian Gulf. Then, they moved on to take Tunisia and Algeria in North Africa. With the Habsburgs still on their mind, the Ottomans formed an alliance with the French, English, and Dutch to take on the Austrian and Hungarian Habsburgs.

Finally, the Ottomans settled down and faced the stagnation that status quo-minded empires throughout the ages had faced. They became less attentive to the strategies that made them great and withdrew into their religious conservatism at great expense to their military prowess and strength. Meanwhile, a shift in the military balance of power occurred too as new European weapons and tactics made many Ottoman combat tactics relatively ineffective, if not obsolete. By 1600, the Ottomans discovered they needed to recruit many more infantrymen with weapons to augment their cavalry. However, having to recruit so many in such a short time led them to compromise their military discipline and training which led to a degradation of their military effectiveness.

Mehmed II Entering Constantinople
Over the next 300 years, the Ottomans experienced greater stagnation and decline. As is often the case, though, it's not quite as tidy as all of that. The period included phases of intermittent progress and many attempts at reform, but they failed to hold enough of the progress to return the Ottomans to their earlier prominence. 

Ultimately, European powers caught up in waves of nationalism overwhelmed the old Ottoman territories in the Balkans, and economic failures and the caliphate's inability to consolidate its diverse empire led to its ruin. Even on their own home turf, the Ottomans failed to hold their claims as Turkish tribes took control of Turkish lands and assimilated Muslims as they went. Later annexations of Ottoman territories by European countries persisted until the caliphate was dissolved in 1922. What was left of the caliphate was abolished with the rise of a new Turkish government. The sultan and his family were exiled from the country.

The story of the Ottoman Caliphate was as much in its decline as in its ascendency. As the caliphate spread beyond the Ottomans' ability to maintain a culturally and religiously homogenous population, elements within the caliphate chipped away at its interior while more radical Islamic elements emerged elsewhere in the absence of a meaningful, unified opposing force among the Ottomans.

The Wahabi Movement
In Arabia in the 1700s, for instance, Muhammad Wahab introduced what is best described as a puritanical variety of Islam. He waged a campaign against "corrupt" Muslim leaders and emphasized what he considered to be a return to an original, literal reading of the Koran. Westerners should bear in mind that while we regard such "corruption" as economic and governmental malfeasance and exploitation, fundamentalist Islamic elements see a religious implication akin to "impurity of faith." Wahabbism spread into Iran and Egypt as a push against modernism gained momentum.

Leaders like Attaturk in Turkey and the Shah of Iran pushed for secularism and modernism and the marginalization of Islam in their countries. Shifting influences in the swirl and aftermaths of World War I and World War II had a great influence on the "reform" of Islam as victorious Western allies claimed the spoils of war, often at the expense of the emerging fundamentalist Islamic movements that chose their allies poorly. So, the Ottomans fell, a fairly secular Turkey rose, Jews were repatriated to Israel, and struggles between moderate and fundamentalist Islamic influence in Egypt, Arabia, and Iran persisted throughout the 20th century.

As the book opens on the 21st century, Egypt, Arabia, and Iran remain focal points in the region. Unrest throughout the Middle East today seems as tumultuous as the waning years of the Ottoman Empire were, if not more so. The question today, however, is what will rise in the place of these "corrupt" governments.

As Westerners toil over the narrative regarding the state of affairs in the Middle East, they would be well-advised not to assume there are not significant, powerful, persuasive forces in the region who are working at this moment to establish a new caliphate. What it will look like is anyone's guess right now.

Coming Soon: The Pan-Islamic Mandate

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Caliphates - 5. The Abbasids

The descendants of Muhammad had competed unsuccessfully for years to wrest control of Islamic authority. First, Ali failed in his bid to succeed Muhammad immediately after the Prophet's death. Then, he was overlooked as Umar and Uthman succeeded Abu Bakr as Rightly Guided Caliphs.

Finally, Ali was named the fourth and final Rightly Guided Caliph. He's also known today by Shiites as the First Imam in the line of twelve Imams who were all Ali's descendants. Their legacy as Imams is colored, however, by the fact that Ali's sons were both killed by Umayyads and the next eight Imams were poisoned by Umayyad or Abbasid assassins. Every single one of the Imams was assassinated except for the Twelfth Imam who simply disappeared at the age of 5 and remains hidden until he reappears to preside over the Worldwide Caliphate.

Spherical Astrolabe
Finally, however, descendants of Muhammad's uncle established the Abbasid Caliphate in 750 A.D. in modern-day Turkey. The linkage to Muhammad's bloodline gave the Abbasids a claim to a tie to the Prophet that the Umayyads couldn't make. The Abbasids strengthened their political position by converting (for the time being) to Shiism and fighting alongside the Shiites against the Umayyads. Joining up with the Shiites strengthened the Abbasid claim to strong ties to Muhammad since Shiites also claimed heritage to the Prophet.

The conversion to Shiism was short-lived, though. Once the Abbasids pushed the Umayyads out to Al-Andalus, they turned away from Shiism in favor of the Sunni Islam. They consolidated their hold on Islam by assassinating 100 years worth of Imams - six in all (the Sixth through Eleventh Imams) - again, all descendants of Ali.

The Abbasids are known for advances in science, mathematics, literature, and architecture. They brought the Greek classics to the West, adopted the Indian number zero and gave us the Arabic numbering system we use today, and invented the astrolabe. They made excellent use of the cultures and innovations of the people they conquered, as many innovations they've been credited with were either adopted or improved creations of Iranians, Indians, and others.

The Abbasids adopted the Hadith, "the ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr," a teaching that is clearly out of step with modern jihadists and many of their own more militant predecessors. Of course, the Abbasids had the luxury of presiding over a caliphate that was already in Islamic hands when they captured it. By contrast, the preceding caliphates had to conquer Jews, Christians, polytheists, and non-believers, for the most part. When people today refer to Muslim caliphates of the time as benign, they should bear in mind that most Christians and Jews living in caliphates were still largely second-class subjects and had already been assimilated into the population. It's fair to say that none of them felt Islam was particularly benign while they were being conquered generations before and would have lived differently if they'd had a choice in the matter.

Mongol Hulagu Khan imprisons Abbasid
Caliph Al-Musta'sim in Baghdad.
By the time the caliphate was ended by attacking Turkish Mongols, the caliphate had experienced only a few interruptions. The truth is, however, that the caliphs had become largely ceremonial over time and relatively irrelevant near the end. The flair and vigor of their predecessors dwarfed them. The symbolism of the caliph had even become lost on many Muslims. That also accounts for some of the belief they were accommodating of Christians and Jews. They weren't as accommodating as they were ineffective for many of the latter years.

The Turkish Mongols captured the last Abbasid caliph, Caliph Al-Musta'sim in 1258 and imprisoned him without food, but with all his treasures. The story is that the Mongol leader Hulagu Khan locked him up to starve with his possessions, essentially telling him that since he liked his treasures so much, he could try to survive on them. Finally, though, the Mongols grew weary of waiting for him to die. They had a superstition against spilling the blood of royalty so Hulagu had the caliph - a direct descendant of Muhammad's uncle - wrapped in a carpet and trampled by horses until he was dead.

The caliphate established a much smaller presence in Egypt three years later where it endured for another 450 years albeit much of it largely symbolic. Finally, in 1517 the Abbasids were defeated by an Ottoman sultan and made part of the Ottoman Empire. In all, the Abbasid Caliphate endured more than 750 years.

Tomorrow: The Ottomans

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Caliphates - 4. The Umayyads

Mu'awiyah ascended to the leadership of the Umayyad Caliphate after Ali's son and heir, Hasan, surrendered the Rashidun Caliphate in 661 A.D. A new era in Islamic government had arrived.

The Dome of the Rock built by the Umayyads
over the remains of a Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
The name "Umayyad" comes from Umayya ibn Abd Shams, who was Mu'awiyah's great-grandfather. The family lineage is significant because a good bit of the discontent and civil war during Imam Ali's caliphate arose when Ali dismissed many of the Umayyad family members from their offices, including Mu'awiyah who was the governor of Syria in Damascus.

The lineage is even more "involved" than that, though. Tradition holds that the Umayyad family and Muhammad's line share an ancestor. They came from the same city, Mecca, and the same tribe, but as the lineage split, they separated into different clans.

The two clans fought through the years. The fighting outlasted most of the combatants as the battles between the clans ultimately progressed to Muhammad's lifetime when the Umayyads opposed him and the new Islamic religion. One notable - very notable - exception to the Umayyad disdain for Muhammad and Islam was Mu'awiyah's cousin, Uthman ibn Affan, the eventual third Rightly Guided Caliph. The Umayyad clan was not pleased with Uthman over his allegiance to Muhammad, but his loyalty to the Prophet paid off for him.

Ultimately, Muhammad's forces began to find some success on the field of battle and turned the momentum against the Umayyad clan. Finally, many in the Umayyad clan, afraid for their lives, converted to Islam, and among the converts was Mu'awiyah, the future Umayyad Caliph.

While reconciled to Islam, Mu'awiyah still harbored ill will toward Ali and his family. That bitterness was stoked by Mu'awiyah's belief that Ali didn't do enough to find and punish his cousin Caliph Uthman's assassins, and then when Ali expelled Mu'awiyah as governor.

Civil war was Mu'awiyah's answer as his forces grew larger than Ali's; they fought repeatedly throughout Ali's reign, but Mu'awiyah wasn't Ali's only problem. Aisha, one of Muhammad's wives, led an army against Ali too, but the effort was quickly defeated.

Ali was later assassinated after only five years as caliph. Ali's son, Hasan, became caliph, but was deposed by Mu'awiyah after only seven months. With the fall of the Rashidun Caliphate, Mu'awiyah established the Umayyad Caliphate in its place.

Some scholars insist that Mu'awiyah was not the first Umayyad caliph, but the second. They say that Uthman was actually the first Umayyad caliph because he was in that bloodline and had placed his family members in prominent positions of power throughout the caliphate. He might have had the bloodline, but he wasn't quite of the same "mind" as many of his kinsmen. He was caliph as a Patriarch of the faith, and while there was quite a lot of nepotism in his caliphate, he saw himself as the third in the line of the Patriarchs much more than he saw himself as the first in a new line of caliphs. Evidence of this is in the fact that he did not name an heir from his family to follow him as caliph.

The Umayyad Caliphate at its height.
So, under Mu'awiyah's leadership, the caliphate grew westward from its capital in Damascus into Al-Andalus (Spain and Portugal) and north and east into Persia and modern-day Afghanistan.

When Mu'awiyah died in 680 A.D., he was succeeded as caliph by his son, Yazid, but not without some opposition. Among those who resisted Yazid's hereditary rise to power was - ironically - Husayn, brother of Hasan, son of Ali, and grandson of Muhammad. After he was defeated by Yazid in battle, Husayn ran to Kufa, Iraq to regroup. Kufa was where his brother had been unseated by Mu'awiyah some twenty years earlier. As Husayn hurried to Kufa, however, Yazid sent an army to catch up to what was left of his army. They fought in Karbala, and Husayn and his family were slaughtered, and Husayn's head was put on display in Damascus.

As the first century of the Umayyad Caliphate neared an end, another caliphate arose in the east: the Abbasid Caliphate. When the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads in Damascus in 750 A.D., the Umayyads withdrew to Al-Andalus. At its height, though, the Umayyad dynasty became one of the largest empires in the history of the world.

Inside the Great Mosque of Cordoba
built by the Umayyads.
The caliphate the Umayyads established in Cordoba lasted nearly another 300 years until 1031 A.D. The caliphate there featured great innovations in technology and culture, including the construction of the Great Mosque of Cordoba which still stands today. As construction of the mosque was originally begun as a Visigoth church before the Muslim conquest, Christians were permitted to share the building for their worship. Ultimately, however, the entire complex and the grounds came to be occupied by the Muslims only.

Unlike many of the Muslim rulers before him, Mu'awiyah endured very few internal battles. The only significant uprising was backed by descendants of Ali who wanted to reestablish Muhammad's bloodline at the head of the Muslim caliphate.

It might be surprising that in spite of Mu'awiyah's rampant expansion of Muslim lands, he generally indulged Christians and Jews in the caliphate as he consolidated new territories. Tribes that Muslims fought against and conquered were generally required to convert to Islam if they weren't slain. Others were required to pay homage, live in certain areas and under certain rules, were not permitted to proselytize, and so on. They were subjects of the caliphate of the lowest order, for sure, but they weren't wiped out. Christians and Jews of the time might disagree with modern characterizations that they were treated well. They were treated with a degree of contempt, tempered by the pragmatic understanding that they were an important part of the commercial engine of the caliphate.

The Umayyads were finally defeated on the Iberian peninsula by none other than the Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492. After reclaiming Spain and Portugal, they returned the Great Mosque to service as a Christian church.

Remnants of the caliphate lingered in the region until the 16th century.

Tomorrow: The Abassids

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Caliphates - 3. The Imams

The Twelve Imams
While the Rashidun Caliphate ended when Mu'awiyah's army subdued Hasan's forces in modern-day Iraq, it wasn't the end of the line for the descendents of the Prophet Muhammad and their claim to the leadership of the Islamic empire. Ali, who had finally become the fourth Rightly Guided Caliph in the Sunni tradition, is regarded as the first Islamic caliph by Shiites. They also know him as the First Imam in the line of Twelve. Hasan, vanquished by Mu'awiyah in Iraq, was the Second Imam.

At some point after Hasan surrendered the caliphate that had been passed to him by the Patriarchs of Islam, he was poisoned by his wife, apparently on the orders of Mu'awiyah, and was succeeded by his brother, Husayn, the Third Imam. Husayn was later killed and beheaded in a battle with Caliph Yazid, son of and successor to Mu'awiyah. Caliph Yazid was the second caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate (discussed here in the next posting).

To make a long story short, Shiite tradition holds that the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Imams were all poisoned to death on orders by a succession of Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs. The Twelfth Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, was a 5-year old leading the funeral prayer for his father in the 9th century when legend has it he disappeared. Believers claim God made him disappear and has kept him hidden in caves (or in a well, according to some) ever since. Eventually, "the Mahdi," as he's known, is prophesied to reveal himself to preside over the Worldwide Caliphate.

The succession of Twelve Imams and the reappearance of the Mahdi is a Shiite tradition, but the Sunnis are also awaiting the coming of the Mahdi so he can preside over the Worldwide Caliphate. The difference is that the Sunnis believe he will come from among the people, not through the succession of Ali's descendants.

Aside from the fundamental difference between Shiites and Sunnis relating to the original caliphate succession, there are entrenched matters of faith that separate them as well.

While early Muslim leaders struggled over appearance of different versions of the Koran, Shiites and Sunnis also adhere to different interpretations of what the Koran instructs.  These interpretations are contained in the Hadiths, narrations used to understand the Koran. They're intended to reflect the thoughts and habits of the Prophet Muhammad. So, while many non-Muslims cite passages in the Koran as a way to understand Islam, the more reliable method for understanding Islam is to study the Hadiths which purport to explain each sect's understanding of it. I mention them here because in attempting to understand why it's so far proven difficult to reconcile Shiites and Sunnis politically, bringing them together on points of faith have proven even more difficult.

Hadith
The two primary traditions that guided the authorship of the Hadiths were the same that inspired the two sects themselves. Those who were faithful followers of Abu Bakr and Umar wrote what have become the Sunni Hadiths, while those who followed Ali wrote what have become the Shiite Hadiths. Sunnis don't accept the Shiite Hadiths which give them meaning to the Koran, and Shiites don't accept the Sunni Hadiths which give them their own interpretation of the Koran. Very, very few Muslims known as Qur'anists accept neither of the groups of Hadiths and hold with the Koran alone.

With Ali's son, Hasan, the Second Imam, having been deposed by the first Umayyad Caliph Mu'awiyah, the conflicts between Sunnis led by Mu'awiyah and the Shiites who were faithful to Ali's blood line were about to take a significant turn.

Tomorrow: The Umayyads 

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Caliphates - 2. The Rashidun Patriarchs

The Muslim caliphates are best understood as dynasties or eras as they're not only represented by the land and people they've occupied, but also by the periods of time they've encompassed.

The Four Rightly Guided Caliphs
The first caliphate - the Rashidun Caliphate - lasted just twenty-nine years from Muhammad's death in 632 AD until 661 AD. The caliphate, also known as the "Rightly Guided Caliphate," was governed by a succession of four Rightly Guided Caliphs, the patriarchs of Islam.

The Islam of Muhammad's time had been at war during the final dozen years of his life and it was thrust into internal strife immediately after his death. This internal conflict formed the basis of the division between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that endures today as they disagreed fundamentally over whether the Muslim faithful should be governed by a blood relative of Muhammad or by a member of Muhammad's inner circle, elected by others from the inner circle who knew the mind of the Prophet.

The story goes that while Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, Ali ibn Abu Talib, was attending the Prophet's funeral, Muhammad's closest advisors and friends elected a successor, Abu Bakr. There were ten of these advisors and friends to whom the Prophet had promised Paradise. Abu Bakr, who was also Muhammad's father-in-law, was one of the ten.

Ali rejected Abu Bakr's selection as caliph as did his wife, Fatima, and his followers. Ali held out on affirming his allegiance to the new caliph until finally, Umar, a member of the inner circle, went to Ali's home to encourage him to change his mind. Ali confronted him with his sword drawn and Umar disarmed him, but all of the ruckus apparently caused Fatima to have a miscarriage and die.

The Rashidun Caliphate (632-661 A.D.)
So, Abu Bakr was the first Rightly Guided Caliph whether Ali and his followers believed it or liked it, or not. The internal politics of the early days of Abu Bakr's rule quickly took a second spot to the consolidation and expansion of the caliphate, though. In the mere two years of Abu Bakr's rule as caliph, the caliphate fought Arabs who had turned away from Islam and also the Romans. By the time he died, Abu Bakr had conquered most of Arabia and placed it under control of the caliphate.

Umar followed Bakr as caliph, and he picked up where Caliph Bakr left off, expanding the caliphate to include Egypt, Jerusalem, and Persia. He ruled for 10 years until he was killed by a Persian captive. As he was on his deathbed, he assembled the six remaining of the original ten associates of Muhammad who had been promised Paradise - Ali was one of them - and instructed them to elect his successor from among themselves.

Ali was by-passed again as Uthman was selected as the third Rightly Guided Caliph. After Umar, Uthman had been the first to endorse Abu Bakr as caliph a dozen years earlier, and he was the first to support Umar's selection as caliph after Abu Bakr died. After some additional expansion of the caliphate under Uthman, it began to experience some retraction.

Uthman's Koran Compilation
Uthman saw that the challenge in growing an Islamic caliphate was in unifying the various lands it controlled under one interpretation of the Koran. In a caliphate of different cultures, different dialects, and problems deciphering written characters, a number of different variations of the Koran had emerged, and this threatened the unity of the caliphate.

Uthman decided it was necessary for the sake of Islam to consolidate or compile the various versions of the Koran into one authoritative version. As one might expect, this created its own controversy as key tenets of the faith of some were set aside in favor of other points of faith under the compilation. It didn't help that the caliphate was eroding at the same time. Unrest eventually made its way to Uthman's doorstep, and he was assassinated by rebels.

Uthman's assassins pressed for a new caliph, but all of the leading candidates, including Ali, refused. Ali was concerned that his strongest support came from the rebels and he was worried that affiliation would dog him as caliph. Finally, though, we consented and assumed the position as fourth Rightly Guided Caliph. 

While he had worked within the administrations of the previous three caliphs, his supporters who believed him the rightful immediate heir to the Prophet Muhammad, considered him to be the first caliph - the First Imam - since they regarded the other three as having been illegitimately selected in what amounted to a succession of coups by his three predecessors. That belief still prevails among Shiites today.

Ali took hold of the caliphate and immediately had to contend with rebellion of his own as a civil war was brewing. He had removed a number of provincial governors and relatives of Caliph Uthman and moved the seat of the caliphate from Medina to Kufa in modern day Iraq. Among those he removed from office was the governor of Syria, Mu'awiyah, cousin of Uthman and scribe to Muhammad, Abu Bakr, and Umar.

Mu'awiyah had refused to defer and swear allegiance to Ali because he believed Ali didn't do enough to bring Uthman's assassins to justice. So, Uthman and Ali fought in the Battle of Siffin, a largely inconclusive event that nonetheless hardened the division between Shiites and Sunnis. Throughout Ali's time as caliph, Mu'awiyah continued to chip away at the caliphate as the civil war endured, with his army seizing much of the caliphate from forces loyal to Ali.

Finally, Ali was praying during Ramadan when an assassin struck him with a poison-coated sword. He died two days later, leaving the caliphate to his son, Hasan. In the five years of Ali's caliphate, Mu'awiyah had the largest Muslim army under arms and had waged a successful civil war against Ali. Finally, he marched into Iraq where he declared himself caliph and confronted Hasan. The armies of the two met in battle until Hasan relented and relinquished the caliphate to Mu'awiyah. Hasan had ruled a mere seven months. 

That was the end of the Rashidun Caliphate and the beginning of the Umayyad Caliphate under Mu'awiyah. But while it was over for the patriarchical caliphate, it wasn't the end of the claim to the leadership of the Islamic empire by the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.

Tomorrow: The Imams.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Caliphates - 1. The Chaos Agenda

We're beginning to hear a lot about the Worldwide Caliphate, universal governance under Islamic Sharia law.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been beating that drum for nearly a century, and with unrest in Egypt and elsewhere, many are wondering and speculating on the organization's role in the upheaval there and its future in the region.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad
speaking to the UN General Assembly
The Ayatollah Khomeini and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad both rose to power in Iran with an eye on hastening the return of the Twelfth Imam so he could preside over the Worldwide Caliphate, as they believe has been prophesied. Ahmedinejad pursues his notions through the advocacy and financing of regional chaos. The belief is that chaos is necessary so the Twelfth Imam can come to reestablish order and justice. When Ahmedinejad asks God - as he did in front of the UN General Assembly - for the hastening of the return of the Twelfth Imam, he brings to mind the Iranian Hojjatieh Society that sees that hastening as best stimulated by the creation of chaos on Earth. For them, wishing for the hastening of the Imam's return includes lending a hand in fulfilling the prophesy.

Most of us aren't threatened by the prophesies of another's faith, but when they inspire actions, even if they're futile or imprudent actions, we take note. When the actions encourage violence and a disruption of social order, we go further to the point of defending our own interests and beliefs. When we see an opportunity to encourage the democratic aspirations of the masses, we do so because, from our perspective, nothing but good can come of it.

But it would be a mistake to evaluate events in the Middle East within the framework of our own experiences, values, and politics. While Westerners see democracy as a precursor of liberty, others see it as a way to impose tyranny under the illusion of the consent of the governed.

There are many ways to spoil a democracy while still claiming to maintain one. When the rule of the people is tainted by the claiming of political power by those who play on the fears and prejudices of the general public through passionate rhetoric and hot-button themes, you end up with mob rule, often referred to these days as "mobocracy." Mob rule is political chaos that ultimately tends to yearn for order. Put another way, the mob - whether it intends to or not - is a part of the chaos that summons the restoration of order and justice.

The question is who will restore the order, by what means, and to what end?

Not all organizations and leaders are as radical as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad are, but there are dozens of organizations like Hizb ut-Tahrir and preachers like Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, with whom Egyptians in Tahrir Square are becoming familiar, who are just as enthusiastic campaigners for the Worldwide Caliphate as any are. They've blended well into the scenery and the spectacle of the protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square, but make no mistake: they're there nonetheless.

So, is the Worldwide Caliphate simply a point of faith and a bit of expectant preaching for Muslims anticipating the Day of Judgment, or is it a serious vision of geopolitical and religious conquest? Is the Muslim yearning for the Mahdi ("the Twelfth Imam" to Shiites) any different than Christians praying for the return of Jesus on the Day of Judgment? Christians are often surprised to learn that, according to Muslim teaching, the Mahdi will be accompanied by Jesus to preside over the eradication of tyranny and injustice. One key difference between the Koran and the Bible when it comes to the return of Jesus, however, is the world political and religious climate preceding and precipitating His return. The contrast is relevant and worth examining.

The Twelfth Imam
At a practical level, there is an awful lot of land for extremists to conquer and governments for them to turn before such a Worldwide - or even regional - Caliphate could occur, but then again, is it too far fetched to expect those who are dedicated to the idea would give it a serious try anyway? Is it too hard to believe that while the West doesn't believe radical Muslims could establish the Worldwide Caliphate, that they might still create a lot of havoc and threaten American interests and safety in the attempt? To what extent are radicals like Ahmadinejad willing to manufacture scenarios that make their prophesies of chaos and tyranny preceding the coming of the Mahdi self-fulfilling?

If one were to set the table for establishing a Worldwide Caliphate, would one begin in San Francisco, or in Cairo, Damascus, or Medina where caliphates have been established in the past? In the West, we look at the long-held and deep-seated divisions between Sunnis and Shiites and wonder if that disharmony isn't too powerful and serious to prevent cooperation in establishing the Worldwide Caliphate. 

The fact is that the establishment of the Worldwide Caliphate is one piece of common ground that exists between the two sects. The difference as it relates to government under one Muslim ruler is in how it is to come about - violently or through assimilation, with elected leadership or by birthright - and under what precepts it is to be governed.

It's possible that a caliphate could be joined by both Shiites and Sunnis, as they've done in the past, but they could also be torn asunder by the very fundamental differences between them too. Either way, it would help for those of us in the West to know some of the history of caliphates. Such a study of caliphates might not be a perfect roadmap for the future, but it is a valuable context at a minimum.

While some of the caliphates were quite successful in their own time and in their own way, the fact is that none have endured. Whether through civil war or in the face of a tide of secularism, they have all collapsed. However, it would be a mistake to think simply because Shiites and Sunnis have never gotten along well, because caliphates have never endured in the past, and because democracy seems to be on the rise in the Middle East that elements active in the region have not been schooled on what they perceive to have been the lessons of the past.

Whether past caliphates provide the vision for future caliphates or are a mixed bag of "how-to's" and "how-not-to's," they're instructive to us nonetheless. In the coming days, I'll post a thumbnail sketch of past caliphates. Tomorrow, I'll begin with the Islamic patriarchs under whose rule Islam was defined, and the period during which Shiites and Sunnis first emerged in conflict with each other.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Warming Temperatures

Well, it's happening again: global weather change. All across the United States, cities are checking in with warmer temperatures, a sign, according to longtime observers, that global weather change is for real. There are signs that the Earth’s weather has begun to change ominously and that these changes may portend a drastic increase in temperatures over the coming months – with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth. The regions of the United States destined to feel its impact are the wheat and corn-producing lands of the Midwest, the avocado and lettuce-producing lands of the West, the blueberry and spruce-producing lands of the Northeast, the magnolia and cotton-producing lands of the South, and the cactus and coyote-producing lands of the Southwest. Hawaii should be okay.

The evidence supporting these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it. All across the United States, farmers and industrial workers have seen their hours of daylight increase incrementally with the persistent warming of the weather and a resultant overall disappearance of cooler temperatures. Just last year, the average temperature in the United States warmed as much as 50 degrees in the eight months between January and August - a repetition of that pattern this year, a virtual certainty, could mean drought, desolation, and humiliating rivulets of sweat. Beginning in April of last year, an onslaught of thunderstorms erupted, knocking out power in many parts the nation, leaving citizens without cable television and internet service. The coming warmer temperatures are almost sure to produce the reemergence of the scourge of summer, the perennial wave of global warming predictions designed to make us believe the same phenomenon that made much of the United States look like Siberia in December will make some of those same areas feel like the Sahara by August.

To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world’s weather. The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth’s climate that seemed to be cooling down warmed back up then cooled back down again without warning. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the trend, and theories vary broadly over exactly what the trend is and its impact because it is all so darned confusing. But they are almost unanimous in the view that we should prepare now to see some increase in agricultural production over the summer and into the fall, but this production will decline dramatically by late October. “A major weather change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale,” warns a recent report by the National Academy of PseudoSciences, “because the global patterns of food production and population that have evolved are implicitly dependent on the climate of the present century.” (Whatever that means...)

Meteorologists are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the weather change, or even to allay its effects. They concede that some of the more spectacular solutions proposed, such as melting the Arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers, might create problems far greater than those they solve. But the scientists see few signs that government leaders anywhere are even prepared to take the simple measures of stockpiling food or of introducing the variables of weather uncertainty into economic projections of future food supplies. The longer the planners delay, the more difficult will they find it to cope with weather change once the results become grim reality.

You have been warned.


[This blog post represents a totally frivolous and cruel butchering an entirely serious article that appeared in the April 28,1975 Newsweek titled, "The Cooling World." You really ought to read it before the summer wave of global warming predictions begin again. Of course, that 1975 article was published before a politician and climate-scare entrepreneur from Tennessee, Al Gore, set us straight. Click here to read the original Newsweek article.]

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

JFK Moments

When John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the 35th President of the United States on January 20, 1961, the American economy was at the pit of a recession and the unemployment rate was 7%. 

His statements cited below span the period of his presidency from two months after his inauguration to two months before his assassination.

The next time you hear the words, "JFK-esque" or "JFK moment" attributed to someone speaking on economics, think of these JFK statements and judge the appropriateness of the comparison for yourself.

These are real JFK moments:


"Expansion and modernization of the nation's productive plant is essential to accelerate economic growth and to improve the international competitive position of American industry ... An early stimulus to business investment will promote recovery and increase employment."

– John F. Kennedy, Feb. 2, 1961, message on economic recovery



"I have asked the secretary of the treasury to report by April 1 on whether present tax laws may be stimulating in undue amounts the flow of American capital to the industrial countries abroad through special preferential treatment."

– John F. Kennedy, Feb. 6, 1961, message to Congress on gold and the balalnce of payments deficit



"We must start now to provide additional stimulus to the modernization of American industrial plants ... I shall propose to the Congress a new tax incentive for businesses to expand their normal investment in plant and equipment."

– John F. Kennedy, Feb. 13, 1961, National Industrial Conference Board



"In those countries where income taxes are lower than in the United States, the ability to defer the payment of U.S. tax by retaining income in the subsidiary companies provides a tax advantage for companies operating through overseas subsidiaries that is not available to companies operating solely in the United States. Many American investors properly made use of this deferral in the conduct of their foreign investment."

– John F. Kennedy, April 20, 1961, message to Congress on taxation



"A bill will be presented to the Congress for action next year. It will include an across-the-board, top-to-bottom cut in both corporate and personal income taxes. It will include long-needed tax reform that logic and equity demand ... The billions of dollars this bill will place in the hands of the consumer and our businessmen will have both immediate and permanent benefits to our economy. Every dollar released from taxation that is spent or invested will help create a new job and a new salary. And these new jobs and new salaries can create other jobs and other salaries and more customers and more growth for an expanding American economy."

– John F. Kennedy, Aug. 13, 1962, radio and television report on the state of the national economy






"In short, it is a paradoxical truth that ... the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now. The experience of a number of European countries and Japan have borne this out. This country's own experience with tax reduction in 1954 has borne this out. And the reason is that only full employment can balance the budget, and tax reduction can pave the way to that employment. The purpose of cutting taxes now is not to incur a budget deficit, but to achieve the more prosperous, expanding economy which can bring a budget surplus."

– John F. Kennedy, Nov. 20, 1962, news conference



"Our present tax system ... exerts too heavy a drag on growth ... It reduces the financial incentives for personal effort, investment, and risk-taking ... The present tax load ... distorts economic judgments and channels an undue amount of energy into efforts to avoid tax liabilities."

– John F. Kennedy, Nov. 20, 1962, press conference



"It is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the rates now ... Cutting taxes now is not to incur a budget deficit, but to achieve the more prosperous, expanding economy which can bring a budget surplus."

– John F. Kennedy, Nov. 20, 1962, president's news conference



"This administration pledged itself last summer to an across-the-board, top-to-bottom cut in personal and corporate income taxes ... Next year's tax bill should reduce personal as well as corporate income taxes, for those in the lower brackets, who are certain to spend their additional take-home pay, and for those in the middle and upper brackets, who can thereby be encouraged to undertake additional efforts and enabled to invest more capital ... I am confident that the enactment of the right bill next year will in due course increase our gross national product by several times the amount of taxes actually cut."

– John F. Kennedy, Nov. 20, 1962, news conference



"Lower rates of taxation will stimulate economic activity and so raise the levels of personal and corporate income as to yield within a few years an increased – not a reduced – flow of revenues to the federal government."

– John F. Kennedy, Jan. 17, 1963, annual budget message to the Congress, fiscal year 1964



In today's economy, fiscal prudence and responsibility call for tax reduction even if it temporarily enlarges the federal deficit – why reducing taxes is the best way open to us to increase revenues."

– John F. Kennedy, Jan. 21, 1963, annual message to the Congress: "The Economic Report Of The President"



"It is no contradiction – the most important single thing we can do to stimulate investment in today's economy is to raise consumption by major reduction of individual income tax rates."

– John F. Kennedy, Jan. 21, 1963, annual message to the Congress: "The Economic Report Of The President"



"The present tax codes ... inhibit the mobility and formation of capital, add complexities and inequities which undermine the morale of the taxpayer, and make tax avoidance rather than market factors a prime consideration in too many economic decisions."

– John F. Kennedy, Jan. 23, 1963, special message to Congress on tax reduction and reform



"The largest single barrier to full employment of our manpower and resources and to a higher rate of economic growth is the unrealistically heavy drag of federal income taxes on private purchasing power, initiative and incentive."

– John F. Kennedy, Jan. 24, 1963, special message to Congress on tax reduction and reform



"Our tax system still siphons out of the private economy too large a share of personal and business purchasing power and reduces the incentive for risk, investment and effort – thereby aborting our recoveries and stifling our national growth rate."

– John F. Kennedy, Jan. 24, 1963, message to Congress on tax reduction and reform, House Doc. 43, 88th Congress, 1st Session.



"A tax cut means higher family income and higher business profits and a balanced federal budget. Every taxpayer and his family will have more money left over after taxes for a new car, a new home, new conveniences, education and investment. Every businessman can keep a higher percentage of his profits in his cash register or put it to work expanding or improving his business, and as the national income grows, the federal government will ultimately end up with more revenues."

– John F. Kennedy, Sept. 18, 1963, radio and television address to the nation on tax-reduction bill

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Turn of a Phrase

I was in the commissary (grocery store) at NAS Pensacola this afternoon when I ran into my former air group commander, Fred McCorkle. He's a highly-decorated and combat-wounded veteran of the Vietnam War and the former CO of Marine Air Group 29 at New River Air Station, North Carolina when I was a helicopter pilot in one of the squadrons in the group. He's retired now and is in town for a few days of vacation.

He ultimately became a lieutenant general (three-star general) and the Deputy Commandant of the Marine Corps for Aviation, the senior aviator in the Marine Corps. He was very close to my former squadron commander, R. J. Wallace, as I was. They were both great leaders and great Marines. Naturally, our conversation turned to Colonel Wallace.

Back in the car on the way home, I thought back to my time in Colonel Wallace's squadron, HMM-263.

I had known him since I was a lieutenant and he was a major. We were in different squadrons, but since we both worked in the aircraft maintenance department in our respective squadrons, we worked with each other frequently.

By the time he became CO of HMM-263 as a lieutenant colonel, I was a captain just returning to the United States from my second six-month deployment to the Mediterranean. I was about to be transferred to Pensacola to be a flight instructor when he told me I needed to delay my transfer to Pensacola and go with his squadron for a short deployment to Norway. When he said I "needed" to go with his squadron, he wasn't telling me to do it, he was telling me he needed me to do it. I spoke that language, so I understood.

The pilots in his squadron were fairly inexperienced, especially in shipboard operations, and the North Atlantic is a tough place to cut your teeth on ship landings, day or night, so he thought I could help. I had other plans, but he was a hard guy to leave hanging. Going to Norway with his squadron was going to be the right thing to do so I told him I'd go. Besides, he promised that it would be a short 58-day deployment because the Navy needed to get the ship back to port for some work. It was the same helicopter carrier I had just been to the Mediterranean on, the USS Guam.

So, I became a member of HMM-263. The Guam cruised down the coast of North Carolina one weekend so we could practice landing on it. Colonel Wallace and I took a couple of groups of new pilots out to the ship on Saturday, August 4, 1990 to get them some training. We had just been issued our cold weather flight gear from large boxes in the squadron hangar a day or two earlier. I remember the date because it was only a couple of days after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on the 2nd.

We were about half way through our work, however, when we were recalled to the base. When we arrived, we learned we needed to assess our readiness to deploy to the Middle East immediately. Two of the six squadrons on the base would deploy as soon as they could be ready. However, a recent dynamic component bulletin - a recall, in effect - grounded Marine and Navy helicopters like the one I flew all over the world. There had been a bad lot of transmissions that required all squadrons to check serial numbers and replace defective transmissions.

Unfortunately, there were quite a few bad transmissions in the Navy and Marine Corps fleet. It turned out we had one of those bad transmissions. Unless we could get it replaced, we would not be able to deploy to the Middle East.

On Monday, Colonel Wallace, Major Bill Davin (my boss), and I were talking about our aircraft readiness and the fact that there was only one good transmission for issue on the entire East Coast, and it was at the aircraft rework facility in Cherry Point, about a 45 minute flight away.

Colonel Wallace asked me to fly a helicopter over to Cherry Point and tell them I needed to see the CO of the facility. He was a colonel and an acquaintance of Colonel Wallace's. I was to tell the colonel that we needed the transmission so we could deploy to the Middle East.

I flew to Cherry Point, walked into the offices, and asked to see the CO. It wasn't often a captain walked in unannounced demanding to see the colonel so my visit was a point of interest to the colonel's gatekeepers who didn't know whether to keep me out and take a chance that I was there on important business or to let me in and see what the big deal was. They let me in, but the second in command, the executive officer (XO), came along.

Once I was in the office, I told the colonel I was with HMM-263 and we needed that transmission because we were going to war. I suppose that was one way to put it. It would have been more accurate to say that we were headed to the Middle East if we got that transmission, but that would have made us no different than four or five other squadrons back at New River.

He repeated my statement back to me (I'm paraphrasing here), "You're going to war so you need the one good transmission on the whole East Coast." I cleaned up my statement a little and said, "Yes, sir. I need that transmission so we can go to war." He took a long look at me and asked me if Colonel Wallace was my CO, and I answered that he was. He said, "You know he's a crook, don't you," and I told him I sure did; he meant that as high praise as any Marine would have taken it under the circumstances. He turned to his XO and instructed him to give me the transmission.

A group of Marines loaded the transmission onto my helicopter and I flew it back to New River. It was installed and I checked it out on a test flight before the sun went down. The next morning's aircraft readiness report showed that we had a full squadron of ready aircraft, and a week and a half later, we were on the USS Guam headed for the Persian Gulf. Needless to say, our 58-day deployment became quite a lot longer than originally planned.

A lot of people don't understand that military people don't want war. Probably more than anyone other than their families, they tend to despise war. But, they also tend to want to be in the middle of it if there must be one. Our squadron was just like the others. They all wanted to go, but we were a little quicker on the draw.

This was one of many times where I saw that while you want to answer when opportunity knocks, sometimes you have to take the door to opportunity so it can knock.

We rushed to the Persian Gulf and seem to have helped discourage Saddam from attacking into Saudi Arabia. Ultimately, the full American and allied force made in on scene. By the time January and the start of the war rolled around, that squadron of once-inexperienced pilots was plenty ready.

Understanding the Muslim Brotherhood: A Means to an End

PART IV of IV

So, the other day, the U. S. Director of National Intelligence characterized the Muslim Brotherhood as an "umbrella term for a variety of movements." He seems to have gotten at least that part of his Congressional testimony right, but I'm probably thinking of it in a different context than he had in mind.  I wonder if he was thinking of organizations like Hizb ut-Tahrir when he mentioned those other "secular" movements.

There are other organizations under the Muslim Brotherhood umbrella. Among the better-known branches of the Brotherhood in the past 30 years are the al-Jihad in Egypt, Hamas in Palestine, the Afghan mujahadeen, and others, the latter being a group also supported by the United States in fighting against the Soviet Union that has since morphed into the group led by, here he is again, Osama bin Laden.

In recent years, the Muslim Brotherhood has taken on a new tactic, in part because it's been outlawed in Egypt. It has embraced the tactic of feigning moderation, speaking as the peace-maker while working behind the scenes with others who do the dirty work. Today, there are vocal elements in our country like our DNI who are pitching the Muslim Brotherhood as an innocuous political entity that has left violence behind. But many Americans still remember the organization cheering the 9/11 attacks in 2001. At least as recently as 2001, the Brotherhood wasn't quite as cordial as it's often portrayed now.

We hear groups in Egypt speak of democracy and we clamor to their side as though their merely uttering the word is enough to know what's in their hearts. I have no doubt that a significant number of the protestors in Tahrir Square in Cairo were genuinely looking for democratic reform, but I likewise have no doubt that extremists who have co-opted that movement will more fully exploit these freedom seekers when or if they get the chance.

As I wrote in the 2006 paper in which I first mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood, "We can't let our affinity for those Muslims who want a peaceful Islam distract us from seeing and confronting the threat that is poised boldly in front of us. As we acknowledge the good in them, let's remain keenly focused on the fact that the dominant Islamic culture today is bent on the violent assimilation of the world under Islam. Therein is the threat. Knowing and appreciating the good can't be a reason to weaken our resolve to defeat the bad."

We should remember our own history. While Americans in 1776 named the King of England as the culprit in the Declaration of Independence, it was the Parliament that imposed the laws that drove the Colonies to the Revolution. In the Colonies, those early Americans had democracy even before the Revolution. They lived and conducted their government under Enlightenment-inspired charters and constitutions that were characterized not only by their democratic qualities but also by their insistence on liberty for all. As the British Parliament bore down on Colonies and those liberties were incrementally denied to them, the cry from Americans like Patrick Henry wasn't, "Give me Democracy or give me death!" it was, "Give me Liberty or give me death!"

As we proceed in developing our posture with respect to Egypt, we need to remember that democracies have a colorful history of tyranny of their own. Before we go too far, we had better come to some recognition of what we believe a democracy is or what we expect one in Egypt to look like. Does our vision include free and fair elections there? Does it include a representative republic where both majority and minority interests are protected? Does it include a culture where the people live freely and practice the faith of their choosing and enjoy their God-given right to liberty? Will there be free speech and a free press?

We hear in our press about the so-called "faces of the revolution" in Egypt like Google executive Wael Ghonim or former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Muhammad ElBaradei, but where are the enlightened voices leading the charge to become the Middle Eastern prototype for liberty? Where is the Egyptian Thomas Paine, the Adam Smith, the Frederick Douglass, the Thomas Jefferson, the Abraham Lincoln, the W. E. B. Dubois, the George Washington, or the Martin Luther King? We can't say we didn't hear voices in the crowd. We heard from Hizb ut-Tahrir and others like them. What about the voices of liberty? I know there are those who want liberty in the crowd, but will we hear from them and will their voices become instruments of a new Egyptian paradigm, or will they be swept away by the inertia of models already in place elsewhere in the Middle East?

We know we want democracy for Egypt, but do we really want to promote a system of government that manufactures election results like they have in Iran? Do we want a repetition of the emergence of Hamas in "democratic" Palestine? What obligation does a new democracy in Egypt have for the safety and security of its people and the region?

What obligation does the United States have for ensuring not only that the region is safe for democracy, but that it's safe for the United States as well? Regardless of how diplomats and politicians characterize American foreign policy with respect to the world's despots, the fact is that our policy has been one of pragmatism and selective outrage for many years.

Two years ago, the United States reluctantly and tepidly spoke out against the repression of the Iranian people as they took to the streets of Tehran in protest of a corrupt presidential election there. There were no calls by our leaders and pundits for President Ahmedinejad to begin a transition out of office immediately. Less than a month ago, the United States hosted the President of China at a rare lavish state dinner in Washington. There were no calls for President Hu to step aside in favor of the hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens who have lived for decades under the tyranny of dictatorship there.

To me, there are two key differences between the examples in Iran and China and the situation in Egypt. The first is that Egyptian government was an American ally and had at least a tacit obligation to yield to the wishes of the United States, and it did. Iran and China are under no such compulsion or inclination. Second, Egypt was led by a despot who was nonetheless willing to tolerate the protests and was ultimately willing to accede to protestor demands. It might have been a despotic regime, but it wasn't so consummately despotic that it wouldn't abolish itself peacefully. That is certainly not the case in Iran and China. So, while the terrible despot in Egypt has left the palace, even worse depots continue to enjoy the indulgence of the United States.

Of course, in the case of China, we have an economic interest and no desire for war with a major power. In the case of Iran, we're concerned about regional stability and our desire not to generate a perception that we're anti-Islamic. I suggest that while we might be well-advised to take care in pressing our adversaries, especially when other interests are involved, we are equally well-advised to take care in forcing the issue with our allies. The fact is that when it comes to our allies, we often have security interests that are no less important than the interests we have when the dispute involves our adversaries. While we'd like to live in a world where citizens are free, safe, and enjoying God-given rights, we also have an interest in doing what we can to make the world safe enough for existing democracies to thrive as well. And we have an interest in seeing a world that is safe for America and for Americans too.

As former U. S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton recently reminded us, on April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson stood in front of a joint session of Congress to get a declaration of war against Germany that would involve the United States in World War I: "the war to end all wars." He told Congress that American entry into the war was necessary in order that the world would "be made safe for democracy."

That fall, former President Theodore Roosevelt countered, "First and foremost, we are to make the world safe for ourselves. This is our war, America's war. If we do not win it, we shall some day have to reckon with [our enemy] single-handed."

There is always a reckoning and we will always have an interest in what happens elsewhere in the world. The trick will always be to balance our interests with our idealism. When we pursue one without considering the other, we do so at our peril.

That doesn't mean we don't let our voices be heard on issues that are fundamental to our values. We should be very clear about what we stand for, but as we do, we should bear in mind that consistency is a vehicle for projecting that clarity. We need to be careful not to stand on principle only when we can have our way. In the larger perspective, that's not very principled, and our friends and adversaries alike recognize the hypocrisy. Finally, when we preach listening to the will of the people abroad, we'd better do it at home. While we have had the advantage of the Washingtons, Jeffersons, Lincolns, and Kings, we took a long and troubled road to get to where we are, and we are still struggling in many areas to be true to our own principles.

In Egypt, we hope not to set the table for a massive shell game - or more aptly, a bait-and-switch - in which one autocrat is replaced by another, or in which one autocrat is replaced by a collection of them. We should not be naive enough to believe a "democratic" outcome in Egypt that leaves the Muslim Brotherhood in power will necessarily be just and will leave a peaceful imprint on the Middle East. It could well provide the setting for the establishment of a new caliphate and an impetus for regional conflict in pursuit of a Worldwide Caliphate.