But, beset by a coalition of powerful militaries and forced to cede territory in Iraq and Syria, its dreams of a glorious world-dominating Caliphate now seem far-fetched. ISIS and its affiliate groups will continue to be sources of death and terror but, meanwhile, the real threat of a Caliphate or Islamic kingdom looms large in neighboring Turkey.
Turkey has been a secular nation with no recognized state religion and a constitutional right to freedom of worship, but with a 99.8% Muslim population. The hijab had been banned in schools and government building for decades, but with the creeping entrance of Islam into politics, was lifted for schools and government buildings between 2011 and 2014.
Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, himself a hard-line Islamist, has pushed for a greater role for Islam in society, just as he has expanded his own powers.
The coup attempt of July has launched Turkey onto the path of political reform that is both purging secular opposition and threatening to seat Erdogan in a position of power not seen since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. The proposed reforms would reorganize Turkey into a more authoritarian system with power concentrated in the President.
President Erdogan has used the attempted coup, which he laughably claims was orchestrated in secret by 100,000 plotters, to arrest tens of thousands of the secular opposition throughout the government and military, as well as all university deans.
Known for his strict control of the media, Erdogan became President in 2014, after he had already reached his term limit as Prime Minister, but the new reform would consolidate far more power in his hands as President.
The President also recently stated that he would approve an amendment to the law that allows the death penalty and has promised to execute his political rival, the moderate religious leader Fethullah Gulen, who currently lives in self-imposed exile in rural Pennsylvania.
Turks who look back fondly on days of former glory flock now to a strong nationalist leader. Under the banner of religion, and Erdogan does appear to be a true believer, he promises to restore Turkey to its position of power from centuries past.
The coup attempt rolled tanks through the streets, bombed parliament and took over television stations but Erdogan who was out of the country, simply took to social media and sent a text message to every cell phone in the country.
He asked Turks to rise up and protect ‘democracy‘, and they filled the streets en masse. It is perhaps ironic that the Turkish military has a history of overthrowing elected governments to protect the nation and the July 2016 coup attempt was the 6th such military intervention since 1960.
Now, however, secularists are being purged from the military, government and educational system, all to be replaced by pro-Erdogan Islamists.
The would could be witnessing something like the Islamic Revolution of Iran yet with the fascist underpinnings and burning of the Reichstag that brought Hitler to power.
Erdogan advocates a political Islam that would represent a fundamental change to the modern Turkish state. The new powers of the President that are being debated would make him a Turkish Caliph in all but name.
In a nation of 80 million Muslims with the 10th most powerful military on the planet and massive immigration into Europe, the idea of a Turkish-Islamic super-state, a true Caliphate is an exciting allure.
While ISIS grabs headlines for its stone-age savagery, perhaps the greater threat is a resurgent Turkey that, like Iran before it, will look differently on its alliance with the West once it has embraced Islam and its ideology of political domination.
Ankara’s relations with Washington have been sour for quite some time and the more Ankara feels estranged from Washington, the more it will want to feel closer to Moscow. There is already strong evidence of Erdogan’s shift towards Russia and a patching or relations that could help form a new Turkey-Russia-Iran axis in the region.
Erdogan has suspended or arrested some 50,000 soldiers, teachers, judges and government workers. A full 20% of the country’s judges are under arrest and it looks as though his power is both absolute and unassailable at this point.
Already accused of aiding ISIS and turning a blind eye to al-Qaida, Erdogan may be just the lightening rod needed to attract the loyalty of a global Islamic movement.
During the coup attempt, the Turkish government forces cut electricity to and shut down Incirlik Air Base, home to 1,500 US troops. What is even more frightening is that the base houses 50 nuclear weapons, nominally under US control, though this came into question on the night of the coup attempt.
The Ottoman Turkish Empire carried the mantel of the Islamic Caliphate from the 14th to the early 20th century. Perhaps a tide of Islamic nationalism can carry Erdogan and the rest of Turkey to another Caliphate in the 21st century as we see yet another theocratic dictatorship unfurl its banners.