As the Arab world convulses, much of the American discussion is focused on whom we should help, whom we should help topple, how much it will cost, how will it affect our already-taxed military personnel, and whether our leaders in Washington have any kind of plan for dealing with the changing regimes and allegiances -- all valid issues.
But a wider view of the changes shows that the ouster of rulers in Tunisia and Egypt, the possible fall of Gadhafi in Libya and Saleh in Yemen, and the upheaval in Bahrain and even Syria, could create a climate for a move to restore an Islamic Caliphate -- a political union of Muslims under one ruler, a Caliph.
The Islamic world has been without a Caliph since the secular leader of Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, banished the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924 after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in World War 1. But a Caliphate is the historical norm, a Caliph having ruled over Muslims for most of the time since Muhammad's disciples instituted it in the 7th century.
The fact that a defeat by the "infidel" powers of the West-Christians-led to the end of the last Caliphate, is a sore that festers throughout the Arab nations and the wider Muslim community.
The Arab autocrats who have fallen or are in danger in 2011 (with the exception of Bashar Assad in Syria) were all either allies of the U.S. or contributed something to U.S. interests in the region. Early signs from Egypt are that the next government there will be more hostile to America, more hostile to Israel, more Islamist than the Mubarak regime and more dangerous to millions of Christians who live there.
In fact, in all of the countries being roiled - Bahrain, which houses the U.S. 5th Fleet and is located on the world's most strategic oil lanes; Yemen, whose dictator has helped fight the strong al-Qaeda presence in his country; and Libya, whose rebel leader fought the U.S. in Afghanistan -- are likely to produce leaders who blame the United States and Israel for the problems their people face.
Arab societies in the Middle East are steeped in anti-Semitic teaching, and millions believe they are victims of a worldwide Jewish and Zionist conspiracy (whose chief puppet is the United States) to control the world's wealth.
Combine such beliefs with the drift toward Islamism in non-Arab Turkey, which has been moving away from the United States and Israel and toward Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a scenario for a re-formation of the Caliphate emerges, with the former Ottomans at the center.
Author Walid Shoebat, a Muslim turned Christian, believes the revival of a strong Caliphate would be a catastrophe for the West. He writes in his book, God's War on Terror, that once a Caliph is in office he is mandated by law to carry out jihad:
"Jihad under a Caliph would be genuine 'old school' jihad - not a bombing here or an attack there," he told CBN News. "It would become the modern world's first true full-scale global religious war."
"It would involve everything that the Islamic world could throw out, from economic jihad to withholding oil to cyber jihad to multi-front military conflicts," he added.
Skeptics say that with Sunni and Shia Muslims deeply divided, the prospects of a restored Caliphate are dim at best. But stranger things have happened. They're happening now.