MUSTAFA AKYOL > Muslim politics without an ‘Islamic state’

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In the past decade, the idea that Turkey can be a “model” for other predominantly Muslim countries has been repeatedly discussed. In turn, though, many observers noted that things are not that simple. Every society has its own unique political experience, they reminded, and no “model” can really be replicated by a few political decisions.

I have been arguing, however, that while it is true that “the Turkish model” cannot be replicated, something else in Turkey can be a model for the larger Muslim world: The incumbent Justice and Development Party (AKP), whose evolution from classical Islamism to some form of “conservative democracy” can inspire other Islamist parties who are in search of change. The model, in other words, is not Turkey for other countries, but the AKP for other Islamists.

Hence I was happy to see the same view advanced recently by an academic article, titled: “Muslim Politics Without an ‘Islamic’ State: Can Turkey’s Justice and Development Party Be a Model for Arab Islamists?” Its writer, Ahmet T. Kuru, a visiting fellow at Brookings Doha Center, is also the author of a notable book that contrasts “passive secularism” (the American model) to “assertive secularism” (the French model). There, his main thesis was the very assertiveness of Turkish secularism had sparked Turkish Islamism, whereas appreciation of “passive secularism” had led to the rise of the AKP.

In his article, Kuru first explains how the AKP abandoned the main Islamist goal – the “Islamic state” – and opted for “Muslim politics.” The latter means that:

“Muslim individuals and groups can promote their Islamic views in a democratic system through legislative processes, participation in political or judicial institutions, and engagement with civil society and the media.”
Of course, “promoting Islamic views in a democratic system” will be nothing but a very dangerous Islamism in the eyes of many secular Turks and Europeans. But they would be wrong, because they would be missing the key nuance between ideological politics and ideological state. (As an example, contrast having a socialist party in a democratic system, versus having a socialist totalitarian state, such as that of Stalin.)

According to Kuru, the AKP shift is very important, and has the potential to inspire novel thinking among the more reformist Arab Islamists.

Yet one big obstacle is the “scarcity of theoretical works on the [AKP] and its views on secularism and the state.” According to Kuru, this is partly due to Turkey’s draconian secularism: This did not allow theoretical discussions on Islam and politics, hence “Muslim actors in Turkey have had to focus on practice rather than theory.” Yet there is an inherent problem as well: “Erdoğan’s charismatic leadership … has prevented other party members from making intellectual contributions.”

All in all, Kuru’s article, which is available online, is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the nature and future of Islamism – rather than simply whine about it.

My favorite was his summary of the Islamic criticisms against Islamism. “By defining the state as Islamic,” he warns, for example, “the ruler may want to use religious legitimacy as an instrument to avoid accountability or justify unpopular actions.”

Similarly, “Putting God’s name into a flag does not honor Islam; it sacralizes the state.” It does, indeed. Just like the fact that naming a party “Hezbollah,” or “party of God,” venerates not God, but that very party, revealing a self-righteousness from which all true believers should abstain.


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Notice on comments

Agnes Smith

2/28/2013 5:41:04 PM

@ Zlatan Zinho. I wasn't suggesting over consumption of alcohlic bevs - it is also a fact that there are more deaths as a result of inadequate driving skills, road safety and carelessness. Which to me is a number 1 factor and far more important than banning alcohol and abortion and insisting women should have more kids to make up for the deficit lost to road carnage.

mara mcglothin

2/28/2013 3:24:31 PM

AGNES Sure does ring a bell! But we cannot compare the compassions of modern day Islamists(notice I did not say Muslims) to the likes of Hitler. As I am sure you are aware, people like the Taliban do not kill other Muslims. AYAZID I never said that at all in any context! I simply pointed out that the ME is so busy fighting among themselves that they could not sit down a a table, like we do in the civilized World and work things out. If that makes them barbarians then so be it.

Agnes Smith

2/27/2013 9:26:33 PM

MARA @ Dogan - I agree, what is the real equasion of charisma - I remember one that thought he was too big for boots and got knickers so much in a twist about jews - he tried to wipe them out. ----umh ring a bell?

Zlatan Zinho

2/27/2013 8:09:56 PM

@Johanna, Islamism is in its oldest incarnation a 19th/20th century Western ideology. It simply hasn't been around for the 'centuries' you claim. @Agnes Smith, the WHO estimates that alcohol kills between 2.25m and 2.5m people per year, as well as causing cancers, reductions in cognitive abilities and being highly correlated with domestic violence. Buddhism + Christianity prohibit its consumption


2/27/2013 7:42:39 PM

@Mara, well, Middle Easterners are mostly uncivilized barbarians, as you once elloquently put it, so nothing is going to help them, except regular drone attacks and bombing of Islamic nuts in Iran, of course!

Blue Dotterel

2/27/2013 7:29:28 PM

@Johanna, "Islamism itself has showed its inhuman intrinsic face for centuries". Let's not get carried away. Islam was often more tolerant of others than Christianity, and at one time was even a leader in proto-scientific investigations. Islam recognized the value ancient Greek thinkers and were instrumental in transferring that thought to W. Europe. Today's Salafist, backward, Saudi type Islam is indeed a problem for Islam. That it is gaining influence in Turkey bodes ill for Turkey's future.


2/27/2013 7:13:58 PM

@Johanna, of course, a dissertation of a Dutch (not Iranian, BTW) PhD candidate is the ultimate proof that Islamism is analogical to nazism. All counterarguments and opposing views are therefore invalid. However, you still haven't offered any vision how should be this evil exterminated. Perhaps some more coups, bombings, hijab bans, and more weapons and unconditional support for Israel? Or maybe a mass distribution of leaflets about the evils of Islam in ME?

Tekion Particle

2/27/2013 6:40:37 PM

Shame on you all. On my last post I have suggested that we should leave Mr Akyol alone. To post on his article is to recognise his substandard work and take it seriously. Mr Akyol lacks the capacity to improve, so stop criticising his work, please.

Hakan Salci

2/27/2013 6:10:09 PM

Muslim Politics without an 'Islamic State'..lets see, what has that philosophy brought to the table. First off, Syria; Muslim politics has worked here very very well as everyone can see, the country is in a 2 year+ civil war with factions not divided along ethnic lines but religious ones, sectarian hate fuelled by Turkey and Qatar is making Muslims kill Muslims. Second Iraq, the country is on the precipice of civil war again thanks to sectarian and religious divide, fantastic ideology indeed MA

Hasan Kutlay

2/27/2013 5:57:30 PM

Calling AKP a model as a 'conservative democrat' party is merely wishful thinking of the Turks boosting their ego and of the West who are fed up with radical islamists. AKP isn't 'conservative democrat', it's conservative authoritarian. You seem to have forgotten very easily AKP's draft for the (authoritarian) presidential system.
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