The problem with ‘moderates’
"The former director general of al-Jazeera television Wadah Khanfar warns Egyptians that they 'must not let their country descend into chaos'" (The Guardian, 26 June 2013). The occasion was the opposition’s call for mass demonstrations against Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, last week. Khanfar claimed “the protests could result in a coup against the democratic process and could plunge Egypt into a cycle of violence and chaos.” Well, this sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The AKP government reacted to the Taksim protests in a very similar fashion: That demonstrations were part of a coup attempt, that it was against ‘the national will’ which expressed itself in ballot boxes and that it was a plot against Turkey which aimed to create an atmosphere of chaos. Obviously, Islamists’ and/or conservative democrats’ understanding of democracy is firmly confined to the limits of ballot box, as long as they represent the majority.
Their problem is not only that they think that majoritarianism is not all about democratic polity, but at the same time, it is nothing to do with Islam as religion. Islam, or any other religion as a matter of fact, does not classify good and evil according to the decision of majorities. In fact, it is just the opposite; no matter if it is minority or majority decision, “good and evil” or, “right and wrong” are defined along ethical lines of dogma. As for democracy, it does not have any claim to truth; it is a modern convention claiming to be the best polity to contain different views on truth and to manage social peace and coexistence.
In the last decades, moderate Islamists’ supposedly “embracing of democracy” has been celebrated as an achievement in the name of democracy in Muslim countries for the wrong reasons. In fact, Islamists’ rejection of violence was something to be celebrated, but democracy should not have been equated solely with the acceptance of ballot box instead of weapons. As for Turkey, Islamism has never been radical or violent and their willingness to transform themselves to be conservative democrats by denouncing past Islamism was very hopeful. Nonetheless, in the case of Turkey, this transformation should not have been taken as a guarantee for full democratization, given the authoritarian political tradition of right wing conservatism in Turkey.
At the end of the day, it seems that Islamists of Muslim Brotherhood and ex-Islamist conservatives of Turkey came to agree on many points concerning politics which are neither democratic nor Islamic (in terms of faith). It is that those who play religious and cultural politics are the true representatives of the community, that since they get the majority vote they accept the legitimacy of the ballot box, it is that once in power, the rest is plot, and chaos, it is that any opposition is illegitimate, in their minds. These are typical expressions of authoritarian politics be it secular or religious and it is going to be a big challenge not only for Muslim countries but also for the prospects of democracy all over the world.
It is not the rise of religion but just the resurrection of authoritarianism in Muslim countries and this time in religious clothes. Unfortunately, so far, Islamism (radical or moderate) was more thought to be along the lines of religious thinking rather than as being a new version of authoritarianism. That is why, all attempts to tame Islamism by reinventing Islam with reference to mystical traditions and new theologies failed. That is why we need to start again, this time let’s begin to discuss and challenge authoritarian politics instead of playing theological and strategical games since the former is futile and the latter will be “the greatest miscalculation since the rise of fascism” in the words of Simon Jenkins (The Guardian, 29 May 2013).