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Reunified Islam: Unlikely but Not Entirely Radical
"These are the terrible simplifiers of Islam," Mardin added, "and I'm not sure this simplification of Islam really 'takes' on all social levels."
A Single Voice
The notion of caliphate as coalescing institution endures even here in secular Turkey.
"I wish there was a caliphate again, because if there was a caliphate all the Muslims would unite," said Ertugul Orel, in a sweater and tie at the sidewalk cafe he owns outside Istanbul's vast Hagia Sophia, an iconic building to both Christians and Muslims. "There would be one voice. But I know neither the American nor the Europeans will ever allow it."
From the next chair, gift shop owner Atacan Cinar added, "Before the end of the Ottoman Empire, there was no problem in the Islamic countries."
Ataturk's vision of national identity overtaking religion appears to have been only partially realized. Schoolchildren are assembled each morning to chant slogans concluding, "My existence should be a gift to the Turkish existence. How happy is a man who says 'I am a Turk.' " But the first words whispered in the ears of newborns are prayers. When the Pew Global Attitudes Survey asked Turks last spring which they considered themselves "first," 43 percent said Muslim while 29 percent answered Turk.
"The concept of the caliphate is very much alive in the collective memory of society," said Ali Bulac, a columnist and author of several books on Islam and Turkey. "There is absolutely nothing to keep Muslim society together at the moment."
Fatih Alev, imam of a moderate mosque in Copenhagen, said Hizb ut-Tahrir was "very unwise" to say that no other Muslim groups were working toward a caliphate. "As of now, the caliphate is totally irrelevant. As of tomorrow, it could be relevant. I would not exclude it."
Some experts warn that such a reservoir of feeling illustrates the risk of framing the Iraq war as a contest of ideologies.
"I think the smart thing to do if you're the president of the United States is to sort of de-Islamicize the problem," said Kirstine Sinclair, a University of Southern Denmark researcher who co-wrote a book on Hizb ut-Tahrir. "Talk about security risks instead. When you talk about expanding the war on terror to talk about states with an Islamist agenda or even the caliphate, you stir up emotions and you're actually creating the clash of civilizations."
Numerous polls show the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have sharpened solidarity among Muslims and antipathy toward Americans. "To tell you the truth, I don't see even see them as humans anymore. America is a pig," said Orel, who is in his eighties. The trend appears greatest among the very people whom the radicals aim to mobilize.
When young Muslims raised largely without religious instruction in European cities begin asking questions, radical groups stand ready with answers. Hizb ut-Tahrir, which promotes conspiracy theories and a potent anti-Semitism, is toward the moderate end of a spectrum of groups promoting unnuanced interpretations of Islam calling for confrontation.
"An ideology must perpetuate itself," said Ahmet Arslankaya, an Hizb ut-Tahrir member in Turkey, where the organization faces harassment by security services. "Our final strategic aim will be to expand the Islamic thought to the world and carry the Islamic banner to the White House, of course."
If membership is up -- and Alev and others say they keep seeing new faces -- Hizb ut-Tahrir organizers say it is because more Muslims see events unfolding as the groups predicted.
"Bush is saying they would establish a caliphate from Spain to Indonesia," said Abdullatif, the group's spokesman in Copenhagen. "The establishment of the caliphate will come by those who work hard." He said Hizb ut-Tahrir members in Iraq were working to coax a united front with insurgent groups.
As the Hizb ut-Tahrir meeting in Copenhagen broke for evening prayers, Muziz Abdullah, an affable native of Lebanon, surveyed a hall still with standing-room only. "Ten years ago, when I started, it was totally unrealistic to think there could be a caliphate," he said. "But now, people believe it could happen in a few years."