Just as there is no one version of Christianity, there is no single version of Islam. Here in the US how many various Christian religions are there who share Christ and the written word in the Bible, but often not much else? Everything else is subject to interpretation.
Much of the history of Europe is littered with the deaths of millions over which version of Christianity was more right or powerful. Many non-Christians also perished in enduring religious wars over centuries, or under a more unified Christian flag as in the Crusades or Russia’s terrorist Pogroms.
The almost 1400 year history of Islam itself has been engulfed by a war between two major sects; Sunni and Shi’a, each of which claims different means of maintaining religious authority. Within those two large groups (perhaps a bit parallel to Protestant and Catholic versions of Christianity) are even more sects with their own interpretations of the Quran, Islamic law, the relationship between “church” and state, and to some…. what constitutes their version of the Caliphate (the theocratic political entity led by a Caliph, a person considered a political and religious successor to the Islamic prophet, Muhammad and a leader of the entire Muslim community)?
Come to think about it, why start this conversation in the post Mohammad era? How about the battles for control including during pre Mohammad centuries? Hittites? Mitannis? Babylonians, Assyrians? Egyptians? Israelites? ? Phoenicians? Syrians? Persians? Greeks? Romans? Parthians? Who was in power before the word Caliphate was created?
During many long stretches of Islamic history, when left alone by Europeans and “westerners”, Caliphates existed for centuries at a time. The Abbasids, the Umayyads, the Fatimids, all fought for control from the 7th to the 16th century. The best known and most powerful Caliphate was the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire that reached from Southeast Europe to the Caucasus to Northern and Western Africa.
With it’s fall in the early 20th century… pushed along by colonial aspirations by the British, French, Russians, and yes…oil minded Americans, the modern “political states we now see on the middle eastern map were not formed by the natives of those lands. Both the political borders and the rulers of these new lands were determined by the colonial powers.
For the last century we have seen these seemingly unified political nation-states still containing enemy religious camps created by the Treaty of Versailles vie for political and religious domination in the region.
Post World War 2, the 4 major political powers in the area were Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran. Each regional “power” (often with “despotic” leaders who may or may not have seen themselves a potential Caliph) was supported by former colonial powers.
Except for the Israeli – Palestinian conflicts, we thought all was well, not really understanding what was brewing under the surface. Wahhabism? The Muslim Brotherhood? Were they under control by our despotic allies? But what if under control meant allowed to foment? As long as they didn’t bother our investments, our allies, or us… all was ok.
Why are we so surprised by results of the Israeli Palestinian conflicts? The post Russian invasion of Afghanistan? The Iran – Iraq War? The American (Coalition) War in Iraq and the endless war in Afghanistan? All of these destabilized that world we thought was stable.
Why are we so surprised by the rise of groups like al Qaeda or I.S.I.S. wanting to restore THEIR version of a caliphate, not an Iranian Shi’a Ayatollah’s? not Saddam’s, not Assad’s, nor Saudi Arabia’s Al Sauds?
What makes us so furious and fearful is not the goal or end of these groups, but rather the means they have chosen to achieve their end. If their means was not terrorism that reached outside of their borders to ours, or to France, Spain, or the UK, would we care?
Ultimately, to quote a famous former Brooklyn football coach, “The faces may change but the s—t stays the same.”