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NURAY MERT > Towards the end of post-Islamism

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It seems that the lifetime of so-called “post-Islamism” is going to be incomparably shorter than that of Islamisms of all sorts. In fact, “the good old Islamism” of the early period of modernization was a rather positive response to modernization, in the name of “modernist Islam” or “Islamic modernism.” Only after the end of the Cold War period did the reaction turn into a total rejection of modernity and hostility against the Western world in general, termed “Islamic fundamentalism.” 

The difference between Islamic fundamentalists who legitimize the use of violence or armed struggle and Islamists who denounce these ways and focus on peaceful social and political struggles became very noteworthy in this period. The so-called “moderates” not only began to be seen as an antidote to fundamentalism, the moderate Islamists were given credit as the new dynamic actors of democratization in Muslim countries. It marked the beginning of the discourse and politics of “post-Islamism.” The post-modernist Islamism became “the new good Islamism.”

In short, the basic idea behind the idea of post-Islamism was a possible compromise between “Islamism” (or “Islamisms”) and the idea of democracy. In theory, it is thought that if secularism and Western ways are detached from the idea of democracy in the name of cultural pluralism, it would be more agreeable for Islamists to comply with the ideals of democracy. In practice, the formula that if Islamists were to end their hostility toward the Western world and give up “Islamic ideal of social state,” like Necmettin Erbakan’s in Turkey, and adjust to free market economy model, everything will be fine, was much simpler.

Nevertheless, I think that the model or idea of post-Islamism had already started to crumble very shortly time after it began its ascent. Most of you may think that it is too early to suggest it, but it seems to be the case in every way. First of all, the shiniest pillars of the model, namely the Turkish model and the countries of the “Arab Spring” are in deep trouble. The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which was thought to be the showcase of the model, has turned out to be an old-fashioned conservative government (if we want to use euphemistic terms to define it). As for the Arab Spring, which brought Islamists to the center of the political scene, it turned to be a sham, rather than a political hope for Muslim countries.

In fact, the model seems to be collapsing for both sides: namely for the majority of people in Muslim societies and for hopeful people in the West. On one hand, the promise of post-Islamism could not offer much more to the individual than being a member of a conservative consumption society, with an indefinite period of time to draw the majority to its “ideals.” On the other hand, the idea that “pragmatism” on behalf of moderate Islamists would bring democracy was rather too shallow a projection to survive the challenges Muslim countries face.

Finally, it is no wonder that Islamism had a much longer life than the much-praised “post-Islamism,” despite all its shortcomings, since Islamisms of all sorts managed to voice great resentments and posed challenges. That is why it seems that there is a regression to the politics of Islamism in the Arab Spring countries.

July/23/2012

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