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MUSTAFA AKYOL

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MUSTAFA AKYOL > The trouble with self-hating Muslims

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What in the world can Ahmet Davutoğlu have in common with Ayman al-Zawahiri?

Hardly anything worthy of mention, in my view. Davutoğlu is Turkey’s foreign minister, who has made a global name as the builder of a “zero problems with neighbors” strategy and as an architect of peace diplomacy. Al-Zawahiri, on the other hand, is the mastermind of Al-Qaeda, the world’s preeminent terrorist organization.

However, my column neighbor Burak Bekdil apparently saw an important connection between the two men. His recent piece titled “Enjoy Your Arab Spring!” began with a quote from Davutoğlu, which Bekdil portrayed as al-Zawahiri rhetoric: the Turkish foreign minister had raised a wish “to pray at the al-Aqsa mosque in the Palestinian capital Jerusalem.” Apparently this was enough for him to be likened to a terrorist.

But, actually, this was total nonsense. A wish to see Jerusalem as the “Palestinian capital” is simply an expression of international law. According to the famous “pre-1967 borders” in the Holy Land, which is upheld by United Nations Security Council resolutions, Jerusalem is a divided city, in which both the Israelis and the Palestinians have their capitals. In other words, Davutoğlu’s vision of a Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem is less in line with al-Zawahiri, and more in line with less eccentric figures - such as President Obama and the Israeli peaceniks, who defend the pre-1697 borders.

But why, then, did Mr. Bekdil, such a smart and talented writer, choose Ayman al-Zawahiri to compare to Davutoğlu?

His answer will be more authoritative than mine, for sure. But here are my two cents: in today’s world there is a large Western audience that is ready to applaud “brave” voices within Muslim societies - voices that denounce every Islamic-minded actor in their societies as wild-eyed fanatics. And since this “demand” exists, the “supply” is naturally presented, by those people who I call self-hating Muslims. These are westernized and western-speaking figures who are Muslim in the cultural sense, but who have a strange distaste to almost everything that is Islamic.

Of course, nobody has to be a fan of Islam, and self-hating Muslims have all the right to think the way they do. The trouble with them, however, is that they reinforce Western prejudices of Islam, by offering “insider analyses” about Muslim societies, which in fact cherry-pick real troubles with the Islamists and hide the troubles with their secularist rivals.

Another recent piece by Mr. Bekdil, unfortunately, seemed to be such propaganda-disguised-as-analysis as well, with its bold title, “Why Islamism cannot be pluralistic.” (Note the passion in arguing not just “is not” but also “cannot.”) “Muslims can defend pluralism but political Islam will not,” argued Mr. Bekdil, “unless, of course, for deception.” (In other words, even if Islamists defended pluralism there was no way that you should believe them.)

The piece then gave a few examples of Islamist authoritarianism in Turkey, failing to mention that distaste with pluralism is a universal Turkish problem that is very strong among secularists as well. (For a good critique of the Bekdil piece in question, see the good rejoinder by Pınar Tremblay, “Muslim men in chains in Turkey,” in the June 21 edition of this paper. It says all that needs to be said.)

The bottom line is that just like sex sells, Islam-bashing also sells. So it helps careers and boots internet hits. But it really does not help us understand the world.

June/23/2012

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