Islam’s Imperial Dreams

Islam’s Imperial Dreams

Mr. Efraim Karsh is head of Mediterranean Studies at King’s College, University of London, and his new book, “Islamic Imperialism: A History,” on which this article is based, is about to be published by Yale.

Within twelve years of Muhammad’s death, a Middle Eastern empire, stretching from Iran to Egypt and from Yemen to northern Syria, had come into being under the banner of Islam. By the early 8th century, the Muslims had hugely extended their grip to Central Asia and much of the Indian subcontinent, had laid siege to the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, and had overrun North Africa and Spain. Had they not been contained in 732 at the famous battle of Poitiers in west central France, they might well have swept deep into northern Europe.
Like the leaders of al Qaeda, many Muslims and Arabs unabashedly pine for the reconquest of Spain and consider their 1492 expulsion from the country a grave historical injustice waiting to be undone. In the historical imagination of many Muslims and Arabs, bin Laden represents nothing short of the new incarnation of Saladin, defeater of the Crusaders and conqueror of Jerusalem. If, today, America is reviled in the Muslim world, it is not because of its specific policies but because, as the preeminent world power, it blocks the final realization of this same age-old dream of regaining, in Zawahiri’s words, the “lost glory” of the caliphate. Some analysts now see a new “axis of Islam” arising in the Middle East, uniting Hizballah, Hamas, Iran, Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood, elements of Iraq’s Shiites, and others in an anti-American, anti-Israel alliance backed by Russia.
For the Islamists, the stakes are very high indeed, for if the political elites of the Middle East and elsewhere were ever to reconcile themselves to the reality that there is no Arab or Islamic “nation,” but only modern Muslim states with destinies and domestic responsibilities of their own, the imperialist dream would die. (Click on the title to read the whole article)

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