With militants belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) moving toward Baghdad, there's been a lot of attention to the group's goal: the creation of an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East.
A member of the Department of Homeland Security's Advisory Council, Mohamed Elibiary, recently said that the return of a caliphate was "inevitable." Glenn Beck has repeatedly warned that there is a push for an Islamic caliphate, and media outlets such as CNN and The New York Times have been giving more coverage to the idea.
But it's not going to happen.
The caliphate was created after the death of Muhammed to be the focus of leadership for the Muslim community. But the day Muhammed died, there was a dispute about who should succeed him: Shiites said it should be Muhammad's son-in-law, Ali; Sunnis disagreed. This split is still an open wound to this day, with Sunni ISIL fighting the Shiite governments in Syria and Iraq, which are in turn backed by Shiite Iran.
From the very beginning, the caliphate was a source of controversy and contention, frequently resulting in assassination and war as different personalities and factions fought to rule the Muslim world. There hasn't been anything like a caliphate in the Middle East in decades, if not centuries.
And the Sunni-Shia split is the first stumbling block for any caliphate today: will the new caliphate be Sunni, or Shia, or will it tolerate both sects equally? Even among the people who actively want a new caliphate, there's no agreement on that question, which seriously hinders the possibility of unitary Islamic rule throughout the Middle East.
On top of that, there's not a lot of support for sharia (i.e., Islamic) law in the Middle East. Certainly, there's a vocal minority in the Middle East that calls for it, and there's a much wider discontent with the secular nation-states that inhabit the region. But large parts of the Middle East don't live according to sharia (that's why there has to be a call for sharia to be imposed) and don't want to. Even regimes like Iran and Hamas-ruled Gaza routinely encounter problems with enforcing the wearing of the hijab (i.e., veil) by women.
That's not to say sharia is irrelevant in the Middle East. It's often imposed, and in horrible, stoning-the-adulterer-to-death ways. But it's also often ignored or avoided, and those who try to enforce it more strictly quickly become unpopular. One of the main reasons Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was defeated in 2007-2008 was because fellow Sunnis got fed up with their insistence on sharia.
This is all before you take into account how the West and Israel (and Russia and Turkey) might resist the creation of a caliphate.
Now, you never say never. A hundred years ago, France and Germany were about to be locked in a bloody war that would lead to another bloody war, and today the two countries sit together atop the European Union. But they're part of a political framework that allows for freedom of speech and religion, that lets people vote and that upholds women's rights.
ISIL and its cohorts don't have any such vision to inspire people. They don't even have a charismatic figure - like Napoleon Bonaparte, or (more frighteningly) Adolf Hitler - to rally around. Heck, they're not even good at governing the small amount of territory they've taken so far. They can destroy economies, but they have no record of building roads and infrastructure and providing the general stability required to create an actual state.
There are simply too many internal divisions in the Middle East for a caliphate to exist. For anyone who thinks that it could become a reality in the near future, here's a question: who will run Mecca?
Alasdair Denvil graduated Virginia Commonwealth University with a B.A. in Philosophy, and attended NYU's graduate program. He has written for Facts on File and PolicyMic.