They Just Don’t Make Caliphates Like They Used To….
SWJ Blog featured a lengthy (30 page) essay by Dr. Tony Corn on….well….many things. Corn begins with caliphates and then sort of takes off much like a blown up balloon abruptly released by a child prior to tying a knot in the end.
The Clash of the Caliphates: Understanding the Real War of Ideas by Dr. Tony Corn
….For one thing, within the global umma, there appears to be as many conceptions of the ideal Caliphate as there are Muslims. This grass-roots longing for a symbol of unity should be heard with the proverbial Freudian -third ear,?? and seen for what it really is, i.e., a symptom rather than a disease. For another, by agreeing to establish diplomatic relations with the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), America and Europe have, in essence, already granted the OIC the status of a Quasi-Caliphate.
More important still, it is time for Western policy-makers to realize that the ideological rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran that has been going on since 1979 constitutes nothing less than a Clash of the Caliphates. Through a soft power strategy blurring the distinction between -public diplomacy?? and -political warfare,?? -humanitarian aid?? and -religious propaganda,?? the two states have been the main drivers of the re-Islamization process throughout the Muslim world. The one-upmanship dynamic generated by the rivalry between these two fundamentalist regimes is the main reason why, from the Balkans to Pakistan, the re-Islamization of the global umma has taken a radical, rather than moderate, dimension.
Ok, “caliphates” as a metaphor/analogy for geopolitical rivalry of Muslim states works but it is not really what Islamists or normal Muslims would mean by the term. It is a very odd usage. I’m not overly bothered by that because I tend to like analogies but Corn’s device here is apt to make the heads of area studies and Islamic history scholars explode. The whole essay is in this meandering, idiosyncratic, vein.
Now that is not to suggest that you should not read the piece. Dr. Corn held my attention all the way through and he has a number of excellent observations on many, loosely related, subjects. For example, after discussing the pernicious effects of Saudi donations and Edward Said’s agitprop theory of “Orientalism” on the intellectual objectivity of academia, Corn writes:
…The combined effect of the House of Saud and the House of Said is the first reason why the Ivory Tower has done such a poor job identifying the nature of Muslim Exceptionalism. A more indirect, yet more insidious, reason is that, unlike in the early days of the Cold War, American academics across the board today are trained in social sciences rather than educated in the humanities. For social scientists, Explanation (erklaren) and -theory-building?? take precedence over Understanding (verstehen) and -policy-making. The victory of the -numerates over the -literates in the 1970s has produced a generation of scholars who show a certain virtuosity when it comes to -research design, but display an amazing lack, not just of historical literacy, but of -historical empathy as well. Not to make too fine a point: the Long War is being waged by a generation of policy-makers who, however articulate, never learned anything about history in their college years
Corn is spot on here. Not only is it spot on, it is likely to get much worse. After a brief qualitative “bump” from Iraq-Afghan war language trained vets, diplos, analysts and spooks peters out, we will have the Gen Y kids with K-12 educations scrubbed free of history, foreign languages and science graduating from college with communication and marketing degrees and entering government service. Hang on to your hat when that happens.
What Corn really requires to vault his essays to the next level are the services of an experienced editor because less would be more. The man is erudite and insightful. He writes forcefully and raises a number of points that are important and with which I agree. Corn, commendably, also makes more of an effort to connect the dots than most. But maybe, if you have an essay that references David Kilcullen, Trotsky, neo-Ottomanism, lawfare, Sam Huntington, neo-COIN, Nasser, Vatican II, the Comintern, the Hapsburgs, Ataturk, public diplomacy, al- Qaradawi, social media, Fascism, Marc Lynch, Youtube, network theory, the UN, hybrid wars and the Protestant Reformation, it might be time to up the Ritalin dosage a notch. Jesus, there’s either a book proposal or four different articles in that kitchen sink of an op-ed!
Read it and take what is useful.