MUSTAFA AKYOL > Is Islamism dead now?

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An interesting discussion is going on these days among intellectuals: Is the ideology called “Islamism” now passé in Turkey? And, if so, is this good news?

The debate began in daily Zaman, a paper which has always been proudly Muslim but not Islamist. One of its prominent columnists, Mümtaz’er Türköne, wrote a piece which boldly declared, “Islamism is dead.” This was an ideology, he argued, some Muslims devised in the late 19th century in order to resist the Western onslaught, and has been kept alive by Muslims’ feelings of oppression. With the AKP [Justice and Development Party] experience, however, Türköne argued, Turkey’s Islamists came to power, only to become more relaxed, more pragmatic, and less ideological.

Türköne, it must be noted, knows what he is talking about. As a professor of politics, he has completed a PhD dissertation and a popular book on “The Birth of Islamism.” He holds that Islam does not outline a political ideology, but Muslims have done so in the modern age based on their circumstances.

But soon Türköne’s argument was countered by another Zaman columnist, who is himself a self-declared Islamist: Ali Bulaç. Bulaç did agree that the AKP had ceased to be Islamist, but he did not see this as good news. The AKP has become “conservative-nationalist” he argued, and that is why the party has lost its reformism. Islamism, he claimed, will never die, for it is the natural stance of any good Muslim.

I must say that I agree with Bulaç on the AKP issue: The current problems with the governing party have little to do with Islamism. (“The AKP is not too Islamic,” as I always say, “but too Turkish.” It exhibits most of the problems of the Turkish political tradition: leader domination, nepotism, and confrontational qualities.)

But Islamism has its own problems, and quite serious ones. The record of Islamists on women’s rights has never been impressive, nor has the way they have dealt with religious minorities. Their bans on “heresy” and “apostasy” have threatened freedom of speech, while their desire to impose piety on society has threatened the “freedom to sin.”

The core problem, I believe, is the Islamists’ claim to know “the right Islam,” and then assume the right to “establish it on earth.” A believer can, of course, hope to know “the right Islam,” but Islamists don’t just hope, they also assert. This certainty in their own ways does not reflect the humility of traditional believers, but the arrogance of modern totalitarian ideologies.

It is true that this type of hardcore Islamism -- inspired by, say, the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the radical ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood -- has waned in Turkey, because Islamism has been fuelled by political grievances, such as the oppression of Islam by Turkey’s secular fundamentalists, and the AKP era has replaced this oppression with power and the responsibilities that come with it.

We can only hope that a similar process will take place in Tunisia, where it seems very likely, and Egypt, where the balance is still very fragile. In his recent article in the Journal of Democracy, French scholar Olivier Roy says that the Islamists in these countries now have “the Turkish model as represented by the AKP” as an option, which implies: “Turning the ‘brotherhood’ into a true modern political party; trying to attract voters from beyond a hard core of devout Muslims; recasting religious norms into vaguer conservative values (family, property, honesty, the work ethic); adopting a neoliberal approach to the economy; and endorsing the constitution, parliament, and regular elections.”

That is indeed the course of Turkish post-Islamism. And it is quite telling that both old-school Islamists and old-school secularists are alarmed by it.


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american american

8/14/2012 11:02:07 AM

belal, i hate to break it to you, but islam(ism) is imperialism and, therefore, destined to die.

Hasan Kutlay

8/13/2012 11:55:09 PM

I meant that fundamentalist islamism is destined to die.The sharp fundamentalist part of ideologies get lost in a democratic system.The european example is the transformation of communism to social democracy.Look at the secular side of TR:the majority of people voting for AKP are pro-secularism,notwithstanding their voting behaviour lead to the curbing of the sharp sides of Turkish secularism.In a mature democratic system big ideologies get to a middle ground and "grow toward each other".

belal zakaria

8/13/2012 6:12:59 PM

Islamism of 2 Billion people Market is not destined to die.It is conspiracy to defraud OPEC oil/gas land mines.it is Imperialism,Zionism,Communism which are failure.They polluted Islamism of fake Messih Masheik alsheikh . Both benefitting resulting in the growth of the western economy due to Turkey specific.They came with Israel bringing along conflict.I have proof Islamism is secular,modern, with only two specific forbidden to counter side effect of Torah Bible verses released earlier.

Hasan Kutlay

8/13/2012 3:50:03 PM

Besides,the AKP is using the concept 'muslimbrotherhood' as a tool to alter Kurds' nationalistic demands.So it seems that not only Turkish nationalism hinders reforms in the Kurdish case,but islam too in the way it is thought useful by the AKP.AKP uses islam to slam the Kurdish separatists who they blame for being non-islamic. AKP thus uses islam as a tool to suppress Kurdish nationalist demands,but the Kurdish nationalists don't bite the "we are all muslims so let's stop the conflict" concept.


8/13/2012 10:18:41 AM

Ahmad Ali, You claim military secularists denied people the right to pray. Can you prove this with an example? A newspaper report or a ECHR ruling perhaps? Secular countries MUST keep religion and state separate, it's the definition of secular. Religion should be a private and personal thing - not something which interferes in other peoples everyday lives. Now excuse me, I must go and catch up on my sleep, the Ramadan drummer woke me up (an atheist) at ridiculous oclock this morning.

Aryeh Rapaport

8/12/2012 9:38:54 PM

HDN Blogger, In relative terms to world Turkey has more freedom, Democracy then others. Turkey has NOT been freed from Islam nor should it. Its part of country, culture, peoples personality. Free elections, opposition, debates constitute a relatively lively Democracy. There is no doubt Turkey needs to improve dramatically on justice, freedom & equality. An example of Islamic grievance would be, secular military bias power in control of religious political power.


8/12/2012 7:53:29 PM

I have never ever met ANY -ism I liked. Very little good has ever come out of any -ism in history.

Ahmad Ali

8/12/2012 7:50:38 PM

@HDNBlogger: Merely tolerating Mosques is not Islam. Islam is the practice of the faith in both public and personal spheres. The militant secularism denies Muslims from practicing


8/12/2012 6:21:22 PM

Can anyone tell me how "Islamism has been fuelled by political grievances, such as the oppression of Islam by Turkey’s secular fundamentalists" . I'm confused how Islam (or Muslims) have been oppressed in Turkey by previous secular powers? Did Muslims not have Mosques? Could they not pray? Did they not have the right to religious education? I keep reading about the AKP's great democracy and how they have freed Islam from oppression - a few examples to back up your claims would be nice Mr A.

Hasan Kutlay

8/12/2012 5:36:11 PM

Its wrong to attribute AKP's loss of its reformism solely to nationalism. Their reformism in the beginning years was not due to islamism. AKP wasn't really islamic in its beginning years when they pursued reforms. Actually AKP has lately become more islamist (alcohol, abortion, education reform). Does this then mean that their loss of reformism is due their recent increase of islamism???
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