In popular Eurocentric parlance, the Caliphate is viewed as a relic of a bygone era, its re-establishment constituting a central objective – if not, the objective – of Muslim “fundamentalists” and militants. Yet its trans-“religious” deployment is also evident in culture; for example, from a cursory survey of Western science fiction literature, which reveals how Orientalist framings are negotiated and drawn upon on a regular basis in order to maintain the image of the Caliphate as an institution haunting the future of both the known and unknown universe. The science fiction genre is often portrayed as a landscape enabling readers (and viewers in the case of film and television) to escape the limits of the ‘real’ world into distant ‘other’ worlds imagined as informed by utopian ideals and technological advances – worlds liberated from the ‘actualities’ of everyday life. However, the continued deployment of Orientalist motifs shows that this genre cannot be understood as one that is limited only by one’s imagination.
George R.R. Martin provides a ‘Game of Thrones-esque’ premise in the opening salvo of his 2008 sci-fi epic ‘Inside Straight’. His storytelling begins with familiar descriptions of Arab mobs brandishing weapons animated by depictions of elation in the streets of the more traditional and historical centers of the Muslim world, contrasting this with an atmosphere of fear devouring the epicenters of relatively modern urbanized Muslim states. Martin depicts scenes of jubilation and euphoria in Cairo, Baghdad, Damascus, East Jerusalem and Mecca celebrating the president of Egypt submitting himself to the authority of the new Caliph in order to make Egypt one with Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia under the restored caliphate. In this novel, the author constructs a post-WWII counter-factual universe in which an alien virus has wiped out the bulk of humanity, nonetheless anointing some survivors with superpowers and culminating in a showdown with the hordes of an emergent Caliph commanding a unified Muslim world. Unsurprisingly, the list of adversaries that Martin’s superheroes are to take down and catastrophes that they are to avert include a nuclear strike, zombies and the Caliphate itself, the combination of which is intended to point to a heightened existential threat.
While Martin’s epic is firmly anchored on planet earth, albeit in a counterfactual narrative, several science fiction writers have expanded the ambit of a subversive Caliphate to outer space and the future. In his survey of Muslim representations in Western science fiction, Yusuf Nuruddin maintains that stereotypical Muslim fundamentalism is replicated in outer space colonies or the earth’s distant future as exemplified in Louise Marley’s Terrorists of Irustan, Maureen McHugh’s Nekropolis and Katie Waitman’s The Divided. The Caliphate is imagined as an alien (that is, non-human) institution that plays the role of constitutive ‘other’ in relation to intergalactic socio-ethical value systems, even in popular franchises: for example, in the Star Wars universe, the outer rim planet of Makem Te is governed by the Congress of Caliphs who are described as stocky creatures with sharp protruding teeth in Jason Fry’s Geonosis and the Outer Rim Worlds; and the Caliphate as the governing system of a distant planet, reproducing Orientalist motifs, such as harems and belly dancers, that appear in David Mack’s Star Trek: Small World. As a further example, consider Steve White’s Her Majesty’s American, where the protagonist, an intrepid spy in the Royal Space Navy, takes on an imminent threat to the British Empire posed by the warships of the Caliphate from a distant planetary system. In addition, Donald Moffitt’s duology Crescent in the Sky and A Gathering of Stars envisions Islam symbolized in the ‘Emirate of Mars’ as a hegemonic force holding sway throughout the known universe with the antagonist vying for the position of first Caliph of an interplanetary Islamic empire. It is no mere coincidence that Moffitt wrote his works around the time of the Iran-Iraq war when a post-revolutionary Islamic Iran was framed as a global threat; the description of the ‘Emirate of Mars’ is replete with Orientalist tropes of imposition of Islamic law and corporal punishment, the oppression of women and minorities, demographic expansion, a totalitarian society, authoritarian Caliphs, etc.
Despite the ‘fiction’ in science fiction, we recognize since Edward Said’s assessment of Joseph Conrad’s writings that fiction projects political dimensions and that this should be kept in mind when reading Western literature. It was Fyodor Dostoevsky who famously remarked that “at first, art imitates life. Then life will imitate art. Then life will find its very existence from the arts”, thereby pointing to the mimetic nature of political anxieties which permeate into art, and the ensuing cyclical process. Science fiction is not merely about inventing other-worlds nor is it exclusively transcendental in nature; rather, like all other works of literary imagination, works of science fiction are socially-embedded – that is, at least partly immanent – and their forging of futures is, as Sayyid insists, ‘not only the province of science fiction but one of the possibilities of the political’. In creating imaginary spaces, science fiction inherits and draws upon an Orientalist tradition of projecting difference onto the ‘other’, a projection that serves to position the Western secular enterprise as superior in all aspects to that of the Islamicate.
Thus, despite its presumed medieval temporality, in science fiction, the Caliphate stands for a clear and present danger that continues to haunt future civilizations, threatening the very existence of humanity at an interstellar level. The parallels with ‘war on terror’ rhetoric, where the restoration of the Caliphate follows a trajectory from the founding fathers of Islamism to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (IS), are striking. While the actors may change, the roles they play remain the same, the Caliphate as an idea continuing to function as preferred vehicle for stabilizing an unstable Western enterprise. Although discussions surrounding the Caliphate have gained considerable traction with the advent of IS, the various ensuing narratives have become more of a panchreston reminiscent of the past. Toward the conclusion of Donald Moffitt’s A Gathering of the Stars, a Christian bishop, ostensibly reminiscing Samuel Huntington, notes to the protagonist, the latter of whom is raising a ‘conglomerate of infidels’ to clash with the Martian Caliphate, that ‘someday two humanities will contend, as they did in centuries gone by, when rival systems clashed and who will prevail cannot be known.’
 Said, Edward W. Joseph Conrad and the Fiction of Autobiography, Columbia University Press, 2007.
 Sayyid, S. Recalling the Caliphate: Decolonisation and World Order. Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 83.
 Moffitt, Donald. A Gathering of Stars: Book two of the Mechanical Sky, Ballantine Books, New York, 1990, pp. 281.