Erick Stakelbeck

CBN News Terrorism Analyst

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Would Muslims Accept Iran as the Leader of a New Caliphate?


Over the past few months, I've been talking an awful lot about the possibility of a renewed Islamic Caliphate and Iran's desire to lead it. This past weekend, I believe the Muslim world took a few major steps toward making this united Islamic super-state a reality.

Which brings up an interesting point. The nations that would belong to the Caliphate are predominantly Sunni Muslim. Yet Iran--which sees the so-called Arab Spring as a divine signal from Allah that the Caliphate, to be led by Iran, is on the horizon and that the Mahdi is near--is overwhelmingly Shia.

The Iranian regime is unperturbed by this fact and has repeatedly called on all Muslims, Sunni and Shiite, to set aside their differences, unite and take on Israel and the West. But how would the ummah feel about being led by a Persian, Shia power, given the historic animosity between Arab and Persian, Sunni and Shiite?

Now, if I was your typical Beltway "thinker," I would say, "That's impossible! Sunni and Shia could never work together--the hatred runs too deep."

Thankfully, while I may work inside the Beltway, I'm not of the Beltway. I realize full well that, as Iran expert Ken Timmerman often points out, "When it comes to killing Christians and Jews, Sunni and Shia get along just fine." Or, in other words, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

The evidence to support this is overwhelming. Just a few examples of Sunni/Shia jihadi synergy:

-- Investigators believe the Shiite Iranian government assisted the Sunni Al Qaeda hijackers prior to the 9/11 attacks. And the operational relationship between AQ and Iran's mullahs continues today.

-- Shiite Iran is the main benefactor/supplier/supporter of Sunni Hamas. Iran's Shia proxy, Hezbollah, also has a rosy relationship with Hamas.

-- Shiite Iran provides arms to the Sunni Taliban that are used to kill American troops.

-- Shia Hezbollah and Sunni Al Qaeda have a longstanding relationship.

And the list goes on. The desire to wipe Israel off the map and subjugate the hated, infidel West, led by the United States, to the rule of Islam is far more important than any inter-Islam squabbling. Or, in other, words, Islam uber alles. Period.

Bottom line: An Iran armed with nuclear weapons and the long-range missiles capable of delivering them to the shores of America and Europe would be the undisputed strong horse in the Middle East. Which means Sunni Islamists would fall in line--at least for a short time--behind the hated Persian Shia for the greater good, in their view, of destroying America and Israel.

Once the infidels are wiped out, Sunni and Shia can sort out their own differences and engage in a bloody civil war for control of Islam.

Would many Sunnis go along with the Iranian wave kicking and screaming the entire time? Absolutely. Would some resist the idea violently? Without a doubt. In the case of Turkey and a potentially Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt, each of which has its own designs on leading the Caliphate, both would enter into a union with Iran seeking to be equal partners, not subordinates. Others, like the Saudi Royals--Iran's hated enemy--might never fall in line, for obvious reasons, both strategic and historic.

So an Iranian-led Caliphate would need to contend with some serious issues right off the bat. But I believe that at the end of the day, most Sunnis would realize this harsh reality: a nuclear-armed Iran provides the best chance to accomplish the ultimate goal of all Islamists, whether Sunni or Shia. And that is, crushing Israel and the West.

Begrudgingly, most would say "so be it: for now." With the Iranians on the threshold of acquiring nuclear weapons and the West unwilling to stop them, the Sunni powers in the region have to see which way the wind is blowing. And rest assured: the moment Iran tests a nuclear bomb--and it's coming--the surrounding Sunni nations will work feverishly to acquire their own nuke capabilities.

Some might counter with the fact that while Iran's nuclear weapons are still being developed, Sunni Pakistan already has some 100-plus nuclear warheads in its arsenal. True. But the current Pakistani regime has not yet shown an inclination to either lead or join a reformed Caliphate. Of course, that is always subject to change. And if hardcore jihadists were to seize power in Pakistan--a nightmare scenario not outside the realm of possibility--all bets are off.

Perhaps the ultimate doomsday outcome would be to have Pakistan and a nuclear-armed Iran combine their resources and form a united nuclear Islamic front. On it's face, this sounds improbable. Historically, there has been no love lost between revolutionary Iran and Pakistan. But that has been noticeably changing as of late.

And besides, these are improbable times. One year ago today, who would have believed that we'd even be talking about a new Caliphate? Or that Egypt, Libya and Tunisia would see their decades-long dictatorships toppled, with iron-fisted regimes in Yemen and possibly even Syria facing similar fates? In case the geniuses inside our government agencies haven't noticed, it's time to chuck conventional analysis and start expecting the unexpected in today's rapidly changing Middle East.

Perhaps that's why I wasn't surprised when, in a recent e-mail interview I conducted with a member of the Illinois-based Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir America (HTA), he stated that HT was open to a Shia power leading the Caliphate. Hizb ut-Tahrir, by the way, is one of the most influential radical Sunni movements in the world, dedicated to reestablishing the Caliphate and imposing sharia law on one and all.

And yes, although the group is banned in countries throughout the world, it is perfectly legal right here in the United States. Here's part of my aforementioned exchange with the representative from Hizb ut-Tahrir America:

Stakelbeck: Could a Shia power like Iran ever lead the Caliphate? The Iranians have been making a strong push to unite the Muslim world across Shia and Sunni lines to confront the West and Israel. Especially if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it seems that they would be the "Strong Horse," in the region, capable of leading the charge.

HTA representative: Hizb ut-Tahrir believes that the Shia sect is a valid Islamic sect and school of thought just like any other Suni school of thought. There are many members of HT who belong to the Shia sect. In principle, HT does not object to electing a Shia Muslim to the post of Caliph.

The "Caliph" would be the man who leads the Caliphate. For a radical Sunni group like Hizb ut-Tahrir to give its blessing to a Shia caliph is, to me, extremely significant and bodes well for Iran's push to lead the Muslim world.

For more on this topic, check out Dr. Timothy Furnish's very interesting blog, Mahdiwatch.org (he points out that the Iranians would actually consider the union of Muslim states I'm discussing here an "Imamate," not a Caliphate), and read my friend Joel Rosenberg's latest book, The Tehran Initiative.

Also be sure to check out Barry Rubin's outstanding blog on a daily basis. I love Barry and Joel's work for the same reason I love working for bold outlets like CBN and GBTV. I'm drawn to people who have vision and discernment and can think outside the box. Needless to say, this is no time for conventional wisdom.

With that in mind, click on the viewer below to watch my colleague Chris Mitchell's report on the budding Caliphate from today's CBN Newswatch, followed by my analysis.

Print     Email to a Friend    posted on Wednesday, October 26, 2011 5:03 PM



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